GIRL POWER

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RATIONALE

iCarly has been on-air since 2007, has won 3 consecutive Kids Choice Awards for ‘Favorite Kids TV Show’ and has yet to be under any sort of scholarly research study. After reading chapter 4 in Kids Rule! I became intrigued with the notion of girl power and Nickelodeon’s influence on changing children’s programming to empower girls. I wanted to see how this triple-time award winning show incorporated Nickelodeon’s mission of the 90’s into its programming today.

RESEARCH QUESTION

How has Nickelodeon changed children's programming with the theme of 'Girl Power'?


GATHERING DATA/METHODOLOGY

The source I relied on most was Kids Rule! by Sarah Banet-Weiser. Chapter 4 "Girls Rule! Gender, Feminism, and Nickelodeon" is dedicated to exploring the theme of Girl Power and discusses how Nickelodeon has been a huge impact on Girl Power with its children's programming. Internet research was used to find blogs that discussed childhood television programs that were popular in the 80's and below. I also used YouTube to find clips from some of these earlier shows. Finally, content analysis was accomplished by watching episdoes of Clarissa Explains It All and iCarly to compare the two shows.

CONNECTION TO KIDS RULE! BY SARAH BANET-WEISER

Chapter 4 in Kids Rule! explores the issue of girl power. Banet-Weiser states that Nickelodeon's claim is to empower its audience, and this "has been specifically connected to the production of shows that featured strong female lead characters" (p. 104). Her idea of Nickelodeon culture is woven through my evidence and results. Banet-Weiser explicitly shows have Nickelodeon has stood-out among all other networks as being monumental in empowering its girl audiences, especially in the 90's. Nickelodeon has challenged and broken stereotypes about females that have been held since television first started producing children's programming.



DATA/EVIDENCE AND RESULTS

“Concerns about representations of female sexuality in children’s television programs have been a constant since the emergence of U.S. television” (Banet-Weiser, p. 108).

Prior to Nickelodeon’s girl empowerment movement, female characters in children’s programming almost always represented power in opposite extremes. Females were either depicted as having too much power for their own good with traits of evilness, corruption, and even lethal capabilities. A good example of this is the queen in Snow White, “princesses seemed always on the verge of abuse by power-hungry queens and stepmothers” (Banet-Weiser, p. 108). Or female power would take the opposite approach (powerlessness) and would create a character of pure innocence; a victim dependent on a strong man to save her. This latter type of female representation would portray beautiful and sexualized women. This stereotype told audiences that women just need to be beautiful. Intelligence, independence and self-confidence were not important traits in defining females.

Nickelodeon is heralded for challenging these stereotypes and helped pave the path for future girl empowerment programs to succeed on television.

Clarissa Explains it all (1991-1994) was the monumental show on Nickelodeon that “rejected the conventional industry wisdom that children’s shows with girl leads could not be successful” (Banet-Weiser, p. 105). Clarissa is portrayed as a self-confident, assertive, mature and intelligent young girl. Clarissa would speak right into the camera about her feelings and opinions, the show was supposed to depict teenage life through ‘the eyes of a young girl’. In no way was Clarissa a stereotypical female: she did not rely on any male figure to “save” her. In fact, she had a very mature and platonic relationship with her best friend (a boy) named Sam. The success and popularity of Clarissa brought many other Girl Empowerment shows to Nickelodeon’s programming in the 90’s and early 00’s. Such as:

Nick News: 1992-presentThe Secret World of Alex Mack: 1994-1998Allegra’s Window: 1994-1996The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo: 1996-1998The WildThornberrys: 1998-2004The Amanda Show: 199-2002*Rocket Power: 1999-2006As Told By Ginger: 2000-2004
external image Reggie_Rocket.gif

*Although Rocket Power did not technically feature a sole female lead. Reggie Rocket was essential in breaking many female stereotypes. Reggie is tough enough to play and keep up with the boys in all athletic activities. She has goals and a vision to be a publisher who has her own magazine. Reggie’s personality is more mature than the other boys and is calm in stressful situations.

What About Now?

When Nickelodeon debuted Clarissa, it was essential for the Nickelodeon brand to stand out among other networks. “Precisely because the broadcast industry denied the importance of girls, Nickelodeon reacted by embracing girls as part of its overt mission and philosophy as a channel that ‘respected’ kids” (Banet-Weiser, p. 138).

Fast-forward two decades, are the same gender dynamics and misrepresentation of females in children’s programming true today? Children’s programming has exponentially expanded and the concerns of feminine depiction are not as huge of a society concern because many other channels followed Nickelodeon’s lead with changing the stereotype of females in children’s programming. Two of A Kind (1998-1999), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (2000-2003), Lizzie McGuire (2001-2004), Sister, Sister (2002-2007) and That’s So Raven (2003-2007) are just a few examples.

Today, the network has taken a gender-neutral stance in its programming. Current President of Nickelodeon and MTV Network’s Family Group, Cyma Zarghami, states “we care less about gender in our programs and more about kids” (Banet-Weiser, p. 138).


iCarly – Girl Empowerment?

“Girl power programs such as Clarissa and As Told By Ginger are clearly situated within a post-feminist ethos, where empowerment and agency define girls more than helplessness and dependency” (Banet-Weiser, p.140-141). iCarly is not a show focused on post-feminist ethos, it deals more with gender-neutral topics; and if it were to have any predominant trait, most likely iCarly would be promoting the ethos of technology rather than post-feminism. However, Carly and Sam are two girls of empowerment and are neither helpless nor dependent. iCarly is a perfect example of the post-90’s Nickelodeon programming that is gender-neutral and treats boys and girls on an equal level.

iCarly’s mission is not to necessarily to promote girl power. Freddie is just as knowledgeable (or even more so) about technology than the girls and can operate all equipment to run the iCarly web-show. Additionally, Sam’s morals are not something that young girls should be looking up to.

Carly normally will do “the right thing” but there have been instances on the show where she possesses qualities that are not socially acceptable. For instance, her clothes can sometimes be inappropriate (short skirts, dresses with minimum coverage (iRocked the Vote)) and some choices she makes are out of line (making fun of Gibby, breaking into a teacher’s apartment to spy on her (iSpy A Mean Teacher), attempting to break into Nevel’s house to hack his computer and crash his website (iRue the Day) and giving out Wade’s hotel information on her web show (iRocked the Vote)).

On its surface, iCarly neither empowers nor dis-empowers girls. It is a show that is empowering to both genders and all kids. This show clearly defines Zarghami’s statement that Nickelodeon’s mission is “a gender-neutral stance - which translates as a commitment to neither boys nor girls specifically, but rather to all kids” (Banet-Weiser, p. 138).

KEY FINDINGS

The narrow niche of girl empowerment has seen major changes and trends in children’s programming over the years. Key findings are found in the evidence of these monumental shifts. Females were introduced on the television screen overtly depicted as sexual, dependent, submissive, and abused by men. Nickelodeon had a significant role in changing these stereotypes and broadcast programming that featured strong, intelligent and independent females in lead roles. Today, girl empowerment is not as blatant as it was in the 90’s-00’s, but females are respected and represented on an equal level as boys.

References

Banet-Weiser, S. (2007). Girls Rule!. Kids Rule!. (104-141). London: Duke University Press.
Schneider, D. (Producer), & Reinsel, R. (Director). (February 7, 2009) iRocked the Vote. iCarly.
Schneider, D. (Producer), & Reinsel, R. (Director). (December 1, 2007) iRue the Day. iCarly.
Schneider, D. (Producer), & Reinsel, R. (Director). (November 4, 2007) iSpy A Mean Teacher. iCarly.