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From 'Pretty Little Liars' to future women leaders?

The onslaught of television shows targeted at teenage girls might lead you to believe that TV executives don't think highly of young women. At least that's the message implicit in much of the current programming.

Some of the hugely popular primetime shows aimed at female teenagers bear a close resemblance to soap operas―except their thin plots hold even less substance and somehow manage to present females in a worse light. Gossip Girl and the even more disturbingly named, Pretty Little Liars, portray the virtues of manipulation, purging to become slim, using feminine wiles to get anywhere and everywhere, and of course―trampling on others as needed. The message of self deprecation in these shows is staggering.

Consider the opening theme in Pretty Little Liars, an ABC Family show about a clique of glossy high school-aged girls, which shows four girls surreptitiously burying a dead female classmate who became "too powerful." New York Post's Linda Stasi called the series "a nasty piece of work filled with underage sex, vulgar, hateful kids and references to young girls that are flat-out ugly and disrespectful."

Then there's Gossip Girl, whose male protagonists are portrayed as nothing more than lowly scavengers. Says one male classmate to another about leading lady Serena, "Serena looked effin' hot last night. There's something wrong with that level of perfection. It needs to be violated." The same character also counsels his friend, "What we're entitled to is a house in the Hamptons. Maybe a prescription drug problem. But happiness does not seem to be on the menu so smoke up and seal the deal with Blair because you're also entitled to tap that [expletive]." Among so many vapid aspects of this show, the fact that it is based on a book written by a woman leaves me even more uneasy.

Another bit of "entertainment" can be found in the innocent seeming The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which portrays weekly what Time magazine called, "a parental sex-horror show....Campily depicting high school as a den of sluts and predators...." An interesting commentary indeed considering that Secret Life was developed in partnership with The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Rather than frittering away your time watching these displays, I'll boil them down to the most essential message espoused: As a young woman, your best bet is to conform socially, obsess about your body to the point of self loathing, and leverage rumor and hearsay as a means to damage others and gain power.

Whether you call these shows aspirational, the norm, or plain irresponsible, they don't bear much resemblance to real teenage life. Sure, teenagers are famously interested in sex, but they also have other challenges, realities, and interests that these shows don't bother to represent.

My critics would point out that protagonists in shows like The Closer, Saving Grace, Hawthorne, and Medium represent examples of strong female role models for young girls. But let's be honest, teenage girls are not watching shows about 40-somethings.

Could it be that the booming industry of commercials casts women in a better light? Most likely not...unless your highest hopes for a woman are to see her wielding a toilet brush or ushering a lasagna out of the oven.

What's more, television is playing parent to our teenagers more than ever. The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a study that found that the amount of time spent watching regularly-scheduled TV declined by 25 minutes a day, but that the many new ways to watch television―on the Internet, cell phones, and iPods―actually led to an increase in total television consumption from 3:51 to 4:29 per day. Said Victoria Rideout, Foundation VP and director of the study, "The bottom line is that all these advances in media technologies are making it even easier for young people to spend more and more time with media. It's more important than ever that researchers, policymakers and parents stay on top of the impact it's having on their lives."

And what about the networks? The bar that TV's top brass has set for young women is below the curb. To be sure, parents are the end-all and be-all with regard to rearing, but do the people putting these shows in front of us carry no responsibility whatsoever?

If you're like me, you're wondering who the call-makers are who guess what girls want and decide what ultimately airs. The answer is most likely not women. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women comprise a minority of television executives, making up 25 percent of all creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors, and directors of photography working on situation comedies, dramas, and reality programs. While this percentage is more encouraging than the number of females reflected in film, women make fewer media decisions than we think.

I can't help but wonder how a mom or dad can encourage leadership traits in their daughters when they're competing with the lowest of the low in terms of media influence. Oddly, the very group we're "dumbing down" life for is the demographic who will be graduating with the majority of bachelors and advanced degrees, becoming one of the biggest talent pipelines in the workplace.

When a group's experience is continually told by others, a certain truth is lost. If teenage girls were in charge, how would they tell their own stories?

Soap opera parodies depicting shrews are not doing our girls any favors. Unless you want your daughter, niece or sister to endure―and possibly absorb―the scheming, conforming, skewed outlook of these shows, steer them elsewhere.

I thought that being a teenager was already hard enough.

By Selena Rezvani

 |  June 25, 2010; 1:31 PM ET
Category:  Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Abby_Aggie, the one thing I would like you to consider is that what we choose to "escape from the real world" has a very large impact on our lives over time. We can find things that help elevate our dreams and thoughts or we can spend time on entertainment that only reinforces the worst behaviors around us.

Throughout history, those who have had the greatest impact for good, both men and women, have been influenced by the heroes and positive leaders around them. The problem today is that everything from entertainment to advertising to the marketplace elevates unhelpful and harmful attitudes and behaviors. Meanwhile, positive attitudes and behaviors are belittled and little is provided to reinforce their benefits.

Posted by: hsl2000 | June 26, 2010 7:36 AM
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This is a vapid article - I (as a mere male) give the younger ladies more credit for common sense than the author of this piffle.

Ms. Rezvani is confusing role models with cautionary tales. Hollywood exhults in florid, over-the-top, nonsense with the ultimate goal of MAKING MONEY. Teen-aged girls (or twenty-somethings playing teen-aged girls) are glorified because they are a marketing demographic with disposible income; why do you suppose Disney has a "princess" line of movies?

Posted by: shadowmagician | June 25, 2010 11:10 PM
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What exactly is the problem here? Look these shows are nothing more than training grounds for future women leaders. Does anyone actually believe that working hard, being moral and caring about others as roads to becoming a leader in either business or politics? Achieving power is a ruthless endeavor and the people who become leaders today in large corporations or national politics are not boy scouts or campfire girls. The ones who achieve power are usually the most ruthless and sociopathic. Anyone who believes otherwise is being extraordinarily naïve. All you have to do is read the newspaper to know what scum our corporate and political leaders are. While the power elite in America view leadership as some kind of virtuous endeavor, it is nothing more than a self interested desire to dominate others and these TV shows are just being honest about what it takes to become a leader in today’s society.

Posted by: ecomcon | June 25, 2010 10:59 PM
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The public and the news media need to stop supporting lying witches like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

Posted by: Phil5 | June 25, 2010 10:45 PM
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No substance in such shows! What a waste of time for the viewer and misuse of television time by the executives. Whatever sells - I guess? As it is we are having a tough time weeding out the back-stabbers in todays work force.

Posted by: gsehgal | June 25, 2010 9:55 PM
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It is imperative that girls and women find strong leaders of character to give them direction. I host a blog, Historical Women of Leadership at http://historicalwomenofleadership.com.

It focuses on historical women and the leadership lessons we can derive from how they faced the challenges of their eras.

In other words, we can learn from the enduring lessons of historical women to help develop women leaders of the future.

Posted by: hxwomenlead | June 25, 2010 8:00 PM
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To the angry commenters...

As someone who is currently working on a project about girls needing positive role models (http://www.facebook.com/sheissrm) I'm personally rather tired of the anger and negativity heaved at anyone trying to assert that this is an important need.

I would like to point out what should be painfully obvious, that just because someone is specifically discussing the need for positive role models for girls doesn't mean that they don't believe that boys are also in need role models... It merely means that the needs and reasons are different and thus discussed separately. I chose to target this project to girls, because as a woman I feel like I'm marginally more qualified to understand the needs of girls than boys... by all means, I encourage you to take up your own cause of positive imagery for boys and I (along with many other women) will gladly be extremely supportive.

Posted by: starkravingmadeleine | June 25, 2010 7:13 PM
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Honestly, as a teenage girl I think you give us a little less credit than we deserve. We are not all naive and stupid. Just because a girl chooses to purge herself on TV does not mean we will do it. I get how you care about our self-respect and things of that nature, but just because girls are being lame on TV, doesn't mean we look up to them.
We watch things like that for entertainment just as housewives watch daily soap opera's..how often do you seen one of them stealing their sisters baby?
And while TV may influence style choices (makeup, hair, clothes) most of us have enough self respect to realize that they are characters. (By the way Pretty Little Liars is based of a book, which has made a FEMALE novelist known for her writing. Personally that's something I look up to.)

Posted by: littlepinkbow88 | June 25, 2010 7:03 PM
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I read the article.

This article is not about leadership. It is a skewed commentary about no role models for teenage girls on TV. Fact is, there aren't any role models on TV for teenage boys, either.

TV programming isn't about building leaders, it's about entertainment. Sure, it'd be great if there were more female TV executives, but the medium would still be about entertainment. If Ms. Rezvani doesn't agree, I invite her to check out the women-focused shows.

This isn't the first time Ms. Rezvani has written in this space. I invite her to stop whining about what we won't find at b-school or on TV and start talking about empowerment and leadership skill building.

I also agree with Abby-Aggie that Ms. Razvani doesn't give teenagers nearly enough credit in their ability to discern between life and TV shows. This is a bit odd, as she claims to want to empower young women. What research has she herself done in this area that makes her qualified to write about teenagers in this manner?

Posted by: MsJS | June 25, 2010 6:32 PM
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What hole has the author been living in? Haven't you witnessed the denigration of women over the past 40 years?

Why would any person - male or female - aspire to be a hard-working, decent, law-abiding citizen - with the outrageously corrupt liar posing the PRESIDENT of this country?

What about those Democrats? LIARS, ALL. Great role models.

Posted by: joesmithdefend | June 25, 2010 6:21 PM
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According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women comprise a minority of television executives, making up 25 percent of all creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors, and directors of photography working on situation comedies, dramas, and reality programs.

It's interesting that Selena Rezvani chose to single out this statistic, becuase you would think it would have an effect on the negative portayals of men in media- it doesn't.

Posted by: moebius22 | June 25, 2010 6:19 PM
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To pgibson1,

There are lots of women who have a problem with the way men are portrayed. However, what we see on TV, shows as well as commercials, is what MEN think people want to see. Do you think that women enjoy watching commercial after commercial that's either trying to get them to lose weight or showing women practically orgasmic over laundry, cleaning, and in one case, shampoo.

There are very few female producers and directors. Things are better if you're a female writer, but even then scripts and storylines can, and often are, dictated by the network. I think the CW has a female president, but NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox do not.

So the call about what you see on the Tee-Vee, as you call it, is overwhelmingly conceived, written, produced, directed and given the okay to air, by men. Complain about them, not women.

Posted by: onlytheshadowknows1 | June 25, 2010 5:39 PM
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to moses8: The Simpsons is clearly comedy, satire, parody. "Liars", "Secrets", et al are not so clear. I've sampled them (lasted about 10 minutes before feeling nauseated) and they played like drama. Light & exaggerated drama, but drama, not comedy.

Posted by: egc52556 | June 25, 2010 5:19 PM
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Nice article. That reminds me. The 'Real Housewives of DC' premiers soon!

Posted by: SoCal | June 25, 2010 4:54 PM
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whether art mirrors life or life mirrors art, what we are seeing is pretty ugly. i think that is the point.

these shows perpetuate negative stereotypes.

homer simpson is a negative stereotype too, but we aren't expected to take him seriously. the problem with these shows seems to be that we are expected to take the negative stereotypes as representative of reality, rather than charicatures.

Posted by: moses8 | June 25, 2010 4:42 PM
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Girls maybe don't learn to be mean through TV but a friend of mine has a little girl who is 7. When she acts out and he and his wife realize it's from a recent TV show,they tell her to stop using her TV voice. I asked if that worked, and he said, yes it does. So, something's going on with TV and at least one little girl's behavior. By the way, this is a charming, talented little girl who is respectful to adults in most situations! My brother and sister in law limit TV for their two children one of whom is a 13 year old girl. My niece learned some bad behavior from her girl group back when she was 10. That was not tolerated at home and she's turning into a nice young lady. It does fall back on the parents to find out where the behavior is coming from and to correct it. It's always been up to the parents from the time I was young and that was some time ago!

Posted by: Oxygen1 | June 25, 2010 4:34 PM
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I must agree with Abby_Aggie. While I have, thankfully, made it out of my teenage years and infinitely prefer to watch Bones, House, or NCIS ... I admit to enjoying Gossip Girl and following the character. No one I know ever says "gee, I think that I should act like Serena to be the best person in the world."

Additionally, girls don't learn how to be mean from TV ... having grown up before the advent of "mean girl shows" and experienced them first hand in real life, I think that producers took this story line from the halls of grade schools and have blown it up to make for good TV. Pretending that there aren't "mean girls" in high schools acrss the country isn't going to make it so ... what will make a difference is having more storylines showing girls mature ways to cope with bullying without seeming preachy.

Posted by: CradleEpiscopalian | June 25, 2010 4:26 PM
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You teach them at home, you raise them as your children. You do not leave it up to teachers, or television or any form of mass media. These are merely distractions from "real life" You stop blaming other people. You become parents. That's how you create leaders.

Posted by: netsurf12 | June 25, 2010 4:05 PM
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What makes you think these shows are "teaching" young women to behave this way.

Perhaps young women already behave this way and the shows simply mirror this behavior back.

Posted by: krankyman | June 25, 2010 3:46 PM
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You're blaming television and fictional characters for the insecurities and problems of real people?

If parents and other adults are so concerned- then STEP UP! Obliterate the television, monitor computer access, and learn how to talk to kids. It isn't rocket science, folks. No one said raising kids is easy, but stop complaining about fictional characters and start talking and listening to the kids who live under your roof and are in your lives.

Posted by: WarriorJames1 | June 25, 2010 3:23 PM
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truth of the matter is..at age 52..i've lost all respect for leadership of any type ,man or woman...and believe in leading only myself to do the right thing with my retirement and a land investment that should net me enough to live out my days quietly in one of the more stable south american countries such as Chile or Argentina...as a hobby i shall make a small investment in a tavern,.and with my knowledge of three languages...who knows..there might even be a chance at re-inventing myself in a foreign land.

Posted by: kiler616 | June 25, 2010 3:14 PM
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but obviously feminists have no problem with the depiction of men as clumsy, often ignorant pantiewaist manginas in today's media.

As often as a commercial is run on the TEE VEE, you will see two things:

Depicting men as idiot fools.

Fix that, while you're at it, equality mavens.

Or (again) is it just about YOU?

Fix it all or quit complaining about your sistah's "depiction".

See - it bothers you doesn't it?

Now reach deep down and ask yourself how men react when they see depictions of their gender as bumbling, penis-thinking fools.

Yeah, it smarts, don't it?

No go fix your attitudes, and quit ragging on men being your enemies. You might actually achieve something that is good for everyone, rather than only you.

Ever wonder what it was like learning that men are not being educated in the USA the way women are?

It is perfectly selfish of you, and of your compliants regarding depiction of women on tee-vee - you may want to try getting used to being depicted as worthless reality-tv trash.

Posted by: pgibson1 | June 25, 2010 3:11 PM
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I am not sure I care if this generation of the self absorbed manage to lead. They have a nasty anti human attitude unless they want something.

Posted by: jolu32339 | June 25, 2010 2:54 PM
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The real question is does Art mimic life or does life mimic art. I belive here art mimics life. We have many female leaders with the exact traits epressed in this article. The ex-CEO of Ebay is one, and many other tough female CEO's are no better than their male counterparts.

Evil springs forth from the same mind. All minds possess the ability to be/do evil, including women, equal to men. Equality.

Expecting women to somhow be morally better than men is just biased thinking,a dn not rational balanced thinking.


Posted by: patmatthews | June 25, 2010 2:34 PM
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Maybe you should get your sources correct. Linda Stasi of the New York Post actually gave 'Pretty Little Liars' a decent rating. What you quoted in your article, the "nasty piece of work" part is actually the rating she gave for 'Gossip Girl'. For Pretty Little Liars, Linda Stasi said, "The ridiculously expensive wardrobes, the fabulous hair and makeup, plus a high school with not a single fatty is well, yes, the stuff of teen fantasy. And that is exactly what Pretty Little Liars is: a glamorous, spooky, adolescent fantasy." I don't know why you would put an incorrect review for "Pretty Little Liars". Maybe just to prove your point?

I, being a teenage girl, know these shows aren't real. I don't watch them and think, "Oh, wow, I really want men to think of me like that,", etc. Girls who are dim-witted enough to think that life should be like a TV show probably won't get too far in life, but that's the minority. The women in the working world today probably watched some trashy TV back in the day, the original "90210", "Dawson's Creek", etc. The world didn't come to an end. What I don't get is why parents/adults think teenagers are so stupid that they would believe that TV should be like real life. TV is an escape from the real world, just for an hour a week, nothing more.

Posted by: abby_aggie | June 25, 2010 2:32 PM
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