Soap operas train women to become ‘ideal readers’ of people

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An interesting argument, written in the early 80s it may be worth noting, is presented by Tania Modleski with regards to mass-produced fantasies for women, specifically with regards to soap operas. She writes:
“…soap operas are one visual, narrative art uniquely adapted to the psychology of the woman in the home. As we shall see, it can even be said that soap operas train women to become, like women in the home, ‘ideal readers’ – not of texts, but of people. The necessity of ‘reading’ people, especially men, is tacitly acknowledged in the other two types of narrative as well. In both Harlequins and Gothics, the heroines engage in a continual deciphering of the motives for the hero’s behavior. The Harlequin heroine probes for the secret underlying the masculine enigma, while the reader outwits the heroine in coming up with the ‘correct’ interpretation of the puzzling actions and attitudes of the man. In Gothics, the heroine, in the classic paranoid manner, broods over the slightest fluctuation in the hero’s emotional temperature or facial expression, quick to detect in these alterations possible threats to her very life. Carolyn Heilbrun remarks that in popular literature, in the literary classroom, and in life, women have always had to ‘read’ men, and she notes with irony that the only time men ‘read’ women is ‘in the world of commerce,’ where ‘publishers have spent fortunes analyzing what women want, trying to discover those elements in a romance necessary to move the books fast off the shelf of the supermarket.’ She concludes ‘that women may be ‘read,’ their responses deciphered, only if the process reinforces woman’s role as consumer, consoler, conquest.’ It is time to begin a feminist reading of women’s reading….” (34)

Of course, thirty years later, new theories might be applied, but the idea holds as an interesting one!

Ref: Tania Modleski (1982) Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-produced fantasies for Women. Archon Books: Hamden, Connecticut.

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