English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Matthew So

Let’s get a zoom in on her face!

What must begin must end at some point, and sadly, this blog must end, but not without a final exhilarating post regarding the at-times cliched and at-times unique cinematography of episode 5 of season 1 (Dogs Playing Poker), which is such a broad topic that merely the location of cameras themselves and cuts between the aforementioned cameras will be mentioned.

What is most notable is the use of cameras; rather than merely sticking with either a single-camera setup or a multi-camera setup, Switched At Birth uses both, depending on the scenario. For example, for personal scenes, a partially-single-camera setup is used, with only a handful of fixed camera (used to intersperse shots) and one mobile camera (used as the primary camera). By doing so, greater attention is focused onto the main characters, as less time is spent intermingling between recurring characters and main characters.

However, in comparison, for more stilted scenes, such as, for example, Ty and Bay’s family dinner with Bay’s parents, a more appropriate multi-camera setup is used in order to lower editing costs and, more importantly, emphasize that a scene, unlike personal scenes, is merely conversational. For instance, the family dinner scene rarely, if ever, zooms into a character’s face (due to the scene generally holding the intent of awkward chatter) and generally maintains a distance from characters (in order to further emphasize the non-fluidity of the dinner banter, mirroring the mental distance faced by Ty and Bay when attempting to speak to her parents).

1x05 - Dogs Playing Poker - Switched At Birth Image ...

This scene, due to being conversational, generally involves a multi-camera setup.

However, the use of both setups, in fact, emphasizes the uniqueness between the light-hearted chatter of adolescent gossip and speech, where the movement of the camera nearly mimics the excitement of the students, and Daphne’s relation to her mother, which is generally supportive and relaxed, as opposed to the rigid and formal monologues given by Bay’s detached parents.

Perceived Pandering; The Possible Superficiality of Themes

With the increased demand for television to represent public opinion and increase inclusivity of all types, television shows, including Switched At Birth, have responded by, at least ostensibly, supporting these themes. However, occasionally, such as in Episode 10 (The Homecoming), such demands are, in fact, bucked in favor of a blander, more palatable theme.

Take, for example, the existence of hearing-deaf relationships in the episode The Homecoming, whereby Bay (hearing) and Emmett (Deaf) formally agree to a relationship (leading to Emmett notifying Daphne (Deaf) of his decision to remain with Bay). Against the pressures of the Deaf community, many of whom desired a display of genuine Deaf-Deaf relationships, which had previously never been displayed on television, Freeform instead opted to portray a softer message of acceptance of all relationship types between Deaf and hearing individuals through the tones portrayed by each character. For instance, Emmett’s passionate yearning for Bay (as noted in the statement “I just want you” and “I don’t want a Deaf Bay”), far from embracing the attitude previously reiterated (of the incompatibility of him with a hearing girl), reverses the trend and, seemingly randomly, portrays him as more accepting. In addition, such themes can be seen in Daphne’s reaction of reluctant acceptance; by not portraying Daphne as immediately supportive, the episode thus pits acceptances against denials, and by extension, embraces an acceptance-based theme.

This image perhaps best represents the broad agreeable themes found in Switched At Birth of tolerance.

However, far from being merely a singular theme, the theme is symbolic of the greater nature of Switched At Birth’s at-times vague themes as a whole. For example, when compared to other themes such as its broad anti-gambling message, as expected from a family-friendly network, its tolerance-based theme represents a broader trend of simplistic, inoffensive traits, and as a result, represents the general public stance (in relation to Deaf relationships). However, such themes, as previously stated, can clash with the Deaf community’s perception. Thus, although Switched At Birth ostensibly provides a relatively progressive theme (in regards to Deaf culture), due to circumstances such as its channel of release, the primary themes that eventually resulted more so resembled the traditional television shows that it explicitly attempts to break from.

“Only girls are allowed to catfight”

When watching any television series, one must note the target demographic of the television series in order to understand the context surrounding such a show, and in Switched At Birth, the existence of its demographic of young women creates a unique context that allows for a simultaneous combination of modern and antiquated depictions of gender.

One of the more bizarre elements includes the depiction of the activities of women (versus men), since by all other accounts, Switched At Birth remains fairly equal in representation, with a roughly 50-50 male-to-female ratio. When examining such depictions, an unusual pattern emerges; generally, females are engaged in more conflicts than males yet also receive more plotline elements. For example, the only notable male-to-male conflicts that arise are between John Kennish (Bay’s father) and Daphne’s father, with every other major event, from Bay and Daphne’s competing love interests, to their indignation at the truth about their father being hidden from them, and to even Kathryn’s memoir, involving at least one (and in many cases, two) female characters.

On the one hand, this change could be viewed as positive, given the fact that unlike previously (during the “peak TV” era), female characters, for once, carried most plotlines. However, this must be tempered with, again, the understanding of the target demographic, which is primarily comprised of younger generations, which would desire greater representation, and females, who would desire greater representation of relatable characters to watch the show. Thus, this could be interpreted as merely pandering to such a fanbase.

On the other hand, however, much can be stated about the actual content of each plotline. For example, most clashes between characters, in fact, occur between two females or two girls, such as, again, Bay and Daphne competing for love interests such as Liam, or Regina hiding the truth from her mother and daughters.

Much time is spent viewing these sorts of confrontations between females.

Based on this interpretation, it can thus be interpreted that although female characters are heavily portrayed, their negative portrayal ultimately results in a net negative. Of course, though, as always, the truth resides within the middle (due to competing interest from both the viewer base and a conservative management wishing to not offend any viewers, including older, less socially accepting viewers).

while (true) families = shocked; or why Switched At Birth hits its viewers over the head.

In any television show, the pilot episode’s writing commonly establishes the viewer’s expectations and the plot’s quality for the entire series, and Switched At Birth is no exception. Unfortunately, though, Switched At Birth, with its lackluster writing quality and pacing in the pilot, establishes itself not as a quality family television series but instead as a series that attempts to create a multi-faceted cast yet instead repeats plot lines ad nauseam and overuses musical cues, even in scenes centered around Daphne, the Deaf character, to the point of cliche.

Even from the beginning, it is apparent that much of the appeal of the series relies on obvious mood-shifting music. For example, in the first few establishing seconds of the pilot, with no action on screen, the writer (Lizzy Weiss, also known for producing Blue Crush and Cashmere Mafia) actively includes upbeat music, thus quashing the usual silence, which would normally be welcomed, in order to attract viewers. However, within mere minutes, another set of depressant music was included in an obviously emotional scene which would usually be silent, to indicate the severity of the gripping sadness, while within the next minutes, lyrical anguished music played over Daphne’s anguish when viewing Bay’s house. Although music can, and oftentimes is, used as a theme-setter for varying scenes, when played so obviously, not only does the series destroy most silence, despite the episode being premised on John, Kathryn, and Regina’s contemplation of their lives’ total reshuffles, but in addition, the very music that would otherwise be reserved for the most tear-jerking scenes instead over-saturates every moment, thus trivializing the writing.

In addition, though, each character lacks any depth; Bay is always seen as the rebellious teenager, considering her love of graffiti, art, and counter-culture, while Daphne is universally portrayed as the accepting, grateful daughter willing to use any resources available to its fullest potentials, and Regina is continually portrayed as the fiercely protective parent. Again, it is perfectly acceptable for a single character to lack depth, but for main characters to be one-dimensional shows a lack of skill in writing.

Depressingly, this photo summarizes nearly all of Bay and Kathryn’s personalities, and their dialogues do not improve.

Admittedly, there are positive aspects to the pacing and writing of the series; for example, voice-overs are never used, thus allowing characters to speak for themselves, and dialogue transfers easily from character to character, thus creating a more natural ebb and flow between, for instance, Daphne and Toby (when playing basketball). However, overall, the pilot episode simply lacks subtlety in terms of character development or musical arrangement to influence writing, leading to a disappointing episode.


Annotated Bibliography

Bernstein, Arielle. “Insatiable: how offensive is Netflix’s controversial new comedy?” The Guardian, 8 Aug. 2018, www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/aug/08/insatiable-netflix-comedy-fat-shaming

The non-peer-reviewed source is an article under the Culture section of The Guardian and discusses the inadvertent prejudices found in the teen Netflix TV Series Insatiable, thus acting as a useful barometer for current sexism that remains in modern television. For example, the article notes the incessant obsession with the leading character Patty’s body beyond mere satire, with nearly every scene either uniformly praising her size when thinner or fully deriding her body prior to her weight loss, as seen in numerous unflattering camera angles, to the point of mocking her, and the portrayal of the overweight female with a fat-suit, which many viewed as utterly tone-deaf, while simultaneously failing to portray overweight men. However, as with any critique, this work should not be taken as complete fact; other counterarguments can be produced, such as the primary character ultimately finding the aim of becoming thinner futile, as its popularity is hinted as being vapid and merely superficial. However, nonetheless, the article does portray a key flaw that persists with modern television.


Powell, Kimberly A., and Lori Abels. “Sex-Role Stereotypes in TV Programs Aimed at the Preschool Audience: An Analysis of Teletubbies and Barney & Friends.”Women and Language, vol. 25, no. 1, 2002, pp. 14. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/198879860?accountid=11107

The source stated above is a peer-reviewed study released in the journal Women and Language that analyzed gender representation in pre-school television shows such as Barney and Teletubbies. Within the study, 10 episodes each in the aforementioned television series were analyzed to determine the percentage of male versus female characters and the most common roles portrayed by each gender. After review from numerous authors, it was determined that although “male” and “female” characters were equally represented, each gender generally performed different roles, with male characters generally leading activities and female characters guiding the audience and following male characters in Teletubbies and male and female characters holding stereotypical roles as adventurous leaders and cooking tradition-bearers, mimicking the traditional female role as a housewife, respectively, in Barney. More importantly, however, these patterns of activity are valuable as a source due to its date of release and television’s influence on developing children; considering that the average child spends upwards of 4.5 hours watching television, the views portrayed by television can imprint onto millions of children across the US, and due to its release date in 2002, it can be seen as an indicator of gender representation in the early 2000s.


Chandler, Daniel, and Merris Griffiths. “Gender-Differentiated Production Features in Toy Commercials.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 44, no. 3, 2000, pp. 503-520. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/227279492?accountid=11107

The source above is a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media regarding the composition of commercials aimed at boys, as opposed to girls. As noted in the study, even commercials exhibited signs of gender differentiation, with boy-targeted advertisements generally portraying greater action, as shown by an increase in the number and decrease in the length of scenes, girl-targeted advertisements generally utilizing softer transitions, thus implying a more sheltered audience, and all advertisements generally having a greater likelihood of a male voice-over, as opposed to a female voice-over. As a result, this indicates that even through non-verbal modes, it is evident that boys, at the time of publication, were perceived as more active and leaderly, while girls were perceived as more sheltered and calm, thus necessitating the design of the children’s commercials and perpetuating the stereotypes of male and female gender roles  Although this may seem insignificant, this, in fact, can serve as an indication of contemporary perceptions of gender in the late 1990s, due to its publication in Summer 2000.


Myers, Kristen. “”Cowboy Up!”: Non-Hegemonic Representations of Masculinity in Children’s Television Programming.” Journal of Men’s Studies, vol. 20, no. 2, 2012, pp. 125-143. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1023443734?accountid=11107

The source above is a peer-reviewed analysis published in the Journal of Men’s Studies regarding the portrayal of characters in Disney’s The Suite Life on Deck, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Nickelodeon’s iCarly. Through an analysis of 65 episodes in total, it was noted that although 14 out of 16 males in the television series above were non-hegemonic, or non-domineering and non-sexual, ultimately, all characters were affected by the existing hegemonic order, as predatory male characters ultimately swayed other male characters, to the point of characters such as Woody stating “I worship this man,” in relation to Zack, a cunning yet malicious sexual male in The Suite Life On Deck, and non-hegemonic characters cross dressing or being homoerotic, such as Cody in Suite Life, acting as a mere punchline, rather than a developed characteristic. Unlike other sources, this source is extremely valuable due to its analysis of relatively modern television aimed at girls and adolescent females; by identifying non-dominant males as mere gags aspiring to become as insensitive as the top of the male social hierarchy to attract females, the study signals that even by 2010, children’s television remained stunted in its portrayal of complex male characters.


Leung Ng, Yu, and Kara Chan. “Do Females in Advertisements Reflect Adolescents’ Ideal Female Images?” The Journal of Consumer Marketing, vol. 31, no. 3, 2014, pp. 170-176. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1678629394?accountid=11107

The source above is a peer-reviewed analysis published in The Journal of Consumer Marketing regarding the influence of advertisements in the self-portrayal of Chinese adolescents. Through interviews of a random selection of adolescents regarding the appearance of female actresses in Chinese advertisements, it was noted that when given the choice between a married, beautiful actress, a wilder and single actress, and an “urban sophisticated female” in the third advertisement, the adolescent females aspired to become the first and third actresses while shunning the second actress, thus indicative of a broader cultural desire for both traditional family structures and sophistication. Although the study focused on Chinese adolescents, its value remains clear, as it indicates that across cultural boundaries, commercials can universally affect one’s self-image of male and female roles, especially as an adolescent. In addition, as a study published in 2014, it is most indicative of current cultural beliefs regarding societal roles.


Browne, Beverly A. “Gender Stereotypes in Advertising on Children’s Television in the 1990S: A Cross-National Analysis.” Journal of Advertising, vol. 27, no. 1, Spring98, pp. 83-96. EBSCOhost, prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bsu&AN=930609&site=eds-live&scope=site

The source above is a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Advertising describing children’s television and advertisements throughout the 1990s in the US and Australia. Through a thorough analysis of random advertisements, it was noted that boys were depicted, like in popular culture, as more intelligent and stronger, as seen in the fact that nearly all voiceovers occurred through male actors, in addition to the assertion of males in leadership positions, while females were depicted as demurer, as seen in females being more likely to defer to boys. In addition, a boy-to-girl ratio was noted as increasing with age, to the point that adolescent advertisements contained 70% male actors. Unlike other sources, however, this source, as one of the oldest, acts as a milestone when compared to modern portrayals; unlike previously, modern television is less likely to portray gender roles as explicitly, although it is true that gender roles remain extremely prevalent.

Miming A Culture: or Why Including A Culture Doesn’t Guarantee Understanding

In any television show, context is crucial; for example, a TV show that may have seemed progressive in prior years may seem anachronistic today. Similarly, one must understand the context of the production of Switched at Birth and its reaction in order to understand its eventual reactions by different communities, ranging from support for reasonably portraying Deaf culture by general critics to criticism for not including a Deaf actress as one of the leading characters and unrealistically portraying deaf-to-hearing communication.

Take, for example, Katie LeClerc, the actress who portrays Daphne, the deaf girl born to a lower-class family. Considering the paucity of roles available for Deaf actors, one would expect the hiring staff to choose an authentically Deaf actress. However, in actuality, Katie, who was hired, was “late-deafened”, or became hard-of-hearing later in life, thus warranting the criticism, especially considering her lack of ASL fluency and lack of “Deaf” accent. To compound with this, many have voiced concern about her portrayal; unlike in reality, where lip-reading is extremely imprecise and can only capture approximately 30% of meaning, Daphne is capable of unrealistically near-perfect lip-reading. Quite to the contrary, however, much criticism has also been gained over the lack of cochlear-implanted Deaf characters. Other than being mentioned in passing in the first episode as unpopular within the Deaf community, cochlear implant users are effectively never mentioned again.

Out of the entire Switched At Birth cast, not a single character uses cochlear implants.

However, one of the most severe complaints regards the lack of Deaf producers in the production of the television series. Out of the entire production crew, virtually none of the executive producers, producers, or editors were deaf or hard-of-hearing, with only deaf actors and actresses such as Sean Berdy being part of production. As a result, it is apparent that much of the television series is primarily produced from an aural standpoint and thus simply lacks much of the nuances typically found in Deaf culture.

On the other hand, however, much has been stated regarding the comparatively large percentage of deaf representation, in any case. Prior to this television series, deaf actors effectively never appeared on television, but in comparison, with the wide variety of actors, many have argued that it is best to view the television series as one that, although lacking in some nuances of Deaf culture, ultimately became one of the first in television history to portray deafness as more than a defect and instead as a feature with a rich culture and ample support. Ultimately, however, one thing is certain: that Switched At Birth remains a highly controversial television series.

Switched at Birth? Maybe not. Switched for this class? Oh Yeah.

Hey! My name is Matthew So, I am a Computer Science major, and I plan on graduating in 2022, assuming all goes well. Although for most of my life, I have lived in the U.S., for my earliest years, I was raised in Hong Kong, so there’s that.

Although I have, of course, taken English classes in the past, including AP English Language in high school, this is my first English class at Georgia Tech. However, as you may know, this class certainly diverges from most other English classes; for most, I remained unconvinced in my abilities to write, which led me to treat such classes begrudgingly, as only busy work to finish. As such, for me, I most enjoy non-verbal communication, since unlike most types, it remains hidden yet enhances other, more visible, communication modes; even the raising of an eyebrow can completely alter the connotations of a sentence. However, I still struggle with verbal and oral communication; it’s just that every word matters, and because of that, it’s difficult to balance both clarity and emotiveness, meaning that half the time, I act far too formally, causing me to speak nearly condescendingly or incomprehensibly, while in the other half, I become so informal that it outright becomes inappropriate (hopefully, this blog will address that). With this class, however, and the fact that this class involves significant interpretation of verbal and oral communication, since the class requires analyzing television, I’m confident that I’ll be able to become more aware of visual implications. Speaking of television, for me, I never really engaged with current TV, simply because I either couldn’t allow myself enough time or because none of the TV shows available on major networks at the time interested me. However, with many of the current TV shows that this class has introduced me to, such as Jane the Virgin and The Good Place, I believe that I might re-enter the realm of TV, especially with the wide variety available today (after all, this is supposedly “peak TV”).

My face after realizing that I get to watch TV for a grade

As for the TV show to review, I have chosen Switched At Birth primarily due to its handling of not only class distinctions but also deaf/hearing distinctions as a television show from a national broadcaster in prime-time. The plot centers around two girls, Bay, and Daphne, the former of which was raised in a wealthy suburb and the latter of which was raised in an impoverished neighborhood and became deaf after contracting meningitis, which were, like the namesake, switched at birth. Overall, though, I’m excited for this TV show, especially considering the high representation of deaf or hard-of-hearing actors and actresses in this program.


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