Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Critisizing Plain Jane part 3: Episode 1 part I

Continuing with my feminist criticism (and snarky attack) of MTV' Plain Jane reality show, here is the first part of my feminist commentary on the first episode of the first season, 'Cristen' (I've only watched and written these commentaries for the first season because there's only so much rubbish a feminist can take!).

Part 1: Introduction on why I hate these kind of reality makeover shows
Part 2: Opening credits
Part 5: Episode 1 part III
Part 6: Episode 1 part IV
Final part: Episode 1 part V

 Like I mentioned in part 1, this feminist 'reviews' are more of a commentary to the episode,  and a pretty thorough one, I'm afraid, seeing as practically everything is apt to be heavily critisized as being sexist and stereotyped :/ . Hopefully this commentary will make sense without the need of having to watch this garbage! (of course, if you're curious and want to know the enemy and/or form your own opinions, go ahead, this is just my opinion on the show).

    I’ll be writing a brief summary at the start of each scene/section of the episode so that this remains a bit coherent, but apart from that it's all going to be (snarky) comments about the scenes and as anwers to the dialogue in the episode (which will be quoted, appearing in cursive and bold), with some rants in between about general aspects I wish to discuss a bit more broadly from my feminist point of view (in purple). Like I said, the commentaries can seem a bit disconected if you aren’t familiar with the episode, but I hope the gist of them remains.

-Disclaimer: This is going to be pretty long, so you’ve been warned! (the reason why I've decided to make a series of posts about this first episode, with my longest commentary, instead of just inserting a read-more break). But if you’re interested in reading a snarky feminist detailed commentary of a sexist makeover show, read on! If not, please don’t go commenting about how boring this is and how I repeat myself again and again– I’m not the one repeating myself, the sexism in the show is!

So let's get started!


-Sexism in the title: The term ‘friendzoning’, which is usually applied to women who offend a male acquaintance because they don't want to engage sexually with him, preferring instead to consider him ‘simply’ as a friend. It’s supposedly a great insult not to give to every man the sex they’re owed, regardless of your own feelings towards them. In this episode it’s also implied that if you behave and dress ‘like men’, you won’t get a man because all you do is friendzoning them by doing and enjoying 'similar things' and behaving 'in a similar way'.

Part I:

  üSummary: In which they briefly present the victim – I mean, the misguided and self-conscious ‘Plain Jane’ of the episode – , and show us the highlights we’ll be enjoying during Cristen’s ‘training’ and makeover. The makeover will involve changing her clothing style, her hair and her face (as in make-up), and teaching her how her appearance comes first and how she's expected to be beautiful for her man. The training aspect, meanwhile, involves Cristen suffering needlessly while experiencing her worst fear, plus being electrocuted while being taught how to flirt with and entertain men, and also being objectified while being taught that learning the secrets of a Cabaret dancer is your best asset when it comes to successfully getting a man. Because it’s empowering, apparently.

Also, the summary of the MTV Asia online episode is priceless:
   "An uncomfortably shy and messy Jane attempts to shed her "one of the guys" status - along with her plaid flannels - to seduce her longtime crush, who only sees her as a friend."

You and I both, Donna!
-The stylist-narrator-host starts talking dramatically about how important these dates are:  Such a big deal, eh, a date? Such an important moment for a woman - getting a man interested in her. What can possibly compare to that in the whole of a woman's life?

-They arrange these dates. Scripted or not, I find that incredibly intrusive. It also places women in a position of submission and passivity - they're not told 'If you like this guy, go ask him out'. No, they have no part in any decision, and all is planned out for them. It's all surprise, giggles, fits of panic, getting directions on how to dress and how to act and what to do. And a full makeover and transformation, all thought to please the guy. Hell of a role model for young women, and hell of a 'romantic' story. Cinderella 2.0, here we come. Yay.
This is what girls are supposed to do in these episodes: Low self-esteem, and lots of cringing, giggling, self-doubt, passivity, lack of personality and submisiveness. The ultimate role-model, right?
-"We're gonna change the way Tye sees you, so you have to change the way you see you"

So women basically have to hide and change and lie so that the guy finds them attractive. Both to him AND to themselves, which is even worse. The healthy alternative of 'just be yourself, and if he likes that, great, if he doesn't, hey, go look for another one' - That's unthinkable. After all, this series is all about how to alter your appearance so that you please your date and he finds you attractive. And changing the way you see you includes a limited set of options established by an stereotype-based society: Wearing make-up, heels, feminine and sexy clothing, and acting flirtatious. Whether you like it or not. That's basically the.only.damn.way.
You see that body? It's not yours, it's for your man, and I'm going to tell you what you have to wear to look like a woman
-Plus they actually frigging train her to flirt with random guys and engage them in conversation, and if they're bored or uninterested… guess what? They give her electric shocks as punishment. Hell yeah.
Stylist and 'flirting expert' training women like animals so that they learn to entertain their men
-And apparently, in order to win your man, you must indulge your charming trainer-stylist and experiment with your phobias. After all, asking a man out, scratch that, meeting a guy you know for an arranged date, is such an awe-inspiring, terrifying, challenging event that if you face your deepest phobia, you'll be able to face that with no problems! I don't even know why those two situations are even related, in the first place. Do you go face your biggest phobia before sitting an exam or going for a job interview on a daily basis? "I have a difficult exam tomorrow and I'm so nervous, so instead of revising and/or switching off to relax, or doing something even remotely useful in my life…let's go touch some snails! [this girl’s particular phobia]"...Yeah, I thought not.
Because watching frightened women is fun, apparently
-And, of course, she cannot say 'I wanna be more than just your friend' directly and in her everyday clothes, oh no, she must be all decked up and sexy and she must have a date arranged. Yes, I see an awful lot of potential there. 

  üSummary: The show presents Cristen, who is seemingly in a bad state because of her personal style and hobbies, and needs someone to make her crush, Tye, like her. The stylist begins to make her first judgmental remarks about Cristen while watching her video message, and then meets up with her in a café in order to tell her how misguided and ‘tomboyish’ she is.

-Enter Cristen, dressed in casual clothes with a casual hairstyle and no make-up. Message:  She's so awkward and unfeminine! Right??
So they're basically telling us that if you look like this you're sloppy, unfeminine and won't get a man. There are so many wrongs things about this, they won't fit in a caption, so yeah.
-Cristen favours casual, sporty wear, especially, and hang on to your seats,...plaid shirts (Wow, she's such an unattractive tomboy, yuck!), and she's so distressed because she thinks she 'kinda dresses like one of the guys'  (Who thought that in the 21st Century wearing plaid shirts was dressing like a man?) and that 'she needs help'. "Oh no!" exclaims the obnoxious stylist with distaste and horror when shown Cristen's style in clothing.  Sure, everything that's not dresses and heels is unfeminine. Yay progress and 21st Century thinking.  How are we even allowed to wear trousers?!

-Btw, her natural hair is also 'ugly' because it's not heat styled and chemical-coloured to an inch of its life, apparently.

Overall, the message is that she's messy and sloppy and, gods forbid!, the worst thing a woman can be…'tomboyish'. Oh, that won't do. "This girl definitely needs my help".
So liking casual wear and plaid shirts means you need help?? In which sort of patriarcal universe? Oh wait
So she's so messy and unfeminine exactly why, may I ask?? Because she dresses in plaid shirts, casual-wear?  That is just so sexist and narrow-minded.  The very word 'feminine' really bugs me, because 'feminine' and 'masculine' are nothing more than societal, patriarchal constructs that dictate how men and women must looks and behave. It's unfair, it's narrow-minded, it's antinatural. What's this girl doing wrong exactly, having her own style? Of course her friend doesn't tell her he likes her, look at her unfeminine style! But of course, when she starts wearing heels and feminine dresses, that is to say,when she starts dressing according to the societal construct of 'femininity', because it is expected of her and not because it fits her personal style, then he'll definitely notice. Oh, such a healthy, open-minded mindset. I bow before your dating advice.

-Cristen also hangs out a lot with her male friends, playing music and watching baseball. That makes her even more unfeminine, and our favourite stylist is quick to say  - 'So you're pretty much a male'. Hey, sure, playing music is unfeminine, let me write that down so that I can bear it in mind because I do that a lot and the gods forbid I appear tomboyish. And sure, having male friends and enjoying hanging with them in plaid shirts watching sports and playing music basically makes a woman a man. 
River definitely doesn't approve of this shit
'That's an easy thing to fix', she says. Gods, how is Cristen even coping, she is so misguided, she should be hanging with a group of girl-friends going out to buy shoes or staying at home painting their nails and gossiping! (an equally offensive idea of what it means to hang out with girls. I personally geek out and play music with girl-friends. It depends on each one's likes, not on their sex, people!).

So it seems that the fact that Cristen likes to hang out with male friends makes her unable to date a guy. It also makes her sloppy and unattractive, because she doesn't care about her looks as much as she should (references to her 'messy' hair, her clothing, her feet being ugly because she actually uses them to play sports, gods forbid, and her nails are not perfectly painted, jeesh). Apparently, if you are friends with 'a lot of guys', you just stay their friend. Period. It isn't possible for a man to be feel attracted to you if you enjoy the same things they enjoy and if you don't look sexy and flawless. Playing music and using your feet to kick a ball? Instant turn-off, folks. Write that down, ladies!

 The narrow-mindedness is so glaring it physically hurts, and I've just mentioned what happens in the first three minutes.  And I’ve got freaking 14 pages of this in my Word document! 

-'You go straight into the friendzone instead of a sexy, seductive, pretentious girlfriend': That's the role model we must fulfill if we want to get off with someone. We must be sexy. We must be seductive. We must be pretentious (is that even a good thing??). Casual, sporty, friendly, easy-going, nice, enjoying more hobbies than just make-up and shopping? Yuck.

-Did I mention the corny background music? Because hell, it’s cringeworthy.

-Also. Reasons why Cristen likes Tye (the male crush in this episode). 'He's really cute...really tall...really handsome...really good-looking'.  So basically appearance, too.  Such deep feelings. All right, appearance does take an important part in sexual attraction and all that, obviously, but are those the only reasons she likes him? Does she even know him as a person, really? Please don't make these corny (and sexist) reality rubbish in order to tell us again that this is love. This is attraction. A crush. It's totally OK, totally natural, but let's not mix terms for the influentiable young girls, please.  Love is NOT simply thinking someone is hot, and it certainly doesn't involve changing yourself for your crush. 

 Only, of course, he doesn't have to alter his looks in order to be attractive to her. But she does. Oh boy, that she does.

-'I want to work on your confidence building'.
 Please tell me again why having that particular style and those hobbies and friends makes her have low confidence in this script? Believing that a person must CHANGE and alter their way of looking and thinking in order to be attractive to another person is what truly gives good reason for them to have low confidence about themselves. You are not helping girls to boost their confidence. You're making them think that their way of looking, of dressing, of hanging out and of thinking is not right, and that she won't get the crush of her dreams until she changes. Way to go.

Molly has a crush and she doesn't approve of  this sexist crap
And she isn't even remotely ashamed to state it just like that: 'working on your confidence'  means learning how to flirt and be seductive. Hell yeah.  You make a man attracted to you if you learn how to bat your eyelashes seductively. To hell about being yourself and attracting someone because they noticed the real you.

-When talking about Tye, people mention his being 'smart', 'talented' and 'awesome', as well as good-looking. Does anyone ever mention that Cristen is smart or talented? Nope. She's just unfeminine, tomboyish, sloppy and self-conscious because she isn't the flawless sexy woman she's supposed to be. The inner Cristen? Who cares!  All she needs is to be trained for two days in order to become more beautiful and sophisticated, as well as seductive and flirty.  Because that's what's going to matter, not her brains or any other aspect of her character. We don't even know what she studies and/or does for a living. Only that she likes music, but hey, that makes her tomboyish, so no luck there.

ü  Summary: The stylist phones Tye and gets him to accept a blind date in two days time. After that pretty invasive call, Cristen and our favourite stylist drive in search of the male crush of this episode and proceed to stalk him while praising his virtues and manliness. Sexist creepiness ftw.

-When they're stalking Tye, just the background music tells us just how active, awesome, empowered and macho he is. 'Cute, tall, sporty'. And he doesn't get points off for playing sports, right? Must be a nice life.
This is the male crush, he's already perfect, he makes all the choices, is allowed his own style, and he's also allowed to play sports. No, I don't see a double standard here...not at all
-And I have to say this. All this for what? If Cristen has been friends with him for a few years and she wants to take the relationship further, why doesn't she ask him about it, or ask some friends to help her if she's feeling shy?  This is all orchestrated for the sake of the show, but anyway,  does she really need to go through all that?

-Incidentally, the stylist seems to like to call herself a 'fairy godmother' for doing all this. I weep for humanity.

To be continued...


  1. Really a good and intelligent exposition, full of irony,of how patriarchal society manipulates women, making them identify themselves with the role of feminity they have constructed in order to subject women to men. I really like your interpretation of the show, Ríona. This exposition reveals your deep understanding and insight of the patriarcal constructs existing nowadays. Good for you!!!!

  2. This show is even worse than I thought after the other two posts! :(

    "Oh, so you have a lot of common interests, hobbies and activities with your crush! FORGET ABOUT THEM." What the actual… WHAT??
    Leaving aside the (horrible) issue of not being allowed to do what she likes in her free time, those kinds of things would be what they could do together in a relationship! Am I weird because I think common interests could be an important factor when being attracted to someone?

    Judging by the other posts, I thought their 'rationale' for telling these women to abandon their hobbies would be because the guys might be put off by them or something like that. But in this case both of them like to do those things! It's like they're trying to turn her into an outsider to appeal to his tastes (apparently he'll just want to be friends and nothing more with people inside the group), with a complete disregard for how alienated she would be after being prohibited to be with his friends doing the things she liked, if she wants to be with him.

    And regarding her casual clothes and lack of makeup… When you start a relationship with someone, in many cases that'll lead to you seeing that person wearing comfortable clothes, no makeup, etc. *more often*, not less. You're going to see that person how she really is. I thought this would have been a desirable thing.

    Every time I read one of these posts, it becomes more and more clear that the show's goal is very far from facilitating the emergence of "love" in these couples. It's like all they want to achieve is just one or two successful dates, based on physical attraction, but every piece of advice they give seems designed to doom a possible long-term relationship to fail. That, or… to continue but based on the woman lying to the guy and herself and pretending she is and likes things that she is not and does not, but not giving a lot of importance to what would make her happy instead… :-/

    1. Agreed! I think the sexist doctrines these girls receive are not only frankly scary, you can also facepalm about the utter absurdity of some of the advice these girls receive, such as 'don't have common hobbies with your crush, he'll think you're 'one of the guys' and you'll be friendzoning him'. You're definitely NOT weird for thinking that common interests are important, I think they're very important as well! In a long-term relationship, and any kind of relationship, really, physical attraction usually only lasts for so long, and if there are no more things in common, I think the whole thing is doomed to fail.
      Not only it's dangerous to rely only on attractiveness, we also have the sexist double standart where the ones who are told to take special care of that factor are the women, and also the fact that they supposedly 'belong' to the man and 'owe' the man some efforts in order to be attractive to him :/

      Plus, like you say, the fact that these girls are told to quit their hobbies in case the men feel 'menaced' by the 'competition', or because only men are allowed to have a life and hobbies, or both...And there's also the fact that while telling them to quit their hobbies, they're also potentially alienating and isolating them from their friends and other social areas, which is, incidentally, a sign that there's an abusive relationship going on.

      And absolutely, I always wonder what these men who obsess about female 'flawlessness' and 'attractiveness' as an utter necessity do in long-term relationships (meaning polished make-up, hair and clothes, these people are usually too shallow to consider a person in their 'natural state' as beautiful, as assume), do they force their girlfriends/wives/partners to be 'beautiful' and 'flawless' every time they lay eyes on them (not that that's always possible!)? Well, we know that wives in the 60s were taught to fix their make-up, hair, etc before their husbands came home in the evening, and that after spending the whole day doing all the housework and cooking and looking after the children and being basically tired and exhausted, because the husbands deserved seeing their wives in their 'best state' and women owed them that. I think that in some ways, that hasn't changed at all.

      "Every time I read one of these posts, it becomes more and more clear that the show's goal is very far from facilitating the emergence of "love" in these couples. It's like all they want to achieve is just one or two successful dates, based on physical attraction, but every piece of advice they give seems designed to doom a possible long-term relationship to fail. That, or… to continue but based on the woman lying to the guy and herself and pretending she is and likes things that she is not and does not, but not giving a lot of importance to what would make her happy instead… :-/"


  3. Electric shocks?! This Tv show is even more creepy than I thought! I do not know how it is possible to spend time and money producing 'toxic waste' like this...

    I do not think there is anything wrong with Cristen...

    1. Yes, it's pretty creepy, and very toxic :/ Sorry for making you read all this toxic rubbish, sometimes I wonder if I'm being a masochist for watching this stuff xD, but then I think this stuff must be critisized by someone, and I do find it kinda cathartic to go all sarcastic against it xD

      I do not think there's anything wrong with Cristen, either! Either with her appearance or with her fashion style (which is her own, dammit), or with her hobbies (we don't really get that much about her studies, personality and other aspects, because they're not important if you're a woman, apparently). Well, I'd consider 'wrong' the fact that she calls on this stylist in order for her to 'solve her life' and make her succeed during her date, but other than that...nope.
      This show follows the same pattern with every single girl. They're critisized and labelled as 'self-conscious', 'akward', 'shy', 'prude/slutty' (depending :/), etc, whenever they don't fit into the sexist mold they're supposed to conform to. All very logical and very open-minded.

      And about your comments in the first post, sorry about not responding yet, been busy, I will be replying asap :) :)!

    2. Oh, no it's ok, this needs to be criticized, besides, your sarcastic comments make it fun to read - the roll-eyes of empowered TV women was great! :D

      I think Cristen is beautiful, even by the standards we criticize...but yes, you are right, but I think she only chooses to participate in this show because she was taken to it, influenced by the culture, people that surround her...maybe it was a detereminated event that brought her to it and made her feel vulnerable, maybe now, she regrets participating in this kind of thing, and considers it like something 'silly' we do when we are younger (lets hope she did not internalize the stylist doctrines). Who knows? But I doubt she had a 'happy ever after' with her 'crush'...I agree with DarkSapiens comment, that this show is not successful in its apparent quest to help self-conscious women who desire to find a good companion...the show's purpose seems to be solely fragilizing these girls even more, with shallow and dangerous notions...and electric torture and 'target' stalking! O_O
      Criticized for either being prude, or slutty...that's a curious and very common paradox for women...

      I know you are busy, It's ok, do take your time! :)

    3. Agreed...And if we're to believe the end of the story,she seemed pretty happy to internalize the sexist stylist's doctrines, so I wouldn't hold up a lot of hope...However, I see that as a scripted lie and mystification in order to make women believe they can be happy and get 'their happy ending' in this way, after having been made to think that you need a full makeover, a change of personality, and do everything according to what 'your man' wants, because making him happy is the priority...the message most fairytales give us, really :/

      I agree with both of you, I don't think that a woman who goes through this could be in a happy relationship, unless she were deeply brainwashed...I mean, it's what you say, they do everything but help self-conscious women, the only thing this show does is promote unequal relationships and intensely mysoginistic values, all while making these girls even more self-conscious about themselves, seeing as they're basically taught that they're not 'good enough' to begin with :/

      And yes, that paradox - It seems that in a male-dominated society there's two options, the prude or the slut, the saint or the devil (and in the latter case, it's enchanting that being a 'saint' usually entails being submissive, passive and self-effacing, while being a 'devil' means being active, powerful and in control...)