English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Frank Ketchum

How to Avoid Existentialism

Today, I’m going to take us ALL the way back to the season one finale of Fresh Off the Boat, “So Chineez.” True to the underlying theme of the show, this episode directly addresses the issue of being Chinese in a mostly white community, and losing a grip on one’s identity. This is actually a very deep, existential problem that extends far beyond the realm of one’s culture, but the show keeps it reigned in and lighthearted in nature, true to its genre.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the show takes few things seriously. Cultural identity is one of those things. While it becomes the target of some jokes along the way, most of the discussion, and even the context of the jokes, in the episode is framed in order to tackle this issue and make it more approachable for the average person watching the show. In this episode, Jessica is concerned because she feels that she is letting the boys down by losing her grasp on her heritage and culture and failing to expose them to it. And, true to character, she overreacts and goes overboard trying to get them involved in Chinese culture.

As you could probably guess, this is a struggle that I do not relate to at all. I don’t have any kids (thank goodness) and I’m not culturally isolated by any stretch of the imagination. However, the presentation of this dilemma in the episode really allowed me to feel what it would be like to be in this situation. I definitely had seen the value of preserving one’s culture before, but I was not aware of such a struggle to do that. As such, the show does a good job addressing the issue in a way that gets people involved, but also retaining its voice.

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Jessica doing what she does best: the most

In the end, Louis comes in clutch and saves the day, reminding his wife of all the things they do that keep them plugged in to their roots. The episode ends in a very oddly perfect visual metaphor. The family gets a Florida vanity plate with the plate number “SOCHINEEZ.” I don’t think there would be a better way to represent the meshing of these two cultures.

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The only reason the Huangs aren’t getting into the good place

The Huangs GET SHOT

Fresh Off the Boat takes an interesting turn in season two, episode nineteen. In the beginning of the episode, we see that Jessica is upset because her favorite drama t.v. show will be off air until its next season starts. Following this, the episode’s ambiance gradually  becomes more and more dramatic to emulate such a show, which is pretty different than the usual vibe. Usually, the show is very brightly lit and colorful, contributing to a light and very welcoming and easy-to-watch atmosphere. But in this episode, there is more use of darkness and contrast to add to the dramatic effect.

Some scenes in this episode are visibly darker than usual.

This reminds me of some of the shots from an earlier episode in season one where Louis agrees to coach Eddie’s basketball team. Eddie imagines his father playing basketball like an old kung fu movie, with flying fight scenes and dramatic dialog. The writers’ use of cinematography to change the mood or delivery of episodes is an interesting concept in my opinion. It introduces a lot of freedom to the writers’ roles in developing episodes. Writers can, and do, change some of the basic elements of the show from time to time to convey different things. I think this is a pretty unique quality for a show to have, and it seems like this show is a lot of fun on both ends of the production as writers can introduce fun episodes such as these.

One thing that remains constant, cinematography-wise, is the use of many cuts in a single scene. In the context of the viewer, this creates a feeling of a fast pace in scenes. I don’t really know why this would be desirable from a production standpoint, though. This may be a result of a low budget or the inclusion of child actors, so that many takes can be strung together without seeming out-of-place.

Women Off the Boat, in New Places of Power

Throughout the first season of Fresh Off the Boat, gender roles remained very static and I’d go as far as saying they were very stereotypical. None of the characters really break any molds; most everyone is a typical character and there aren’t any radical characterizations regarding gender. One may argue that Jessica’s place of power in the Huang family challenges the typical patriarchal scheme of a family that we see emphasized through the rest of the neighborhood moms. While this is certainly the case, she is still very dependent on Louis to make all of the money and she fits into the whole “tiger mom” stereotype. I guess all of this is passable since the series is loosely based on Eddie Huang’s book, so this may very well have been how these people existed and interacted.

Towards the end of the first season and certainly in the second, there is some shifting of power regarding gender. Jessica gets a job and is able to provide for the family and move her character away from its previous positioning as a strong matriarch that is only concerned with the performance of her kids. In season 2, episode 3, she also demonstrates her ability to negotiate with salespeople and scores her family a new car for significantly less than its sticker price. As such, she definitely has a big effect on the plot of the show and begins to break away from the more typical role she previously occupied.

Additionally, Nicole, Eddie’s neighbor, is expanded from just being Eddie’s crush to also being a strong, plot-driving character. In episode 5, she demonstrates a lot of power over the boys in school by scaring them away from Jessica’s real estate property. This is definitely a shift towards a more progressive role than she previously held as more of just a pretty face.

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Nicole scares off some boys.

This is probably the lone example of something in the show shifting into focus without becoming the butt of a joke, as with sexual orientation. The show brings this up a lot, but it’s never really explored. It’s always used to convey a joke, which I hope will change in the way we’ve seen the show’s representation of gender evolve. In addition, the rest of the female characters occupy very stereotypical roles, as stay-at-home neighborhood moms and a trophy wife. The same can be said for the men, who are mostly rich country club members. At least each gender is accounted for in near equal numbers. I guess the directors just take a lot of time to push the plot in new directions and are slow to approach new facets of representation.

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The Denim Turtle, Jessica’s escape. Also happens to be a lesbian hang-out.

A Little Too Lighthearted

Episode five of Fresh Off the Boat is written by Sanjay Shah, who has written six other episodes of Fresh Off the Boat and five episodes of King of the Hill. Like all other episodes of Fresh Off the Boat, this episode features a voiceover, which is Eddie Huang’s thoughts as he remembers the events taking place. He clears up his thoughts at important times and gives some extra information we might not know as we progress through the show.

The writing of this episode is very similar in structure to that of the other episodes. A main story arc is introduced and concluded within the same episode, with smaller conflicts along the way. Also like the rest of the series, the humor in the episode is very persistent. I definitely enjoy this facet of the writing. It keeps me engaged and gives the show a very lighthearted and fun tone.

Sometimes the show’s focus on being comedic gets in the way, though, of which this episode is a very good example. The episode’s major conflict involves sexual harassment, and by extension sexuality. Louis is forced to give Eddie “the talk” after a sexual harassment video makes its way through Eddie’s school. This talk is shown in one scene in which Louis mentions that one of the reasons he came to America was so that Eddie could have a more liberal experience with sex than he could in Taiwan. But that’s about as far as it goes. Following that, the scene is composed of a bunch of jump cuts to other parts of Louis’s talk, all of which are comical in nature. Eddie’s voiceover in this scene expresses his gratitude that his father didn’t use the corny school-issued book to teach him about sex, which is something of a viewpoint that the writers may be expressing. However, I don’t think this can be read into very far, since the talk Louis gave was once again the punchline to a joke.

Louis gives Eddie “the talk”

This is a problem for me- the show brings up an important topic and begins to dive into it, but then cuts itself off and doesn’t really bring the discussion anywhere. It’s honestly confusing to watch, since I can’t tell what’s supposed to be a statement and what’s a joke. It leaves me unsatisfied- the show opens up a lot of very good opportunities for the writers to use their medium to convey a message about something important! But instead, they opt to keep the tone very lighthearted and cover things up with more jokes. This tendency is observable in other episodes, too. I understand the want to keep the tone of the show light and comical, but it still leaves things to be desired since the show by nature has a lot of important issues it can address.

r e s e a r c h

Medich, Rob et al. “Flashes.” Entertainment Weekly, no. 678, 2002, p. 16,


This article from Entertainment Weekly breaks down some occupations shown on TV. It compares the prominence of these occupations to the composition of those occupations in real life. A notable comparison comes in the medical field, where 12.1% of the surveyed television characters are employed in the medical field, despite only 0.9% of people work in this field in real life. Additionally, only 6.4% of sampled characters work in management or executive positions, despite 31% of real people working in these positions. None of the metrics for included fields in fantasy versus reality are anywhere near one another.

Despite the shortness of this article, it serves to illustrate good points relative to the topic at hand. Television presents scenarios that are not lifelike so that people can live vicariously through it. In this instance, the life of a medical employee is something not many people experience. However, this also shows that implicit bias may have a hand in altering the reality of television. While these data may not be directly applicable to the research question, this does show the disparity between reality and fiction in television.


Durkin, Kevin and Bradley Nugent. “Kindergarten Children’s Gender-Role Expectations for Television Actors.” Sex Roles., vol. 38, no. 6, 1998, pp. 387-402,


This article begins with an exposition of gender roles defined in television, with men holding more typically masculine roles and women holding more traditionally feminine ones. Previous studies have attempted to form a correlation between this and children’s perception of gender roles, with varying and sometimes contradictory results. A study is then detailed, in which children’s tendency to assign gender to certain jobs was assessed. Children aged four to five were asked to watch a scene with a female voiceover, featuring equal numbers of male and female characters, if any, and identify if a man, woman, or both would be suitable for performing a given action. The children were also asked whether or not they thought they would be good at said task later in life. The children’s response to the first task was very clearly in favor of the predetermined typical gender roles. Whether or not this was due to television was not addressed.

This article illustrates some of the importance, or lack thereof, of the issue at hand. While gender stereotyping may exist in television, it may not have any large effects on children. However, children do end up with biases somehow, and this may be the result of television. The use of a female voiceover in this study is interesting, and may cause skewed results, but the data is already pretty clear and unified, so I doubt it.


Greenberg, Bradley S. and Larry Collette. “The Changing Faces on Tv: A Demographic Analysis of Network Television’s New Seasons, 1966-1992.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media., vol. 41, no. 1, 1997, pp. 1-13,


This article goes through a very thorough scrutinization of new characters in television shows over twenty-seven years, from 1966 to 1992. 88% of characters in this time period were white, with only thirteen total Hispanic and twelve total Asian characters. It was found that on average, characters were 65% male and 35% female, with the closest to real ratio of male to female being 49% female in 1984. Characters were never even or majority female. Females’ appearances on television were, on average, ten years younger than males, assigned to more stereotypical roles, fewer in number, and more likely to be supporting characters. Additionally, females were most likely to hold the position of married mother at home. As far as occupations are concerned, 17% of females represented “professional” careers, as opposed to men, of whom 27% held such roles. Males were up to five times more likely than females to hold salesperson positions, and females were found to be four times as likely as men to be domestics or homemakers.

This article holds some pretty damning evidence. While I’m sure there has been a lot of progress regarding representation in television since 1992 and certainly since 1966, this article definitely details this as a large problem. The fact that gender alone of characters is so skewed, in addition to the huge disparity in jobs held by the sexes, is honestly disturbing. This is right along the path that our research question takes, and it paints a picture similar to the on we had in mind initially- that women were and are underrepresented and misrepresented occupation-wise in television. This really makes me wonder why such a thing manifests so blatantly in television.


Farrington, Jan. “Jobs on Tv.” Career World, vol. 27, no. 6, 1999, pp. 6-12,


This magazine article takes an interesting stance on the issue at hand. The author proposes that in the world of television, it is common for people to achieve more than in real life, including career-wise. Additionally, she alleges that minorities hold more diverse jobs in television. However, she touches on the fact that practically only office jobs, law and justice work, and medical field jobs are portrayed on television. The author also comments on how television is significantly differentiable from reality, but that’s for a good reason, as television is meant to be a break away from one’s reality.

I am skeptical of much of the claims the author makes in this article. She alleges that television is a world where people are represented in a better light than in reality, when the exact opposite is proposed in the previous article- specifically that women and minorities are severely underrepresented in television. The author does bring up an important point, though. Television is meant to be different from reality, as it is a form of entertainment. But this begs the question: when is is okay to deviate from reality and when is that unacceptable? Certainly having an overwhelming majority of characters in television being male is detrimental in some way, and conforming to gender stereotypes is definitely not a good thing either.


Smith, Stacy L et al. “Assessing Gender-Related Portrayals in Top-Grossing G-Rated Films.” Sex Roles., vol. 62, no. 11-12, 2010, pp. 774-786, doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9736-z.


This article explores the roles of characters in G-rated movies and how these roles relate to the gender of the character. It details the ratio of female leads to males, one to about two and a half, and the traits that female characters possess. Females tended to have more “good” traits than males and they were more traditionally attractive. Additionally, most characters were white. Females were much more likely than males to be in a relationship and be a parent. However, occupations of characters were not found to be related to gender, except for military occupations, in which males held more.

While not directly addressing television, this is a closely related body of work. This report relates to the first article recorded above, in which children identified gender roles in certain tasks. This article exposes a very important piece of information for our purposes- G-rated movies don’t end up discriminating occupation by gender as much as television may. This is interesting, since jobs on television do exhibit gender discrimination. However, total gender and race disparities remain.


Signorielli, Nancy. ” Aging on Television: Messages Relating to Gender, Race, and Occupation in Prime Time.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 48, no. 2, 2004, pp. 279-301, doi:10.1207/s15506878jobem4802_7.


This article scrutinizes many facets of older characters in television, including gender, race, and occupation. It finds that in general, older characters are underrepresented. Additionally, it shows that while younger characters typically held more “prestigious” jobs than their older counterparts, among older characters, men typically held more “prestigious” jobs than women, and whites held more “prestigious” jobs than minorities. The author then discusses the findings through the lens of role modeling. The fact that fewer older people exist in prestigious positions in television contributes to a lack of role models in young people.

This article deals with older characters and how these characters are represented in television. It contains some information applicable to our research in that it explores occupation and gender of these characters. The article, like the rest of our research, basically states that being old, being a woman, and being a minority are all ways to identify that a character on television is less likely to have a good job. Furthermore, I definitely agree with this author’s comment on the lack of older role models in television, as it is exactly what makes this research important. This under-representation may lead children to believe that they are doomed to less important jobs as they grow older.

The Huangs vs the World

Season 1, episode 2 of Fresh Off the Boat is very rich thematically. The theme of the episode, however cheesy and overdone it is, is that family is important. This episode is very early on in the series, so it makes sense that the Huang family dynamic would be explored in such an episode. This exposition of the family dynamic may also set the stage for further developments in the series.

This family dynamic is extremely relatable, serving to give the episode some pathos when communicating the theme. The Huang parents each make members of the family do things for their own good, which they don’t want to do. Jessica forces her kids to practice math and reading outside of school, something I know I wouldn’t have liked in the moment, but that I would appreciate now. Louis eventually tells his wife to stay out of his business concerning the restaurant to make it a more inviting environment for customers in the future, improving business. Throughout the episode, the Huangs tell each other “I love you” when they’re hiding something. This in itself isn’t a problem, as everyone has a different means of showing love, but it, too, serves to have the audience identify more with the main characters. In my case at least, this is something I can identify with. I actually texted my mom the other day to tell her I missed her, and she replied with, “What’s wrong?”

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The Huangs say “I love you” when they’re hiding things.

In this episode, the Huangs stand up for each other in many ways. Eddie’s parents defend him when the school tries to get him in trouble for fighting another kid after being called a racial slur. Additionally, Jessica deals with customers who dine and dash at Louis’s restaurant and she takes on teaching all of the sons outside of school.

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Jessica dealing with customers who dine and dash

The Huang family is repeatedly juxtaposed with that of their neighbor, whose dad is not around.  This underscores that despite its dysfunction, the Huang family is always there for one another. This dysfunction manifests itself when Louis gets irritated with his wife at the restaurant. He half-tricks her into staying home and tutoring their sons. However, he eventually has to come clean to her. This reveals an important subtheme of this episode; that openness is important, especially through the lens of family concerns. Your family is meant to be there for you, but they can’t help unless you are open with them.

The episode ends with Louis playing basketball with his kids. This scene serves to drive home the theme, as everything is resolved because the family stuck together. This theme will likely be referenced again when members the Huangs go through hardship. They’ll turn to each other for help. As we’ve already seen, there is going to be a lot of conflict involving their cultural identity in the future, and they’re the only people they know with the same experiences.


Hey! I’m Frank Ketchum, a BME major here at tech. I’m looking at graduating in 2021 if I keep up the current pace.

I took English 1101 here last spring because I made the mistake of skipping out on AP Lang/Lit in high school. In the past, English courses have been like pulling teeth for me, which was a big part of my reasoning behind this choice. I’m in the STEM field for a reason- I don’t do well with digging into deeper meaning behind works of writing (just tell me what you mean!). I have to say I didn’t hate English 1, which was unexpected considering how much I usually dislike English classes. It forced me back to the roots of the composition process and allowed me to be a lot more free and involved in composition than English classes in the past, which I appreciated. I also enjoy how English classes here break away from the mold of traditional classes and focus on new things.

Me in high school English classes >:(

When it comes to communication, I’m pretty lacking. I especially struggle with written communication. Sometimes I can’t even bring myself to read over what I’ve already written because I hate it so much. However, this semester, I’m looking forward to improving all of my communication skills. Specifically, I want to improve on my oral communication. I enjoy speaking and talking with people, but I also feel like my oral communication skills could use some work. A proficiency in oral communication is very impressive in my opinion, and it would help me out a lot in the future.

Having an English class on television is going to be interesting, to say the least. I used to watch a lot of TV when I was younger, but more recently it’s lost its effect and television just hasn’t been doing it for me. I can’t find a series that keeps my attention for more than a couple episodes. I think this has to do with the fragmentation of the television industry and the move away from larger, higher-budget channels to more smaller networks, like Netflix. I’m also pretty new to feminism- I get the general idea and I’m down for it, but it just goes so much deeper than I initially expected. There are so many things to consider through the lens of feminism that I had never thought of.

I’ve chosen to review Fresh Off the Boat for my blogs this semester. It’s been on my list of things to watch for a while now, so this is the perfect opportunity to force myself to go ahead and watch it. It seems like a pretty funny and entertaining show, and I think it’ll also provide me some insight on how my experiences have differed from others’ based on my upbringing.

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