Maria Jose Masanet (1986, La Vall d’Ebo, Alicante) holds a doctorate in Social Communication from UPF. She is now a Serra Hunter lecturer at the Faculty of Information and Audiovisual Media of the UB and is focusing her research on media education, transmedia narration, adolescence and youth, television series, gender perspective and the representation of sexuality and love relationships in the media. This February, Masanet could share her research with teenagers in several high schools in Galicia, where she gave lectures resulting from the research line of her doctoral thesis, “The Representation of Romantic Love in Fiction Series Aimed at Young People.”, and which continued the study during the last years through several publications.
What was the objective of this thesis?
I analyzed the television series aimed at teenagers in Spain that were on TV at that moment: Física o Química, Los Protegidos and El Barco. I was specially focused on the analysis of media products that were consumed by teenagers, and teen series there the most popular ones.
What were your conclusions?
I found several representations, ranging from a gender violence relationship with Gorka and Ruth in Física o Química to forbidden love in Sandra and Culebra’s situation in Los Protegidos and Ainhoa and Ulises in El Barco. The key element that took my attention was the idealization of romantic love in the representation of series and comments by teenagers published in forums. The series continued representing universal themes like Romeo and Juliet’s impossible love or the redeemed love in the Beauty and the Beast. These stories have been updated, but they still claim for romantic love and fate, the power of love and the idea of suffering for love. These myths sometime mask and justify gender violence.
You also saw that some stereotypes involve gender differences.
Personally speaking, that is one of the most interesting elements in the thesis: the romantic idealization is shown as something feminine and the sexual stereotype is clearly something male. Many teen series show female and male archetypes. Girls usually play the role of responsible people and boys are the rebel ones. Actually, girls are the one talking love and showing guys how to love. And, if they are successful in that, those boys become the prince. This is how series show the romantic myth of the power of love which can even change people. And what is worse: if girls played the “boy” role (rebels, irresponsible people, etc.), the audience used to criticize them, reinforcing the idea of gender stereotypes and violence against women.
Why does fiction show non-realistic love and sexual relationships?
These series are for teenagers. Adolescence is when someone is building his or her identity. The life phase when role models are necessary to build one’s identity. Sometimes, these models are stereotypes that are present in our society and are easy to identify and share. The archetype of the responsible girl and the bad boy are role models teenagers aspire to be like. These would be hard to adopt because we know how they work, they become frustrating. These archetypes of men and women end up representing mythicized romantic relationships that sometimes include violence and control.
It looks like something to worry about.
True. However, we have seen the evolution of characters in teen series, probably due to the raise of feminism and social awareness on equality. We can find independent and strong women, who live their sexuality with a total freedom. These characters are also attractive to the audience that wants to see these features in people. Male characters also evolved and show more feelings, leaving the image of the bad guy. Television series such as Física o Química showed more complex characters with fewer stereotypes, like Yoli and Paula –but despite breaking with that archetype, romantic myths are still alive.
Are there other myths like these in the 21st century?
I would say many. Myths like the power of love, being fully devoted to love, fate in love, love at first sight and the idea of suffering for love. These are very present in the media. We have grown up with these myths and we identify them as essential in the idea of romantic love.
Since we were kids, we were told we should find our other half, and that there is only one in the world. This means that, if we find our other significant other, but s/he is an abuser, it will be hard to leave him or her. On the one hand, love can fight everything and can change people, so we would think we could change that abuser, and turn the beast into a prince. The problem is when people do not change for love even though we fight for it. This is frustrating for the woman who thinks she could not change the other with her love. On the other hand, we can see that, in theory, there is only one person for us and therefore, if we lose him or her, we will end up alone. This message is really dangerous, because it makes us think we are not complete by ourselves. We must destroy that myth.
Are men and women taught in different ways?
Absolutely. Since we are born, people talk to us in different ways, we are dressed differently, we have different toys… We even smell different. There are sweet deodorants for girls and the ones for men smell like a car air freshener. These trends end up having an impact on the way men and women see the world and of course, on the love relationships they have. Women are the ones talking love, the understanding ones, plus we are the ones to teach men how to talk our language. Women are the ones who worry about love and men seem to be interested in the sexual relationships only, or this is what we are told. Obviously, this creates different expectations in men and women regarding our relationships and to play different roles. Women use products related to intimate and emotional aspects and men those linked to action, violence and humor. The love tale is not the same for men and women, and the media does not represent it in the same way. Both men and women want relationships, but the truth is that women seem to be the understanding ones when it comes to feelings.
One of the main myths in love is that it hurts, that suffering occurs and that those who fight like each other. This can “disguise” gender violence. Isn’t it obvious?
It is dangerous, because it defends the conflict in a relationship. We understand that we need a conflict so we can get passion, and sometimes even violence seems necessary. In this sense, there are many teen series where the characters starring the love narrative meet and build their relationship after a fight. For instance, in Los Protegidos, Sandra and Culebra had fought before knowing each other. With this first scene, the audience noticed a romantic tension between them. It was worse in Ainhoa and Ulises’ case in El Barco. The series showed a sexual assault after a passionate scene, giving a dangerous message. The aggression came together with sex. This could be a case of culture of rape. The same happened with Julia and Iván in El Internado. After they argued, he put his hand on her butt and Julia told him not to touch her, but he did not stop and then, the passion began. In this case, no meant yes. The question is whether the myth about suffering for love can disguise violence. I would say: yes. Do people notice? Probably, but this is very structural. We need a lot of work to destroy all differences with what we grow.
We are living a moment in which feminist movements are growing. But gender violence cases and sexual assaults are increasing. Isn’t it contradictory?
I do not have enough data on this, but I do not think it is increasing, they are becoming more visible. The problem is that these assaults were not reported before. Now we have more reported cases, but it is difficult because we keep on re-victimizing the victim. We turn him/her into the guilty one, who suffered a lot, and this makes it harder for them to report the case. Television series showed a wrong idea of rape, for instance. In Física o Química a guy raped Yoli and there was no charge: the guy continued studying in the same high school. In 13 reasons why, several girls were raped and there was a trial where the guy was absolved. What message are we getting? That it will be a difficult process of stigmatization and re-victimization and that there will be no punishment?
Why is it so hard to end up with patriarchy and chauvinism?
Because it is structural and established. But I think we are doing well. There are a lot of people who believe in a change and equality and are working to make it possible. I see now the reaction in certain cases, when I work on gender violence with teenagers. I find discomfort, in many cases, men.
Are they upset about people working to end up with gender violence?
Some are. The question would be, why aren’t they comfortable? I am talking about equality, why are they upset? I think this discomfort is when structure starts to tremble. We used to be only a few –talking about inequality, feminism, gender violence… At the moment, there are more and more people fighting for this. You only need to go to protests on International Women’s Day and see how things have changed. We used to give a lecture on a certain topic and that was it. Now we intervene when there is a chauvinist comment because we are upset and want things to change, we want to modify the structure. And when this structure starts to shake, some show their discomfort.
Regarding your lectures in high schools, what are the conclusions?
Some high schools are working hard on this topic. Teachers are involved in gender perspective and introduce it in their work. I find teenagers to be more involved and more aware of this issue. They want to break with stereotypes and archetypes which create frustration.
Do you think things will change, even if the process is slow?
Yes. I think new generations are working and are more aware. There is a worry regarding the work on gender violence and equality. But we cannot relax because when we slow down, we see how everything goes backwards.