Watching TV with me is probably one of the most frustrating things my friends and family have ever done. I criticize everything: the logistics of the plot, the way the shows treat women, the lack of different body types and so on. My male friends are probably the most frustrated with me, because they usually don’t see any of the problems that I do in the media. But that isn’t to say that other girls, who do notice some of these issues, don’t get annoyed either.
“It’s just a TV show, it’s just for fun. Stop being offended by everything!” is a pretty common refrain. While I’d like things to be that simple, I refuse to be an uncritical consumer of the media.
I see people pride themselves on their ability to “not be offended.” Watching TV shows is proven to affect young girls’ body image? “It’s all in your head, you just have to convince yourself that it isn’t.”
The news coverage of the Steubenville rape case focused on how “horrible” lives would be for the convicted teenage rapists? “Why are you so upset, at least they got jail time.”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, everyone’s favorite example of a feminist TV show, has almost no powerful women of color? “You’re asking for too much from the media, you have to take baby steps, change doesn’t happen overnight! The media is not sexist, you’re just looking for issues.”
I feel like I’ve heard every excuse you could possibly think of.
Sexism is more than obvious, overt actions like saying that women belong in the kitchen and refusing to accept when a woman says “No.” Sexism is Oscar-nominated actresses getting less screen time than their male co-stars in the same movies, with the implication that men’s stories are more important than women’s. Sexism is cat-calls and saying “boys will be boys.”
If the only time you recognize sexism is when it’s obvious, perhaps you should be looking at the media and the society around you more critically. Call out people who say, “You’re pretty for a fat girl” when you can. Get mad at people who use “pussy” to insult guys who aren’t masculine. Complain when TV shows don’t have a racially and gender diverse cast.
Most of the time, sexism happens in subtle ways that aren’t strictly meant to offend. It’s the result of ignorance and a refusal to criticize others, and writing it off doesn’t help anyone.
Your “I’m not offended” means you support these sexist actions and attitudes. It means you don’t care about women, at least not until it affects you directly. You become an accomplice to systemic misogyny when you refuse to be bothered by sexism, and you harm women by doing that. Women deserve to have just as much screen time as men do and to feel safe when they walk down the street. Women of color definitely deserve to exist and be seen in traditionally feminist spaces.
Until you get offended and speak out, the inequalities won’t stop. The inequalities extend far past TV shows and movies, into the legal system where women of color like Marissa Alexander receive extremely harsh sentences while men like George Zimmerman walk free.
Until you stop deriding women who criticize society for its treatment of women as “too sensitive,” women will never get justice. Your voice is important, but it won’t help until you realize that maybe when you watch TV, you should be offended.