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Opinion

Not so Modern Family: Top sitcoms make for sexist, inaccurate television

In the five highest-rated primetime sitcoms (The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Two Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men, and How I Met Your Mother), male characters are professionally accomplished, while female characters are unemployed or struggling.

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Perhaps it is because the writers are increasingly male. In fact, the number of women working as both actresses in prime-time shows and writers and producers behind the scenes on those same shows fell in 2010-2011, according to a recent report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

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Just 1 in 6 writers on prime-time sitcoms, dramas, and reality TV shows are women, down from roughly 1 in 3 in the 2009-10 season. Without women involved in the writing, even the few female characters who do make it into the scripts may be less likely to come across as relatable.

American viewers, especially young women, need strong female role models. They need characters who are employed and successful, and they’re obviously not getting then from primetime sitcoms.

But there’s also a bottom-line issue here: Women oversee 80 percent, or about $5 trillion annually, of consumer spending. A show with relatable female characters is likely to draw an audience of employed female viewers, with money to spend and power to spend it – an ideal market for advertisers. Without such characters in TV shows, networks could risk losing female viewers – and the advertisers who target them.

One to way get more relatable female characters in sitcoms is to ensure that there are more women involved in sitcom writing and execution. Viewers can help accomplish this by appealing to the TV networks directly. All of the networks have contact pages on their websites and Facebook pages that anyone can comment on, in addition to Twitter accounts. There’s also the People’s Choice Awards. You can vote directly for your favorite movies, TV shows, and music on peopleschoice.com as often as you’d like.

SexyorSexism.org encourages voting for Up All Night, a show with more actresses and women writers than men – and which portrays strong female characters, gainfully employed in high-powered careers.

Kevin Reilly, the president of Fox Entertainment, has said the number of comedies on the air next year may increase by 25 percent. We need to make sure that those shows are more representative of working women in America, not less. I love Modern Family. I want to simply enjoy it. But in 2012, I can’t get behind a “modern family” where a woman’s place is only in the home.

Michelle Haimoff’s first novel, “These Days Are Ours,” will be available in bookstores nationwide next month. The female characters in it are strong, funny, and care very much about their careers.

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