Years ago, when this site was young, we got so many people commenting to let us know “It’s just a show – lighten up!” that we expressly forbade this point of view in our comment policy. It wasn’t just the sheer volume, redundancy and dismissive tone of the comments that prompted us to get rid of them. It was also that it’s just not true.
I can’t tell you how times guys have disbelieved my claims to have gender-expectation-defying interests, preferences or activities, then cited television and movies as their proof I’m lying in some weird attempt to manipulate them. For example, women on TV and movies are always thrilled about getting flowers, they say, so when I say, “Oh, thanks, but actually having those anywhere near me will upset my allergies and lead to a bad headache”, I must really be saying, “I have secretly found someone else because your penis was inadequate and I hate you and your damn flowers.”
Another example: all women dream about their weddings. Men knows this because TV shows have given them the scoop. Remember the episode of Friends with the pillowcases? Even Phoebe was into it, and no one could be more of a strange loner misfit than Phoebe, therefore I must be lying when I say I have no interest in a wedding, mine or anyone else’s, ever. (In fact, I find them creepy.) Every woman wants a big diamond engagement ring to impress her friends, according to TV and movies, so what am I trying to pull when I claim I don’t? I must be trying to set men up to make mistakes so I can throw tantrums at them. Yes, that must be it. (I never even threw tantrums as a child, but women on TV and movies always do, so there!)
And of course, when I don’t get angry at men failing to recall my birthday, which I usually don’t recall myself, or for being late or for canceling last minute, which I totally understand and have to do myself sometimes, what I’m really saying is that I don’t care about them. Because the women in TV and movies always secretly seethe about this stuff, I must be secretly seething too – unless I just don’t care.
The sad fact is, a lot of people (including women) cite TV and movies as if they provide definitive evidence that all women feel/think/do X, and any individual woman claiming otherwise is lying, clearly for the purposes of manipulating somebody, the way all women do. I can’t defeat one stereotype without getting backed into another one.
The truth is, pop culture is not just fun and games, and that’s why “It’s just a show” is bullshit. Culture – and current culture has always been pop culture, and always will be – is the medium through which the privileged people educate all the other sorts of people on how they are supposed to behave so as to inconvenience the privileged the least they can with their undesirable yet necessary presence. I really am supposed to not only like flowers, but to accept them in lieu of kept promises and fidelity – not because it’s on TV but because that would be ever so convenient for uncaring and cheating men. What the person who criticizes me for diverging from TV portrayals of my gender is really saying is: “Don’t you know this is your responsibility? Even if you don’t like flowers, you still need to like the damn flowers because men need their women to be plug ‘n’ play, easily replaced! Men have nations to conquer and important things to do. They can’t be bogged down with trying to remember what each new current girlfriend likes, which is why it’s so crucial you all like exactly the same shit! Jeez, you selfish bitch!”
Pop culture has way more power than the law to change how people think and feel. We need laws to protect people from bigotry, but if you want to make people feel stupid about being bigots, pop culture can do that. After all, it’s what’s made people feel perfectly comfortable and righteous about being bigots.