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The Donna Edit- That '70s Show

That '70s Show is an American television period teen sitcom that aired from 1998 to 2006. The series focuses on the lives of a group of six teenage friends living in the fictional town of Point Place. Let me introduce you to the main characters , Jackie is a material girl , kelso is the dumb one of the group , hyde has more of a mysterious personality . fez is a creepy foreign exchange student while donna is a feisty feminist tom boy. The last and most problematic charchter is eric. Throughtout our presentation , we will mostly be focusing on donna and her relationship with eric and her friends.

So let’s get some facts about Donna straight. In the show she plays the primary role as Eric (the male protagonist’s) girlfriend and childhood sweetheart. Take a look at her clothes, body language and attitude in these two pictures and we can tell she isn’t your traditional girly but a straightforward, confident and tall lead. Within the first few episodes we see her playing basketball with the guys, playfully punching them and talking back. As Eric’s neighbor, she is literally the girl next door and for a show set in the 1970s after the second wave of feminism- is depicted as having adopted the Fiery (also a reference to her red hair) and feminist stances but as we will further develop- she’s almost a straw feminist- meaning a feminist character used to make arguments for the feminist movement as a whole and promotes radical ideas which are bought by the viewers as accurate depictions of the feminist movement.

Thesis Statement

"Our main claim in this presentation is how Donna is not the ‘feminist’ portrayal we want to see and her feminist character is used by the writers for a good laugh since the sitcom continuously normalizes harassment and reinforces gender stereotypes—and Donna doesn’t really mind it."

As we have touched upon in class, the mark of the creators is the essence of what makes the show what it is. That 70s show is created by 3 male creators who controlled, according to their interviews, everything from the sets, scripts, outfits etc. aimed for cross generational appeal, the show caters to teen and adult audiences alike and portrays their concept of ‘girl power’ through Donna’s feminist stances while discarding the complexity of the term. As Rob said- the show is based on his personal experiences and not made for the audience- they just happened to love it.

Point to ponder upon- would Donna’s feminist attitudes be treated differently were it produced by women who have created early 2000s feminist icons in the rom-com genre?

Sexual harassment faced by Donna

Donna is the feminist. According to the understanding 20 years ago and the understanding now, is someone verbally or physically harasses you, you should object, call them out and make it known that it isn’t alright- especially if it’s a continuous event. But no one wants to be the buzzkill especially not the cool, modern feminist. And buzzkill is a reference to the pot smoking circle they had shown in the show- which had critics more concerned than this.

A specific instance of sexual harassment is actually by her boyfriend- Eric. When playing basketball, Donna is winning a game and Eric is infuriated. To humiliate her, he pulls down her pants, exposing her in front of their friends. They are dating at this time. She was winning. By the end of the episode, Eric’s fragile masculinity is still in the forefront and he never properly apologizes or is called out by any of his friends- they’re all too amused by her choice of underwear. They continue dating.

So in season 5, donna is grounded and her dad decides to put her in catholic school to discipline her and keep her away from Eric (plan doesn’t work out but---). With catholic school comes catholic school uniform- a plaid skirt, button down shirt and knee high socks.

There’s a scene where eric goes to argue with Donna’s dad about his decision to put her in catholic school as an unfair punishment. But then donna walks in the kitchen in the uniform and eric is drooling and immeadiately all for catholic school. Hyde, fez and kelso share his sentiments. They start gushing over donna, sexualizing her uniform in every episode she wears it. they clap when she enters the basement wearing it, hoot when she bends over to pick up the basketball and make their fantasies known (to a creepy and uncomfortable extent) Donna simply laughs off their behavior and smiles while rolling her eyes jokingly. Even when he upskirts her, which is a punishable criminal offence in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Of course I mean exposed knees , damn so erotic.

The harassment towards a single female character is constant. Marshall & Sensoy say that the media is a form of pedagogy teaching us how to be men and how to be women- that 70s show teaches boys to be harrassers and creeps. Personally my breaking point was the next clip we’re about to show you guys. This was very casually inserted at the end of an episode. For context, Donna and Jackie are sharing the room for the night. Let’s see.

Gender Roles and Stereotypes

The gender roles are constantly reinforced in this relationship however donna still accepts Erics unacceptable behaviour and superiority male complex. It is a constant reminder of how winning is for the men and sports are “masculine”. As Donna wins a basketball match by Eric, Eric gets threatened and questions his masculinity just because he loses a match to a girl. Erics toxic mentality is obvious when he is imagines himself in a dress and as he grows breasts. This enforces the stereotype: SPORTS ARE FOR MEN and how a man can never loose to a girl. Through the guise of 'girl power', Donna is shown as 'strong' but ultimately ratifies white femininity as the norm when she pretends to be weak and loses to make Eric feel better. As marshall and sensoy argue that such media pieces reiteratesthe normative ideologoies about gender that are common in mainstream American culture

Further in the show , it is constantly reiterated how men shall be better than women in every aspect of life , whether it is education or physical capabilities. For instance , donna appears to be very career orientated however looking how donna is good with babies, Eric clear states that she is going to be so good staying at home with their babies . Even though donna is offended by his words, she once again ends up becoming the one saving and compromising one in their relationship. As the episode ends with donna kissing Eric and her statement “lets not talk about this”. This portrays how women have to be the one compromising in a relationship and should be okay with whatever their man wants them to do. Donna and erics relationship is also a clear depiction of male supremacy, for instance in another scene where rather than supporting donnas better grades in sat , Eric gets into inferiority complex. His inferiority complex and stereo typification is obvious by his words “I am the man and the mans the man and thats just the way how it is.” This idea where donna shows some resistance in the beginning but always ends up accepting erics radical ideologies is called double entanglement women are offered particular kinds of freedom, empowerment, and choice “in exchange for” or “as a kind of substitute for” real feminist politics and transformation

As the seasons progress, Donna begins to internalize and accept the guys' sexual objectification and becomes a reflection of perfect gf who gives up everything for her bf. A vivid example of her internalizing this sexual objectification is in third ssn when Donna begins working at the Radio Station and adopts the persona of 'Hot Donna'- a nickname by her male boss. Although she initially objects but later grows to love it and enjoy the attention.

Love life over Education?

New episode, new gender roles , new stereotypes being reinforced.

Donna's every action is for the sake of her relationship. Her entire character revolves around her love life and all other aspects including education are just sidelines

For instance , donna constantly prioritises her love life over education , for instance donna got into this amazing school but chose to stay in Wisconsin as the drive was to her dream college was too long and she coudlnt stand being so far away from eric.

Later in season 6 , Donna got into this college in, however eric had to take a gap year due to his father’s health. Once again , donna priorities her love life over everything else. At the last moment , donna decides to stay in Wisconsin because apparently “she couldn’t do it”. She is portrayed as a very intelligent and career oriented girl but all her markers of power are insufficient when it comes to her love life. Donna shattering her dreams and sacrificing her future is so romanticised that the episode is named “magic bus”.

Donna and Eric's relationship timeline

Lets look at how radical gender roles are repetitive over the 8 seasons.

Eric breaks up with donna just because she was not ready to accept his engagement ring, they get back together when eric shows up at California and later proposes to her . gender roles are further accentuated as Donna puts everything on hold including college for eric and becomes the idea girlfriend but when it comes to eric , he is independent in his decisions . He decided to go all the way to Africa to teach kids and Donna was given no say in it. Donna finally breaks up with eric later on but in the last scene , eric comes back from Africa and apologizes for being a dumbass and they get back together . Donna is portrayed as the perfect girlfriend who unconditionally supports her boyfriend , and that is exactly how , even today most female partners are expected to be . A particular norm has been set up to support the mans dream and sacrificing all your dreams for your partner. Because all is fair in love.

Is humour harmless entertainment?

As the writers create a realistic and relatable sitcom, it can not be classified as harmless entertainment. The show reinforces gender stereotypes in the form of humor.

Even research proves that Participants who reported long-term exposure to sexist TV shows did tend to have slightly higher levels of sexism. To truly understand why we have problems with the sexual harassment faced by Donna by her immediate friend circle, let’s look at the research done on how the audience and viewers are effected by such content. For clarification purposes, we are assuming a casual consumption of sitcoms as certain type of media continuously hence it is long term exposure.

According to Peter and Valkenburg, adolescents who view more sexually explicit content were more likely to regard women as sexual objects. Consider the sexualization of women today, any connections?

It is further proven that misogynistic humor normalizes and encourages sexist attitudes as determined by Ford & Fergusons’s Prejudiced Norm Theory- which claims that the creation of a culture that normalizes disparaging humor toward a certain group (women) and reinforces it over time. Tolerating and enjoying sexist humor, therefore, is time dependent and with viewer ages decreasing- the quicker they are socialized.

Extensive researches have also proven that there is correlation between sexist jokes and the proclivity or tendency of men to rape women. all from media we consume.

So when we view such sitcoms, considering the examples we have just seen, we’re reinforcing the sexist mindsets of how ‘boys will be boys’ through their behavior towards a certain group which they are made to think is ok.

Now we’re gonna go full circle. Watch this clip we watched just a few minutes ago. What’s different?


Something that I got so bothered with while rewatching the series is the studio laughter after every disgusting joke. The PNT we went over before is a spinoff of Bandura's (a researcher’s) Social Learning theory which claims that the primary way children learn behaviors, emotional reactions, and attitudes is through observation and modeling of others. The PNT applies this idea to how, through the lack of negative reaction and instead a positive reaction through the laughter, the viewer believes laughter as an appropriate reaction to a sexist remark or action. This normalizes the objectification of women on the production level as that is how you want the audience to perceive the comment and story- a light, casual joke. We don’t have time for it but Natasha Vashist’s study proves this with all the fancy numbers and control groups.

That’s it for today. Thank you so much for your time. We’ve loved making this presentation for you guys and we hope you enjoyed it. before we open the floor to questions we just want to leave you guys with some broader context we were thinking about. Shows we have all seen or at least heard of and how they were a continuation of these same 2 problems- harassment and stereotypes.

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