So, I’ve been watching a lot of Hallmark channel movies this year. In my completely unscientific study I have concluded that there are two kinds of women in these movies:
- Career women in professional positions who devote their entire lives to their jobs such that they need to be taught what’s really important in life (i.e. not their careers) by a good man and his adorable grandma.
- Shop owners (antique shops, toy stores, something else suitably feminine), often in small towns, who are too generous or kind or sentimental to run a successful business and need someone to save them so they can keep running their business in the too generous or kind or sentimental way that they want.
That the women in these shows can be roughly divided into just two categories is frustrating to begin with. Where are the scientists? Where are the successful business women? Where are the teachers, store clerks, stay-at-home-single-moms?
But I think these two categories suggest a deeper problem. First of all, professional women come in all stripes—-those who are devoted to and fulfilled by their work, those who balance their work with full personal lives, and all shades in between. Neither of those is a correct way to live. But these movies don’t work unless the viewer accepts the judgmental premise—-that these women are wrong and need to be changed.
Second, women do not have to be kind or generous to point of their own detriment in order to be likable. They can be smart and creative and ambitious and still be living good lives. They can be marketing gurus, cutthroat entrepreneurs, and just damn good shop owners. But again, these movies think you will only like her if she’s clumsy or a failure. Or they rely on her failing business to inject conflict into the story—-but that’s just lazy writing.
Obviously, Hallmark channel movies are not on the cutting edge of our culture. But the simplicity of the stories, the fall-back positions of these characters, suggests that this is the way that women are perceived in our culture, or that this is the way that we still want women to be, and I find that frustrating and disappointing.
There are always exceptions of course, and tellingly, those are some of the best of these movies. Because women are the most sympathetic, the most relateable, not when they are clumsy, or kind, or too ambitious, but when they are real.