Saturday, May 9, 2009

iCarly: teenage sexuality and gender roles

Go ahead and make fun. I've certainly earned the ridicule. I mean, I rush home from work and see what's up with the Fairly Odd Parents (although it got really stupid after they had the fairy baby--ugh); I watch Spongebob Squarepants in my jammies on Saturday mornings; hell, I even have every single episode of Invader Zim on DVD. I grew up with Nickelodeon, and though I sometimes get angry at what it produces, I won't grow out of it.

So it may come as no surprise to see a post about an episode of iCarly that aired an hour ago.

I watch iCarly for a number of reasons. 1). Carly's brother, played by the talented Jerry Trainor, is totally funny, and totally hot. I love that he plays an aspiring artist, making found sculptures out of junk. I dig it. 2). Though some of the more gimicky episodes are bad, overall the show is cute and clever, reminiscent of Drake and Josh (okay, shut up). 3). Stuff randomly catches fire. Nuff said. 4). It stars two girls and their dude friend. One girl is decidedly ungirly, and the dude friend has an overbearing mother. Awesome.

The show often features Carly (or Sam) falling for a boy, and it shows some kisses. When I was younger, the only time I saw "teens" kissing was in movies where the "teens" were actually twenty-somethings pretending to be teens. iCarly actually features teens.

The kiss between Sam and Freddie was also awesome, where we have two young kids who are embarrassed by never having kissed anyone before, and so the episode ends with them kissing each other (just to get it over with, of course--note, I didn't get my first kiss till I was 16), and ended up being a really adorable expression of friendship (between two people who frequently pester one another).

What I love is that the show explores that forbidden zone. You know the one. Teenage girl sexuality. That's right. Teenage girls are curious too, yet we often shame them. I remember when my step-dad discovered a hickey I had carelessly left uncovered, and the utter embarrassment of my parents sitting down with me and my then-boyfriend to lecture us on "waiting" and all that noise. You know what my younger brother got? "That's my boy--oh, but uh, use a condom." We praise boys for getting girls, yet warn girls about the predatory nature of boys "only wanting one thing" which we cultivate! What the hell?

This double-standard is still used, where we praise young boys at being studs, for getting a lot of girls, but when this is reversed, the girl is a slut and a whore who doesn't know how to keep her legs closed. Well, that boy didn't get to be a stud by some girl keeping her damn legs closed!

I find iCarly refreshing in that it illustrates how young girls explore intimate relationships. In the episode tonight, Carly even initiated the kissing--go Carly!!

However, tonight's episode disheartened me, since it just showed the same tired gender roles being reinforced. SPOILER ALERT. When Carly discovers that her "bad boy" boyfriend collects PeeWee Babies (ha) he's suddenly not so "bad" (read: emasculated). So, to badass him back up she buys him an electric drill. And then hints at him buying more power tools, and suddenly the conversation hints at the steamy...but the "bad boy" isn't giving up his hobby for her, and they break up. They even hint at his hobby being a "girl thing," as when Carly slips up and says (something to the effect of) lots of girls having the toys, then corrects herself and says boy. And later when Carly asks Freddie if it's weird for someone to collect PeeWee Babies, Freddie says, "Well, it depends how old she is," and suddenly there's this big to-do over the pronoun "she."

We're still defining what is appropriate behavior for boys and girls, and what is not appropriate. While I enjoy the direction that children and teen shows are heading in, I feel like it's not enough. At the moment that Freddie realizes the "bad boy" is emasculated, he becomes the man again, because, while he is not "bad," at least he doesn't collect fluffy stuffed animals. I loved that the episode showed Carly expressing her teenage attraction to a cute boy and rebelling against her brother's intervention, but was pissed by the end where Carly broke up with him for having an endearing hobby. So what if it sort of shatters the bad-boy image? What the hell is a "bad-boy" anyway? Apparently it's someone that steals motorcycles, smashes walls, and uses power tools, and certainly does not collect PeeWee Babies. Is she upset he wasn't a douchebag? And if so, this makes me want to punch a wall since all it does is tell girls what qualities really matter in a man, and then we have this stupid cycle of "omg what a dumb bitch going for a guy that hits her." Okay, that may be a stretch, but still. It starts somewhere...

At any rate, my advice to Nickelodeon and Dan Schneider is to depict teenage curiosity, but stop reinforcing typical gender norms (this may be the first of several discussions of iCarly, since I have a lot to work, but not a lot of time right now).

On a side note, I was thrilled when Carly told her brother Spencer that she's not a little girl any more, and only two weeks ago she sent him to the pharmacy to presumably get feminine products. So yay! Discussion of periods (sort of) on a teen show! I love it!


mschicklet said...

Good blog, but I think one of the reasons (not the only reason) people "shun" teen sexuality is because they know that there are too many pedophiles out there who would love to see over-sexualized teenage girls on TV. And that's disgusting. Many teenage girls aren't aware of such predators out there, and adults just want them to be careful. Speaking as a rape survivor (I was a teenager when I was raped, the man was in his 40s), I didn't realize that the outfits I wore (for my own enjoyment, no one else's) or the things I felt for boys my age were that transparent to older men. Of course, I did not want my rapist to make any advances toward me and rejected him outright, but even if I had thrown myself at him, it still would have been wrong. I was a teenager - therefore, a CHILD in many ways - and he should have known better. He should have let me live out my childhood in peace. He shouldn't have made me grow up so fast. Problem is, many adults don't know better, or if they do, they ignore what's "right" and instead find some sickening pleasure out of seeing teenagers dressing and acting sexual. They rationalize it by saying the teenager "wanted it" or was "asking for it." It's disgusting. Please understand that there are a few different sides to all of this. Maybe less teenage sexuality on TV is better? Who knows.

FilthyGrandeur said...

thank you for commenting. i always welcome other perspectives, since i acknowledge that my own is limited.

i totally agree with you--i do not think that teenage girls need to be running around in skimpy outfits. we live in a rape culture, bombarded by images of women being passive, men active; sex is everywhere. this can be confusing to young girls who are curious about their sexuality because society says they should be--as women they must be desired, yet at the same time we try to act like it shouldn't exist...i just remember that not too long ago i was in high school and curious, but that curiosity was shunned by my parents. i couldn't make sense of my own sexuality because it was unfamiliar to me, and i didn't see any representations of it anywhere.

no man has any right to any woman's body, and i am truly sorry that it happened to you. while i'm happy that there are shows depicting teenage sexuality, i think something needs to be done about this rape culture of ours in tv shows, advertisements, commercials, etc. no one asks to be raped, yet an astounding number of people factor in the type of clothing the victim wore in a rape case. no one factors that in in a robbery case. it is just sick.

while girls should be aware that there are predators, i don't believe we should shelter them. protect them, yes, but not hinder them, or make them grow up too fast...

M. said...

Did you know that the cute older artistic brother, is crazy steve from Drake and Josh!!!

also i really like this show too, it's one of those guilty childhood pleasures!


FilthyGrandeur said...


lol. i know. i still find it funny that a dude previously playing a character named "Crazy Steve" is now playing a supposedly responsible older brother and guardian of the main character.

Ouyangdan said...

Good post!

I find that iCarly is one show I have no problem letting my Kid watch.

Something else that I like about the show is that they not only explore a girl's sexuality but, in one episode Carly is essentially sexually assaulted (a boy forces a kiss on her on a date when she is clearly not consenting) by a boy, and there is no trace of victim blaming. In fact, we go on to see how a girl can be bullied by a boy for standing up for herself and saying NO! She stood up for herself, and it was really refreshing to watch.

Oh, and only slightly OT, I have the entire series of Invader Zim on DVD, in a cool boxed set w/ Zim's "house" that came w/ a tiny GIR figure inside.

FilthyGrandeur said...


i also enjoyed that episode.

i am also severely jealous of your zim collection. i bought each volume separately, and got no Gir figure :'(

Anonymous said...

Spencer, responsible, bahahahaha!!

I like iCarly because it's funny and fun to watch.

MathUHenry said...

"we live in a rape culture, bombarded by images of women being passive, men active; sex is everywhere. this can be confusing to young girls who are curious about their sexuality because society says they should be--as women they must be desired, yet at the same time we try to act like it shouldn't exist.."

I think it's worth adding that this is also very confusing to young boys who want to develop relationships with girls and therefore feel required to be a "bad boy" yet don't want to be bad or hurt anyone.