In this paper I will argue that popular TV shows like “Extreme Makeover”, “The Bachelor” and “Larry King Live” reinforce Gayle Rubin’s idea of the “charmed circle”. Women in our society who lie outside of the charmed circle often deal with implications of segregation and are sometimes victims of social ostracism, violence, or low self esteem. In order to establish a link between the charmed circle and ideas of femininity one must understand Gayle Rubin’s concept of the “charmed circle”. The “charmed circle” is a socially constructed idea of how people see appropriate sex.
It’s the idea of a proper notion of sexuality and if someone deviates from the circle they are penalized or ostracized against. According to Gayle Rubin sexuality that is “good”, ‘normal” and “natural” should be heterosexual, martial, monogamous, reproductive, and non-commercial. Ideally it should be coupled, relational, within the same generation, and occur in private. Sex within the charmed circle should not involve pornography, fetish objects, sex toys or any roles other than male and female. People who deviate from these rules are seen as practicing “bad”, “abnormal” or “unnatural” sex.
Bad sex maybe considered homosexual, unmarried, promiscuous, non-procreative, or commercial. Bad sex can also be masturbatory or take place at orgies, it may be casual, cross generational lines, and occur in public. People who are transvestites, transsexuals, or prostitutes are considered even further outside of the charmed circle. (Rubin, 1984, p. 280) An example of the “charmed circle” in popular culture is the TV show “The Bachelor”. The Bachelor is an American reality dating game program. The series revolves around a successful and handsome male bachelor who is courted by 25 women.
The women are always very pretty, and usually white. Most of them are educated or have a good job. The people on the show are usually around the same age as well. The show follows the bachelor as he goes on a series of dates with the women, some of them group dates, some one-on-one dates. On each episode women are eliminated, generally during the rose ceremony at the end of the episode, but sometimes on the dates. The process culminates towards the end of the season with a few of the women going on overnight dates that occur in private.
For some of the women on the show, the bachelor will visit their hometowns and they in turn will meet the bachelor’s family. The program is a roller coaster ride of emotions for both the bachelor and the women. At the end of the show, the bachelor must pick one woman with whom he would like to continue a relationship. The ultimate goal is for the bachelor to find someone to propose marriage to. Heterosexual relationships and the goal to get married are all things that support the “charmed circle”. The ideas of femininity that support the charmed circle are that women should be weak, irrational, emotive, dependent, passive, and illogical.
Women should be pious, reserved, modest, chaste, submissive and domesticated. They also should be nurturing and be good wives and mothers. This supports the inner circle where sex should occur in private meaning that women should be modest. It should be martial which supports the trait of being a good wife. The feminine trait of faithfulness supports the charmed circles idea of monogamy. Ideas of race and class also shape the “charmed circle” and the ideas of femininity within it. Traits’ of aboriginal women are often described as impious, aggressive, immodest, unchaste, and not domesticated.
Also black women are often seen as hyper-sexualized. The implications for these ideas in popular culture for the lives of women who lie outside of the “charmed circle” is that they may be victims of social ostracism, violence, or lack of self esteem. Women who lie outside of the charmed circle are looked upon in a negative way. They are described as dissolute, dangerous and sinister. They are stereotyped against for being dirty, and slovenly. The evaluations of women who lay outside the “charmed circle” cause women’s lives to be shaped.
Women are often victims of sexual assault or rape and their cases are dismissed as defamation or blackmail. They are blamed for their immodest and unchaste traits. Some women are classified as being prostitutes and are seen as threats to mortality and health. On March 14, 2008, a nightly interview program on CNN called “Larry King Live” had an interesting connection to ideas of the “charmed circle”. The program was about young girls that become escorts or high end prostitutes and the word the psychologists used to describe them was that they were “damaged”; that they all had come from troubled backgrounds.
In particular the girl associated with Gov. Eliot Spitzer, N. Y. Governor had been abused from a young age and had become a prostitute to use her body for money. This program supports that opinion of Erich Fromm, a social psychologist and psychoanalyst, who said “Often psychoanalysts see patients whose ability to love and be close to others is damaged and yet who function very well sexually and indeed make sexual satisfaction a substitute for love because their sexual potency is their only power in which they have confidence.
Their inability to be productive in all other spheres of life and the resulting unhappiness is counterbalanced and veiled by their sexual activities. ” (Fromm, 1983, p. 279) This opinion is an implication of women who lie outside of the “charmed circle” as they experience self worth that is only sexual. They engage in activities outside of the “charmed circle” as they can’t function in stable relationships. This can be extremely disabling and can significantly detract from the individual’s satisfaction with life as they are unable to interact with others and develop meaningful relationships.
The case of Robert Pickton is an example of the implications of women who lie outside of the “charmed circle” that has devastating effects. Robert Pickton is a Canadian pig farmer and serial killer convicted of the second-degree murders of six women. He is also charged in the deaths of an additional twenty women, many of them prostitutes and drug users from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Most of the female addicts in this neighborhood supported their habits via prostitution.
None of these women practiced safe sex or the ways of the “charmed circle”. These women were a prime target for Robert Pickton as they were more vulnerable to attack because they worked in the shadows and were marginalized people, disconnected from family, friends and community. As of December 11, 2007 Robert Pickton has been sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 25 years. An example of women suffering from low esteem and social ostracism in popular culture is in the TV “Extreme Makeover”.
Women who are segregated from the “charmed circle” might want to feel better about themselves by changing how they look. The show depicts women who usually have been ostracized against or have a low self-esteem because they do not conform to the dominant ideal of femininity. The women on the show undergoe an “extreme makeover” involving plastic surgery, exercise regimes, dieting, makeup, hairdressing and wardrobing. The goal of the makeover is to make the subject appear closer to the ideal woman’s body of femininity and to increase the individuals self-esteem.
Each episode ends with the subjects’ return to their families and friends, showing the reactions of their loved ones, who have not been allowed to see the incremental changes during the subjects’ absence. Gayle Rubin’s concept of the “charmed circle” is socially constructed with its notions of “good” sex imposed on our society. Popular culture reinforces the concept of the “charmed circle” with TV shows like the “The Bachelor”. There are certain ideas of femininity that support the “charmed circle” and those who do not fit into these ideas suffer consequences.
These consequences include low self esteem with the example of “damaged women” from “Larry King Live. ” Another example is the violence and murder of prostitutes by serial killer Robert Pickton. The TV show “Extreme Makeover” also reinforces the idea of women who are segregated from the “charmed circle” who experience social ostracism, and low esteem because they do not conform to the main ideals of femininity. These dominant ideas in popular culture shape the lives of various group’s women who do not fall into the “charmed circle”.