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Gender Roles in TV Shows

The word gender seems to have little meaning behind it to many people until they look at the people and media around them. In defining what a woman or man of a particular culture does in his or her day to day life and also the way they react to different situations, one will be defining the individual’s gender. The way an individual acts or behaves is also influenced by culture. These two, gender and culture work hand in hand in the media, paving their way from the images from newspapers and magazines to the mind’s subconscious of the viewer. The concept of modern day advertising depicts men as people who like sports, don’t care about their looks, and see women as sex props and paint women as people who like to look beautiful and always want to be on top and dominant. Television shows that people watch everyday also paint a picture of how different people act depending on their gender. This paper is going to look at some of the roles as depicted by their gender in the TV shows, the Office and 30 Rock.

In the TV show ‘the office”, powerful messages aimed at reinforcing the social norms and stereotypes are brought out if the show is taken by viewers as it is. If it is taken literally, then it sends messages that reinforce social norms regarding gender, sexuality and race. Most of these and many other messages are portrayed through Michael Scott, who is the boss of the office. Messages regarding gender, race, and sexuality, reinforcing the hegemonic hierarchy and social norms are readily brought out. For instance, hegemonic messages come out in the episode “Diversity day” where Michael passes across a very strong message by creating a blatant image.  He makes everyone to play a different race and interact with others basing on stereotypes that go along with the specific races. Here the viewer sees that racial stereotypes are used to label people. When he attempts to educate his office staff on the subject of diversity, he instead ends up showing how deeply rooted racial stereotypes are in the society today, and that these stereotypes should be used to judge people (Griffin p. 4).

The message of sexuality is clearly brought out in the episode “Gay Witch Hunt” where we see a situation whereby Michael finds out that Oscar one of his employees, is gay. Because of his sexuality, we see Oscar being treated very differently by all of his coworkers. This sends a message to the viewer that homosexuals are different from heterosexuals and there should be identified. In the episode Patriarchy in the office, viewers are made to understand that women are below men. This has to do with their gender roles. Men and women on the show come out with different roles; the men are shown as aggressive salesmen who have the office under their control as women are seen to be passive and therefore not valuable as the men. Even Jan, Michael’s boss, is below him just because she is a woman. Albeit she is in charge of Michael, he rarely pays attention to her, never gets into trouble even after making a mistake which he frequently does. Jan is reduced from the boss to someone with little control just because of her gender. The viewer learns from this that women should be passive, without power, and should have little or no control over anything. These spectacles from the media show who is powerful and who has no power, which is free to exercise force and violence, and who is not. All powers in an office, besides planning for parties, are for the men (Griffin p. 4).

Just like Michael Scott in ‘the Office”, Jack Donaghy in the “30 Rock” is also seen as the conservative corporate head of the office. He is also more powerful that his boss Liz Lemon just because she is a woman. For example, in the third season, “The Natural Order”, just like in the Office, it shows that gender equality means that men should have more powers than women, especially in the workplace. While people make fun of him for being obsessed with profits and prestige, Jack has become the voice of reason and emotional center of the show. When looked at keenly, the 30 Rock show storyline as a whole shows Liz Lemon becoming more like jack but not vice versa. Jack is seen as being exaggerated, someone who is through, he believes in profits and hates taxes, does not appreciate the existence of unions, and likes forcing his ideas and beliefs on others. His lack of religion is the only thing that differentiates him from stereotypical American Republicans. He falls out with his Puerto Rican girlfriend because of his bitter atheism although they are later reunited. Although Jack comes out as being conservative, he is not mocked as much as other characters like Liz Lemon. He is shown as the most grounded, most reasonable character on the show something that again shows the magnitude which gender carries. This is seen clearly in the pilot episode where jack as the head of microwave programming, ruins Liz Lemons show with his evil corporatist ideas, when Liz complains, he makes her hire Tracy Jordan. Tracy makes Liz’s life more difficulty, but makes the show much better, and more profitable than before. When Tracy quits later on, everyone, including Liz who was opposing him, can’t wait to have him back. This only serves to show that Jack and not Liz, was right all alone (Mlawski par. 9).

In “the Office”, Michael is seen as someone who is inappropriate and ignorant with little self awareness. He uses verbal violence to gain social control over the other employees. This is seen in the episode, “The Alliance” where by he refers to his female employees in the party planning committee as his party planning biatches. This is just but subordination using verbal aggression to gain control, something that Michael does in two ways. First he takes them to be his, meaning they area below him, both as employees and also as females and therefore his property. Secondly, he calls them biatches, something other than human. In referring to them as his property and less human, Michael makes sure that they know that they are his subordinates and therefore he can control them in which way he feels appropriate. This view sends a powerful message which, if the show is taken as a satirical comedy, shows that his actions only reinforce his ignorance and misunderstanding but not the stereotypes and social norms. The viewer gets to understand through him that social norms and stereotypes are products of ignorance and misunderstanding from the people. This counters the norms that are related to gender, class, race, hegemonic hierarchy, and sexuality. This is exceptionally effective and powerful in that it manages to place just a single factor as the cause of the many social norms and stereotypes (Griffin p. 5).

The issue of race comes out in Tracy Jordan a character in the show 30 Rock. His character is brought out to be different from the others. On various occasions, he is shown as being slothful, illiterate, negligent husband and father, prodigal, lecherous, covetous, jealous, corrupt, and all sorts of vices. He is presented as carrying a unique medley of defects that makes him exist on a different platform than others especially Liz and Jack who have all the good qualities. He is not praised for anything substantial other than generating laughter. The writers of this show no very well that they have lumped all the stereo types and racially loaded qualities in one character. What this writer should know is that stereotypes can not be used ironically if they are not subverted. This, if watched over many years, may one day backfire. Because many of the blacks will see themselves in Tracy’s shoes and feel that they are wrongly portrayed. The dexterity and tools needed to address the issue of stereotypes must be proportionally equal to that stereotype. This is where 30 Rock fails miserably (Mlawski par. 10).


From the characters in the two TV shows it is clear that many issues are brought out from their acting. What comic writers should know is that they are required to interact with people of different race, gender, and social background and even become friends with them in the process. Once a comic writer acquires friends through his or her works, who are from different racial backgrounds and of different gender, he or she will experience the process in which unfamiliar ethnicities and gender inequalities fade away from the exotic to the ordinary, and in the process realize that stereotypes are not reductions or simplifications of people, but rather, masks that are involuntarily worn by those who seen more than they are heard. From ‘The Office”, characters are often used to portray images that strengthen social norms and stereotypes. But it also has those that counter these stereotypes and social norms. What is important is that the show tells its viewers that ignorance is the main issue that fuels the many social norms and stereotypes that are so prevalent in the society today.