Screenshot: Is cable TV access is a feminist issue?

Is cable TV access is a feminist issue?

My mom posed the question, possibly to see if I can construct an argument that might persuade her household to spring for the extended digital basic. I suspect the long nights watching the ION channel are beginning to grate. Good daughter that I am, I figured I'd try tackling the question.

To start with: Cable television isn't cheap. The average bill for expanded basic cable is $49.65 per month -- nearly seven hours of work for your average minimum-wage employee -- and that's more than double what it was ten years ago. Since it's not like we've all doubled in wealth or earning power in the last decade, it's evident that cable is eating up a larger chunk of discretionary income.

Yet this is not really stopping people from getting cable. According to the U.S. government, 64% of households making less than $15,000 per year have cable. Sadly, the U.S. government doesn't examine how many of those households might be made up of college students whose parents are paying the rent, thus freeing the kids up to pay for HBO, but the fact remains, more than half of all households pulling in less than $1250 a month have decided that they can live on $1200 -- that remaining $50 is going to cable.

So in terms of purely economic issues -- economic issues being the ones that point out that women's fulltime earnings are 77% of men's fulltime earnings, and that five times as many households headed by single women fall below the poverty line as households headed by married couples, so it's a fair bet women are the ones making the decisions about whether or not they can afford cable -- in terms of those issues, a lack of access to cable doesn't seem to be a gendered phenomenon. A majority of people in this country have it, no matter their income level.

I do wonder if there's an argument to be made that access to cable TV matters in terms of cultural depictions and issues. Anyone who's ever tried watching the networks in the mornings knows that you've got your choice of gabfest, gabfest, gabfest and gabfest. Granted, FOX News also offers their own gabfests -- or, as I like to think of them, the televised equivalent of an intellectual heat sink -- but when you've got cable, FOX News isn't one of four choices. It's one of 40, and I can tell you, at least 30 of those will be better.

What do you think? Casting financial matters aside -- since they're apparently not bothering a majority of Americans in the first place -- is access to cable TV a feminist issue in terms of cultural exposure?

by Lisa Schmeiser
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5 Comments Have Been Posted


I think not. While access to cable is convenient, I cannot think it is a feminist issue. In fact, as someone who grew up in a household without cable, I often think cable is a bane on our society more than anything else. Cultural exposure comes from museums, activities, education, and social interaction, not from vegging out in front of the TV. Further, these days anyone with access to a computer can watch virtually any show they missed on TV the night before online. We have cable simply because my husband cannot live without ESPN, and quite frequently I wish I could find an excuse to cancel it. Not to rant - but if anything, cable is a feminist issue in that it ties families to the home, limits our true cultural interactions, and diminishes our propensity to get out of our homes and truly experience and enjoy life.

From a class ...

From a class analysis, I think it can be. I think feminism can be used as a tool to analyze all kinds of things beyond gender and sex issues. I think it is important that feminism does that because not every feminist has the same experience from all kinds of things like class, race, sexuality, gender identity, able-bodied, etc etc ...

Now, I choose to not have cable because of the price (really? $50 for bullshit, I think) and also because I cannot afford it (single mother, on welfare, going to college full time). I also don't want my kid exposed to the sick advertisements on shows. I also choose because so much of it perpetuates gender roles, sexism, etc etc - so for myself and my kid: cable is a big no (beyond the money). This also led me to choose between cable or internet. Internet is more accessible to all kinds of things, my kid can use it easily, and I need it for school.

I like how the author of the post pointed out the statistics, though. So again, if we are looking at this issue from a class analysis - of course, it's a feminist issue and it ought to be one! Feminism needs to continue to critique all kinds of issues and be aware of our own privileges and oppressions as feminists (such as my white and physical able-body privilege even though I'm a poor, queer, single mother and womyn).

Good post! It is good to talk about this stuff!

access to information is

Before the big switch over to digital television (away from airwaves) many areas still required cable to get anything beyond 1 fuzzy television channel. To find out about road and school closings, upcoming elections, and anything cultural occurrence television is used. It requires less literacy, less time, and less access to things like the internet, or a library with compatible hours.

Many po' folks I am sure go without cable. I certainly did growing up. But I also lived walking distance to the library, and my Mother new what radio and news resources she could use - spoke the language, could read, and enjoyed escaping in books. For many others it is a wiser economic decision to pay for basic cable to cover news, cultural coverage & buy a bit of escapism.

If we invested in greater access in news and other media (longer library hours, more public access tv channels that TVs actually picked up, free newspapers) perhaps then the issue would be different.

cable might give one access

cable might give one access to more channels, but i don't believe that it gives us more access to information...perhaps i'm sidestepping, but i think this is a feminist issue because there are so many low-income women in this country who do not have the time/luxury to get their news outside of their tv.


I think cable television is a source of entertainment. Information? Not so much.

I don't subscribe to cable. I grew up without it, had it for a few years in college (free with the apartment!) and while I can't say I'd turn down free cable, I also can't say its worth $50 from my paycheck every month. (Also: Part of my reasoning for not ordering cable is that I just hate the way it's sold in packages. I mean, if I could order per channel, thus granting myself access to Turner Classic Movies and HBO and AMC and channels that air programs I'm into -- without having to spend extra money on ordering the PREMIUM DIGITAL WHATEVER PACKAGE so I could get access to <i>all three</i> current TV shows I actually care about -- I'd spring for it).

I'll admit that sometimes when I read <i>Bitch</i>, not having cable means I am, at times, totally clueless about certain television phenomenons being addressed. But you know what? Sometimes what I read in <i>Bitch</i> makes me totally okay with that!

I'd also like to add that not having cable in and of itself does not keep me totally in the dark about television. I caught the new season of <i>Mad Men</i> at a friend's house every Sunday. I have seen the eye-popping badness that is <i>Jersey Shore</i> at another friend's due to the marathon-heavy programming of many basic cable channels. Oh, and let's not even get into the glory that is Hulu.

Which brings me to my actual point: Who really needs cable when you have the Internet, a source of entertainment <i>and</i> information <i>and</i> (more recently) social networking? Is Internet access a feminist issue? In the context of economics and the impact of access to technology & information on women and female households, I think it is. Far more than cable, especially as the lines between the Internet and TV (thanks, Netflix!) become increasingly blurred.

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