“Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only life and reality: the female human being.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Rilke said this some 113 years ago and while we may think that we are living in a world today where his prognosis has come true, there still are women all over the world who are as far from being empowered as they were 113 years ago.
I know some of you might be thinking there is no way that can be true; let me assure you that it is. I know that it is true because I myself live in one of the most primitive and patriarchal cultures of the modern world and see real life instances of female subjugation (the old school kind) with my eyes on a regular basis.
Pakistan is a patriarchal society where women have been ascribed a lower status than men. The extent of a woman’s freedom depends to some degree on her family’s socio-economic standing as well. Women from higher classes are able to enjoy more luxuries of life and more freedom in academic and career endeavors and in their personal lives while women from the middle class might pursue careers but are still dependent upon men to a greater degree. At the end of the day, however, it is the man who is considered the ultimate authority in the household, regardless of the class.
Being an educated young woman albeit from the middle class, I do all that is in my power to empower myself and not only the women in my life but also the ones I come in contact with in my everyday life. Yet I know that there is a long way to go. But hey, even in a culture as patriarchal as this, at least modern technology has brought not one, but several rays of hope. Even where men can forcibly keep women from leaving the house and from pursuing careers of their own choosing, they cannot keep them from reading what they want to read and watching what they want to watch (as long as it’s done in solitude, anyway).
The relationship between mass media and education is not classic: intellectuals and scholars get easily riled up even with the use of these two words together. Yet the role of mass media in raising awareness is one that cannot be overlooked. Good, mindful entertainment that helps inculcate the right values is of the utmost importance. It is the reason that even in patriarchal cultures, girls from my generation are more self-aware and confident than the ones before us. Hence we can agree that mass media (that TV is a major part of) is to be thanked for for the most part for the evolution of a global culture.
So here, on International Day of the Girl Child, I have compiled a list of five of my all-time favorite TV shows which help inculcate and advocate female empowerment.
Parks and Recreation: If you are familiar with Amy Poehler’s work (and her awesome, superwoman, goddess self) then I don’t need to say another word to make you watch this show. Ever wondered why there is no special day to celebrate your love and appreciation for your girlfriends, something along the lines of Valentine’s Day but like, more fun? Stop wondering right now and go take out the awesome girls in your life to celebrate Galentine’s Day: the most awesome fake holiday ever. When it comes to imparting values of female empowerment, Amy Poehler manages to transcend expectations in every single 20 minute long (too small, I know, *sobs*) episode of the single most clever and witty TV comedy ever created. The show aired on NBC from 2009 to 2015, so another great thing is that you can binge watch it in a couple of days (and then be sad for the rest of your life that it ended).
Jane the Virgin: To be honest, I had my doubts when I started watching this show and you might too if you hate cheesy telenovelas, but boy did this show reel me in and get me hooked! First, let me clarify, while the show is listed under the genre telenovela on most internet databases, it is, in fact, not a telenovela. Well, not really. I feel like I would be doing the show injustice if I simply called it a satire because it does so much more than just serve as a token satirical work. This shows brings forth and highlights, not just the significance, but the beauty of a matriarchal family setup. In addition, it brings us a female protagonist who chose to stick with her beliefs and remain a virgin until marriage even in the face of extremely unusual circumstances, which is refreshing considering that most of the time we get to watch TV where female empowerment is way too often equivocated with being overtly sexual.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Anyone who hasn’t watched this show, I ask you to watch the pilot and then tell me: Is Kimmy absolutely not the best?! This delightful comedy deals with serious themes like PTSD, misogyny and violence against women. These are themes and topics that women from any social and cultural background can relate to. However, the best part is that the show deals with these issues in a manner that makes the viewers’ hearts brim with love and joy instead of having them cringing at the darkness of it all. Ellie Kemper as the traumatised, yet infinitely optimistic and heartbreakingly sincere, Kimmy is easily one of the best characters on TV right now.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Don’t listen to the title, unless you are well familiar with Rachel Bloom’s speciality satirical songs. For musical lovers with a sweet tooth for some dark humor, this show is the ultimate treat. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend brings you everything that its title promises to go against. We have an over-achieving, but to a great extent bananas, heroine with a penchant for making bad decisions while not being unaware of how bad they are. This smart but lost girl is not a cliche for she knows exactly why and how she is lost (well, most of the time) and despite everything that manages to go wrong in her emotional life nonstop, she is constantly evolving as a woman and as a person.
Mistresses (U.S.): Now remember, I have chosen to go with Mistresses U.S because this show has taken everything that the original BBC Mistresses brought and multiplied it several fold. We have smart and successful women who are not afraid to go after what (or who) they want in life, who get back at you when you try to manipulate them or take advantage of their good nature, and most importantly, who do not settle. The choices that these women make, engender admiration for their guts even when from a small part of your brain a scared little girl (the byproduct of a male-dominated world) wants to scream at them for not going with the safer option. But then again, as Joss said to Harry in season 4: “What did you expect me to do? Kate’s a grown woman with her own vagina choices.”
Author: Kanwal Mukhtar
Image: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt still
Editor: Travis May