Telenovelas: Our Guilty, Sexist Pleasure

Every Hispanic child has been exposed to the tantalizing world of telenovelas. If you haven’t had the chance to fall in love with William Levy, or have your fair share of evil mothers-in-law, Her Campus UFL has got you covered on what shows you should watch. Since I was a young girl (gosh, I'm only 19, not 40), I’ve sat down to catch my daily dose of “La Rosa de Guadalupe” or my personal favorite, “Donde Esta Elisa.” However, now as I wither away with age, I’ve realized just how sexist telenovelas can be. It’s quite strange that the quality time I would spend with my mother was focused on watching fictitious representations of women. Here I’ll list some of my old favorites and the sexism some of them displayed, as well as new shows that have broken barriers.

“Donde Esta Elisa?”

This is my favorite novela of all time. Not only was it one of the first novelas to delve into the ‘who dun-it’ genre, but it had an amazing cast. The novela shows a seemingly perfect family in which everyone’s happy, that is until Elisa, the daughter, goes missing. After that, a wild man hunt is issued to find her, and secrets are revealed left and right (in classic telenovela style). It’s a whirlwind of emotions and high tensions and the ending… well I won’t spoil it, but it’s probably the best ending of any TV show (especially better than the “Game of Thrones” ending).

Now that I’m an adult (and a woke feminist if I do say so myself), I have a few things to nitpick with the show. First off, there is a heavy judgement of the mother in the family who begins an affair with the lead police officer handling her daughter’s case. Now, I understand that for the sake of drama it’s necessary, but why does it have to be the woman who cheats? Not only is Dana, the mother, dealing with the kidnapping of her daughter, she’s also in a horrible marriage and seeks refuge in the comfort of the lead investigator. No, I’m not justifying cheating, yet why is the stereotype of women who cheat so common? Why can’t Dana just leave her husband if she is so unhappy?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the time I spent watching the show. Hopefully in the future we can get away from the archetype that women who are in unhappy marriages cheat and run off with their lovers. Where is the truth in that?

“Rebelde”

If I’m honest, I don’t remember this novela super clearly, so I’ll be brief. Everyone I know loves “Rebelde.” It was the first show to take on the difficult lives of teenagers. The cast is legendary and every actor, especially Maite Perroni, has gone on to have excellent careers.

How I see the show is Gossip Girl but in Mexico — though it’s not such an elitist show. There are many love triangles that at times can be confusing but trust me, it’s worth it. There aren’t any apparent displays of sexism, which is awesome because its target audience was teenagers.

“La Rosa De Guadalupe”

Anyone who’s Hispanic knows the show “La Rosa De Guadalupe” — you’ve seen at least one episode with your grandma and have heard a lecture about how the plotline of that episode can be applicable to your life. Do you know how many times my mom has warned me that if I go out with friends, I can get sex trafficked? Why does she do that? Well, because the majority of the episodes are about some girl being sold by her boyfriend or going clubbing and getting kidnapped.

The main point of the show is to demonstrate the power faith can have in our lives. It focuses mainly on the Lady of Guadalupe. There are so many things wrong with this show, but it makes it so interesting to watch. First off, the budget for this show is extremely low. I have a 99% confidence that they hire their actors from malls. The actors are terrible, and there’s no saving that aspect of the show. There’s this moment of realization where the main character figures out that the Lady of Guadalupe has guided them through their troubles and a random gust of wind blows their faces. In my experience living in humid Miami, a gust of wind never flies across my face when I’m having a bad day, but maybe that’s just me.

The most annoying aspect of it (other than my mom constantly comparing me to the characters) is the integration of sexism and racism within the show. It is true that the Hispanic culture implements machismo within households, but as the new wave of equality is here, one expects such a cult-classic to follow the movement. One of the most surprising episodes occurred when the father of a Hispanic teenager killed her black boyfriend and made her give away her daughter because it would ruin their family name. Now, I have no idea if this happens often, but by displaying these acts of prejudice, aren’t these shows just feeding into the narrative of racism amongst Hispanics? Most importantly, it wasn’t just one episode.

The show is sexist too. How many times have they had episodes showing girls doing things that show their freedom and then getting raped, kidnapped or sold? The show constantly reinforces the negative association of Latin girls showing their freedoms, thus, bringing back the old traditions of a young girl being forbidden to go out and live her life for fear of being hurt. Instead of showing this to young girls and boys, why not educate young men to respect women?

“Como Dice el Dicho”

Extremely similar to “La Rosa de Guadalupe” is “Como Dice el Dicho.” The only difference is that instead of a gust of wind appearing, a saying tying the whole plot of the episode is said. Many of the issues I found with “La Rosa de Guadalupe” can be applied to this show. It tries its best to stray away from the false narratives of sexism and racism, but at times for the sake of an extra couple of views, it crawls its way back.

“El Internado”

This show might be my second favorite telenovela. I am extremely proud of my Spanish roots and constantly refer back to them. When I happened to fall into the rabbit hole of Netflix and discovered “El Internado,” I rapidly fell in love with the story. The male main characters are ravishing. Drop dead gorgeous and probably why I clicked onto the show Both male actors, Martino Rivas and Yon Gonzalez, have also starred in “Las Chicas Del Cable,” which I’ll talk about later. It’s such a great show with excellent writing and plenty of those good old telenovela plot twists.

One thing I will say is that it does feed into stereotype that women with authority are bossy b-words. For example, one of the headmasters, Elsa, is deemed as such for being strict with the students. Yes, at times she can be quite rude, but why is it that a woman who has a successful job and no husband is made out to be a complete b-word? They even make her character fall stupidly in love with the villain and give her an unrealistic sense of naivety. Then, Elsa miraculously becomes kind once she adopts a baby. Oh please, if it were realistic, she’d become even more irritable and sleep deprived.

“El Internado” is a good show for angsty teen drama, but it lacks maturity and a strong understanding of the need for a proper role model for modern working women.

“Teresa”

This show is a true telenovela; it’s the epitome of drama and sexism. The story is told from Teresa’s perspective as a young woman living in poverty who lures a wealthy man into marrying her. My fingers almost detached themselves as I wrote that sentence. This show is extremely sexist and uses that to its advantage.

It was a huge hit when it aired, and many Latina girls (myself included) longed to have the sexual power Teresa exemplified. Firstly, she managed to get out of poverty by merely walking and meeting a handsome, wealthy man. Then, she ended up falling in love with him but moved onto a new man with more money. Lastly, she ended up alone but still had money. Even when the show tried to show a lesson that true happiness isn’t based on money, Teresa still ended up where she wanted to be. This show reinforces the stereotype that Hispanic women are gold diggers.

When I say I dreamed of being Teresa, please know I’m joking. I value mine and others intelligence far more than I value money. So, why is this the image slathered all over Hispanic women? Nowadays, I find comfort in knowing that a show like this would be destroyed.

“Las Chicas del Cable”

This show is set in 1928 at a telecommunications company in Madrid. It tells the story of four young women who begin to work for the company. This is probably the most female-oriented telenovela on-air.

There are still those love triangles we adore to watch, but they are handled with respect. Each woman has an entirely different experience. The main character, Blanca, deals with the prejudice of being a high-tier employee at the company. The show tackles the gender gap issue, the prejudice against lesbians and toxic co-dependent relationships. Overall, I’m proud that there is a show set so long ago that still manages to have modern ideals. It’s on Netflix, and I highly recommend it.

“Señora Acero”

There was a time when every telenovela focused on drug dealers. Personally, I found it quite sad that the image being displayed of Hispanics on TV screens around the world was that we were all drug dealers and prostitutes. However, rather than making a strong female character that was unrelated to drugs and prostitution, Telemundo executives said, “why not make the woman the drug dealer?” I guess it’s nice to see a woman take charge, but why does she have to sell drugs?

There's that constant, idiotic notion that all Hispanics do is sell drugs, clean houses, cut grass or marry wealthy men. This show was not awful in terms of acting, but the lack of female empowerment was heavy. If the show focused on the woman running an empowering and powerful enterprise that did not fall within Hispanic stereotypes, it would have been revolutionary.

Is there room for change?

There is a lot of room for growth in the telenovela genre, and I wholeheartedly believe it’s only a matter of time before women get proper recognition within the it. Until then, there are a couple of shows that demonstrate female empowerment. Don’t let the old stereotypes deter you from watching a telenovela.

At the end of the day, you’re not living in a novela — break away from the stereotypes and create positive images of women.