Book to discover how media franchises such as “Charlie’s Angels” define women

July 29, 2022

ASU Professor Aviva Dove-Viebahn says women are often attributed with ‘traditionally feminine’ traits

Aviva Dove-Viebahn is a “Charlie’s Angels” specialist.

Not because she’s a big fan of cheesy TV shows and the movies that followed, mind you.

Instead, “Charlie’s Angels” is one of the media franchises Dove-Viebahn studied for her book project, “There She Goes Again: Gender, Power and Knowledge in Contemporary Film and Television.”

Dove-Viebahn, an assistant professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University, was recently one of 11 faculty members named new scholars for the 2022-2023 academic year by the Institute for Humanities Research.

The 11 faculty members received total funding of $104,500 from the IHR Fellows program, which advances scholarly writing and research by humanities faculty.

ASU News spoke to Dove-Viebahn about her book, which she hopes to have published in 2024 by Rutgers University Press, and how the representation of women in franchises like “Charlie’s Angels” colors the perception of women in society. contemporary.

Note: Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: So what is the book about?

Aviva Dove-Viebahn

Answer: One of the reasons I use the first part of the title, ‘There She Goes Again’, is one of the things that really interests me is how we have these kinds of repeated patterns emerging over and over in some form of basically feminist media that purports to show women in some kind of powerful roles.

One of the things that really interests me is looking at some of these franchises where we have characters that we see coming back over and over again, like “Charlie’s Angels.” There have been several versions of “Charlie’s Angels” made over the past 50 years. Plus, “Wonder Woman,” which we’ve seen since the late 1940s, perform over and over again in different iterations. Even newer franchises like “Terminator.” I’m also talking about the “Resident Evil” franchise, which started out as a video game. And the “Supergirl” line that has been in the comics.

We see how they kind of evolve in contemporary film and television, especially with the way the film and television industry is trying to recognize how women’s rights have changed over, say, 50 or 60 years, and somehow recognize new conceptions of feminism or other forms of progressive social justice politics. But the thing is, we often see the same kinds of concepts reiterated in 2019 or 2020 that we saw in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, but often much more subtle.

Q: What are these concepts?

A: Many of these recurring characters are portrayed in powerful or stronger ways. Yet if you dig into the stories or the way they are represented visually, many of these forms of power and strength come from things that we consider traditionally feminine, like empathy, love, selflessness or selflessness. compassion. These are often the roots of their power.

Q: Why do you think these stories still exist?

A: I think one of the things that happens is that it’s so ingrained in our culture that it’s the sources of women’s power. That’s one of the things I try to delve into a bit, how these ideas then affect how we think about women in real life, in politics or economics, in business or science. It’s anecdotal, but I’ve heard and read people making comments like, “You know, we need women in politics because they tend to be more peaceful. Or they tend to be more altruistic.

Obviously, these things are good. I am in no way saying that these are not things that we expect from our political leaders. But what happens is that these traits are often attributed to women. So if a female politician doesn’t conform the way you would expect her to conform in terms of diplomacy or altruism or that kind of empathy, she’s often punished far more than a politician who exhibits the same traits because that’s not necessarily expected of politicians.

I think it’s actually a feedback loop. Some media portrays characters that way, and then we move those same kinds of ideas onto real people. But we also use these concepts in the real world, and then they get fed back into the media.

Q: In your study of “Charlie’s Angels” and other franchises, do you see progress in how women are portrayed?

A: I’m really interested in how the 2019 film tried to reframe – not reframe – some of the same kinds of things that we see happening. The movie is directed by Elizabeth Banks, who’s also in the movie, and you can tell she’s trying really, really hard to make it a feminist movie. They try very hard in a way that I think is admirable for changing characters.

“Charlie’s Angels” is known as a franchise that is really about this kind of glamorous model actresses playing detectives. They are crime fighters, but they also have to be pretty and sexy at the same time. The 2019 film attempts to move away from that in that the women aren’t overly objectified. But the film still falls back on these ideas that the Angels are crazy about haute couture. They are also very interested in cooperative forms of leadership. Again, that’s not a bad thing. That’s the way it goes, that’s what women want. It’s so performatively feminist that it almost feels shocking because they’re trying so hard.

Q: Given how women have been portrayed for so long in the media, isn’t that kind of progress?

A: So in every “Charlie’s Angels” iteration, they always try to tell the three characters apart. But they differentiate them in a way that really doesn’t matter. They all still believe the same things. I think we need to see characters where they really are different people and represent different ways of being women in the world. I think you can have female characters without always having to say, “Oh, yeah, here’s the ways they’re female.” We understand that’s important to who they are, but it doesn’t have to be the main defining characteristic of where they get their power and knowledge from.

Q: How do these forms of “feminine” power define women executives or politicians?

A: Personally, I think that empathy, altruism and cooperative power structures could all be very effective in bringing about lasting social change. But I often think that because these traits are considered feminine, they are devalued. And it’s easier with features that are devalued as feminine to be rejected. It’s one of the things I watch in media and write about, how those traits that a character has that translates into their power often end up being the same things that make them truly vulnerable.

We can see this happening in the media, and I think it is reflected more subtly in political life. Empathy, for example, I think should be a valuable trait in leaders. And yet, sometimes, these points of empathy are precisely where their political positions are devalued.

Q: Do you see this representation of women changing over the next, say, 20 years?

A: It’s a good question. I think it’s better. But I think in some ways part of the danger is that a lot of people think the job has been done. And that progress is linear from point A to point B of anything. It is simply not true. I think sometimes we culturally assume things are better because we fixed things that were done in the past and we can move on. But this is not the case.

We need to keep coming back to some of these issues, especially those that keep coming to the fore. The work of achieving gender parity is not done, although there have been great changes. There are still these endemic problems that we have not yet succeeded in fixing. Not always feeling like you have to ground everything in these kinds of forms of female power would be a place to start.

Top photo: (Left to right) Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott strikes an iconic “Charlie’s Angels” pose in the 2019 version of the film. Photo by Sony Pictures Entertainment

Scott Bordow

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