With the recent release of Miss Representation, Joanna Siebel Newsom’s Sundance acclaimed film that examines the often sexist, negative and misguided portrayal of women in media, I thought it was time that I took a closer at what we’re watching on television.
In last week’s episode, the softball team at Outdoor World, Tim Allen’s place of employment, faces an incredulous conundrum when told they must allow women to play on the team or face dismissal from their league, comprised of other “manly” stores that sell fishing tackle, guns and bows and pick up trucks.
To reach a decision over such a timely and important concern, the president of the company, who announces that he would “rather have a gall bladder stone” than have to invite girls onto the team, holds an anonymous ballot vote to determine the company’s next move. The threat of “spending Sunday with your wife” leads to a nearly unanimous vote in favor of a co-ed softball team.
We learn that although Tim Allen initially comments that “sports are the last bastion of male camaraderie,” he in fact votes in favor of the team becoming co-ed. As viewers, this is the part in the show where we are supposed to recognize the fairness of Tim Allen’s character, rewarding him with a round of applause, or a cookie, or maybe a small parade for doing the right thing.
But excuse me…the last bastion? This implies that women have infiltrated all other avenues where men might experience exclusive male bonding. A quick search reveals that men account for 83% of Congress and 97.5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and presidents. So, while Tim Allen and his buddies at Outdoor World may not be joining the ranks of these prestigious clubs any time soon, if the statistics are a representation of the bigger picture then there are still plenty of organizations that explicitly offer themselves as a forum to celebrate male bonding.
In the absence of female employees at Outdoor World, or at least one that is visible, Tim Allen begrudgingly recruits his thirteen year-old sports-oriented daughter to play on Outdoor World’s softball team. Never mind the message that if you have to include a girl on your team, make sure she’s a tomboy and not commonly feminine, or the fact that I have not come across a male only softball league since 1985. The icing on the sexist cake is the choice of adjectives Tim Allen and his deer hunting, paintball loving Outdoor World colleagues use to describe his daughter’s added value to the team.
After first taking credit for encouraging his daughter to “use her voice,”which she did to oust him from his role as the softball team’s pitcher, Tim Allen then refers to her stellar game winning abilities as “adorable.” And to show that even sexist, chauvinist, tough guys can have a change of heart, the Outdoor World president exclaims that he can’t wait to stick the “little hot-head” against upcoming teams.
Sure, maybe I’m being particularly critical of Last Man Standing. The truth is, the sitcom isn’t anywhere close to standing alone when it comes to television shows that promote sexist archetypes for both men and women. But just because Tim Allen and the show’s writers and producers are in good company, doesn’t make it right. The same goes for the comedy argument. Humor is wonderful and it fits into plenty of places. The use of it to demean women in mainstream media is not, however, one of them.
I’m sorry, Tim Allen, but you lost me at your Home Improvement grunt. I tried again, but the next time I want to brush up on women in softball, I’ll stick to A League of Their Own: a movie that approached the women in sports issue from a positive female perspective…not to mention about 20 years earlier.
Courtney Rowe, once a former Boulder resident, is completing her M.S. in Policy Studies at DePaul University in Chicago with a focus on the global protection and security of women and children. The National Defense University Press recently published her book chapter ‘The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers” in The Nexus of Force.
She loves giving back to her global and local community and recently became of Representative for MissRepresentation.Org. Aside from her work, her passions include her amazing family and friends, traveling and coffee.