“Jane You Ignorant Slut” – My Mom and Changing Gender Roles in the Media

My mom started our interview with a story she remember from first grade. In class they were asked to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. Every girl in the class drew a picture of a nurse, teacher or stewardess. My mom believes this was representative of what they saw on tv, women who were not stay at home moms worked a very limited set of jobs. Since my mom only just turned 50, her memories of gender in media reflected the changing yet still limited portrayal of women. While throughout her childhood and teenage years women began to have a stronger and more varied representation in media, for the most part they were still shown in stereotypical representations that reinforced traditional gender roles.

My mom grew up in Portland, OR with her mom, dad and 4 siblings. My grandpa was a doctor who worked all the time and my grandma was often busy coordinating the schedules of the 5 children. As the youngest my mom always describes her childhood as relatively free from much parental intervention. Therefore, she watched a lot of TV and her memories of media reflected the importance of television in her life. My mom liked watching shows she could relate too, for example the busy and crazy lives of the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family matched her own life growing up in a big family. When asked about how women were portrayed on tv, she reflected that women were generally shown  following the guidelines of traditional gender roles. Most were stay at home moms and the ones who worked were always single mothers who needed to suport their children. Work was never a choice but rather a necessity. For example, my mom watched the show Julia which was about a single mother who worked as a nurse. In her memory, their weren’t really stronge female role models that she looked up to in the tv shows she watched.

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She also highlighted The Mary Tyler Moore Show, about a young women who produces a local news show. While it showcased a strong and independent women and often discussed womens issues such as equal pay, their was a trade off in the fact that Mary was both single and had no children. In my mom’s words “Women were never shown as both successful in their career and married with children. You either got one or the other.” Gauntlett speaks to this, stating “whilst women who were successful at work – where they were to be found – did not get on well with men, or have happy relationships.” (47) Yet my mom did note that shows such as this reflected a growing shift in showing women who wanted to work rather than just those who were forced too.

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In Gauntlett, he notes how despite the stronger and more equal role of women on television, especially in situation comedies, “the gender roles and the humour could still be traditional and sexist.” (47) This was reflected by a specific memory of my moms. She would watch SNL each weekend and noted that while women had stronger roles they were often backed with patronizing jokes. For example, during Weekend Edition the big joke was for Dan Aykroyd to turn to Jane Curtin when she disagreed with him and state “Jane you ignorant slut”.  My mom remembered how this was seen as very progressive, yet in reality was quite demeaning. This video represents the example well, showing how a women with different political and social views was then portrayed as a slut who doesn’t know what she is talking about.

While television obviously had the biggest impact on my mom’s interaction with media, she also recalled specific memories about advertising and magazines. In particular, she immediately recalled two perfume ads, shown below. These ads do a good job of representing the shift in media’s attention to women. Gauntlett notes how advertisements have a history of tackling changing social values slowly, and I believe these ads highlight this. While both show independent, working women in the end the ads also push the idea that a women needs to look a certain way (and wear a certain perfume) in order to keep her man happy/recieve male attention at all. For example, the words of the Enjoli add (which my mom could remember exactly) state “ I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.” These ads also reflect the idea put forth in Gauntlett that women’s magazines (and similar advertisements) turned feminism into a capitalist opportunity by pushing the idea that you needed to buy certain products to be successful.


I prompted my mom about her interactions between her friends and media but she didn’t remember spending much time discussing movies or tv with them. What she did remember was reading Seventeen and Glamour and how they played a big role in how she and her friends thought they should look and act. In particular she remembered reading the Glamours lists of dos/donts, which gave tips on how to wear your hair or how you should dress. Apparently it was very important among her friends to follow these exactly and therefore you risked social implications if you showed up with, for example, panty lines.

My mom concluded our interview by saying that she didn’t think media was as big of deal when she was growing up and therefore did not have as big of impact on her. Yet, her memory of stories ranging from the first grade drawings to the Glamour tips showed that perhaps the media had a bigger influence than she realized. Due to her age, the media reflected the growing shift in women’s roles in society, for example showing more independent and working women. Yet at the same time it continued to prescribe stereotypical gender roles to women characters and pushed the ideas that you had to look and act a certain way to be successful.

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One thought on ““Jane You Ignorant Slut” – My Mom and Changing Gender Roles in the Media

  1. My parents and their friends used to always say “Jane, you ignorant slut!” and for the longest time I just thought it was a super inappropriate inside joke — it wasn’t really until about 10 years ago that I figured out that it was a major cultural touchstone. We’ll have to talk more about this in class, because it simultaneously satirizes misogyny and reproduces it….

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