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Friday, February 13, 2015

Dr. Phil and Sexist Language #womenslives

Firstly, I have to say I am a huge fan of Dr. Phil. I watch his show almost everyday, although I feel like his material might be growing a bit stale (how many times does he need to convince people they are being scammed by Nigerian con artists?!). However, there is a disturbing sexist trend I've noticed on his show and have been wondering what the reasoning is behind it.

The other day, I was watching a preview for an upcoming Dr. Phil episode, which was titled "Pretty Little Mean Girls." As this may be a play on the ever popular Pretty Little Liars series, it could be seen as a one-off and not something to pay much attention to. But this is just the latest in a disturbing trend I've noticed on his show, particularly involving underage guests.

From the Dr. Phil website
In this particular episode, the guests are all over the age of 18, however, there are several other titles of past episodes that feature underage girls. Examples of this include the August 29, 2013 episode entitled "Gorgeous, Gifted and Brutal," which references 17-year-old Callie as the main subject. On January 30, 2015, Dr. Phil aired an episode entitled "Gorgeous, Violent, Raging and a Very Unsweet 16" which featured 16-year-old Kristi. Other titles involving the description of minors include "Bright, Beautiful and Blowing It," "Pretty, Young and Violent" and "My Beauty Queen Baby Girl Has Gone Ballistic."

These titles, firstly, seem to propagate the notion that beauty and violence don't mix--or rather a beautiful woman who is violent is somehow an anomaly. This fascination with violent, beautiful women runs quite deep and one I've seen on a first hand basis. As an academic, I have written articles on Irma Grese, a young woman famous for both her looks and barbarity in the German concentration camps of WWII. Everything I have read about Grese seems to portray an odd fascination we have as a culture over the paradox of a beautiful, yet violent woman. It is as if we are constantly saying to ourselves that woman who looks like that just can't be anything but sweet and polite, can she? My article on Irma Grese remains the one that gets the most hits each month and far outweighs almost anything else I have written. During Grese's trial, there was a constant focus on her looks and the juxtaposition of a "feminine creature" being such a monstrous killer. But, you know, the trial was 70 years ago. And we're in 2015. Still, little has changed.

Not that these young women who appear on Dr. Phil are in the same category as Grese, but it seems to illustrate the same concept that society keeps reinforcing: beautiful women are meant to be compliant and sweet. And if they aren't, it is somehow shocking and worthy of attention. But no matter what people look like, people's lives are inherently complex. As a psychologist, Dr. Phil should know this by now, that a beautiful woman is not exempt from psychological distress anymore than anyone else. Additionally, these titles are often referring to young women under the age of 18 who are still forming their identity. An episode title such as this conveys to these guests that they are worth little more than their attractive looks, which is undoubtedly something any psychologist would attempt to steer them away from.

Curiously, I have yet to see any titles describing the looks of men, particularly those underage. Although there was one episode when the male subject was described as handsome in the episode title ("Homeless and Handsome" on October 27, 2014), it doesn't seem to be a trend the way it does with women. If you have any examples of men's looks brought to the audience's attention in the episode title, I would be very interested in reading about them. With a simple look, I couldn't find any more than that one episode....though titles about female's looks seemed to be abundant with a superficial glance. Furthermore, in the "Homeless and Handsome" episode, the subject was not underage. 

This disturbing trend, I feel, is further ingraining in society (particularly by an authority figure, even if he doesn't title his episodes himself) that women are a) worth little more than their looks and b) their looks have anything to do with other issues happening in their lives. In 2015, it seems we would be past that. I mean it has been 95 years since we gained the right to vote in the US and it would seem we would count for something more than our looks, particularly teenage girls. 

But alas, sexism is still as rife as ever in mainstream culture.

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