State of Mind: domestic problems as foreign issues?

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I’m still pleased with how Lifetime’s State of Mind is portraying women. The characterization goes deep enough that I know who each of these women are. None of them are redundant of the others – each woman has a distinct personality, distinct goals, distinct problems. They have both platonic and sexual relationships with the men. They have relationships with each other where they talk about subjects other than men.

But I have a quibble with one story arc involving one of the psychiatrists at the office. He is having an affair with one of the other doctors while his family goes to hell in a handbasket of denial. One of his daughters is starving herself. His wife tolerates the affair and keeps right on making sure her husband’s dinner is on time every night, because she believes that’s the most dignified and righteous thing to do. And the husband is a controlling bastard.

What bothers me is that the family are first generation Egyptian-Americans. Like we don’t have white Baptist families going through precisely the same situation right here in the US. Does giving this storyline to an Egyptian family allow American viewers to project the failings of patriarchal family structures onto some other culture, not ours? In this week’s episode, the daughter who’s starving herself blamed her problems on being born into a culture where a mother would tolerate that sort of disrespect from her husband.

Gee. I’m pretty sure I was born into a culture just like that, too. Oh, it may not be the norm in every square mile of the United States, but don’t stick your head in the sand: there is nothing foreign about the idea of controlling selfish fathers and mothers who don’t feel empowered to do anything but suffer through it and try to be strong for the kids. Anywhere you have patriarchy, this is going to happen. And not rarely.

Otherwise, the storyline has been excellent, and in this week’s episode, controlling hubby came home to find dinner not on the table, not in the fridge, not in the microwave. After his head exploded, he went to the doctor with whom he’s been having the affair and broke it off. She had to cut him short because she had a coffee date. His head exploded again. It’s like… the women are no longer rewarding him just for showing up! Weird! ;)

And the show is also hitting the issue of whether just being a Nice Guy is reason enough for a woman to stay with a man. Lily Taylor’s character, as I detailed in the above-linked post, dumped her husband ostensibly because he had an affair but really because the relationship wasn’t fulfilling her. In this week’s episode, her sister (played by Mo Gaffney) had found the love of her life – and it wasn’t her decent, nice husband of twenty-two years. Should she stay with a Nice Guy, or move on to a man who is also nice, but really deeply understands and “sees” her completely? The real question is: shouldn’t “nice” be a minimum requirement rather than a special trait? Women are expected to be nice, plus sexy and interesting and all that, or else you dump them. But a woman dumping a man who is nice, unsexy and uninteresting? That’s just not right! /sarcasm

Another point of interest, and something I may attempt to write a separate post on eventually: there is only one regular woman of color on this show: Cordelia Banks (Theresa Randle), whose already had at least one storyline to herself. And the cheating doctor’s Egyptian family – a wife and two daughters – are beginning to play increased roles in the story. After appearances in two episodes, the wife and each of the daughters have distinct personalities and issues, like all the other women on the show. I hope this trend continues.

Comments

  1. says

    It’s very possible that they deliberately made it a foreign family so that the audience would understand that what’s going on is bad. If they had written exactly the same story with white Baptists instead, a certain portion of the audience would almost surely be praising the wife for behaving like a good, decent Christian woman (right up to that end bit where she fails to cook him dinner… ;) ).

    I haven’t seen this show, but it got a pretty lukewarm review in The New Yorker recently — they seemed to think it had too many storylines going on at once or something like that…

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Too many storylines? My brain’s managed to keep up.

    Maybe it just has too many women talking to each other about things other than “OMG MEN!!11!! AREN’T THEY SO NEAT!” ;)

  3. says

    Actually, reading between the lines, it almost looks like that’s the complaint: too busy with a bunch of different women-talking-to-women plots.

    Here’s the quote:

    In short order, “State of Mind” gets cute, and it stays there. (It was created by the writer Amy Bloom, who is also a psychotherapist. This is her first venture into TV; she is the show’s head writer and one of the executive producers.) You’d think that Lili Taylor would be ideal as a therapist, because she comes across as “real,” and doesn’t look like a cable-news anchor, as so many women on TV do. But there’s too much going on here—four colleagues in the building, a nutty receptionist, patients, the usual overbearing mother who comes to town out of the blue, and so on—and Taylor’s character is scattered and irksome. The show panders up and down the lot: it caters to uninformed fantasies of how psychiatrists work, and it’s not very smart about how relationships work, either. Yes, I’m hard on Lifetime, but that’s because its failings call attention not to what it has but to what it lacks: balls.

    To be honest, I think you’d be very interested in reading the whole article here since it’s a discussion about the fact that Lifetime is a rarity in that it is specifically marketed to older women:

    Lifetime has always gone after a demographic that is largely ignored—no, actively shunned—by other networks: older women. But, aside from the fear-and-loathing programming, there isn’t much to choose from on the depressing and often ridiculous menu of offerings. It’s an endless loop of victimization followed by empowerment, interlarded with syndicated sitcoms like the third-rate “Still Standing” and “Reba.” It’s an odd thing to say about a channel that’s for women, but Lifetime somehow just isn’t very grown up. As a lobbying force, it may stride briskly through the corridors of power; on an artistic level, it bounces along on My Little Pony.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    Good grief. Okay, mainly I agree that Lifetime sucks. This show is a huge exception, IMO. But this…

    Yes, I’m hard on Lifetime, but that’s because its failings call attention not to what it has but to what it lacks: balls.

    …is very telling. A woman’s network sucks because it lacks balls? Right! Something male is always the solution to everything! ;)

    Lifetime sucks because it inherited its ideas about what women want to watch from MEN who were charged years ago with creating programming for women. “State of Mind” is the first thing I’ve seen from Lifetime that attempts something fresh.

    The industry will disagree, but I’m not convinced rehashing soap opera storylines of fear and loathing deserves the title “targeting older women”. It’s more a case of assuming because these women watched this crap when they were young (as if there was much choice what to watch then?) they must like it.

    Programmers are going to have to take some risks to discover what women really like to see, because they’ve never offered us more than one option at a time before! “SoM” is a new option. It’s what I had hoped Ally McBeal would be when I first saw the ads.

    I don’t watch “Army Wives” or any of their other stuff, so I dunno – maybe they are trying to dump older women. But SoM strikes me as a show for 30-somethings or older. I know a couple of women in their 50s who watch it, and other than me that’s it.

  5. sbg says

    The “too much going on” thing is a bit of a crock, too, considering the success of shows like Lost and Heroes, in which the size of cast alone makes for about a million storylines to follow.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m still trying to work out how the same reviewer can mention that Amy Bloom (creator) is a real-life psychotherapist, then go on to say the show presents “uninformed ideas about psychiatrists.”

  7. sbg says

    No wait, never mind. Because nearly half the main characters on GA are male, and it panders to the idea that the geeky awkward guy can marry the rich hot woman and then cheat on her with his lingerie-model best friend, rather than the idea that maybe women want more than just any ‘nice guy’ or “uninformed ideas about psychiatrists”.

    Multiple storylines are really only tough to follow when they focus on women’s POV rather than men’s. I thought everyone knew this.

    ::rollseyes::

  8. MaggieCat says

    But there’s too much going on here—four colleagues in the building, a nutty receptionist, patients, the usual overbearing mother who comes to town out of the blue, and so on—and Taylor’s character is scattered and irksome. The show panders up and down the lot: it caters to uninformed fantasies of how psychiatrists work, and it’s not very smart about how relationships work, either.

    Are we absolutely certain that reviewer didn’t get confused and watch Grey’s Anatomy instead?

    No wait, never mind. Because nearly half the main characters on GA are male, and it panders to the idea that the geeky awkward guy can marry the rich hot woman and then cheat on her with his lingerie-model best friend, rather than the idea that maybe women want more than just any ‘nice guy’ or “uninformed ideas about psychiatrists”. (Of course real surgeons wouldn’t do half the things they do on GA either, but that’s just artistic license.)

  9. says

    Re #4: the “lacks balls” comment really jumped out at me as well when reading this article. So there’s one station marketed to women, and if it fails to be less than stellar, the problem is absence of maleness? Clearly the writer was just trying to be clever, but WTF???

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