Mama Drama: A Textual Analysis of Single Mothers as Female Protagonists in Dramedies




Brooks, Mary Liz
Garcia, Nancy

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Representations of women in media is rife in academic literature ranging from how women are portrayed in sports (i.e., Bowes & Kitching, 2018) as criminals (i.e., Coleman, 2016) and as scientists (i.e.,Chimba & Kitzinger) among other studies that place their emphasis on how women are featured in mostly male-dominated fields. Yet, regarding entertainment media and how women are represented as part of any given storyline in the role of female protagonist is lacking in the academic research literature. A quick Google search of the phrase "female protagonists in media" generates list upon list of the top female characters from decades worth of television shows and movies. Some lists are based on scientific evidence, while other lists are based on anecdotal evidence. Through a textual analysis, this study aims to examine two popular television shows, Gilmore Girls and Jane The Virgin, that prominently feature at least one central female character that is portrayed as the protagonist. Additionally, because some television shows are often considered "edutainment" this study aims to understand how popular dramedies teach viewers about motherhood, culture, female relationships, sex, socioeconomic status, and religion which all intertwine to form the female protagonist role. Both television series feature storylines about how two central female characters are navigating life as a single mother. Both shows tackle issues related to work, friendships, dating/sex, and mother-daughter relationships, among other relatable topics. Two obvious differences between the shows relate to culture and class. Whereas the primary female protagonist in Gilmore Girls is white and has access to great financial resources, Jane The Virgin's primary female protagonist is Latina and from a lower socioeconomic status. Gilmore Girls aired 154 episodes over seven seasons from 2000-2007 and returned nine years later in 2016 for a four episode update on the lives of the characters. Jane The Virgin aired 100 episodes over five seasons from 2014-2019. Both shows were part of The CW network (although Gilmore Girls began on The WB). Previous research has been conducted concerning both shows. For example, Petersen (2018) interviewed more than 25 fans of Gilmore Girls to understand how their lives and the show intertwine to form new perceptions of relationships and life changes. Estlick (2021) examined Gilmore Girls from a feminist approach to uncover the manifestation of intersectionality. Regarding research about Jane The Virgin, Rose (2019) argues that the show was "heavily influenced" (p. 1096) by 19th century novels in that "both genres share similar style elements, such as melodrama, but more importantly, they both educate women who were previously ignored or undervalued during their respective eras" (p. 1097). Using framing theory to explore how the primary female protagonists are portrayed in these two dramedies, the following research questions are posed: RQ1: What frames emerge in the overall representation of female protagonists in dramedies? RQ2: What similarities and differences are apparent in the representation of female protagonists in dramedies related to mother/daughter relationships, female friendships, sex, religion, socioeconomic status, and culture?


This study will employ a textual analysis of representations of female protagonists in two dramedies that feature at least one female as the main character in the television shows. For the purpose of the current study, the female protagonist is defined using the MasterClass Staff’s idea of the four character traits needed when developing a strong female character. They advise the female protagonist should be a decision maker and have her own opinions and own identity, is ambitious and goal-oriented, relatable, able to manage mistakes, and resilient (MasterClass, 2021). Data for analysis will be completed in two steps that align with other studies using a similar process (Brooks, Bichard, Craig, Densely, 2017). First, two researchers will separately view the same 12 episodes. These 12 episodes will be the first episode of each new season (seven episodes from Gilmore Girls and five episodes from Jane The Virgin) as the sample data. Upon independent viewing, the researchers will take detailed notes regarding all major themes discovered. The researchers will consider meanings, actions, interactions and communication amongst characters. The researchers will then meet to discuss themes that emerged through their analysis of the sample data. The researchers will then be assigned to view seven additional, separate and randomly selected episodes from each show in order to analyze a larger amount of the sample total. In sum, approximately 15% (n=40) of the total population of shows (n=254) will have been analyzed at the conclusion of this study. The researchers will continuously discuss themes that emerged until saturation is reached.


2022 Faculty Research Poster Session and Research Fair, West Texas A&M University, Department of Communication, Poster, Female protagonist


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