English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Landon Eisenhut

All Great Things Must Come to an End

ABC’s The Middle aired its last episode on May 22nd of this year.  However, according to recent news, ABC will pilot a spin off of The Middle featuring Sue Heck as the main character.  This post will dive further into the depiction of Sue Heck on the original show and how this portrayal relates to the typical teenage girl.

News of the spin off appeared just recently.


Sue Heck contrasts with much of the show.  She is incredibly enthusiastic and cheery despite the bland environment surrounding her.  Unfortunately for Sue, she is also very awkward goes largely unnoticed with everything she does.  Much of her storyline consists of her struggles trying to fit in and find any talent through persistent rejection of clubs and activities.  She’s not concerned with, or aware of, what’s cool among her peers.  Often Sue gets very set on her goals and aspirations but goes to the wrong places for success and acceptance.

If there’s any message reminding us that it’s okay to fail, it surely lies within Sue’s story.  It seems as though Sue will never figure out life during her teenage adventures.  She still has her whole life ahead of her, though, and nothing will stop her from trying something and learning from it.  Although the number of failures may be a little bit of a stretch, Sue’s condition isn’t uncommon.  It’s unfair to act as if most teenagers don’t face challenges learning who they are and how life works.  The Middle really nails the parenting situation too, as it’s not easy to be the parents of kids that age.  The important thing to note is that Sue, like most kids her age, has her whole life ahead of her with every option to choose who she wants to be.

Sue always seemed to be on an emotional roller coaster but still somehow kept an upbeat personality.

I am looking forward to learning more of this new Sue Heck spinoff.  Many of today’s popular TV shows fail to capture a teenage girl’s life quite like The Middle does.  The new show will present Sue at an older age.  We know there will be struggles in her future life…how could the show go on without classic Sue screwups?  However, I am excited to see how ABC will illustrate the working life and adult successes of a grown-up Sue Heck, one who never really had life mastered as a teenager.

All great things must come to an end, but the legacy lives on.  Just as Sue will continue the legacy for The Middle, my experiences from this project will carry with me through life.  I’ve truly enjoyed analyzing the various aspects of The Middle.  Although I doubt I will write future blog posts, the way in which I evaluate shows is forever changed from this assignment.

Car Sales(wo)men

One of the greatest strengths of The Middle is its balance in representation/emphasis of characters.  Since the show is derived from the story of a Midwest family, fittingly the main role highlighted is the mother.  The sequence of events is often correlated with Frankie Hess, and the show does not fail to portray her dynamic character qualities.  Although three of the five family members are male, The Middle focuses on the mom’s perspective with the frequent use of commentary.

In regard to occupation, The Middle defies the commonality our group discovered during our gender representation analysis.  Rather than stressing Mike’s job, the show keeps most of the attention centered at the car dealership where Frankie is depicted as working hard for her family.  This contrasts with the many ABC shows our group investigated for our project.  The trend in these shows was to establish the male occupation as the main contributor to the family.  The Middle rarely strays from its documentation of Frankie’s career, and it’s refreshing to be given this rather uncommon outlook.

It’s remarkable Frankie is able to manage all of the things she does for her family.

Outside of the Heck family, many of the characters are male, including Frankie’s workplace (Bob, her boss, etc.).  However, these characters are typically very flat.  In fact, one might conclude that the only truly progressive characters are within the Heck family.  I see Frankie and Sue as more dynamic than the males in the family.  Because of this, I do not see a notable imbalance in gender.  Perhaps more male roles appear, but the divide among the main characters is equitable.

The representation by race in The Middle is atrocious, but one must acknowledge that the show takes place in the Midwest.  From experience, I can attest that the show is accurate…like very accurate.  As much as I support the widening minority roles to improve the accuracy of TV and movies, The Middle is not at fault for its cast.  Also, by design, there seems to be a relatively uniform status across the show.  Most characters appropriately fall into the middle class.  This is essentially the basis for the show, as The Middle defines what is really important in life.

In conclusion, the authenticity within The Middle is translated to gender.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the Heck family events pan out, told by the most influential family figure, the mother!

Small Town, Big Themes

The ability of The Middle to consistently deliver a relevant theme is remarkable.  How can the depicted small town of Orson having no significance outside a ten-mile radius present so many moving thoughts?  Perhaps it is the producer’s effort to make viewers feel as if they grew up across the street from the Heck family.  Maybe it is the glimpse into a more authentic family life than Hollywood tends to illustrate.  However accomplished, The Middle certainly invokes thoughts that translate to daily life.

The Middle emphasizes the American family.  There are limitless potential messages associated with family life.  From watching the show, I believe the primary focus is how crucial families are to happiness.  Many of the events portrayed on the show reflect financial struggle and the chaos that ensues with raising three children in middle-class America.  In any event, The Middle never fails to show that family comes first.  For example, stress from a difficult work day and managing her kids’ activities may frustrate Frankie, but at the end of the day she can’t deny her love for her family.  The Heck family may not face ideal circumstances, but they have each other and that’s all they need.  This mentality goes on to underscore how happiness is not derived from wealth and status, but from relationships.

There are many instances in which The Middle attempts to present its theme.  The most effective, however, is the show’s spot-on description of American families.  During one episode Frankie claims, “This is an American family. Yeah, we yell and fight, we eat bad food, we watch too much TV…”  The Middle writers do not try to create a false image of a perfect family…like Frankie, they are honest!  Because of this, the audience is more likely to embrace reality and recognize those who prosper surround themselves with those they care about.

So what if you eat take-out in front of the TV sometimes…at least be true to yourself!

Despite the many themes that comprise The Middle, I see its promotion of relationships and deterrence from chasing fame as the most significant.  With every episode, I am reminded to act humbly during my time at Tech and maintain my family relationships and friendships from home.

The Ugly Christmas Sweater

Cinematography in The Middle has unique elements.  The show emphasizes more quick cuts as opposed to long takes.  Perhaps this is done to depict the rushed and frantic mom life Frankie endures daily.  For instance, one shot may capture a brief conversation between Frankie and her boss, followed by a rapid transition to her supporting Sue at a swim try out.  This exemplifies how quickly the Heck family is to support each other.

Lighting in The Middle is abundant, and it is often bright and sunny outside.  Nothing says Flyover country quite like a blue sky over a cornfield.  There are many colors in the indoor shots, but the colors together are not appealing.  The walls in the house are green and the clothes worn are interesting colors, and somehow The Middle can recreate the home you lived in as a child.  The palette of colors used reminds me of those ugly Christmas sweaters that have a lot of colors and look like a mess.  For some reason you love the sweater, but it’s just so hideous.  My interpretation of this is that it resembles the many great qualities in families yet the imperfections within them.  Many facets of life have flaws, but sometimes flaws make things even more lovable; the family portrayed by The Middle is no exception.

Look at the monstrosity of colors used in this living room…I still somehow feel as if I’ve spent every family gathering in this exact room.

In my opinion, The Middle stands out because of its visual authenticity.  The imagery is not deceptive; they don’t attempt to paint a perfect picture like in sunny California or bustling New York.  Rather, they illustrate a humble Indiana town.  As a viewer, it’s refreshing to be reminded that not everyone lives a superlative life surrounded by beauty and modern luxuries.  The Middle derives its success by allowing most of the country to sympathize with its plot.  Each time I watch the show I’m reminded of the many great family moments I’ve experienced inside similar ugly walls.  The use of convincing cinematography establishes a more accurate representation of families and attaches the audience to the narrative.

The Occupations of Women on TV vs the Reality of the Current Workforce

*All peer-reviewed but #6*


Signorielli, Nancy, and Susan Kahlenberg. “Television’s World of Work in the Nineties.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 45, no. 1, 2001, pp. 4-22. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.prx.library.gatech.edu/docview/227280555?accountid=11107

“Television’s World of Work in the Nineties” examines the accuracy of the television world labor force.  The article analyzes the over- or under-representation of minorities and women in certain industries when depicted on television.  Specifically, Nancy Signorielli and Susan Kahlenberg find that married women do not have as many occupation options while single women are portrayed as having gender-neutral or traditionally male jobs.  When compared to the U.S. labor force, men, by contrast, have no correlation between occupation and marital status.  Studies continue to find that women have limited opportunities on TV due to the scarcity of employed married women.

This source outlines the discrepancy between what is presented on TV and reality.  It is unfortunate that stereotypes restrict roles from some and define a false social norm.  As the article suggests, this also has a negative impact on today’s children, adolescents, and heavy television viewers.  The career choices of young viewers can be affected, and the received message is that women cannot hold better paying jobs while maintaining a healthy marriage.  The external effects proposed by this assertion are significant and are crucial to our group’s research question.



Signorielli, Nancy, and Aaron Bacue. “Recognition and Respect: A Content Analysis of Prime-Time Television Characters Across Three Decades.” Sex Roles, vol. 40, no. 7, 1999, pp. 527-544. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.prx.library.gatech.edu/docview/225370372?accountid=11107.

This document brings to light the lack of recognition received by women on television between the fall of 1967 and the spring of 1998.  Compared to the numbers in the U.S. population, women have been largely underrepresented in television.  One of the arguments made in the article investigates the occupations in which men and women are cast.  Network programming of the 1970s and 1980s depicted fewer women working outside the home, and those with jobs were often cast in traditional “female” occupations such as secretaries, nurses, and teachers.  Expectedly, men were more often presented as employed and in higher status jobs than women.

“Recognition and respect: A content analysis of prime-time television characters across three decades” highlights an important claim.  The struggle of women in the film industry and the misinterpretation of women roles is unsettling.  The prime-time network programs studied have flaws that aren’t always seen by the typical audience.  Beyond the points made in the text and how they pertain to our research, this article is worth reading to grasp the injustice within such a large sector of American life.



Matthes, Jö, Michael Prieler, and Karoline Adam. “Gender-Role Portrayals in Television Advertising Across the Globe.” Sex Roles, vol. 75, no. 7-8, 2016, pp. 314-327. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.prx.library.gatech.edu/docview/1819312024?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org.prx.library.gatech.edu/10.1007/s11199-016-0617-y.

This source dives into the gender-role portrayals in television advertising.  Jörg Matthes, Michael Prieler, and Karoline Adam collect data from thirteen Asian, American, and European countries and study the stereotypical depiction of men and women within television advertisements.  The conclusion indicated stereotypes present world-wide, independent of each country’s respective gender equality measures.  In other words, the specific culture of a country in preventing gender discrimination had no effect on the apparent stereotypes among the advertisements.  The study also examines the working role of primary television characters.  Results showed that stronger depiction of female characters in home settings was evident in countries such as Brazil, China, Germany, etc.

“Gender-Role Portrayals in Television Advertising Across the Globe” certainly adds concrete evidence of women stereotypes in the television world.  This experiment focuses on unique details and controls variables to offer a convincing verdict.  It’s critical to be cognizant of the world outside U.S. television, and this article contributes to a broader perspective.



Witt, Susan D. “The Influence of Televison on Children’s Gender Role Socialization.”Childhood Education, vol. 76, no. 5, 2000, pp. 322-324. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.prx.library.gatech.edu/docview/210380519?accountid=11107.

This text investigates further into one of the subtopics of other studies.  Susan Witt discusses the television influence on children and how it may be affecting their race and gender.  According to this piece, television is the most impactful form of media to today’s youth.  In fact, by age sixteen, kids will have spent more time watching television than time at school.  With the rapid pace in which children assess information and develop cognitive standards, the attitudes and experience they witness on TV can quickly spawn stereotypes in the minds of teens.  The idea that only women are nurses and only men are doctors can be falsely reinforced by television media.  The inaccuracy in representation on television is having an impact on the perceptions of many at a young age.

The items discussed in “The influence of television on children’s gender role socialization” are worth pondering because they present future implications.  Not only does the article discuss the existence of gender bias on television, but also what it could mean for future generations.   Nations are often judged by education and attempts to prepare children for life.  If television is corrupting this process, it is a poor reflection of the U.S. and elsewhere.



Press, Andrea, and Terry Strathman. “Work, Family and Social Class in Television Images of Women: Prime-Time Television and the Construction of Postfeminism.” Women and Language, vol. 16, no. 2, 1993, pp. 7. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.prx.library.gatech.edu/docview/198874239?accountid=11107.

“Work, family and social class in television images of women: Prime-time television and the construction of postfeminism” focuses on how the issues raised by the feminist movement are articulated in television.  There’s no denying that television images have shifted with time to reflect real world changes.  However, the alterations made by television to depict the workplace, family, and women’s relation to each, do not always parallel reality.  For example, modern television narratives fail to acknowledge the struggles faced by women with balancing work and family, providing child care, and balancing family budgets.  In the television realm, single mothers are middle or upper-class, and poor families are almost non-existent.  Facts oppose this false narrative; 69% of homes headed by women are poor while the median income for two-parent families is $30000.

These assertions are a reality check for most, myself included, who like to imagine the fantasy in television as fact.  As viewers, we begin to conceptualize the typical American family from the plentiful illustrations on TV.  As an experienced television watcher and as a researcher, this document was fascinating to read.  Taking a step back and using skepticism when watching popular TV can sometimes be a convenient skill.



Working Women on Television: A Mixed Bag at Best. NPR, Washington, D.C., 2013. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.prx.library.gatech.edu/docview/1352860925?accountid=11107.

This source consists of an NPR broadcast discussing various popular television programs and the roles of women within each.  First, Modern Family was debated because none of the adult female characters work outside the home, which hardly reflects the fourteen percent of U.S. women who are stay-at-home mothers.  In addition, age is not properly mirrored on many TV shows, as forty and older account for almost half of the population yet only 26 percent of women on television.  However, in shows such as The Big Band Theory and Parks in Recreation, women are characterized as having jobs a young girl or boy might aspire to have.  The commentators also stated that in terms of gender parity, TV does a much better job than family movies.

The talking points in this NPR cast bring up flaws in TV but also give credit to the producers who are conducting shows properly.  This is worth reading—or listening to—because it offers a different view than most reports.  While TV is not perfect in its gender equality, there are many instances of exceptional representation.  Perhaps some aspects are not as bad as perceived or what they could be when considering movies and other media.

Flying Over the Writing in The Middle

According to the Rodney Richey’s article, “DeAnn Heline Writes, Produces ‘The Middle,’” the executive producers of The Middle are Eileen Heister and DeAnn Heline.  Heister of Chicago and Heline, born in Muncie, IN, were no strangers to the central Indiana environment depicted by The Middle.   These two producers were roommates at Indiana University and had the idea to pitch the series to Warner Bros in California.  Heiseter and Heline, who won The Humanitas Prize for their success with The Middle, brought a lot to the table.  Not only did the two demonstrate great personal experience, but also professional work as writers for Roseanne (Richey).

Writers Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline.

The dialogue in The Middle is structured to be authentic to the theme and setting of the show.  Often times the main character illustrated in the sitcom, Frankie Hess, utilizes voiceovers to inform readers of ongoing or past events and personal thoughts or struggles.  In my opinion, this tool makes the show much more effective at presenting its message and keeps the audience entertained.  The Middle thrives on viewers that can sympathize with the events and characters portrayed in the story.  When the voiceovers are used, relating to the main character becomes effortless.

Silence is rarely used in The Middle, but when it is, often it is to express the quiet nature of the Midwest, or as it is described in the show, Flyover country.  The title sequence generally includes corn fields and a blue sky shown in the frame with a jet plane flying over.  This is to signify the desolate surroundings.  I believe this contrasts the emptiness associated with the Midwest with the strong relationships, loving families, and hospitality lying further within.

The scene depicted by The Middle is pretty accurate.

The Middle also uses many flashbacks to show how each character has evolved and how Frankie has fought the struggles of raising a middle-class family over time.  The references to a typical Indiana environment are profound in the show.  I feel more connected with the overall picture when I see these allusions.  For example, the occasional Colts apparel, basketball references, and camaraderie of small neighborhoods remind me of my former home.  It honestly makes me homesick when I realize I haven’t witnessed these elements in quite some time.

The number one factor that stands out to me concerning the writing is authenticity.  As I’ve stated, I pick up on the small details that allow the audience to feel immersed in the show.  Even if one has never stepped foot in the Midwest, it’s easy to watch the middle-class family events unfold and exclaim, “I’ve been there.”  I see this as the most powerful component of The Middle.  Also, when the plot is detailed through the mother of the family, it is more engaging for the observer.  A mother’s perspective into the traditional middle-class family is unique in the television world, and The Middle prospers because of it.


Richey, Rodney. “DeAnn Heline Writes, Produces ‘The Middle.’” The Herald Bulletin, 20 Oct. 2009, http://www.heraldbulletin.com/community/deann-heline-writes-produces-the-middle/article_2dd38b0a-7e53-56e1-ae44-665b630b91fb.html. Accessed 8 Sep. 2018.

“We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.” – Leslie Knope

Hello!  My name is Landon Eisenhut and I am an Aerospace Engineering major from Evansville, Indiana.  Fun fact: Parks and Recreation is based on my hometown!  I’d love to be able to graduate by 2022, but I can’t ignore the possibility of that extending into 2023.

As with most Yellow Jackets, I’ve largely been a STEM student throughout my academic career.  The two AP English courses offered at my high school were pretty much the only AP classes I didn’t register for.  I did take an English course at a local college over the summer, but this is my first GT English exposure.  In my experience, I feel more satisfied after effecting my verbal communication.  However, it has not always been my strong point.  Occasionally I become difficult to understand when my low voice combines with my often-lazy annunciation.  I hope to improve in this area this semester.  I’ve already made attempts to be more social and enhance my vocal abilities.  In addition to verbal, I enjoy written communication because I love to create things.  I like to look at a piece of my writing with my name on it and see my voice.  My devotion to creating things goes beyond my writing…as seen from the attached video, I love to make videos capturing my life!

I’ve always been passionate about a few TV shows.  I don’t have a large collection of shows I watch, but I’m well versed in the ones I do watch.  References to various TV episodes make the way into my every day conversations.  While I’m not a TV fanatic, I can watch episodes of certain shows and never want them to end (Stranger Things, Silicon Valley, sometimes Parks and Rec or The Office).  Netflix is never a bad way to spend a weekend, even if it’s in solidarity.  It’s fortunate that my roommate was out of town during my binge watch of The Good Place at 1:00am!

I have chosen to review The Middle for this class.  The Middle encompasses an Indiana middle class family and the experiences that arise with home life, work, and raising children.  Being from Indiana, I’m excited to be able to relate to the situations depicted in the show.  I’ve always loved the Midwest, and perhaps this show will almost make me feel at home.

Image result for stranger things hopper gif dancing

Me when I come home to watch The Middle as homework.

The only sample I have of The Middle is the episode portraying Sue’s Indiana college search.  I fondly connected with the moments in this episode, and I anticipate more of this throughout the series.

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