As if feminism never happened – still

When I first launched A Thousand Other Worlds seven years ago, I started with ten observations I called The Audacious List.

It was a list of things that seemed to be obvious to me, but were seldom spoken about on other blogs or on the myriad soap discussion boards of that era.

One of the list items was “As if feminism never happened,” expressing frustration about what I saw as regressive representation of female characters on daytime.

In an effort to grab the few remaining viewers, soaps seemed to be moving to the simplest, most over the top tropes and characterizations: psycho, slut and crone.

The next part, in blue, is a pretty big, intact segment of that post.

Is it 2015 - or 1955? Hard to tell sometimes.

Is it 2015 – or 1955? Hard to tell sometimes.

ME: And honest, I’m not on Cady McClain’s payroll, but I think she’s the poster child of this particular entry for me. Why? Because I’ve read interviews with her and heard her talk, and I see an incredibly bright, compelling person who is creative and smart and funny – not to mention a person who seems like she could take care of herself (and maybe kick your ass, too).

But for some reason, writers and producers on daytime have seen Cady and what THEY walk away with is: Cries. A lot. Baby crazy, baby fever, must have baby. More crying. Helpless, needs a man to save her. And, in the rare moments they haven’t had Cady playing those notes? She was Demonic Monster Beyotch.

I hope Cady doesn’t mind, but I want to summarize this entry with some quotes from her essay (in bold) on this. She says it better than I ever could, and with the authority of someone who has played the words and storylines on the soundstage.

CADY MCCLAIN: I know so many of the women on daytime are total victims waiting to be rescued by their man. Can you say barf? Whose fantasy is this? How dated is this? I don’t understand how writers in this era can think stories like this are anything but insulting to their audience. Even in the breadbasket of America, the Christian right-est must be asking themselves, “what the heck is going on with my stories?”

It’s not the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. It’s 2007, soon to be 2008 and more women want to know how to TRULY love, HOW to chose between revenge and forgiveness when they are hurt, want to see women who can be tough like only a woman can be tough, not copying a man’s behavior. Women, I think, want to see beauty that doesn’t look like either a skeleton or a weightlifter, to see characters that struggle with their LOOKS, even if they are pretty, because it’s this endless pervasive comparing that makes us feel bad about ourselves.

Writing female friendships is NOT easy, but there are a lot of stories out there that don’t have to be about the man and the baby, for god’s sake. Why does melodrama have to include endless focus on the uterus? How about a friend stealing another friends money? How about the friend that borrows your stuff to an annoying degree until you come home one day and she’s helped herself to your whole life? How about the jealousy that can live for a lifetime between two women that really care about each other, be they sisters or friends, that comes from having different abilities?

RELATIONSHIPS. It’s not rocket science, soaps are about RELATIONSHIPS and CURRENT SOCIAL ISSUES we are having these relationships in.

Am I wrong? I’m not saying men and babies and love and all that aren’t going to be a part of the whole she-bang, but it just seems like the stories start there, like “Ok, she loves him and they want a baby… go.” WHY does she love him? HOW do they stay together? These shows don’t have to be MILDRED PIERCE anymore, they really, really don’t.

I know. This is not new. It’s an issue that’s also not limited to soaps, and we’ve had a big conversation in our culture in recent years about what exactly “feminism” even means. It’s a complex conversation. 

But I mention this now because it’s 2015, and The Young and The Restless is featuring a story with two incredibly talented actresses (McClain, as Kelly, and Gina Tognoni as Phyllis) where, after all these years, the same tired thing is happening. 

Phyllis and Kelly are fighting over Jack, trying to out-psycho each other. We’re told that Kelly’s actions will become even more shocking. We’ve even heard a bit of the Rauch Boast (“It’s never been done in daytime before!”) 

We’ve seen precious little of Kelly’s life — even when Cynthia Watros was playing her — that didn’t revolve around Jack. 

This is problematic. 

It has to be frustrating for the actors, especially for McClain, who is so insanely smart and intuitive about acting and about story that she should be running a show on her own. She posted this message on Facebook last week, and it’s clear that the current story has affected her.  

It’s hardly new for the character of Jack, either. The Jack-and-the-psycho-lady story has already been done. Even if you set a reformed Phyllis aside, there was Mari Jo, Diane, Patty and now Kelly. 

Really? This guy is worth a half dozen women completely losing their shit? Is that lazy storytelling or entrenched sexism? Hmm. 

Showing a complicated, flawed, and even manipulative character is quite one thing. We love a Lady MacBeth, someone who does the wrong thing for the right or wrong reasons. 

But soaps have gone to this well so many times, and the stories rarely have the history or complex characters that would support a character losing their shit and going psycho. 

It’s frustrating that in 2015, McClain has to put the mask of Demonic Monster Beyotch back on; she’s a pro, so she’s giving it everything she’s got, but we deserve better, and so does she. 

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