It’s reality that some things in popular culture are straight-up offensive and insulting. In theory, television is supposed to offer a break from the daily stress of our lives, but if you’re a woman, nasty gender roles and stereotypes are constantly reinforced and repeated on screen. Many female characters are objectified, sexualized, and otherwise treated like less than human.
The 1990s produced many classics. From the family-friendly sitcom line-up on TGIF to the cheeky Must-See TV slate to teen dramas, many successful shows still generate nostalgia in fans. However, a considerable amount of these much-loved series had their moments of missing cultural marks and produced some scenes that are hard to watch in retrospect.
Friends (which I just re-watched again) might’ve been there for all of us with lively jokes, situational humor, and tons of amusing drama, but there are a plethora of instances that wouldn’t land so well on the modern cultural landscape. The show has been accused of homophobia, latent racism, poor parenting, and misogyny, and the examples of the latter are plentiful. Almost every word that Joey Tribbiani uttered about women outside of his friend group (and sometimes within it) was steeped in chauvinism. Perhaps the most dreadful example was during the episode titled “The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate” which involved an exchange that equated women with food items that were just ready to be dined on. In the fallout of Ross’ divorce, he’s disappointed that he may have just lost his one shot at true love. Joey begins spinning out an elaborate metaphor comparing women to ice cream and Ross just needs to “grab a spoon”. Not only is this a clear-cut case of the objectification of women, but the reference to ice cream implies the sweet and soft nature that women are typically meant to have. On the show, Ross couldn’t accept the fact that his son, Ben, liked playing with a Barbie doll. When Rachel wanted to hire a man as their daughter’s nanny, Ross couldn’t accept that the job could be done by anyone other than a woman or accept that a man who wasn’t gay could do the job.
According to society, motherhood is a woman’s ultimate goal in life. Monica was a flourishing, successful chef on Friends, but when the series ended the writers didn’t give her a chain of restaurants as her happy ending; they gave her twin babies. While playing football on Thanksgiving, Phoebe flashes her boobs towards the guys because apparently that is the only way girls can win a sport game, right?
We might like to believe we’re living in woke times, but there are plenty more outdated attitudes and behaviours that still need correction. Another classic: “You’re not like other girls”; a phrase to make a leading lady’s heart flutter as the bad-boy rebel of her dreams casually dismisses her entire gender. This phrase is typically directed towards a rough girl, who would rather wear trousers rather than skirts, and is stunning, but in a ‘natural’ way. She’s the “cool girl” portrayed by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl – she loves stereotypically masculine things and is repulsive towards ‘girly’ things like shopping, female friends and any emotional depth. She’s Arya in Game of Thrones (“most girls are idiots”) or Miley Cyrus in The Last Song and the subtext behind this isn’t “Wow, I love you, you’re special”, it’s “being female is bad, being male is good, but you’re a guy with boobs so you’re okay”.
Furthermore, Hollywood has portrayed fat women to be nothing beyond their weight. Contrary to popular belief, not all plus-size women are obsessed with their weight. So why are curvy women always talking about their size in movies? Whether it’s constantly making self-deprecating jokes about their weight or being hyper-sexualised like Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect, or consumed with reaching mythical beauty standards like the lead in the misjudged Netflix Original Insatiable, plus-size women are consigned for comic relief and their entire personalities are centered around their weight – something that is barely true for male characters. Filmmakers and writers have been unable to grasp the concept of a chubby female being as well-adjusted and confident in her body as her traditionally slimmer counterpart. Audiences often end up laughing at fat characters, even though it appears as though we’re laughing with them. Another instance is how Monica was constantly fat-shamed: guy calls you fat, you get thin, the guy wants to get in your pants, you stab him while seducing him, he still wants to get in your pants (because you’re thin now), ultimately you end up having sex and live happily ever after?
Speaking of clichéd depictions of our reproductive systems – exaggerated PMS is used as a plot device by so many writers. Despite what you may have seen in Family Guy, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, women don’t go completely mad when they have their period, or turn into demons like Jen in The IT Crowd, or vicious beasts as in Charmed. Well at least not until you have done something to annoy us…
So while television is meant to be an outlet for all of us to escape the stress of our day to day lives, it serves as a constant reminder to women that the world believes we are over-emotional, not good enough if we aren’t a size zero, and our only real purpose is sex and childbearing. Try not to let pop culture make you feel this way about women because I can assure you, women are so much more–you need only look at the women around you.