Engendered Fiction: Analyzing Gender in the Production and Reception of Texts

by Anne Cranny-Francis; University of New South Wales Press, 1992

Television, too, suffers from the dictates of patriarchal conservatism because expectations about what audiences will accept are used to shape programs in production. In a paper to the 1986 International Television Studies Conference in London, entitled 'Woman, Television and the Case of Cagney and Lacey' Julie D'Acci traces the changes made during the development of this program, including a change of actor, to pander to the patriarchal sensitivities of network officials:

According to Swertlow, Cagney and Lacey was to be 'softened' because CBS believed the main characters were 'too tough, too hard and not feminine'. The article quoted an unnamed CBS programmer who said the show was being revised to make the characters 'less aggressive'. He went on to say 'they were too harshly women's lib . . . These women on Cagney and Lacey ', he continued, 'seemed more intent on fighting the system than doing police work. We perceived them as dykes'. ( D'Acci 1986: 34)

It is crucial to note that these are not the views of an anonymous viewer but of a television executive who was instrumental in the production of programs. D'Acci also comments on the publicity given to the program, underlining another area of concern for the study of how texts are gendered:

The [introductory] movie was publicized by CBS according to a standard television industry advertising practice (especially for made-for-TV-movies and mini-series), called 'exploitation advertising'. This is a practice, with precedents in the Hollywood film industry, in which a sensational, usually sexual or violent, aspect of a program is highlighted for the purposes of audience attraction. The Cagney and Lacey movie advertisement is a three-quarter page ad. . . . A large close-up of Loretta Swit with long blonde hair dominated three-quarters of the left side of the ad, her clasped, outstretched hands contain a pointed revolver which dominates the right side of the ad. A significantly smaller medium shot of the lesser known (at the time) Tyne Daly in police coat, shirt and tie is under the Swit close-up. On the far left of the page, under and smaller than the Daly image, is a shot of Swit lying on her back (presumably naked) with a sheet draped over her. One bare shoulder and arm, and one bare leg bent at the knee are exposed. A man, seen only from his waist up (also naked) is leaning over and on top of her, his arm over her body. The copy reads, 'It's their first week as undercover cops! Cagney likes the excitement. Lacey cares about the people she protects. They're going to make it as detectives--or die trying'. ( D'Acci 1986: 22-3)

D'Acci goes on to show how the advertisement has been used to reclaim traditional images of femininity for what might otherwise be seen as a transgressive text. The prospective audience is thereby 'reassure[d] . . . with regard to "woman's" conventional role and position regarding societal power' ( D'Acci 1986: 23).

The Cagney and Lacey advertisement is an example of a common marketing practice. This strategy is obvious in the design of book covers particularly for selected genres such as adventure stories, romance and detective fiction. The problem for writers is that they often have little or no say over cover design, so their books may be promoted in a way which runs contrary to their wishes and to the discursive positioning of the book itself Again, these covers construct a particular (patriarchal) view of masculinity and femininity which identifies writing as a masculine domain.

Film and television advertising performs a similar discursive function, constructing the texts they represent as acceptable for a patriarchal audience. The Cagney and Lacey advertisement is a typical example. Film provides numerous examples, the most obvious being the image of Sylvester Stallone as Rambo. For one of the sequels to First Blood, the promotional material included a cardboard cut-out Rambo, complete with personal rocket launcher held aggressively at hip-level like a rock guitarist, constructing a familiar image of aggressive, violent masculinity.

Similarly, the patriarchal attitudes of television executives dictated the way that women were represented on television; that is, the constructions of femininity which were to be made available to audiences. This is an example of the economic imperative at work. In the case of Cagney and Lacey, for example, television executives insisted on softening and 'feminising' the program, even to the extent of replacing one of the actors, so as not to confront viewers with too transgressive a notion of female competence. They underscored these changes by using 'exploitation advertising' to promote the show. The same exploitation advertising which mobilizes the most conservative representations of masculinity and femininity is apparent in the advertising for a wide range of media products: book covers, movie posters, television advertising, record covers and music videos.

Reviewing is just one of the marketing strategies used to publicize texts of various kinds. The same set of patriarchal stereotypes is evident, however, in book covers, record covers, advertisements, film posters, and music videos. As the example of the poster for The Day the Earth Stood Still showed, advertising materials construct these stereotypes even when it means falsifying the text they advertise to do so. Similarly, the 'exploitation' advertising of Cagney and Lacey essentially misrepresented the series in order to attract an audience conceptualized as primarily patriarchal (one suspects that the patriarchy is sometimes more firmly established in the minds of the advertisers than of the public they address). All these marketing strategies participate in the construction of patriarchal femininity and masculinity in the apparent belief that the prospective audience cannot tolerate anything else. The consequences for female producers are inevitable. Again, they are constructed as incapable of being authoritative and therefore not credible as artists or writers or filmmakers, and men as only credible when they fulfill patriarchal expectations. So, for example, the homosexuality of male producers is actively suppressed if their work can be interpreted as heterosexual, while both the producers and their work are actively suppressed if it is not (the Hollywood biography of Cole Porter is a case in point).

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