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Gossip Girl's Triple Threat

by Anita Sarkeesian

Gossip Girl is a feminist media critic's worst nightmare.  The show is about rich, white, oversexed and hypersexualized New York City teens

CLASS

The only attempt the show has made to genuinely explore class differences is through the inclusion of a family who lives in Brooklyn instead of the posh upper east side.  This is problematic because although this is the only family depicted as ‘less wealthy’, they’re still firmly seated in an upper-middle class income bracket.  The family’s two high schoolers, who attend a private school and live in a spacious loft in Brooklyn with their rockstar-turned-gallery-owner father, are not exactly textbook paupers. Needless to say, having the show’s only "lower class" family represented as ‘only marginally affluent’ significantly misrepresents the nature of class boundaries and skews and distorts what poverty actually is.  This is compounded by the fact that the "rich" youth on the show regularly mock the economic status of these private school kids and their former rock-star dad.  Later in the series the father of this family actually marries a very wealthy woman, effacing the class rift the show once purported to have.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE

Gossip Girl depicted the attempted rape of two main female characters (Jenny and Serena) by the rich bad boy of the group, Chuck Bass.  Bass is the manipulative jerk that audiences love to hate and is continually framed as a sympathetic character.  The show did not deal with the attempted rape in any meaningful way other than via a passing comment.  It failed to address the emotional impact that this form of violence can have on young women, and since there were no repercussions for Bass’s predatory behaviour, it is passively made out to be somewhat acceptable.  Clearly, this is the wrong message to be sending young men and women in regards to sex and sexual violence.

And to drive home just how uninterested the writers are in creating a healthy dialogue around violence against women, Jenny eventually voluntarily loses her virginity to the man that had originally attempted to rape her!

RACE

Between rendering invisible real class distinctions and trivializing sexual assault, it's no wonder the show also falls short in adequately representing race.  Historically women of colour on television have been forced into offensive roles, either being typecast as the mammy, a servant, a jezebel etc. Viewers are thrown back to racist stereotypes when introduced to Blair (the private high school's queen bee) and her sidekicks—both of whom are women of color.  Blair's sidekicks have no personality, no interests, no real lives other then to take orders from Blair, reinforcing the age-old colonial narrative as normative.  Blair treats these women as slaves, expecting them to fulfill her commands and acknowledge her natural superiority.  This atrocity in representation is then paired with having only one woman of colour actually developed in the entirety of the main cast—a woman portrayed as an outsider financially, intellectually and socially.

The show is widely popular among young people, even winning multiple Teen Choice Awards, but the show repeatedly reinforces racist stereotypes, renders invisible class divisions and trivializes very real threats of sexual violence.

Gossip Girl: Class

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Gossip Girl is a feminist media critic's worst nightmare. The show is about rich, white, oversexed and hypersexualized New York City teens.

from Gossip Girl (2007)
Creator: Stephanie Savage & Josh Schwartz
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Posted by Anita Sarkeesian
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