Ranking of Popular Telenovelas: Were They All Feminist, or Did They Feed Machista Ideals?

Photo courtesy of BELatina
Photo courtesy of BELatina

If you’re Latine, you most likely grew up with your parents or grandparents watching telenovelas on Univision or Telemundo. Even right now, there’s no escape from those two major television networks that always had the primetime news at 6 p.m. and the “it” novela at 8 p.m. 

However, looking back at it now, we tend to notice specific underlying trends or stereotypes that influenced many of those novela’s plotlines. Were they feminist, or did they actually feed into machista ideals? Who were they catered to?

Now, the telenovelas we will talk about are iconic — they’re classics that have been remade constantly, switching up some of the storylines to fit with the modern era. These novelas also remain synchronized in our childhood memories, which we revisit when nostalgic. Some of them are now even memes like ‘Cries In Spanish’ or are even being rebooted for the next generation (yes, we are looking at you, “Rebelde”). Can they count as one or the other?

While we can’t immediately generalize our opinions and label a whole telenovela either feminist or machista — we can look into certain plot lines or scenes that represent one or the other. These novelas are long, y’all; there’s bound to be bits and arguments that could represent each “side.”

Let us discuss through these three famous examples!

“Rebelde”

This 2004 popular television show ended up being a global phenomenon crossing over as a telenovela and promoting the musical group RBD. Yes, at first sight, you get the tiny schoolgirl outfits that are infamously catered for the male gaze, but alas, let’s dig in. 

More profound situations also seemed to be narrated from the male brain, such as when Mia Colucci hinted at being scared or intimidated of losing her virginity and wanted to wait not to disappoint her partner Miguel. Now, we look back and see that as such a machista move — who really cares about one’s virginity? Is that even real? Doesn’t he end up going after someone who would have sex with him because Mia didn’t want to? But, there were other examples of feminism, such as the character’s eccentric outfits and hair colors that let them express their individuality. The characters like Roberta would be considered outspoken for not being all calladita te ves mas bonita

“La Fea Más Bella”

Known as “Betty La Fea,” this novela has a lot to dissect. Although the plotline may be a little different in each reboot, the theme of being “unattractive” is an obvious major part of the soap opera. It’s basically about being ignorant to the obvious fact that there’s more than meets the eye. We can’t base our opinions on just the looks of a person. I mean, right at the beginning of the story, she didn’t get a career position at a modeling/advertising company solely because of her looks. The joke is on them, though. She ends up saving her boss’ company — and having him fall in love with her. Who says you can’t get both love and money?

“Teresa”

The 2010 version was a life-changer. Well, to me, at least. I would consider most of this plot to be feminist and an eye-opener considering that she went from being “poor” to elevating her family wealth. I am not saying that her decisions were all santita, though – but her ambition was one of the characteristics that too many traditional Latine households seem to be “too much” or “inappropriate.” 

What’s scarier than a woman “who has it all?” A woman who knows she can have more.

However, we could have a whole other discussion on how it feeds the male gaze — I mean, of course, Teresa showed off her beauty to seduce men. It all depends on how you see her lucha. Too bad she didn’t realize she already had it all when she lived a more minimalistic life. Pobrecita!

Regardless of being classified under the “feminist” or “machista” categories, each of these telenovelas has its particular plotline. Let’s hope that the next generation sees less machismo and more gender-neutral plotlines! We are overseeing climaxes: the rich falling in love with the poor, the unattractive getting a makeover, and the woman wanting more. Here’s to hoping the next hit is more creative and inclusive!