There’s a smart way to dispel stereotypes, and then there’s Lifetime television. Normally, I am happily ignorant of everything that airs on Lifetime but I was recently made aware of a new TV show called Devious Maids, which “centers on a close-knit group of (Latina) maids bonded by their jobs, struggles, and their melodramatic employers.” I watched the trailer and wanted to throw my glass of wine at the screen (I’m sassy and explosive like that). Then I read some articles, watched the pilot episode, drank another large glass of wine, and started writing this piece.
The main arguments for defending the show seem to be:
1. We should be happy that there’s a TV show starring five Latinas.
2. This show is not about maids, it’s about complex and nuanced women who happen to be maids.
3. We are just trying to tell a story that’s never been told before.
Actually, this is the ONLY story that gets told about Latina women. I would love to support a TV show starring five Latinas if all the Latinas weren’t hypersexualized servants portraying the same reductive narrative since the invention of television. Can't we tell our story another way?
This is show isn’t about maids. It’s more a depressing reminder of how our society thinks it’s completely acceptable to continue to hypersexualize and demean Latina women. These are not “complex nuanced characters,” these characters barely meet the minimal standards of television writing.
New York University Global Affairs graduate student Marisa Ahuja shared why the arguments defending the show are weak: “ Latin people should just be thanking the network for allowing them to have a show that has a Latin cast. Who cares that it's stereotypical; and by doing that [they] miss the point completely. No, it's not about being 'ashamed' of your culture, it about knowing that it's a vastly rich and diverse culture where Latin women are much more than hyper sexualized, feisty women who flirt with their bosses. Perpetuating the stereotype only prevents people who don't know enough about the culture to seeing BEYOND it. Yes, Latin people know there is more to us than that, but this show won't be watched by Latin people only.”
Another argument made by the creators and defenders of the show refers to the inevitability of stereotypes. “Of course this is a stereotype and it is/was a stereotype perpetuated by the oblivious white majority, as is often satirized in amazing social issue shows such as All in the Family, Soap, and even in modern times, Arrested Development, through the warped perspective of drunken socialite Lucille Bluth. So what we see from the wonderful world of television is that it’s not a bad thing to discuss the stereotype — after all, villainous white characters still refer to it."
But not all stereotypes are created equally.
White people are not called "illegals" or accused of coming to this country to steal “American jobs.” They're not told they have low IQs by a Harvard dissertation, or racially profiled. There is no wall being built to keep white people out of the country, and white people are not disproportionately poor, formally “uneducated,” or uninsured.
The Hispanic poverty rate is higher than the U.S. poverty rate overall. In 2011, only 33% of Hispanics were enrolled in higher education. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, "Latinas are paid the least of any demographic, earning an average of $521 a week. That’s 54 cents for every dollar the average white man makes." Check out more of these dismal statistics about the current situation of Latinos in the U.S compared to other ethnicities.
These stereotypes hurt us. How will we change these statistics if we continue to be represented as poor, uneducated, or sex crazed? Of course it’s not the media’s responsibility to change our community but the media has a massive and undeniable role in our society and how we perceive and treat each other. On average, an American consumes over 200 hours of media every month. That’s a lot of time!
No one here is demeaning maids, or shunning our culture. There’s no need to explain to us how important and valuable domestic workers are in this country. We know. Some of us have been one.
But can we move on? I am sick and tired of being portrayed in the media this way. We need to see a different portrayal of Latinas.