Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gender stereotyping in the show we all know and love, Friends

So I was watching an episode of one of my favorite television shows, Friends, the other day and came across a very apparent example of gender stereotyping that I thought would be a great topic for discussion. If you haven’t experienced the joy of watching this television series then here’s some background information. The show is about six friends working and kicking back in New York City. Ross and Monica are brother and sister. Chandler is Ross’s best friend from high school who rooms with Joey. Their apartment happens to be across the hall from Monica and Rachel who Monica new back in high school. Phoebe is Monica’s eccentric former roommate who remains friends with the group. The group of six friends can be often found hanging out at Central Perk, which is a local coffee shop, or at Monica and Rachel’s apartment.  

In this episode, Ross has a very difficult time moving past a common gender stereotype regarding children’s toys. Ross and his ex-wife, who turned out to be a lesbian, have a son named Ben. One day when Ross goes to pick Ben up from the ex-wife’s apartment, he is unpleasantly surprised when he finds Ben playing with a Barbie doll. Throughout the entire episode, Ross tries to get his son to play with a GI Joe action figure instead but the boy, too young to be influenced by gender stereotypes, just wants the Barbie doll. Ross feels strongly that his son should play with the GI Joe instead but his ex-wife opposes the gender stereotype and thinks that their son should play with which ever toy he likes best. When someone points out that a GI Joe is a doll, Ross defends his opinion by declaring that it is acceptable for boys to play with GI Joe since it is an action figure.

During the last scene of the episode, they show a clip of Ross as a little boy singing a tune while playing tea party. While very comical, this clip makes an important point that goes against Ross’s association with “girly” activities only being appropriate for girls. I feel that there are many father’s today who would react in a similar manner to Ross if they were to find their young boy playing with a Barbie doll or baking set or other toys deemed “girly”. This goes both ways in that a young girl who likes sports and playing video games might be called a tomboy. I think that stereotyping is very unfair and can end up limiting people from doing the things they like to do. What do you think about this episode of Friends? Do you agree that many fathers would have the same reaction as Ross?


  1. This episode points out the way genders are characterized in society and the way it can limit one’s choices. I think that many fathers would do the same things as Ross. It probably comes from a desire to protect their children from ridicule, though it ends up taking away their freedom to act as they choose. I also wonder if a mother would prevent her daughter from playing with a GI Joe. I think this might be true, but it might not be to the same extent as a father keeping his son from playing with Barbies.

  2. I am an absolute Friends fanatic, Alexandra! I'm so glad you brought up this show, and I remember this episode perfectly! I actually have a personal experience with this topic as well. My best friend growing up (like I said in class) is a guy. When we were little he would play with all of my dolls and dress up clothes with me just like I would play sports and legos with him. His dad was always worried that him playing with my "girly" things would "confuse" him. But no one ever thought about how I would be affected by the stereotypical "non-norm."

    I find it really interesting how easily men will flip out about their sons acting in a gender "inappropriate" way. I certainly don't think there is anything wrong with Ben playing with this Barbie and actually believe it will have no effect on his gender role when he grows up. Children have no concept of gender stereotypes and just play with what they want to... so why would Ben associate playing with a Barbie as being girly and then in turn want to act more "feminine?" I don't think it is related at all. Children should be able to play with what they want. Ignorance is bliss.


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