Thursday, May 13, 2010

Constructs of Femininity and Masculinity in an Aspect of Popular Culture

Blog Post #2

Masculinity and Femininity in Everybody Loves Raymond Regarding the Characters of Raymond and Debra

Based on the characters of the television sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, the norms associated with masculinity as well as femininity are both supported and challenged. The roles and characteristics of males and females are evident, yet what is expected of each gender is also counteracted. Therefore, masculinity and femininity are portrayed as normative on the one hand and unusual on the other. Through the characters of Raymond and Debra, an understanding of masculinity and femininity is constructed which results from their actions, responsibilities, and relationship to one another. These characters provide insight as to what it means to be a man and a woman by how Raymond and Debra carry out their roles as well as deviate from them.

In the show, the norms of masculinity and femininity regarding females keeping the house and caring for the children, while the males are out making a living for their families are supported. Debra is the stay-at-home mom who depends on Raymond for the household income. She is often seen doing the laundry, driving the children to their extracurricular activities, and making dinner. In contrast, Raymond is busy working on his column as a sports writer, he is honored for his work by notable people and companies, and he goes on business trips. These characters construct an understanding of masculinity and femininity in terms of illuminating the different roles and responsibilities of each gender. To be a man is to have the duty of making the money, whereas to be a woman is carrying out the role of a housewife and caretaker.

These normative perspectives of masculinity and femininity are highlighted in “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media” by David M. Newman. In terms of how gender is depicted in the media, it is stated, “In addition, males are more likely to be portrayed in some kind of recognizable occupation, whereas females are more likely to be cast in the role of caregiver (Thompson & Zerbinos, 1995)” (Newman 90). This is the case for Raymond and Debra as they exemplify how the media and popular culture perceive men and women. They construct an understanding of masculinity and femininity by making it apparent that the man is the one who works outside of the home, while the woman is the one who takes care of everything within it. In this sense, Everybody Loves Raymond has maintained the typical notions of masculinity and femininity based on these characters.

Looking at these characters from a different perspective, Raymond and Debra do not fit the gender norms that have been constructed by society as well as the media. In terms of masculinity, Raymond is not the typical aggressive and tough man. He is actually portrayed as inferior to Debra who consistently speaks her mind and puts him in his place. Therefore, femininity is not represented as passive and weak; rather, Debra is the one who wears the pants in the family. To be a woman is to be strong-willed and outspoken, and to be a man is to be the one who is controlled. Raymond and Debra switch gender roles and deviate from what is expected of their masculinity and femininity.

Based on Raymond’s inability to establish power over his wife, it is clear that he does not possess the qualities men typically have in a patriarchal culture. In “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us” by Allan G. Johnson, he states, “To have power over and to be 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’)” (94). Through Raymond and Debra, masculinity and femininity are portrayed as the opposite of these norms. These characters do not support their constructed gender characteristics; rather, they disrupt them by him not acting as a man should and her not acting womanly. In this way, Raymond and Debra construct an understanding of masculinity and femininity by showing that not always do men and women meet gender standards.

Although Raymond has deviated from the conventional aggressive male image, this character does support and represent a different image of the male gender which is less flattering. He is often seen acting like a child in terms of having to always be taken care of by either Debra or his mother, being unaware of what is taking place around him, and having strong sexual desires. Raymond differs greatly from traditional male characters who have power over those around them, which masculinity is portrayed as the gender that should be joked about. The character of Raymond illustrates that to be a man is to not be taken very seriously based on his immature behavior.

Newman gives insight to this portrayal of masculinity which contrasts to Johnson’s explanation of men within a patriarchal culture. Johnson states, “It’s about … the ‘naturalness’ of male aggression, competition, and dominance…” (94). Raymond does not have these attributes; instead, this character’s masculinity is represented as how Newman describes men in the media. He states, “It is not uncommon for men in prime-time comedies to be depicted as rude, crude, sex-crazed, childish, egotistical, and stupid” (Newman 94). Most of these characteristics that are associated with the male gender relate to Raymond, which he constructs an understanding of masculinity in a way that shows how this gender is not always intimidating, harsh, and tough.

The characters of Raymond and Debra both support and go against the norms of masculinity and femininity, making me better understand what it means to be a man and a woman. It is evident that Raymond exemplifies how being a male is to be the breadwinner, but clueless and dominated. In addition, Debra shows how a woman is the caregiver while also being strong and powerful. Their genders, which are portrayed typically on the one hand and differently on the other, provide a sense of how the standards of masculinity and femininity can be deviated from just as easily as they can be met.

Works Cited

Everybody Loves Raymond. By Philip Rosenthal. Perf. Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton. CBS. WCBS, New York. 13 Sept. 1996.

Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple UP, 1997. 91-8.

Newman, David M. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 71-105.