*I’m defining “feminist television” as shows who feature strong female leads, and the plot revolves around women’s issues. I’m using “Big Little Lies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” as my primary examples because those are two shows that I watch and fit that category, but I’m sure there are many more. Now that we got that out of the way:
Hiatus time is what I lovingly refer to as “catch up on television time” and this year the television gods have been smiling down on me with all the goodness that’s currently on the air or streaming. Two shows in particular have been standouts for me: HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and Hulu’s “The Handmaids Tale.” Both of this shows have strong female leads and showcase women’s issues without holding anything back or making it into a punchline (particularly Handmaid’s Tale… oh boy, that show doesn’t hold anything back).
My husband and I often watch television together. It’s our unwind time and we happen to like a lot of the same shows. There are certain shows that we must watch together — the sacred vow that many married couples and roommates make — and we have our own shows (I’m not going to make him watch Rupaul’s Drag Race with me, but he happily listens to my recaps… so there’s that). Most of the shows we watch together are on HBO. What can I say, we’re loyalists to most everything they produce. So, imagine my surprise when halfway through the pilot, he walked out of the room to go browse the internet. After I finished the show, I asked him if he didn’t like it. He said he didn’t care about any of the characters and (minor spoiler alert!) who was murdered / did the murdering. Fair enough. Several people I know (men and women alike) were turned off by the pilot for multitudes of reasons. I mean, it is somewhat hard to relate to the gorgeous and perfect Laura Dern staring out of her multi-million dollar beach estate with a glass of Chardonnay complaining about how tough her life is. I get it. But, being a fan of Liane Moriarty’s books, I knew this soap was going to be much more than a whodunnit. In fact, after watching the whole season, one could argue that the show is less about the murder and more about this community of women who are trying to define themselves. Plus, it’s visually beautiful and the performances are amazing (how many awards will Nicole Kidman get for those therapy scenes alone, am I right?)
At its’ core, it was mostly a show about women and their issues. My husband couldn’t relate to it, so he chose not to watch it. Disappointing, but okay.
…And then the same thing happened with “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
He was the one who seemed more excited about watching the show than I was. I read it in High School and knew what I was getting myself into (although, to be fair, in High School I was much more interested in potential romance than the scary thought that this dystopian future where women have no rights could be real… so, sorry for that!) It was even directed by his favorite DP! About halfway through the second episode, he left the room again, but this time I was baffled. This isn’t a tale about rich (mainly) white women “complaining” about their lives. This is a tale of a woman’s survival in a dystopian world where women have no roles other than “wife” or “whore” (and I guess maybe “maid”). This is some scary shit and scary shit that directly affects me, his own wife. And it’s directed by his favorite DP! But, anytime there was an impassioned speech about women getting treated like crap (I’m paraphrasing, the dialogue is much more eloquent), I saw him staring down at his phone and not paying attention. And it really fucking bugged me.
I understand we’re not going to agree on every show we like - he’s not a fan of “Game of Thrones” and we didn’t talk for nearly two weeks while I binged “Friday Night Lights”. People have their own tastes and I get that. And Nate did want me to be clear and say that he does enjoy “The Handmaid’s Tale” and is looking forward to the next episode. But, whether or not he enjoys the show or not, isn’t really the point. These are important shows about women and it baffles me that these shows don’t get the same level of attention from my husband (and other men) that they deserve. That’s not to say that he doesn’t care about women’s rights or is anti-woman television, but it doesn’t have the same impact on me (a woman) as it does on him (a man). The same can be true of any gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. I once heard someone say they didn’t watch “Black-ish” because they weren’t black. Um, what?!
And that’s why we need these shows now more than ever. I think part of the reason my husband and many other men have a hard time with these shows is because they can’t relate. These are not shows about them. These are shows that highlight their privilege and cast a dark shadow on it. That can be a tough pill to swallow when you’re simply trying to unwind and relax. But, that’s the reality. And that’s also why television and entertainment are so important in trying to bridge the gap between something being un-relatable to finding the empathy and connection. We can’t understand what we don’t know. These shows, while entertainment, do give people a chance to see something they wouldn’t normally care about. But, you have to watch them. You can’t let a moment deter you from an entire series because you simply can’t relate. And for the love of God, people, please put down your phones when watching TV! But, that’s a whole other debate for a whole other blog post.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is now streaming on Hulu with new episodes every Wednesday.