As cattiness pulls TV audiences, female friendship increasingly rare

by Beacon Staff • November 3, 2011

a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/andrea.jpgimg class=aligncenter size-medium wp-image-3813934 title=andrea src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/andrea-242x300.jpg alt= width=242 height=300 //a

strongAndrea Shea, Pop Columnist/strong

These days, we can’t seem to get enough of bitches. Don’t believe me? A brief glance at a handful of popular television shows is all the proof you could possibly need. emDesperate Housewives/em, em90210/em, emThe Real Housewives/em series — they all have one thing in common: women who will call you a friend with an easy smile while slipping a noose around your neck. Blair and Serena of emGossip Girl/em fame play jump rope with the line between best friends and mortal enemies on an almost episodic basis.

And for some reason, we love it. We eat up the melodrama with an oversized ladle, hooked on every snide comment and passive-aggressive slight with rapt, unflinching attention. It doesn’t sound so nice on paper, but it’s certainly a hard charge to deny, especially with shows, though now retitled, were once called emGood Christian Bitches/em and emDon’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23/em,em /emon their way to a TV near you in the coming months.

I’m hardly immune to the sensation. I have skipped meetings, lied my way out of social engagements, and ignored real work in favor of hunkering down with my roommates on a Wednesday  night to catch Emily Thorne’s latest and greatest manipulative plots on ABC’s new series emRevenge/em. There’s no guilty pleasure quite like a good 43 minutes of psychological warfare between women. It’s the emotional equivalent of watching guys beat each other up in a gritty action show — there’s a gratifying sort of adrenaline rush that accompanies the experience. You get to side with someone, root for someone, wince when your girl is cut down, and cheer when she bites back with equal ferocity beneath her coy comment and a subtle smirk.

But where’s the room for friendship in this equation? Sometimes I just want to watch girls hang out and support each other. The “bromance” — a la emScrubs/em’ Turk and JD — is a celebrated pillar of Great American Television, and so too should be the Lorleais and the Sookies of emGilmore Girls/em. Manipulative bitches make for deliciously intoxicating entertainment, but at what cost?

I’m deeply (some might say “unhealthily”) addicted to ABC Family’s emPretty Little Liars/em, in which four estranged girl friends find themselves relying on their close ties to one another more heavily than ever to defend themselves against an invisible enemy that may or may not be their supposedly-dead fifth best friend. The show is based on a young adult book series by the same name, which I thought I might equally enjoy. Curious to know how the books compared to their live-action counterpart, I turned to the all-knowing oracle that is Yahoo! Answers.

Oh, girls loved the emPretty Little Liars/em novels, but for all the same reasons that would repel me immediately: “what i don’t like [about] the TV show is [how they] have the girls all be best friends, i liked it better when there were more secrets...and drama, [sic]” one fan eloquently commented. Several others were quick to agree. And here the reason I was so enamored with the show was because of how close the main characters had become.

Girl friendship is vital, beautiful, and vastly underrepresented in modern media. Do we really want the standard for relationships between women to be that of never-ending competition? Of mean-spirited alliances that can be broken as soon as it’s advantageous or convenient? The more we watch girls on TV be bitches, or read about girls in books being bitches, the more we’re going to believe girls are bitches.

Mass media is a reflection of society, but we’re pretty good at mirroring what we see. Teenage girls in particular, who are still in the process of figuring out their own identities, now idolize the emGossip Girl/ems of the media world. And what do they learn from their idols? Backstabbing. Manipulation. Rumor-spreading. And Blair and Serena just make it look so damn cool.

I understand the need for drama and tension to keep an audience engaged. I get that your heart pounds whenever the building cattiness between two girls comes to a head. And I certainly know how much fun a good girl fight can be.

But in the same way we wouldn’t want all women portrayed as the Virgin Mary, we need to be careful not to go too far in the opposite direction and Regina George-ify them all either. There has to be a balance, lest the universal feminine identity sink into a bubbling tar pit of betrayal and deceit. Bitchiness may be the spice of media, but if you lay it on too thick and let it overshadow true friendship, you’re just going to get burned.

emShea is a junior writing, literature, and publishing major. She can be reached at andrea_shea@emerson.edu./em