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10 Most Sexist Female Characters on TV

Many women on TV are tokenized, objectified, sexualized, and otherwise treated like less than human.

Modern Family

It’s pretty easy to get invested in TV shows these days, what with reality being a giant mess. In theory, television should provide an escape from the hardships of daily life—unless you’re a woman, that is, and nasty gender roles and stereotypes are repeated and reinforced on screen.  Female characters are still sidelined in television and film,  especially women of color. Despite being 51% of the US population, women account for only  37% of prime-time characters. Many female characters are tokenized, objectified, sexualized, and otherwise treated like less than human. 

Here's a roundup of the most degraded characters on TV. 

1. MacKenzie McHale and Maggie Jordan (The Newsroom)

Aaron Sorkin is known for rapid-fire dialogue that often leaves me with the dizzy feeling I get after watching a nail-biting tennis rally. Small details can be lost on viewers during this banter, but what’s not hard to miss is the overtly sexist characterization of female characters on "The Newsroom."

Take Mac. She claims a big, powerful space as News Night’s executive producer, but her legitimacy is often challenged by her past romance with Will. Meanwhile, Maggie, a News Night associate producer, is known for her frantic fits and the anxiety surrounding her office life, affection for Jim and a complex relationship with ex-News Night producer Don.

Initially, we’re tricked into thinking the women we meet on "The Newsroom" have the same, equal space as the male characters because, look! There they are! We can see them. That means there’s no sexism, right? Wrong. Female visibility in the workplace does not negate misogyny. As Daniel D’Addario  observed on Salon, “'The Newsroom’s' shocking presumption that no woman can do her job effectively or without the ulterior motive of finding love” while the men are awarded the luxury of just, you know, getting down to business. It's as if the women can't be written into plots unless they involve a love triangle or emotional breakdown. This is a theme in Sorkin's work, and sends the message that women are just noisy props with overly complicated sex lives. 

2. Claire Dunphy (Modern Family)

ABC's "Modern Family" is a mockumentary that follows the Delgado-Dunphy-Pritchett- Tucker family as they navigate non-traditional familial structures. Claire is the glue holding the more traditional Dunphy family together, but she doesn’t get the appreciation or respect she deserves.  As she tries to rein in her clownish husband Phil and keep the kids in check, their defiance and outlandish errors are met with viewer laughs. Meanwhile, Claire is  characterized as a nag for trying to maintain normalcy. 

The writers never seem to get bored of crafting ways for Phil and the kids to get into senseless jams. Meanwhile, the family's attitude toward Claire is flippant and disrespectful, despite her always showing up to save their sorry butts. This is oppressive, and pretty boring. Claire’s patience and dedication to her family are taken for granted, suggesting that women are expected to deal regardless of how they’re treated, because that’s just the way it is.

3. Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Modern Family)

Gloria, mother of Manny and the Colombian wife of the much-older Jay, patriarch of the family and father to Mitchell and Claire, is tokenized and stereotyped by most of the characters on the show. Viewers are supposed to laugh at her inability to assimilate into American culture as she consistently mispronounces words ("ultimatum" is "old tomato") and attempts to retain aspects of her culture, like the time she forces Jay to give Manny his poncho so he can wear it to school.

But there’s nothing funny, or modern, about white people oppressing marginalized populations by dictating their value based on whether they fit neatly into predetermined standards of whiteness. It's hard to disrupt unequal power structures in reality, when white-washed prime-time television mocks people from different cultures.  

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