Portrayals of Women on Television

Wonder Woman

Grades 8–12

Class Description

In an effort to aid at-home learning, we are making selected media for this typically on-site class available here online, including pre-viewing focus questions and post-viewing discussion questions.

Looking across the media landscape at different portrayals of women, patterns emerge in the images and the roles we see women playing most frequently. How do these representations inform what our society values the most about women and how have they changed over time? Do you think the same is true for men? What might television, film, and advertising teach us to value predominantly in men? The lesson below focuses on deconstructing images of women found in popular television shows in order to think more deeply about these questions and consider the influence and impact representation has on how both men and women perceive themselves and each other.

 

Vocabulary

Review the vocabulary below to enrich your discussion.

CONSERVATIVE: Tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.

FEMINISM: The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.

OBJECTIFY: Degrade to the status of a mere object.

SEXISM: Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

TRADITION: An inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom); cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions.

 


WOMEN AS MOTHERS

 

The Donna Reed Show: "The Ideal Wife" (1959)

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Our clips are from the Paley Archive. To view, you need to register. If you have already received your username and password, click to log in and view media.


Pre-Viewing Focus Question:
• What do each of the characters want, and how do they get what they want?


Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:

• Describe what is happening with each member of the family in this clip.

• Where are we in each interaction, who do we meet, and what is each person doing?

• What does the mother want her daughter to do?

• How does the daughter respond to what her mother wants?

• What does the daughter want from her mother?

• How does she go about getting it?

• What does the daughter compare her mother to? What kind of mother is she describing?

• Who gets what they want in this scene and why?

• How does Donna respond to the way her daughter goes about getting what she wants at the end?

• What happens in the scene with the son? What does each person want?

• What happens that is the same and different in this scene?

• How is each child being prepped to fit into their expected gender roles by the chores they are required to do?

• What does the son physically do to his mother?

• How can we tell he is being insincere when he says he wants to buy her the necklace?

• What is Donna’s reaction at the very end of the scene? What does it let us know?

• What happens in the last scene with her husband?

• What does he want Donna to do for him? How does she react?

• What does she want to do? Does she get what she wants?

• How does he go about getting what he wants and how is it different from the kids?

• Describe their relationship. What role does each parent perform and do they seem happy about it or not?

• The title of this episode is "The Ideal Wife"; what do you think the ideal wife is according to this show? How would you describe Donna? What kind of person is she?

• How do you think this show reflects the time period in which it was made? What does it say about the status of women in 1959? What is the family structure and what are the expectations for white middle class women and men during this time? 

 

Black-ish: "Crazy Mom" (2014)

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Our clips are from the Paley Archive. To view, you need to register. If you have already received your username and password, click to log in and view media.


Pre-Viewing Focus Question:

• How does this mother compare to Donna Reed?


Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:

• Where are we when this clip begins and what do we see each member of the family doing?

• How does the mother react to what the father is doing? 

• What do we know about the mother and her role in and outside of the family?

• Describe Bow. Describe Dre. Describe their relationship. 

• What role does each parent perform and do they seem happy about it or not?

• When Dre announces he will take over what she does in the house for a week, what can we assume will happen and why?

• How does Bow compare to Donna Reed? Do you like her more or less than Donna?  

• How does this family compare to the Reeds? What is the same and different?

• How does Black-ish reflect the time in which the show was made? 

• What does it reflect about how the status of women has changed if at all?

 


WOMEN AS ACTION HEROES

 

The New Original Wonder Woman: "Wonder Woman Meets the Baroness Von Gunther" (1976)

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Our clips are from the Paley Archive. To view, you need to register. If you have already received your username and password, click to log in and view media.


Pre-Viewing Focus:

• As you watch, pay attention to this woman’s fighting ability and leadership skills.


Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:

• How does Diana look and act at the beginning of the clip?

• Describe how she changes once she transforms into Wonder Woman.

• What kind of character is she and how do you know by how she looks and acts?

• Describe how she fights. What kind of powers does she have?  Is she a good fighter?  How would you describe her leadership skills?

• How do you think her physical appearance factors into her portrayal based on what you see?

• How does this 1970s portrayal of Wonder Woman compare to the more recent film you may have seen her in?

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Innocence" (1998)

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Our clips are from the Paley Archive. To view, you need to register. If you have already received your username and password, click to log in and view media.


Pre-Viewing Focus Question:

• How does Buffy compare to Wonder Woman?


Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:

• What do we see Buffy doing as the scene begins?

• How would you describe her leadership skills? How would you describe her fighting skills?

• Do you think her physical appearance factors into her portrayal from what you see? If yes, is it a bigger or smaller thing that we pay attention to than in Wonder Woman?

• What words would you use to describe Buffy and why? How would you compare her to Wonder Woman? What does this comparison tell us about their characters?

• How is the writer playing with gender roles in the first half of the clip?

• What happens in the fight with Angel? How does this interaction broaden our understanding of her character?

• Who do you think is the better hero and why?

 


Additional Resources

 

Books

Buffy the Vampire Slayer FAQ by Arthur Smith and David Bushman

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lapore

Women Watching Television: Gender, Class, and Generation in the American Television Experience by Andrea Press

 

More about Buffy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Feminism