On the sitcom The Office, as in real life, middle class working mothers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
They often face the choice of either compromising their career—working part-time or quitting altogether—or feeling like an absent mother. Men, on the other hand, are typically not held to the same standard. Rarely do employers worry whether their male employees will have children and scale back their working hours. Seldom do people worry whether men can "have it all." The Office paints a fairly balanced portrait of what it means when a husband and wife clash over their careers and their families. In the evolving relationship of Pam and Jim in the American version of the series, the married coworkers are equally responsible for their marriage's breakdown, and they should be equally responsible for fixing it—if it can, in fact, be fixed.
The show's central relationship echoes dynamics that feminist writers have pointed out for decades. This week is the 50th anniversary of the Feminine Mystique, the book which so clearly articulated the tension between the roles expected of women in their work and home lives. Writer Stephanie Coontz spelled out the real-life statistics behind this continuing conflict this week in a great New York Times piece:
When family and work obligations collide, mothers remain much more likely than fathers to cut back or drop out of work. But unlike the situation in the 1960s, this is not because most people believe this is the preferable order of things. Rather, it is often a reasonable response to the fact that our political and economic institutions lag way behind our personal ideals....Female professionals are twice as likely to quit work as other married mothers when their husbands work 50 hours or more a week and more than three times more likely to quit when their husbands work 60 hours or more.
Onscreen, young women of color with immigrant parents are often far from traditional. Consider All-American Girl's Margaret Kim (Margaret Cho), Grey's Anatomy's Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez), The Office's Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling), and Elementary's Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). Though these characters' parents are from various socioeconomic backgrounds and countries of origin, these young women all strive to balance their parents' expectations with their own expectations against the backdrop of society's often sexist and racist assumptions. And though these are some of my favorite characters on television, their experiences often veer from those of real-life second-generation immigrant women.
On the New Girl episode "Table 34," Cece (Hannah Simone) attends an Indian marriage convention hoping to meet an Indian guy for a long-term relationship. She had been with lovable douchebag Schmidt (Max Greenfield) but wants to date someone whom her Indian-born parents will approve of. When her friends hear about the convention, they decide that they want to check it out, too—though only Schmidt dresses like, in Winston's words, "the fortune teller in Big." At the convention, she has to fill out an application including her resume. The event hostess seats her at Table 34, which is clearly the losers' table. Has there been some mistake? The event organizer says, "Over 30 [years old], no advanced degrees, part-time employment. Table 34." Cece replies that she's a professional model, "I was in Lil Wayne's last video. I was the girl he was throwing strawberries at in slow motion?" The woman says, "Definitely Table 34."
Fashion model Cece is downwardly mobile compared to her parents, but she hopes that landing an Indian man will help her gain their approval.
Last week's episode of Parks and Recreation, "Women in Garbage", is fairly unique then, in showing women at work in a male-dominated career: takin' out the city's trash. In their own hilarious way, Parks & Rec focused on the fraught fight that needs to happen in order to undo a city's institutional sexism. In the episode, City Commissioner Leslie (Amy Poehler) discovers that very few women occupy jobs in Pawnee's public sector. She attempts to create a gender equality commission, but finds she's presiding over an all-male group—in April's (Aubrey Plaza) words, a "sausagefest."
In light of the Daniel Tosh firestorm this week, I probably don't need to make the point that joking about sexual abuse is harmful, not funny. However, in the context of kink, a subculture that's already too often treated with mocking or irreverence, it's worth restating. Safewords are necessary, non-negotiable, and not a joke.
Valentine's Day is a tricky holiday for TV shows, no matter if the characters are coupled or single, happy or miserable, or somewhere in between. The TNL lineup (and last week's Parks and Rec) all tackled February 14, with mixed results. Here's what worked, and what didn't in the Thursday night comedies' approach to Valentine's Day.
So with the start of 2012 ushers in a new lineup on Thursday nights on NBC. With Community and Whitney replaced by 30 Rock and Up All Night, we have a comedy block in which three out of the four series are headlined by women, which is pretty awesome. So how did the brand-new TNL lineup fare? We kick off this week's recap with the return of 30 Rock.
Take a look at the photo on the left. Starting in January, Jeff Winger will be replaced by Liz Lemon. No wonder he looks so dismayed in the picture!
In case you haven't heard, Community is being pulled off the schedule indefinitely (boo) and being replaced by 30 Rock (yay for that, at least). Whitney is swapping places with Up All Night, and in celebration I've decided to pretend the show is already off the Thursday night schedule and not bother to recap it anymore. Hope you're cool with that. Let's get started!
As you've no doubt heard by now, Community is being taken off NBC's schedule indefinitely as of January. So I've decided to use this week's episode to talk about why this series, as beloved by the Internet as it ignored by Nieslen families, deserves to stay on TV.
On the surface, there is nothing connecting the four episodes that aired on NBC this week. Annie's friends helped her move, and tweeted about it. Ben and Leslie's attempt to stay friends had them waging war on each other at a Model UN. And Dwight sexually harrassed Jim. Does it matter what Whitney did? (Fine, she played basketball.)
But if we had to stretch for a theme, it's interesting to note the lengths these characters are willing go to (blackmail, peace treaties, lie detector tests) to to strengthen their relationships. With that in mind, let's get started with the recapping.