Choose Only One: Smart or Pretty?
When one pictures what a smart girl looks like, are they going to imagine a girl who looks like a model? Most likely they will not, and instead picture a girl with glasses and sloppy clothes. The media is quick to make assumptions on a woman’s personality based on her looks. This is entirely unfair, and luckily with so many feminist movements today it is starting to be seen somewhat less. Despite some progress being made, unfortunately some very popular television shows did not get the memo and are still using these stereotypes avidly. In the popular show Modern Family episode “Under Pressure,” they enforce the norm that a girls who are less attractive are intelligent, while those who are pretty are unintelligent.
To begin with, Alex Dunphy is the “nerd” of the family. She gets perfect scores on everything she does, stays home on Saturdays to study, and gets academic awards left and right. In this episode, it is her 16th birthday and she is stressed out about studying for SATs. When she starts yelling at everyone at her birthday party, Haley, the pretty, dumb sister, says, “Woah you’re being a little.,” and then Alex cuts her off and asks, “Obstreperous?! Recalcitrant?! Truculent?!” Haley then responds with “I was gonna say cray-cray.” It is very obvious here that Alex is made to be the intelligent one with the vast vocabulary. She fits perfectly into the stereotypical “nerd;” she wears glasses, always carries around books and worries an absurd amount about grades. It is also clear she is the less attractive of the two sisters and this digs both sisters deeper into their stereotypes. They even gave her a name that could be either a boy or a girl name, while giving Haley the very feminine name.
Additionally in this episode, Alex talks about Haley always pursuing boys and failing to attend classes, and in the quote stated previously when Alex used many sophisticated words to describe her actions, Haley describes it as, “cray-cray.” This short exchange really hammers home the message they are trying to make about the two girl’s intelligence levels, much to the detriment of both. Why is it Haley always has to say something that marks her lower intelligence? And why is is that Alex is always dressed in tomboy clothes with a book in front of her? I think that they need to show the viewers that someone who is smart doesn’t have to wear glasses all the time and study instead of being social. They need to also show someone who is pretty can also be just as smart as the other stereotypical nerds. This enforcement contributes too much to society’s problem with judging a book by its cover when it comes to women. It isn’t right that when a pretty character is shown that we assume she is of lesser intelligence.
Lastly, this same pattern is shown in the girls’ young, attractive grandmother named Gloria. In this episode, she wants her son to get the last spot for a model congress in school. Her solution to this is to dress up in a skin tight, cougar print dress and flirt with the teacher to get her son the spot. This is essentially showing the viewers that Gloria is beautiful, and the only skill she has on top of that is using her beauty to persuade people. It makes the viewers think that the only thing to Gloria is her looks, and this may have them also draw the conclusion that the most important thing for women is their appearance.
Ultimately, episodes like this teach young women that their appearance predetermines what they will amount to. Television shows need to create more positive and diverse role models for young women so that they don’t try to fit themselves into one of these stereotypes. Our society is so quick to judge women based on looks, and this episode only feeds to the larger problem. It is important for the viewers to be shown that the most important attribute of a person is on the inside, not the out. If a popular show such as “Modern Family” could find a way to send this message to the women viewers, it could really make a difference and change the stigma. In a world filled with social media and judgement everywhere, it would be a nice change of pace to see television shows focusing on empowering young women and letting them know they have the potential to be whomever they wish to be.