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Gender Roles in “Friends” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Abeer Salem

Cleveland State University

Gender Roles in “Friends” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”

The media plays a crucial role in promoting or obscuring gender equality in its presentation of men, women and, sometimes even children. A large number of the images displayed in media shape the societal perception of the world in general and, in this case specifically gender. In the media, women and girls are portrayed as more submissive and passive while their male counterparts are placed in roles where they are in power. The women play the roles of wives, mothers and partners to the successful males. In this way, the media has programmed the society to internalize the traditional gender roles which then limits the progress made by proponents of social equality. Movies and TV shows continue to perpetuate the patriarchal structures in society despite attempts to veil those subtle messages under the façade of female independence and empowerment.

In the TV show, Friends, the six main characters’ experiences are defined by their gender roles and chosen careers (Marshall,2014). Joey is depicted as the stereotypical male who chases after women to have sexual relations with. The women are portrayed as sex objects; their sole purpose is to satisfy the sexual desires of Joey. The men are supposed to be tough and assert their physical strength. Joey often gets into fights with people such as the bullies who are harassing Chandler and Ross at central Park. On the other hand, Ross acts in a role which gives him traits that are traditionally considered feminine. For instance, as opposed to finding a high paying and dominant profession, he chooses to be a paleontologist. He shares his problems with his friends who consider him weak for showing his emotions since men are not expected to express their feelings. They are not sure of his sexuality, and it seems to bother them to a large extend. As such, the show gives undertones of being homophobic which is an attribute of hegemonic masculinity.

The female characters in the show also play into traditional feminine gender roles. Rachel is a waitress as well as a fashion assistant. Both of these jobs are considered to be traditionally for women. According to Marshall (2014), women are often given low paying jobs in film and are depicted as having no career ambitions. Rachel, who comes from a well to do background fits into this role as she is just comfortable being where she in. In contrast, Monica is attractive by society standards but she has some traits that are considered male. She is highly assertive and competitive which are traits associated with masculinity. At work, she pushes her employees to deliver according to her standards through setting the rules by which they must abide. In her relationships, she is reserved with her emotions, a trait which is associated with men. She is more sure of what she wants with the men with who she gets involved. In some cases, she is more secure than the men she is with.

The movie, The Devil Wears Prada, has unrealistic standards for how a woman should look like (Spiker, 2012). Andy is criticized for not being skinny enough, yet, she is not overweight by any standards. During the interview, Miranda and her team tells her that she is not glamorous enough despite being dressed in the normal business attire. Her workmates are not impressed until she changes her fashion sense and her hair. She gets promoted as first assistant. The subtle message being passed across here is that for one to succeed, especially as a woman, they must focus on the outward appearance and not on their competence. Men do not come under this pressure to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty so as to do well at the workplace. The effect is that the women who watch the movie may become depressed, develop eating disorders or even get into drug use.

The society puts pressure on women to have a man in their life. There seems to be an urgency to validate the very existence of women through men (Spiker, 2012). The main male characters in the movie are testament of this. The character of Nate has been developed to be multidimensional, which is not extended to Andy. He is shown when he is happy, when he is sad and when he is angry. At the beginning of the movie. Andy is kissing Nate, they are almost always together and only take a break when Andy goes to Paris. Again, during that period, Andy dates Christian. Nigel becomes Andy’s friend. He gives women make overs to look good. When Andy drops from a size six to size four, he is impressed. In this way, the movie seems to communicate Andy’s need for a man in her life, be it professionally or in personal relationships.

Further, the movie depicts power as being a masculine trait. There is a fear that surrounds Miranda wherever she goes throughout the entire movie. She is ambitious, ruthless and cold hearted, all which are attributes given to men. Her strength is still overshadowed by the fact that it is still being associated with masculinity (Spiker, 2012). In a way, the movie can be said to be dissolving gender roles and thus challenging the societal notion on gender. She is assertive and bold, expecting nothing short of perfection from her employees. She is direct and straight to the point wasting nobody’s time in all the instances when she is talking to her staff. However, on the overall, for Miranda to be successful as a leader, she has to be given masculine attributes.

Additionally, the fact that she is leader for a magazine that is associated with fashion seems to send a message that women can only be in industries that are considered less serious. A male character would have been given a leadership position in a company like real estate or engineering.

Miranda as a representation of women in power is not likable. She is forceful and hard hearted. She sacrifices everything for her career (Spiker, 2012. This seems to pass the message that women cannot balance family life with work; they cannot even be pleasant when dealing with their employees. Miranda misses out on important personal events so as to stay true to her job. She gets to the office and immediately starts to talk about her work without a break. She is already divorced once and her second marriage is failing due to her focus on her career. the traditional gender roles have woman depicted as family oriented and less focused on careers. The movie seems to pass the message that reversing these roles and having women in positions of power hurts the women, and those who are around them. s

Andy’s character is representative of how society treats women. She is a product of the patriarchy and societal expectations of what they perceive as a good woman (Spiker, 2012). When she is trying to find a footing for her career, her father, her best friend and her boyfriend withdraw their support. They feel that she is choosing her career over them. Women are not supposed to put themselves first but they should heed to the demands of their parents and boyfriends. They should also not be different from their female counterparts. Under societal pressure, she finally gives in and apologizes to her boyfriend. The irony lies in this scene where after her apology, Nate tells her that he has found a break in his career and is moving to another state. He does not bother with the consequences of his choice to their relationship as Andy is expected to be supportive without question because she is female.   

Overall, movies and television shows reflect the dominant narratives within the society as well as the emerging ones. Due to their ability to depict, discount an d define, they serve as powerful agents of gender and in some cases, they do not provide the requirements of a reformed and different perception of gender. Women are the most affected by these inequalities in gender representation and they can only remedy this situation by having more women own media corporations. In this way, they will be better positioned to tell their story by showing more positive images of liberated and powerful women.

References

Spiker, Julia A. (2012). “Gender and Power in the Devil Wears Prada.” International Journal of Business, Humanities and Technology 2.3. 16-25

Marshall, Lisa. (2014) “I’ll be there for you, If you are just like me: An Analysis of Hegemonic Social Structures in ‘Friends’.”

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