The power of supportive women

9 Oct

To begin, watch this (and if you’re wary of SNL being unfunny and crude, this one is actually neither of those things):

 

Basically, it’s about a “forgotten” TV show called Supportive Women, “the first serial drama to break away from the soap opera cliché of catty, back-stabbing female characters and instead portray them as nurturing and empathetic. Audiences tuned in in whatever the opposite of droves is.”

You don’t have to be a Debbie Downer to agree that the stereotype of back-stabbing women is bad. Out of curiosity, I searched “backstabbing women stereotype” on Google Scholar and found a fascinating thesis called “Women at Work: Working Girl, Disclosure and the Evolution of Professional Female Stereotypes.” The author, Hayley Strickland, analyzes the representation of working women in film and TV over the past few decades, arguing that the increasing inclusion of professional female characters “were simply façades used to both mask and perpetuate longstanding gender norms.”

I don’t think Hollywood types are huddling in boardrooms conniving the various ways they might keep women in their subordinate place. I do think they see contention as the only or easiest way to create a compelling drama. I think they’re risk-averse and myopically interested in money and see these damaging stereotypes as simply a tool to appeal to audiences. Oh, and also, they’re mostly men, which kind of makes it difficult to offer realistic representations of women’s experiences. (I’m not saying men can’t do that, I’m saying that can’t do it without talking and working with women.) Consider a few numbers from the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film–in 2013, women made up:

  • 6 percent of U.S. directors
  • 16 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films
  • 10 percent of writers

Hollywood needs more girl power. Until that happens, film and TV will continue to send the message that, as the paper says,  “the way for women to succeed in the American workplace is, first, to become like men and, second, to betray other women.”

But I’ve seen in my life and with many other women I know that betrayal is not the key to success and happiness–we find our power in supporting each other. We can avoid judging other women for their choices, and even better, we can find ways to actively help and support other women along the way. Like today–a friend knew I had a writing deadline coming up and offered to watch Lars for me. I was touched by her thoughtfulness, and it was seriously helpful. I also love listening and participating in discussions among Aspiring Mormon Women, a community that exemplifies loving, constructive support.

There is something unique and powerful about sisterhood. Nowhere have I seen that more evident in Relief Society (the women’s organization of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints). I have seen women share their joys and their triumphs with their sisters–sometimes in superficial ways, but many times in courageously vulnerable ways–and have other women put their arms around them, literally and figuratively, to fiercely support them. I love what Bonnie Oscarson, Young Women general president, said:

“The adversary would have us be critical or judgmental of one another. … There is nothing that is worth us losing our compassion and sisterhood over. We just need to relax and rejoice in our divine differences. We need to realize that we all desire to serve in the kingdom, using our unique talents and gifts in our own ways. Then we can enjoy our sisterhood and our associations and begin to serve. … We must stop concentrating on our differences and look for what we have in common; then we can begin to realize our greatest potential and achieve the greatest good in this world.”

***

P.S. Apparently Mean Girls Day is a thing, and I missed it! Since it’s applicable to the discussion at hand, there’s this:

mean-girls-gretchen-i-am-such-a-good-friend

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One Response to “The power of supportive women”

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  1. 31 days of GIRL POWER | spifftacular. - October 9, 2014

    […] Day 9: The power of supportive women […]

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