Friday, March 30

Blog Post #3: Desperate Housewives and its Hegemonic and Counter-Hegemonic Messages.

I have been a huge fan of the hit television show “Desperate Housewives” since it first aired in 2004. The fact that it is a television show with a predominately female cast made me take notice of it. Everything ranging from the humor to the suspense to the constant plot changes are what make the show such a hit with viewers such as myself. I think that this show in particular is full of many influences on gender and popular culture. Although I have not typically analyzed “Desperate Housewives” as I watched it, I can see how the show genuinely affects its audience and gives it certain messages. As a result, I have chosen to analyze what "Desperate Housewives" is revealing about gender and popular culture in today's society. It's important for viewers to see just what message each character on the show is giving the viewers about society.


The title “Desperate Housewives” implies that the characters of the show fit the old hegemonic norm of a woman staying at home while the husband earns the money. However, this is an inaccurate assumption. The characters of Susan, Lynette, and Edie all have paid employment. Nevertheless, one might argue that the hegemonic norm currently for women is to work outside the home. A person would think that with both men and women working, they would share an equal amount of the housework. However, the hegemonic norm currently is for women to take care of the majority of the housework and the child rearing. Desperate Housewives both challenges and reinforces the norms of housewives and working women.


In many ways, Desperate Housewives rebels against hegemonic norms. It is especially apparent through the character of Lynette. Unlike the typical housewife portrayed in the media of the past, Lynette is not happy with her role. She does not have the “kept woman mentality” of doing all of the housework, chores, and child rearing without complaining and showing her unhappiness (Steinem, 1990, p.229). “Desperate Housewives” constantly shows Lynette with stains on her clothing, messy hair, and chaotic children running all over the place. She is far from the idealized image of the housewife whom always looks perfect with a beautiful home and obedient children. Another example of how she defies the hegemonic norm of a housewife is when she breaks down and confesses to her friends that she believes she is a terrible mother. Women are expected to love being mothers, working or not. When Lynette starts working again, the hegemonic norms are once again defied. Her husband stays home and takes care of the children. When he does decide to go back to work again, Lynette ends up being his boss. This is the ultimate defiance of hegemony- not only is a woman the boss, but she dominates over her husband.


Although Tom staying home with his children while his wife works defies hegemonic norms, his attitude about his situation certainly does not. While Lynette is working and Tom is staying at home with the kids, he is extremely unhappy. Tom does a poor job keeping the house neat and tidy, does not keep his eyes on his children as carefully as Lynette did, and constantly complains to Lynette that he feels he is being feminized. This fits into the hegemonic norm that women are better than men at housework and childrearing. When Tom gets fed up with being a “house husband” and goes back to work, Lynette becomes his boss. Tom resents this very much. One night when they are about to have sex, Tom gets angry that Lynette is positioning herself to be on top, the more “dominant” position. In order to assert his “dominance” as a man, he later on initiates sex with a hesitant Lynette in an elevator, pushing her against the wall in the process. Tom cannot handle his wife being his boss, making the decisions of the house, or even taking on the aggressive role in a sexual act. The reason why Lynette’s husband seems to have so much resentment toward Lynette when she asserts her power is because “girls are supposed to repress their power, their anger, their exuberance and be simply ‘nice,’ although they also eventually must compete with men in the business world and be successful” (Kilbourne, 1999, p.259). Tom very much believes in the hegemonic ideals of male dominance.


The show “Desperate Housewives” consists of a combination of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic norms and beliefs. Although one may argue that the title alone makes the show purely hegemonic, one cannot ignore the power, strength, and drive the women on the show have. Although one might believe that the show is purely for women, many men are fans of the show as well. Both women and men are affected by the power struggles of gender in society. They both can also appreciate the humor and suspense that is constantly on the show. As a whole, I feel that the “Desperate Housewives” storyline does more to promote feminist ideals and a positive outlook on women than it does to reinforce hegemonic ideals that put women in a subordinate position in society.


Kilbourne, Jean (1999). The more you subtract, the more you add- cutting girls down to size. Gender, Race, and Class in Media, 258-265.
Steinem, Gloria (1990). Sex, lies, and advertising. Gender, Race, and Class in Media, 223-229.

26 comments:

Jessie said...

Liz-
I see the same theme recurring in your writing- it's the dialogue between the characters that seems to point you in the direction of psychoanalysis (but the course is not geared toward psychology, hence the readings aren't either...analysis can be of many types, social norms/ideals/beliefs are the the ones we're analyzing) and the readings aren't psychoanalyzing at all...which may be why the quotes you've chosen are from more than one reading (one is about the creation of MS magazine several decades ago), in an apparent attempt to "make them fit" your analytical trajectory. The Ms. magazine piece isn't contemporary, though you can read contemporary society through the historical lens and conduct a fabulous analysis (however, you can't quote them as though they're applicable today without any time elapsing).
However, the main issue to remember is that these are characters, whose lines have been written by writers...therefore, they do not exist other than in a psychoanalytic limbo that would require an analysis of the writers, actors, producers, potential motivations for scripting the dialogue...etc...etc... This analysis is not possible with the readings or in the framework of this course. Does this show parody the notion of a housewife? I hardly think that the hegemonic norms are the same today as in the 50s...therefore, why does this show resonate with viewers in 2007? Are we a safe distance from the 50s norms? Are we still attached to them and the show is comfortable? Is it a combination of the above, and more?

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