Actors reinforcing the notion that we are all actors?
So let me tell you how the world works..but first do you either want to take the red pill or blue pill? Just kidding, the world isn’t a computer simulation called the Matrix. I would actually prefer to explain it in a Victorian fashion and compare the world to a stage. As Shakespeare said, “All the world is a Stage”
and we are all merely actors. At birth we were randomly assigned a sex and in that designation a script (man or woman) was prescribed to us. Thus our life’s purpose is to play that script well. What does it mean to play a man or a woman? Let’s see how gender roles are reinforced in our lives by looking at the microcosm of the TV Show “Friends.”
First, let us examine the play. The play is called patriarchy. Alan G. Johnson, defines patriarchy as a system. This system defines the roles of women and men as opposites. “The naturalness” of male aggression, competition, and dominance and of female caring, cooperation, and subordination,” (Johnson 94). These binaries are hierarchal, one is greater, better than the other. To have power over and to prepared to use it are defined culturally as good and desirable (and characteristically “masculine”), and to lack such power or to be reluctant to use it is seen as weak if not contemptible (and characteristically “feminine”),” (Johnson 94). To play the role of male has more importance than the role of female.
One sees this dynamic interact in the media. For example in romantic comedic sitcom “Friends” one sees this often. In Season 4 Episode 4 entitled the “The One with the Ballroom Dancing” Joey teaches the superintendent Treeger how to ballroom dance in order to prevent his friends and neighbors Monica and Rachel from getting evicted. In the beginning of the scene, Monica commands Rachel to do her chore of taking out the garbage. The character Rachel is known to be highly feminine which is defined in patriarchal system as weak. Treeger is highly masculine and chastises Rachel for being a highly maintenance princess for not properly disposing boxes. Rachel gets very emotional from being verbally belittled by the empowered maintenance man. She goes upstairs crying to her friends. Monica reacts annoyed at Rachel for acting like a child for crying because she assumes that Rachel did not want to throw out the garbage. Even though Monica is female she takes on the masculine role by acting tough and taking charge. Patriarchy is often described as being masculine however everyone is a part of the system and contributes to it.
Joey then tries to console Rachel who is upset. Joey takes on the masculine role of protector and goes down and defends Rachel’s honor. He asks the powerful superintendent or “villain” Treeger to apologize to Rachel. However, Treeger does not want to be controlled by Joey. Joey has provoked Treeger’s male ego and threatens to evict Rachel and Monica from their apartment since they are living there illegally. Joey begs Teeger not to do this and asks if he could please him in any way to prevent his friends from getting evicted. Teeger says he wants Joey to be his dancing partner. He needs to practice so he can impress his crush Marge at the Super Ball.
Newman gives a character study of Joey. In Newman’s Chapter 3 of Portraying Differences, he talks about how the media reinforces the role of masculine. The traditional tough-guy image has always been mocked. Even though, Joey is the empowered male him acting as childish on television does not affect his role as masculine does not threaten his role as male off-screen. The audience knows that the character Joey does not act this way because the audience knows he is a “real man.” “For instance, the popular “Joey” character on the now defunct series “Friends” was a dim-witted womanizer who had trouble pronouncing multisyllabic works and ate steak with his fingers,” (Newman 94). Thus since men have the power it is simple to conclude one can ridicule them without any retribution.
Dance has always shown us what it means to be male or female. In couples dancing there is always someone who leads (male) and follows(female). Male female sexual differentiation has served as the basis of dominance and subordination, inclusion and exclusion. Thus in the case of the Treeger and Joey who are partner dancing, Joey takes on the feminine role, and is emasculated. Monica, who acts as gender police or acting coach, mocks him for being effeminate and not a “real man.”
Joey walks into Monica and Rachel’s apartment after having a dance rehearsal with Treeger. Joey walks in as they are doing a highly feminine ritual of tweezing each other’s eye brows. Monica then says, “How’s the dancing? Gay yet?” Monica is using this term as a slur to put Joey back in his masculine box, she is telling him that he is not playing his role correctly. Johnson says that the “patriarchal heterosexual is “natural” and same-sex attraction is not; that because men neither bear nor breast-feed children, they cannot feel a compelling bodily connection to them,” (Johnson 95). Joey is being unnatural. However, Joey defends the ridicule by saying that the dancing is manly; it is a sport, it is competitive. Monica mocks him and puts him to a test. She says, “Come here! Show me some manly moves!” Joey realizes that he cannot because he only knows how to follow. Two women cannot couple dance because it is naturally heterosexual.
At the end of the episode Joey and Treeger share a beautiful theatrical dance. Now that Treeger has danced outstandingly he can go win over his princess. Joey still plays feminine role when he is heartbroken at the end that Treeger does not want him anymore. Treeger consoles Joey by asking him if he would like to come and dance with Marge’s girlfriend who is the same size a s Treeger. A woman who is large is not attractive in Joey’s eyes. He is now regained his masculinity or the power by doing his duty and he has saved Monica and Rachel.
Within the system of patriarchy there is power differential of the sexes. This power and control dynamic dictates the way in which we play our role as actors in society. We all our performers of each other and we are constantly mimicking each other’s performance. When one does not play the role correctly, the audience judges the performance and gives a harsh review to make the actor improve next time. Under the definition of patriarchy, being a man means being empowered, dominant while being female means being controlled, submissive. Is this the way you want to live your life?
Johnson, Alan G. "Patriarchy, The System An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us." The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy (1997): 91-98. Print.
Krane, David, Marta Kauffman, and Andrew Reich. "The One with the Ballroom Dancing: Season 4 Episode 4." Friends. NBC. Los Angeles, California, 16 Oct. 1997. Television.
Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities:Exploring Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. 1st ed. McGraw-Hill Companies, 2005. 71-105. Print.