Feminist Litmus Test: Flygirls, The Marriage Ref, TRANSform Me

The Ms. Blog will regularly apply our super-scientific “feminist litmus test” to a group of entities. Today, straight from Ms. Labs: Spring TV series premieres!

Fly Girls: Absolutely terrible. Acid rain on our feminist hearts.

The CW’s new reality show follows five “beautiful Virgin America flight attendants as they jet from one glamorous location to the next … while pursuing good times, great parties, adventure and love.”

The show raised my hackles from the opening sequence, in which the women put on makeup and spritz perfume to Ke$ha’s party anthem “Tik Tok,” while a voiceover declares:

“We jet-set to some of the most beautiful places in the world, get invited to exclusive parties, and live extraordinary lives.”

Contestant Nikole gushes:

“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a flight attendant. They were these independent, confident, successful women that were in control of their lives. Now that’s me!”

That’s an admirable goal, but the women’s behavior recalls the dark ages of the 1960s when “stewardesses” were advertised as objects for male passengers’ pleasure. The Fly Girls flirt with passengers and wear outfits that could pass as “sexy stewardess” Halloween costumes. One attendant, Louise, finds an “IFB”–a passenger cute enough to be qualify as her in-flight boyfriend–and decides to take him up on his post-flight offer to attend a cocktail party. She’s disappointed when it turns out to be a pool party and she has shown up in a cocktail dress. Nothing too extraordinary about that.

The creators don’t seem to be aiming for much more. Jeff Collins says they aimed to revive “the Pan Am days with the gals with tight suits and, you know, every straight guy had their flight attendant fantasy.” He might as well have said, “Remember the good old days of sexism? I really wanted to revisit that!”

This show gets a feminist fail grade for reinforcing gender stereotypes and overall poor quality. Let’s hope young girls don’t watch this and assume they should emulate the characters.

Wednesdays 9/8c on The CW.

The Marriage Ref: Mediocre. Like being stuck at your partners’ conservative family Thanksgiving and hoping the feminist aunt will speak up.

In Jerry Seinfeld’s new project, three celebrity judges weigh in on a couple’s marriage tiffs while making jokes that are only occasionally funny. A couple in episode one disagrees over whether to install a stripper pole in their house, the man thinking it would be sexy and fun while the woman says stonily, “There will never be a stripper pole in this house. Ever.” Another couple argues about whether the husband should be able to have his dead stuffed dog in the house.

The degree of feminism on the show relies on the judges, who change each week. The promo episode featuring Jerry Seinfeld, Alec Baldwin and Kelly Ripa wasn’t tooo bad, but the episode with Larry David, Madonna and Ricky Gervais was hard to watch. At one point David screams, “This woman’s lucky anyone would sleep with her!” Madonna shot back with some feminist lip: “Are you mad that you’re sitting next to a woman who will stand up to you?” She then called him a misogynist, to which he replied, “I am a misogynist!”

The judges comment on gender roles and married relationships, but not from a particularly feminist perspective. On the stripper pole controversy, they concluded that angry wives do not make good strippers. Fair enough, but not a deep feminist insight.

The petty disagreements are sometimes mildly entertaining, but in the end The Marriage Ref is not worth it.

Thursdays 10/9c p.m. on NBC.

TRANSform Me: TRANSpirational!

“Did you ever feel that who you are on the inside didn’t fit who you are on the outside?” Three transgendered women–Laverne Cox (of I Want to Work for Diddy), Jamie Clayton and Nina Poon–use their female expertise to make over a cis-gendered woman. The trio travel in their “glambulance” to a subject’s house to revamp her closet and boost her self-esteem.

“We were always girls, we just weren’t born girls on the outside…so we took steps to change that,” Cox tells the first makeover subject, who is initially shocked to meet the transgender trio. But soon she warms to them, and by episode end she’s cured of both her glitter eyeliner and her transphobia.

In VH1’s bonus interviews with Cox, she explains that she created the show because people weren’t making characters for trans people. This show helps to both increase their positive representation in the media (outside of Logo) and to educate the public on transgender issues. The litmus test says: Trans folks hosting their own show on a major TV network is a feminist win.

Mondays at 10:30 p.m. on VH1.


  1. I agree that TRANSform me is overall more feminist than the other shows listed. And it’s a feminist victory to have a show hosted by three transwomen. HOWEVER, I don’t think it’s fair to gloss over all of the highly UNfeminist things about the show. I mean, at its core, no matter who its hosted by it is a makeover show aimed at women. Makeover shows are narrowly focused on being better at looking good, and in this case reinforce stereotypes about both cis and transwomen.

    However, I do think that it’s better to have imperfect representations of transpeople in mainstream media than no representations at all. I do wish that they would include interviews with Cox like the one listed above during the actual segment and not just online.

  2. Is “who you are on the outside” not a contradiction in terms? Appearance is not equivalent to identity. I have some idea of what that question is supposed to mean, but I object to its premise, and also to that term, cis-gendered, which seems to imply females born female are comfortably aligned with the female gender role. One of the major premises of feminism as I understand it is that gender roles are not inherent, rather societal expectations constructed to keep men in power over women, which means society may expect biology to determine destiny, but as a feminist, I can determine my own destiny. Similarly, there is nothing to stop a male who does not identify with the male gender role from defying it, besides societal disapprobation; defying gender roles does not require altering biology. I have not seen the show, not being much of a TV watcher, but it does not sound like the show is doing much of anything to challenge gender stereotypes.

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