Boy Soaps: Liberalism Without Women

by: Allison McCracken / DePaul University

What’s old is new again on television, as prime-time boy soap operas like Everwood, Jack and Bobby, Life As We Know It, Summerland, The Mountain, One Tree Hill, Smallville, and The OC have come to replace girl-centered teen dramas like My So-Called Life, Popular, and Buffy. The new boy-centered soap employs “feminine” generic serial elements to explore male adolescence and relationships between males, often focusing around brothers or fathers & sons. Like their female counterparts, these programs offer more character-based drama than most current network television. The combination of seriality and an adolescent focus make for intense storylines which revolve around self discovery, the development of non-familial relationships, sexual exploration, and life lessons, especially liberal “awakenings”. Indeed, the male creators of these programs are among the most liberal on network television — some are even openly gay. The boy soap is as pleasurable a text for female viewers as television offers today. Yet at the same time, these programs consistently give short shrift to female characters and points of view, putting female viewers in the difficult position of cheering on the sidelines in the one generic field where they had dominated.

The reasons for this shift are multiple, but would certainly include the rise to prominence of gay television producers in the 1990s, most prominently Alan Ball of HBO’s Six Feet Under and Kevin Williamson of the WB’s Dawson’s Creek, who were given their first highly publicized opportunities to create television series after they had penned hit movies. Although a welcome change, this development also reflects continuing male industrial dominance, even on smaller networks and subscription channels (straight female and lesbian producers have remained rare, especially as the creators of programs). The consuming power of a white, liberal, educated audience (what television scholar Ron Becker has referred to as “SLUMPIES”) has also helped ensure a loyal gay and gay-friendly viewing community, which is perhaps most evident in the broad popularity of homoerotic “slash” readings of television texts by very vocal and influential internet television communities. At the same time, the general political and industrial shift to the right has resulted in less explicitly feminist or lesbian television texts like Buffy getting the green light; instead, risky behavior and moral heroism have become almost exclusively (white) boy territory, which is more socially acceptable.

Some key characteristics of the genre:

Boy/Boy Focus: Male relationships form the core of these programs and are privileged within the text: father/son on Everwood; brother/brother on The OC, Jack and Bobby, One Tree Hill, Summerland, and The Mountain; and male friendship on Life As We Know It and Smallville, the latter of which focuses on future enemies Clark Kent and Lex Luther, both of whom also have difficult relationships with their daddies. There is very little consistent female solidarity anywhere on these programs, and when it does it exist it is generally constructed as a support or reaction to the central male characters and relationships, i.e. Lana and Mrs. Kent worry about Clark on Smallville.

Gendered Character Growth: While men can be feminine on these programs, women cannot be masculine. Boys are scholars and weepers, leaders and followers. A women who exhibits more masculine qualities is invariably regarded as shrill, cold and dysfunctional. Christine Lahti’s professor mom Grace McCallister on Jack and Bobby is a self-identified feminist, and, as Entertainment Weekly recently noted, the most unlikeable character on the program who “embarrasses herself” with her didacticism and must be taught “lessons in tolerance and motherhood”–in other words, how to be feminine. Such lessons are only necessary for older women, as none of the younger girls seem to have a problem being feminine. They do, however, seem to have a problem being anything else and are often criminally underwritten. Because boys are allowed such a broad range of emotions and girls are not, the girls seem stunted, stuck in an adolescence in which they don’t seem to learn or develop. On-line viewers have complained about the vapidity of Smallville‘s Lana Lang for years, but producers decided that they were simply jealous of Lana’s beauty.

Homoeroticism: The traditional female-targeted soap promotes men as objects for female consumption, but the teen boy soap takes such objectification up a notch. The WB’s stable of gorgeous former male models offer a degree of youthful beauty and athleticism that is unsurpassed; combined with melodramatic adolescent yearning, the homoerotic content is hardly subtle. Indeed, these programs are “slash-friendly” texts in which producers often deliberately insert gay innuendo to reward viewers (reaching its apotheosis in the first season of Smallville). Most prominent among “slashed” relationships are Seth/Ryan on The OC, Jack and anyone on Jack and Bobby, Dr. Brown and Dr. Abbott on The OC, and, of course, Clark/Lex. Because female relationships are not as developed or given as much screen-time, girl-slash is much less possible, and the characters’ feminine passivity, lack of sexual desire (see below) and narrow emotional range also make erotic “sparkage” much less likely. In addition, the girls are rarely presented as the models of desirability the boys are: Amy’s best friend on Everwood, the starry-eyed and childlike Hannah, is mousy and wears glasses — the nadir of television sexuality and a definite slash-killer.

Gay Inclusiveness: These boy soapers frequently include “out” gay characters or references. Both The OC and Jack and Bobby have featured recurring gay characters and episodes devoted to “outing” and its consequences. Gay identity and gay relationships are taken very seriously: when a boy develops a crush on Jack in Jack and Bobby and tells him about it (“I love you”), the show makes clear that the boy has “outed” himself as gay. The boy, in fact, is so depressed and frustrated by the realization of his homosexuality that he commits suicide. The portrayal of gay identity assumes a fixed gay/straight binary where men don’t experiment, making the show safe for straight boys to watch without feeling anxious. Lesbianism, however, is not taken nearly as seriously; when girls kiss other girls on these soaps, they’re dabbling, experimenting, or “acting out.” Marissa on The OC kissed a girl because she’s rebelling against her mother (the same reason she had an affair with the gardener) — the fact that the kiss occurred during February sweeps also says much about the cynicism at work here. Long-term lesbianism doesn’t exist, and girls don’t struggle with their feelings for other girls the way boys do.

Sexual Desire and Practice: Refreshingly, teens do have sex on these shows, which generally has kept them out of the Parents Television Council’s good graces. However, the treatment reaffirms essentialist traditions, at least for girls: Boys want sex (and sometimes relationships), girls want relationships. These girls seem to have almost no sexual desire for anyone; they view sex as simply a stepping stone in cementing a relationship. And once they have sex, like Amy and Ephram do on Everwood, they don’t seem to need to ever do it again. When women do feel sexual desire, they’re pathologized (unless, of course, they’re married). Inevitably, these desiring unmarried women are past a certain age and, as we know, they’re “desperate,” leading them to make unhealthy sexual choices that lead to personal and professional chaos. Indeed, desire often directly undermines their professional well being: high school teacher Monica Young sleeps with her student on Life As We Know It; Grace McCallister has an affair with her graduate student. Former political radical Rebecca (Kim Delaney) threatens Sandy and Kirsten’s perfect marriage on The OC because apparently, in her 20 years of being “on the run”, she hasn’t had one relationship and is, therefore, desperate.

Reproduction: While the characters do have sex, it inevitably causes more trouble than it seems to be worth. Even though condoms are faithfully used, a pregnancy almost always occurs (although surprisingly, no one ever seems to get an STD). While the dramatic value of an accidental pregnancy is a soap opera standard, the frequency with which pregnancy seems to occur on these programs suggests that the Bush Administration may be right and condoms shouldn’t be trusted. The message seems to be either don’t have sex or don’t have sex with girls (given these boys, the latter seems a much more likely outcome). Pregnancy is viewed here through the eyes of the male heroes, and it clearly has the potential to ruin their entire lives: The OC‘s Ryan moves back to Chino to be with his pregnant girlfriend, Everwood‘s Ephram (spoiler ahead!) misses his Julliard audition once he learns he fathered a child. The women’s reactions to pregnancy are marginalized, since most are supporting characters who leave the show after their wombs have served their dramatic purpose. Abortion is bravely presented by producers as an option, but it is portrayed very negatively, usually in a “closed” episode where it can be dealt with quickly, the offending girl banished, and the ensuing male trauma resolved. Pregnancy, after all, is a man’s crisis.

The scenarios I sketched above are not unusual; indeed, the whole basis for the development of slash fiction writing by women stemmed, in large part, from the lack of strong female characters and relationships on television. It is this very familiarity which makes the boy soap seem to me like a step back (or perhaps “sideways”?), even when producer intentions towards women are clearly honorable.

Please feel free to comment.


  • where art the men?

    This boy focus in teen serials seems highly related to the fact that the industry has been bemoaning the rapid decline in male, particularly young male, viewership for several years. What’s interesting to me is that there is this assumption that representing boys on television means that boys will be tuning in….. This argument is somewhat outside the realm of McCracken’s column, but an interesting sidenote nonetheless.

  • Lauren Burckhard

    McCracken’s column hits on many important points about the negative genderization portrayed in many of “teenage soaps” that are now highly popular. Especially the fact that girls don’t really receive strong roles and they are expected to be girly whereas boys can have both feminine and masculine qualities with no reprecutions. However, I would like to defend “The O.C.” on the gay/lesbian perspective. Not only did they feature a gay man, but a gay, married man with a child. The show portrayed the difficulties that are brought upon a family when they find out the truth about their dad, and then they show the gradual familial acceptance of it. They also show Ryan, a young boy assumed to be a typical insensitive “hard-ass” be very understanding and supportive to the young boy whose father comes out. They also did in fact feature a long-time relationship between two females. And although it does seem unfair that the female was only experimenting when she kissed the other girl, that is in fact how female homosexuality is pushed in today’s society. In the college arena alone, girls get drunk and kiss other girls all the time because they think it is somehow “hot” to other guys. Two attractive girls becoming intimate is no longer viewed as gay, but as entertainment for males. So it’s not so much that the show is being unfair to the female gay community, but perhaps accurately portryaing the direction that society is headed in.

  • It seems to me that there is always talk of homoeroticism occurring in tv shows, movies, books, etc. Although I do agree that there are a few homoerotic male relationships on tv, I also believe that sometimes the male characters are just friends and that they don’t secretly want to sleep with each other. It seems like there can’t just be a normal male friendship on tv without the assumption that the characters are gay. Numerous men have male friends who are just that–friends. Tv has a way of twisting these relationships around and turning them into something they’re not. For example, I honestly believe that Seth and Ryan (The OC) are really just friends/brothers. I don’t detect any underlying homosexuality among either character. The same goes for Dr. Brown and Dr. Abbott from Everwood. I think that maybe they’re just (straight) doctors who have respect for each other, and nothing more. I think we should just take the characters for what they are–friends.

  • Elaine Ferritto

    I think its a great idea for television shows to put homosexual relationships on the air. It is already unfortunate that our society has a heavy case of homophobia, but the more people see it and “experience” gay/lesbian couples or people in positive ways, the better. Our nation’s youth is heavily influenced by these teen “soaps” and the more they witness gay/lesbian relationships the more they are willing to accept them in their personal lives. I hope that this next generation of viewers will be more understanding of homosexual relationships. I think this article is a step forward for gay/lesbian advancment in media and television, but a step backwards for women in the field.I agree with the authors comments concerning pregnancy and sex on TV. Surprise pregnancies are always presented as the “male’s crisis”. There are already many young women today who become pregnant and don’t know how to deal with their emotions, and to watch how “unexpected pregnancies” apparently ruin their male partners life is even harder to deal with. The focus should be directed on the woman and her emotional experience and then as a secondary focus, on her partner (even if it is a boy-focused teen soap). I also agree that there are too many pregnancies that occur on television rather than the “unexpected” spread of STD infection. While there are young women getting pregnant, there are an even larger amount of young people and students that get STDs. STDs can effect any sexually active person and with our society experiencing sex at younger ages, TV shows need to accomodate to future viewers. The next step should be to start incorporating these issues into weekly TV. The more TV producers show these “uncomfortable” issues on TV in a positive light, the faster society will start to accept them into our daily lives.

  • It is extremely interesting this fact McCracken points out. This influx of “boy soaps” seems rather unnecessary if for the sole purpose of gaining viewers, specifically male viewers. There is a certain double standard in Hollywood and the media. No heterosexual male is comfortable with listening to male-dominated Nsync music or watching “Everwood,” in fear that their sexuality would be threatened. So, they feel the need to belittle or bash the certain parts of popular culture that challenge their “manhood.” But for a female to enjoy both male and female-dominated media is perfectly fine. Going along with what FHG commented, that is why if luring the male audience is the goal then producing more male-centered shows are not the way to go. If anything, the male-driven sex appeal draws more female viewers than male. Another gross stereotype in the media also related to gender issues is the particular image that women must portray in TV and movies. As McCracked pointed out, the female character must maintain the sweet and innocent appeal or else they will be seen as the antagonist. Women with power are usually associated to being a negative sexual influence or vice. How is it that women are forced to be characterized in that manner? Sure, there are shows such as Buffy and Alias, with ass-kicking, female crime fighters as the main characters. But while they vanquish evil, they are wearing low-cut shirts, with leather pants and stilletos to match. There is a fine line between being the protagonist and being a sex object. Is it necessarily better that there are more “boy soaps” replacing the female-dominant objectifying shows of yesterday?

  • In the ‘Boy Soaps’ article, the author suggests that a new male dominance has been established in the world of teenage focused melodramas on television. I certainly agree that this shift has occurred and set a new bar of what is and is not acceptable portrayals of male and female adolescents coming to terms with their recent sexual and moral awakenings. As noted in the article, male homosexual emotions are treated with certain seriousness that female homosexuality is not. The article also notes that males can be both masculine and feminine, yet females are pushed to remain feminine. The author makes a good point at how if a female walks outside of these bounds, she is usually an unlikable character which more often than not seems to be unsatisfied with her life, usually not given a moment of joy and satisfaction, apart from when she makes a concession of her choices. I myself have not watched any amount of boy soaps to make me an authority on the matter, but the little I have watched has usually been more concerned with themes of friendship and loyalty in an ever shifting world, yet with a dose of liberalism. The writers seem to do their best to make old-hat morals appear to be at the center, yet subtly work in more controversial themes such as the legalization of marijuana, as on an episode of ‘Everwood.’ But it is easy to recognize the liberal gender roles males are given, and that females are not. The author is right in recognizing the female figures as typically being along for the ride, with no desires, sexual or otherwise, pulling them in their own direction independent of the male leads, who struggle with every possible emotion. When there is any female homosexuality shown, the author cites how it is because of a mix of rebellion and experimentation, typically saved for sweeps month. Thus drawing in a little more of a male crowd than typical, which reveals enough to show what the attitude is towards lesbianism.

  • Do any straight males watch these shows at all? I’d be interested in seeing the numbers…

  • I agree with Allison McCracken’s claims that female characters are often sidelined on nighttime soap operas geared toward a male adolescent audience. It is true that the problems and perspectives of the male characters do seem to take prominence over their female counterparts on a lot of the teen shows currently being produced. When the notoriously stale Lana Lang character from Smallville wants to find herself she decides to leave Smallville and go to Paris. The answer to her problems seems to be to get the hell off the show, because the audience doesn’t care about her. Conversely, the trials and tribulations of Clark and Lex’s lives are explored thoroughly throughout the series. Emphasizing the male characters’ problems makes sense to me if the series is in fact trying to attract a mainly male audience. However, I think these shows would definitely benefit from the addition of a few well rounded female characters. If the audience knew more about Lana maybe they wouldn’t be so happy to see her go. Rounding out her character may give the girls who watch this show someone to relate to. In addition, investigating the tribulations and inner lives of the women on shows like these, may help them to attract a larger female audience. I don’t see anything inherently harmful in the new trend of boy soap operas, but I do think that they contribute to the proliferation of male based television programs and keep female oriented programs from being produced. The fact that shows like Smallville receive such high ratings encourages television producers to give the viewing audience more of the same. I would like to see more shows on television like Buffy the Vampire Slayer that focus their attention on the female characters. Young girls have just as much of a right to see shows on television that include issues relevant to their lives as young boys do. However, I don’t think that will happen until a female oriented television series (like Buffy) beats out the many male oriented series in the ratings race. Then perhaps television executives will realize that there is still a market for strong female characters and relationships on TV. Perhaps it would be easier for television executives to produce programs for teens that balance out the male and female roles instead of concentrating their attention on one gender. Why not give equal time to all the characters? A show that spoke to both genders would certainly attract a larger fan base then a show that only spoke to one.

  • If i were a station like the WB and young male ratings were already low I would want to hold onto the existing audience. The females are obviously attracted the these “soap boys” so why not make a killing by showing these young men the majority of the time. Granted this does make for a very strong point about what is right in society and defines gender roles in a very unequal light. But to money hungry businessmen, these reinforced gender roles are just a side effect on the road to making money.

  • Alethia McDaniel

    In my opinion, McCracken’s column wants you to understand how soaps are beginning to target the male audience more. Due to this phenomenon, ratings may seem to be targeted towards a more specifc audience;male viewers. As she discussed the arrival of many new gay directors and producers, I believe this also plays a role in why television may be changing. The fact that the gay culture wants the world to see who they really are, may be how some of this gay producers get their story out on tv.I totally agree gay inclusiveness exist in tv shows, film, movies, and really just in society. Boys are more ostricized for wanting to experiment with another male than females are. Females tend to be more glorified for presenting this sort of behavior. Why? well, the socialization of how females act to males is totally different. Females have always been ‘soft’,’sex symbols’,’passive’etc, and males are ‘hard’, ‘aggressive’, ‘masculine’ etc, which wouldn’t allow society to accept any kind of gay behavior if enacted out by a male, because he would not be upholding the stereotype of how a male should be. Yet, most of these shows reject what the assumed behavior of a male is to be. As stated, these males can portray feminine type qualities, they can cry.So maybe these producers want the male audience to see that it is ok to be that way if you want.Although, to dehumanize the female characters for being to masculine is absurd. Why, can’t females also exemplify masculinity. I think that maybe the producers did this purposely, since in the real world males are shunned for being feminine, yet girls aren’t for parading their lesbianism. Thus creating a world for males to be free of negative attitudes towards their sexual preference, yet putting up a wall for females on whats an acceptable way to act;as done to males in the real world.

  • First off, to answer Brad Baker’s question, I’m a straight male and I’ve seen every episode of The O.C. I don’t know if I should admit that or not, but hey, I love the show.

    That said, I know there are plenty of flaws with the show, in regards to the message it sends out. However, I feel that there are plenty of times when it sends out a positive, truthful message. It, along with the other soaps, gives a more accurate representation of teenage sexuality than what has been depicted in the past. From the awkwardness of the first time, to teenage pregnancy, it opens up more awareness of this stage in everyone’s lives. Although it may be exaggerated or only give one side to the story, it is at least a step towards more truthful television.

    On the topic of lesbianism, however, I was rather disappointed with The O.C.’s treatment, where they gave us the stereotypical “lipstick lesbian” experimenting approach. I have a cousin who recently came out, and I know how much she struggled with it, much like when young men come out. I wish The O.C. could have been a little more sensitive with that, as opposed to going for the obvious “check out these hot girls making out” approach. But it is a business, and that sells, so I guess we have to take what we can get.

    I’d also like to mention that these shows are not completely devoid of STD related plots. Although I do not watch this show very often, I know that Everwood has dealt with these issues. Dr. Abbott’s sister had HIV, and since she worked with Dr. Abbott, when this information came out, it ruined his business. It also ruined Linda Abbott’s relationship with Dr. Brown.

    Maybe it’s due to my male perspective, but I don’t necessarily think these shows are a total step back. I can definitely recognize that females are not being represented fairly, but I also feel that these shows are more accurately portraying males outside of the stereotypical “man” character. Unfortunately, compromises tend to fail. The show Freaks and Geeks, which ran on NBC for only 18 episodes, in my opinion best represented all aspects of teenage life for both men and women. Maybe it was too harsh (however very real) for it to live on. In truth, the majority of people don’t want reality on TV. Television is a way to escape from our day to day lives, and any way that we’re roped back into our lives is too painful. So it is because of this need for another world that we may never see a show that is true to everyone.

  • Though many of the ideas that McCracken presents on the subject of boy soaps are true, I disagree with her on two of her characteristics. First of all, I do not agree with her statement that female characters cannot be masculine. I do not fully know what it means for a female to be masculine, but on the show “One Tree Hill” the character “Payton” is not a simple girly-girl, but instead she is physical and intimidating to all of the other characters. In the eyes of the smaller characters on the show, Payton may be considered cold and dysfunctional, but to the main characters and the audience of the show she is defintely not viewed in this manner.The second problem I have with McCracken’s article is the way she dismisses Marissa’s lesbian romance as a fling for the sweeps. There is no doubt that this was part of the reason for Marissa’s lesbian relationship, but it is important to point out that the couple’s reltionship lasted for quite a few episodes. I am not sure of this, but I believe that the only time Marissa and her girlfriend kissed was at the very beginning of their relationship. The rest of the episodes were based upon the two building their relationship (for example Marissa building enough confidence to tell her friends about her girlfriend) and the eventual fall of their romance.

  • Television is changing before our eyes. The prevalence of sit-coms and reality TV shows has declined and new boy soaps have emerged. Producers are targeting an educated audience in hopes of finding loyal male and gay viewers. The OC is a perfect example of how contemporary boy soaps have used men to explore “manhood”, while women fall into stereotypical roles. The OC’s, Seth and Ryan have opposing personalities that represent different sides of accepted “manhood”. Ryan has been known to punch someone in the nose and Seth exemplifies the accepted feminine man. Women are transitional devices that drive the narrative forward and are rarely critically explored as dynamic characters. Women are exploited sexually throughout boy soaps. First of all, there is nothing but model caliber women on the OC to date. Scantly clad women fill the screen which reifies the stereotype of women as sexual objects who have only one thing on their mind. There is no room for a gay male character on these shows. The OC launched a gay male character (Luke’s father) but he only lasted a couple of episodes and had no real impact on the main characters of the show. However, it is fair game for lesbian characters to appear in masse because women are depicted as experimental and erotic by these shows. For instance the OC’s Marissa has experimented with another woman all in plain view for the audience. Can you imagine Ryan and Seth kissing on camera? This depiction of lesbianism is fake and glorified for the audience. People struggle with their identity in this regard and TV insults those people who take this issue seriously. Sex is the point of these boy soaps. Everybody is in bed with somebody yet there doesn’t seem to be an STD in Orange County. Pregnancies while using birth control methods are more common than an STD. Once again, shows like the OC are far from reality and are offensive in their depictions. Not every female should be looked at as an experienced sex object and STD’s do exist, even in a wholesome community like Orange County.

  • Megan Carnathan

    I totally agree with the author when she says that women are being portrayed in a poor light. However, that argument could be put to the test in almost any genre in television. We will always find the “dumb blondes” and “ditzy girls.” I was somewhat surprised that the shows listed above are labeled as “boy soaps,” but then again it makes sense. I am an on-off watcher of One Tree Hill, and in the episodes that I have viewed, I didn’t think that they would be appealing to younger males (with the exception of the basketball themes throughout the season). It makes me sad when I think about the exclusion/lack there of of the female dominated roles in these shows. However, I am glad to know that there are shows out there that are being targeted to men (and they are watching them) that do not include blowing things up every other minute. One thing that did kind of stick out to me while I was reading the article was the issue of homosexuality/gay inclusiveness. I have not seen Jack and Bobby, but it seems like this is the only show (that I have heard of/read about) on the WB that includes male homosexuality. I don’t understand why it would be more acceptable to feature lesbians in multiple episodes (i.e. The OC and One Tree Hill) and they come off as experimenting their sexuality/rebelling and the gay male committing suicide as a consequence of his confusion. Having said this, I do realize that these shows are targeted to the “male” audience and men and women are not represented equally throughout. But what I do not understand (or maybe I should say agree with) is why it is appealing for females to be in same sex relationships, but not males (other than it makes men uncomfortable).I would like to conclude in saying that I am glad that companies are finding different ways to include male viewers. But in a more perfect world, I think there could or should be equal representations of both male and female characters. I don’t think it would scare off or disinterest male viewers if shows included strong females (and if it does, then we didn’t need their business anyway).

  • What really jumps out at me about these “boy soaps” is their failed attempts at being progressive. These shows become tagged as being progressive simply because their creators are liberal and the shows themselves address topics such as homosexuality, teen pregnancy, teens having sex, etc. As McCracken points out, the way these topics are introduced and situated within the context of these boy soaps are almost exclusively from a male perspective; the subsequent effect being the exploitation and marginalization of the female characters as well as the female audience. That said, I don’t understand how McCracken can argue that despite the lack of strong female characters in these boy soaps and the obvious social “step backward” that these shows have taken that the producers of these shows nonetheless possess ‘clearly honorable’ intentions towards women. McCracken brings up the lesbian kiss that occurred on The OC during February sweeps. The timely depiction of homosexuality in this case is seemingly only for entertainment, with no real substance given to the issue.The overall point I gathered from this article is that the freedoms granted to the male characters in these “boy soaps” are extended only in part to the female characters. To be truly progressive, these male-centric shows need to address these “taboo” issues from both gender perspectives while also pushing the boundaries of social norms for both men and women.

  • Vanessa Freeman

    It seems to me that the gender roles portrayed in popular television programs are always changing…which makes since seeing as what the viewing audience wants is continually changing as well. I too have noticed that lately more and more “boy soaps” have been popping up that star “pretty boys” and push the female characters into limited, secondary roles. While it is true that experimenting with being gay is not shown as much between men on tv, I still seem to be seeing a decent amount of it on various television shows. I think that it is becoming more and more common for these things to be shown. I guess the realm of entertainment has been focused on girls for a while now and it is time to shift back to the boys for a while. I have no doubt that the focus of these teenage soaps will keep changing as their viewers are bound to.

  • Although, many of the shows mentioned in McCracken’s article are ones I have not seen, I agree that television has changed in its content and in its representation of gender. This might not be what McCracken is trying to convey, but the impression I got is that males and females are not equally important to each show’s narrative, which I disagree with. However, although important to the show, woman (or rather girls) are and probably will always be portrayed in the same way. They will always be beautiful girls who make all their decisions based on the male in their life. Men have a major influence on the females in TV. McCraken is right on target with his statement about female masculinity in shows; there is rarely any. Also, men are not always the hunky jock anymore. Look at Seth Coen. He is a sarcastic dork who landed the hottest girl in school, which of course is very prime and proper. I give major props to writers who are bringing up gay relationships in their shows. It is important for viewers to be aware of this issue. These shows are not made for a particular audience, so I think it is good that people with homophobia can watch, for instance, the OC and maybe accept the fact that people in society are gay. Although such shows are often controversial, I believe that the general public needs to have access to similar television series in order to make them aware of such issues.To me it seems that teen “soaps” today revolve around the same storylines, however, they each have significantly different characters that attribute to the story. I don’t think that these boy soaps are replacing female teen TV., instead, they are adding something new.

  • I disagree that the “boy soaps” are necessarily a step backward in reference to the concepts of television shows. It seems to me that the mass of female protagonist/female-oriented melodramas of the 90s require producers to bring something new to the table. After My So Called Life, Buffy, La Femme Nikita, Dark Angel, and now Alias (although I by no means propose an end to my favorite show Alias), television viewers need a little less anti-male estrogen in the mix.Nevertheless, I agree with McCracken in that the female characters portrayed in these “boy soaps” provide a less than flattering picture of teen women, even debasing their relevance to the male heroes as simply a romantic interest (or in some cases, a seductive femme fatale). Just as Smallville’s character Lana Lang is two-dimensional and uninteresting, only serving as eye candy for male viewers and frustration for appearance-obsessed female viewers, many of the female characters are peripheral and unimportant. It would be nice to see both teen men and women portrayed in their full complexities within the confines of one television series.

  • right on the money…

    As the majority of single females in their early 20’s, I too am addicted to the OC and its ever abundant supply of drama to keep my hum drum life at bay. This being said, I can’t say I looked at this show as a male centered drama before it was brought to my attention. However, I feel McCracken has “hit the nail on the head” with her observations. The article mentions the issue of depiction of gay/lesbian relationships on tv as being handled quite differently, and this is very true. On the OC when Luke’s father came out on the first season, the issue was handled as much more of a shock and an issue that Luke had to deal with than when Marissa and Alex kissed. Here the desperate attempt for sweeps week, (I mean I love the show but it’s only the second season and they had to pull the lesbian kiss card…come on,) it was almost ushered in with trumpets and a parade, and characters such as Seth seemed to be seemingly not all to shocked. However, I don’t feel these shows marginalize women more so than the ones that came before them. The same stereotypes remain, and having the focus being somewhat shifted to the males even downplays them to an extent. Often times we are more indulged in Seth’s neuroticisms than Summers materialistic tendencies. Overall I enjoyed the article and it helped to remind me that this is just TV and if do happen to miss an episode it’s alright because the formula was followed in some way, shape or

  • Daniel Alexander

    what? Why??

    I don’t watch TV shows…I’ve seen Smallville a few times (and Lana is awesome!), but for the most part, I have no background knowledge to reference in my response. However, I disagree with one of the points in McCracken’s article. She discusses some concern that male homosexuality is depicted on TV as much more serious than female. She says its merely shown as “acting out” or experimentation when girls kiss on TV, and that the message is “long term lesbianism doesn’t exist. My point is that these shows are depicting young people’s perspectives and culture, and that these scenes are a reflection of that culture. The younger generation does not place as much significance on females kissing…it is not as strict a violation of their classic virtues as it would be for men. Young society accepts female affection for one another, without questioning its deeper meaning. What I’m trying to say is that if two guys kiss, everyone watching will KNOW immediately that these two guys are gay. The opposite is not true, regarding the public reaction. It has been my experience that people will react to girls kissing in the very way that McCracken claims the TV producers are depicting them: that they are “acting out”, not necessarily displaying that they are lesbians. I believe that this is a reflection of society’s paradigm of female/female affection, not TV producer’s male-centric attempt to minimalize female homosexuality.

  • Lawrence Johnson

    oh my!

    It’s been a while since I’ve watched any network TV, but I must say I’m interested, given the information McCracken puts forth in this article! My main reason for not channel surfing below the 20s on my cable tv dial is because I’ve usually considered stations like the WB to be too conservative with issues like teen sex, homoeroticism and even pregnancy. Hearing that these issues are being approached on these “teen boy soaps” makes me ask another question before tuning in, “Will network TV ever catchup to the genius behind premium-channel shows like Sex and The City and Queer As Folk?”. Could it be traditional media trying to catch up with the times (or big money being eaten up on cable)?

    I know target audiences and marketing are both very important here, and that the teen boy soaps are in fact targeting, “teen boys”, but has anyone else noticed the huge teen (and early 20’s) following of the in-your-face antics of HBO and Showtime series? Why be teased with slashed “almost-gay” relationships on Smallville, when I can watch the actors go at it naked on Queer As Folk? Why be upset and unfulfilled with the conservative solutions to a pregnancy scare on the OC when I can have Samantha brag about her past abortions on Sex and The City? In my opinion, the big money is bound to be found in the more liberal, realistic adult world offered by the premium channels. Until a network TV station gets the hint and finds a way to drop the conservative following, it’s 20-and-up for me ;-).

  • Despite the popularity of boy soap operas, I must admit that I have never seen a single episode of any of the shows that confines to McCracken’s “new” genre. It is not that I avoid these shows or think they’re “stupid.” Out of the seven shows mentioned in the article, five belong to the WB network. It is known that WB is primarily catered to teens and employs the standard “problem/solution” narration. Drama is not what I turn the television on for. There is already enough going on in my life to begin with.

    However, the contents of the boy soap operas are nothing new (as McCracken points out). Gay characters have been making appearances on television programs since the sixties, first as AIDS patients in soaps and then slowly to repetitive on-screen sitcom characters. “Slashed” relationships have been imagined before, such as in Star Trek (Kirk/Spock). Sex is, well, sex. It is important to note that the first lesbian character was created in 1989, which explains television’s still-sluggish acceptance of lesbianism. McCracken is right, in the sense that it is “new” because the issues that took nearly forty years to gradually surface in entirety to “SLUMPIES” are now being presented to “TEENIES,” possibly within a single thirty minute episode. This is not a step back, but rather progress.

  • Alicia Sandoval

    McCracken makes several points I agree with, especially that of the socially acceptable differences in homoerotic interactions. Female onscreen kissing is always the most highly publicized in previews and on television, such as Ally McBeal and Friends and often seen as a surefire way of boosting ratings. How many male onscreen kisses have there been? How many can be recalled? Exactly. I believe a large part of the actress being sidelined on tv nowadays has to do with the market. These shows are dominantly watched by insecure pre-teens and teenage girls not wanting to have to compare themselves to the flawless face onscreen, when they could be watching the attractive boy steal the story.

  • Charles Nwachukwu

    With the rise in popularity of “boy soaps” comes, as illustrated by McCracken, a new forum for the discussion of gender roles and gender issues. Now, after the decline of high, female-centric drama in the vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, networks such as the WB seem to have restructured their lineups to appeal to teenage males, which, from my understanding, has traditionally been an elusive demographic. So, by incorporating programming centered around male characters and their relationships to one another, the networks are able to more reliably catch male viewers while still retaining the female audience.

    This method of producing “male drama,” however, can not simply pass without a degree of serious critique. It is interesting to note that out of the eight shows explicitly named in the article, six belong to the WB network, and in all of these shows, female characters seem to operate on the fringe of the narrative, only becoming truly involved when they advance the interests or development of the central male leads. In fact, as McCracken hints, female characters are often restrained in their growth (by comparison to the men), and seem ridiculously constant in their actions (for better or worse), the perfect example being Lana Lang of the WB’s “Smallville.” Women only seem to be allowed to experience a very small range of growth on these boy soaps when compared to their male counterparts, who, for example, have full-blown narratives depicted to issues of gay identity while lesbianism is portrayed and done away with as quickly as possible. Though some might claim that such analysis is “reading too much into things,” it is worth reinforcing that the networks pitch and maintain programs that rope in viewers, therefore, the manner in which “boy soaps” are constructed is not likely by sheer accident.

  • While these “boy soaps” do have many aspects that are clearly there for marketing purposes, there actually relevant subject matter being discussed. It is clearly obvious that the casting of these shows cater to the “gorgeous former male models” and beautiful women in order to attract a certain demographic audience. And I don’t think it was a coincidence that Marrisa kissed a girl in the middle of February sweeps either, though her character may be “actng out” truthfully. Despite what producers do to attract a certain aduience to the show, such as the examples previously listed, they do present material that our generation is actually dealing with these days.

    I think sexual confusion among young males and females these days is becoming more common in one’s search for their identity. Though I think society is becoming more acceptable of homosexuals, it is still in the minds of those questioning their sexuality, a life threatning struggle. In “Jack and Bobby”, where the young man commits suicide after outing that he is gay, shows how tough it is to struggle with your sexuality and be comftorable with it. I believe that presenting homosexuality subject matters in the context of the male relationship dominated show, as “boy soaps” are constructed, helps questioning males relate to the characters who are actualy gay or questioning, because in society, men tend to have stronger relationships with other men, whether it be brother, friend, or father. They can not only relate as an individual with the character, but as a part of a larger relationship in which they construct their identity.

  • Scarlett Oehlke

    McCracken’s article makes some very important points. The roles that male and female characters play on television shows are constantly changing due to what society considers popular or appealing. With each change and each character type there will be someone who will argue that an unfair representation is being created. It has been this way since early on in television programming. Though the gender representations set up by popular teenages soaps may not be entirely legitimate or correct, they sure are popular with a large group of kids. Teenagers are perhaps at the most impressionable age, so it is important that they have some sort of positive and correct gender portrayal. Hopefully teenagers are being taught not to take what they see on T.V. too seriously, since it is not extremely accurate. I would like to argue in defense of these types of shows that they appear to be attempting diversity in some cases. Even though they aren’t perfect, they do try to offer some moral lessons now and then. And I can’t deny that I often indulge in my share of teen soaps.


    Throughout the late 90s, boys have been given the go ahead to act more “feminine.” Although, there is a growing acceptance of females being bisexual. Girls are often portrayed oversexed and simplified. But when there is a male dominant tv show, there hardly seems to be room for the female to ‘strut.’ Females are often looked at as second rate characters on these shows. Its almost as if the male-female relationship is less important than the male-male relationship. Males are one of the main points in girlie soaps, its about time the men returned the favor.

  • Roosevelt Brown

    Boy Soaps? What!?

    Although I do agree with many points that McCracken makes in this article, I must say I am quite befuddled by this new term “boy soaps.” McCracken uses this term to define the relationships that many of the male characters on current prime-time teen dramas like The OC, Everwood, Smallville(this doesn’t count in my book), but there seems to be an underlying tone that young male viewers are flocking in droves to watch these shows. As someone posted earlier, in American culture, it isn’t widely acceptable for a man to admit to watching teen-soaps like One Tree Hill. True, many men like myself (and my roommate) might watch this show in the privacy of our own homes, but aren’t as willing to openly admit in public. To propose that the “boy soaps” are trying to target young male viewers by portraying tightly fitted male relationships is bogus. Most men don’t want to watch other men celebrate their fondness for one another, or at least that is how our society has perpetuated these themes into our minds. After thinking about it for a while, I did come to realize that many of the female characters on these shows are only there to serve the purpose of supporting Clark; especially Lana Lang, Chloe Lane, and now even Lois Lane (who only appears in a few episodes, which usually revolve around her joining the other girls). As far as the presence of “gays on network TV,” well that pretty much an oxymoron (and no I don’t count Will & Grace because if anything they only further the gay stereotype in this country). I do applaud these teen soaps for trying to tackle such issues as homosexuality, but in this wonderfully “RED” country, to fully explore those themes is next-to-impossible on network television. If you want real gay relationships, go purchase HBO & Showtime, (or go watch gay porn, whatever gets your rocks off).

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  • Disagreements

    While reading Allison McCracken’s article “Boy Soaps: Liberalism without Women” I found her argument interesting and sound, but personally I believe that she overlooked certain elements in her arguments. McCracken presents the idea that in-part to more and more gay male television producers, the typical ‘feminine’ soap characteristics are being transformed in the last several years to explore more ‘male-centered’ television shows (example: ‘Everwood,’ ‘The OC,’ ‘Life as We Know It,’ and “Dawson’s Creek’). McCracken says that these shows “consistently give short shrift to female characters and points of view, putting female viewers in the difficult position of cheering on the sidelines in the one generic field where they had dominated.” And personally I have two arguments with this statement. The first being: what about the last 20-years when male viewers were sitting on the sidelines watching most-female centered soaps? Isn’t it about time that the male gender has some television shows of their own, and also, would women still have dominated (as much) the television industry if dramas had be equally male/female or genderless. Secondly, most of these television shows do infact have female characters that are equally important to their male counterparts, if not more so. Take ‘Dawson’s Creek’ for example, where Joey Potter was always just as important as the title character of Dawson Leery, and in the final two seasons, had double the screen time as Dawson (Dawson didn’t even appear in approx 6 episodes during the show’s final season). McCracken says “There is very little consistent female solidarity anywhere on these programs, and when it does exist it is generally constructed as a support to the central male characters” but this is again, not entirely true. It is true that a majority of the female characters in these shows are to sideline the male characters, every television show mentioned in the article has well-developed and stabile female-cliques that the male character don’t particularly fit into. And many times if the series are given a chance to mature and go into future seasons, it is the female characters that become more important. Take ‘One Tree Hill’ for example which started as a series about the rivalry between two half-brothers, and how over the course of four seasons, the show is now focused on one of the brother’s marriage to a women, and how two female characters are living their lives now that they are not in a romantic relationship with either of the brothers. Additionally McCracken states “the girls are rarely presented as the models of desirability as the boy are,” which in a way counteracts what she says in the paragraph above, about the beauty that the character of Lana Lang from ‘Smallville’ possesses. More than that, a majority of these series focus on the male characters desire for and pursuit of their female counterparts. The entire promise of ‘Life as We Know It’ is the male character’s quest for sex and romantic relationships with their female co-stars, just as ‘Dawson’s Creek’ was entirely the love triangle between Dawson, Joey, and Pacey. McCracken is true that many female characters are ‘mousy’ such as Hannah from ‘Everwood,’ but the ‘sexbombs’ do exist within almost every series. Finally, McCracken says “the boy soap seems to me like a step back,” but how is it a step back? Television is an ever evolving medium, and continuously new fads in programming are coming and going. The late 90s were full of strong-female series such as ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ ‘Alias,’ ‘Dark Angel,’ and ‘Xena;’ but then that shifted to male-centered series of the first half of the 2000s, but then slowly as the series mentioned in this article ended, female-centered series started coming back like ‘Gilmore Girls,’ ‘Veronica Mars,’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ seem to dominate the teen demographic. Boy soaps are probably a footnote in the history of television, but an interesting one, and not a step-back because if anything else, they were an interesting experiment.

  • While these shows do center around male characters and could be considered to be boy-soaps, they still did not seem to attract a large male audience. Although they dealt with males and their issues they did so in a distinctly feminine way, often discussing their romance and personal relationships, considered to be the media favorite of females. In Everwood, the relationship between male main characters Ephram and Andy was a key narrative point in the first season as well as Ephram’s pining for beautiful girl Amy and greif over his mother’s death. Both Ephram and Andy are shown in highly unmasculine lights, frequently shown crying over their various struggles and with romantic ideals parallel or greater to those that are usually attributed to females. This statement holds true for the males across these soaps, such as the brothers of One Tree Hill worrying about their family issues, and telling the girls that they don’t just want sex, they want everything. Ryan on The OC attempts to go from bad to good boy to gain the love of Marissa Cooper. While all of these men effeminate themselves for these females and make themselves the emotional fantasy expected of women, they are, however, initially, and often for considerable narrative time, rejected by these woman. Ephram and Amy never got together until the end of the 2nd season. Marissa and Ryan did not get together until the middle of the first season and then continually struggled with his being right for her considering their contrasting backgrounds. Lucas Scott of One Tree Hill finally got together with Peyton in the middle of the 4th season, and they did not finally have sex until the end of that season. These men are shown rejected for their feminine qualities, encouraging the women viewers to desire more masculine men. While these characters always do win their desired paramour, they do so in a distinctly feminine way, often with grand romantic gestures and declarations of love. Because of their feminine actions the feminine viewers are able to relate to their male counterparts and are able to see the female of desire as someone from the other team. Although these discourses tear down a wall between gendered point of view and similar gendered viewers, it does so it such a way that does not change the way that genders are encouraged and the acceptance of homosexuality. The liberalism of these shows are so often a front for the conservative gender and lifestyle values they encode.

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