Modern Family Analysis: A Look at Gender Roles
Modern Family has been a breakout comedy series this year. It's a fabulously hysterical show that had me laughing at every episode. The characters are endearing and loving and often remind us of people that we know ourselves. I do love the show and I think its amazingly funny. However, while I watched the show over the course of its season-long run, there were several themes that dealt with gender roles of the characters that really bothered me. What I aim to do is point those roles and stereotypes out and simply discuss them.
Okay I'm going to start with just an overview of all of of the families.
Jay Pritchett, Gloria and Manny Delgado
After divorcing his first wife, Jay married the much young Gloria, a sassy beautiful Colombian woman. Gloria's son, Manny, also joined the family. Manny is a little odd. He acts like a 30 year old metrosexual man. It's a little weird sometimes.But Jay and Gloria together are really funny. I have a soft spot for Jay because he really reminds me of my dad sometimes haha. Gloria is just. Well she's gorgeous. I love her beautiful long curly hair and even though I have incredibly awesome blonde hair, I would so trade my hair for her hair. It's just beautiful. And I adore her accent. My boyfriend and I love saying things in Gloria's accent. Especially "floppy" and "yes." She says "yes" like "jyes." It's awesome.
Anyways so Jay is pretty much retired. He doesn't work anyways. Gloria doesn't either. And Manny goes to school. So Manny's kind of the only one who DOES stuff during the day haha. Gloria is portrayed at first as a stereotypical gold digger. I mean she's like. I dunno how many years younger than Jay and I mean Jay's no George Clooney. But throughout the season we see that they actually mesh pretty well together and are kind of cute. Love, happiness, harmony, etc, etc.
Phil, Claire, Hailey, Alex, and Luke Dunphy
Claire is Jay's daughter (from his first marriage, obviously). Claire is the uptight, stay at home mom whose job it is to take care of the house and kids. Typical. Phil is just. Phil is kind of nuts, but in a lovable kind of way. He's like a big puppy that just kind of blunders everywhere. It's slightly endearing. He also just. Makes trouble everywhere he goes. Anyways, the three kids, Hailey, Alex and Luke, are just, you know, typical kids. Hailey's the gorgeous, yet less... academic older sister. Alex is the witty, sarcastic, and extremely talented and ambitious middle child, and Luke is... more like a dog than a younger brother.
And that's pretty much it for them.
Mitchell Pritchett, Cameron Tucker and Lily (Pritchett-Tucker? Tucker-Pritchett?)
This is my favorite family on the show. Mitchell is Jay's son and Claire's sister. Cameron is his boyfriend/partner. They're not married (I can't remember where they live but it must be where gay marriage is illegal), but the show treats them as if they are, which is good, I think. Anyways, these two are hysterical and provide a lot of the comic relief on the show. I am a lot like Mitchell. I'm actually most like Mitchell. Sometimes I find myself identifying myself with Claire, but Mitchell is just as uptight and anxious as Claire, but he also works and has a driving career ambition, which makes it much easier for me to identify with him instead.
Lily is absolutely. Adorable. I swear to God, I want to steal that little baby and dress her up myself. Lily and her little stuffed doggie are. So. CUTE. Seriously. Every time she comes on screen I squee like a fangirl. It's ridiculous.
Anyways, okay so enough introductions, let's get into some deeper stuff.
First, we're going to start of positively, talking about some of the positive stuff that this show does for gender roles.
Mostly, I'll be talking about Mitchell and Cam. I'll try to brainstorm some positive gender role stuff that the other two families do but I'm really not coming up with anything (except maybe Alex).
The characters Cam and Mitchell really offer a diverse field of options for the show's writers to play with. They are gay and definitely do possess some stereotypical gay characteristics, but they are not confined to those boxes, which I think is really good.
So I'll start with talking about Cam and Mitchell as parents. For some ridiculous reason, there is controversy over whether or not gay couples should be able to adopt children. Without really going into detail or getting too political about this, I'm just going to say that anyone should be able to see that a loving family with two parents is better than a child being alone. Gay people are people too. They are capable of loving just as much as heterosexual people.
I feel like the two main reasons why people are so opposed to gay people adopting children is because 1. children will be more likely to be gay if they're raised by gay parents and 2. people have the horrible stereotype that gay people are also pedophiles.
Bear with me as I talk about each of these two points (or don't and just skip ahead to where I actually talk about the show haha).
Okay, let's just think about this logically for a minute. Yes, it is true. Children do learn behavior from their parents. Children typically adopt the same religious beliefs, political beliefs, and behavioral ideals as their parents. Some don't of course, but for the most part, you learn a lot of behavioral patterns from your parents. So the "fear" of adopted children with gay parents themselves becoming gay would seem to make sense.
The first flaw with this argument is that this seems to assume that being gay is wrong. Otherwise what would be the problem with kids being gay?
The second flaw then is that if a kid is gay, then he's gay. But if he's straight, then he's straight. Unlike a lot of heterosexual parents, I feel like gay parents would be more open to accepting a child whose sexual orientation is different than theirs since they've had to endure not being accepted. A child who is raised by gay parents might be inclined to explore his or her sexuality more than a child of heterosexual parents since they live within a house that is outside of the society norm. His home experience tells him one thing while society tells him another thing, so there's bound to be exploration, naturally.
The second reason why people seem to be so opposed to gay adoption is that they have this stereotype that associated gayness with pedophilia. This is the unfortunate result of media tactics. In one of my communication classes, we watched public service announcements that were televised decades ago that literally told people to "beware of the homosexual" because they prey on children and they are sick in the mind.
This is, of course, ludicrous. There are heterosexual pedophiles as well as homosexual pedophiles, but just because you're gay doesn't mean you like little kids and just because you're straight doesn't mean you like little kids. People have the need to draw such distinctions between themselves and gay people and I just do not understand it. Gay people are just. People. They have feelings, emotions, dreams, hopes, desires just like we do. They are different just like we are and they are the same just like we are. It's ridiculous to draw such lines between people when really we are all so similar.
I had an encounter with someone who associated gayness with pedophilia just a few months ago, and if you've read my other posts, you can skip this story since I've told it before. At a communication dinner with some professors and students, somehow the topic of Harry Potter came up and Dumbledore's sexuality came up too. An obnoxious guy who was sitting across from me made a snide remark about how Dumbledore being gay now made every moment he had with Harry weird and awkward.
Feeling instantly on edge, I asked coolly why he would say that. He stopped for a second and said, "Well, he's gay, isn't he? It's just weird."
"Well what about his 'moments' with Professor McGonagall?," I retorted. "Were those weird?"
He essentially became embarrassed and stopped talking and the dinner ended, but man was I angry. The nerve of some people to think such things.
Just because a person is gay does not mean that he is attracted to EVERY person of the same sex. Once again, I have to stress that gay people are just like heterosexual people. If you're straight, you don't have a thing for EVERY girl/guy that you see, do you? No. I was certainly not attracted to the obnoxious guy who made the Dumbledore comment. I am a straight girl. Does that mean I am attracted to every male I see? Certainly not. I'm pretty sure that would mean complete disaster for my entire life.
Anyways. Those two reasons why people don't think it's okay for gay parents to adopt a child are ridiculous. Gay couples are capable of loving a child just as much as straight parents are. It is natural for two people who love each other to want to share and raise a child. Why should sexual orientation matter at all?
Anyways, now that I'm done with that rant, I'll continue onto how it relates to Modern Family. Obviously I'm extremely pleased that within the first episode, Cam and Mitchell have gone against the taboo and adopted a baby. Beautiful little Lily. In that sense, I am very happy that the show portrays Cam and Mitchell not just as two gay men, but as two gay men in a serious, committed relationship that functions as a marriage and as two gay men who can also be parents. I dare you to find another couple on television that are as doting and loving as Cam and Mitchell. Seriously.
Another thing that I am extremely pleased with Cam and Mitchell's portrayal on the show is their versatility as males. Too often, gay males are cast as simply that -- gay. That is all they are to the story line and plot. Simply gay. However, both Cam and Mitchell each bring something more to that stereotype to make their characters more rounded as gay men.
Cam has several angles. He has his "gay features," which include the way he dresses in pastels and is very aware of what he wears. He loves to dress Lily up in all sorts of ridiculous costumes (presenting Lily as Simba to introduce to the rest of the family? GENIUS). He loves girly movies, musicals, etc, etc. However, Cam is not just the big gay guy. He has a lot of what society would call "manly" aspects too. He loves football and sports and actually was a very good football player in college. He grew up on a farm and has no problem getting dirty. He seems to have come from a rather conservative family but they seem to have really embraced him growing up since he really doesn't have attachment issues like Mitchell does.
The fact that Cam is portrayed as both a flamboyant gay man and also a "manly man" is a really great thing that the show does because it shows that being gay does not automatically exclude a guy from being "a guy." I have mentioned in a previous post about Glee about how Kurt Hummel has a hard time understanding what it means to be "a guy." I don't think that this is necessarily a flaw that Glee has, but it is refreshing to see a character on TV who is able to be both gay and enjoy typically masculine activities and possess typically masculine traits. He is extremely protective of Mitchell (see Bozo the Clown episode) as well.
In addition to being a manly man, Cam's personality is also juxtaposed with his extremely soft nature as a very maternal figure. He simply dotes on Lily and adores her and gave up his career to be a stay at home dad. This aspect of Cam is really refreshing because it really shows that gay people can really be just as good at parenting as straight parents.
Mitchell is also a really interesting gay character because he also has "gay features" paired with some traditional "masculine features." Mitchell named his pets super frilly names. He dresses meticulously. He talks very particularly. He agonizes over extremely fine details at the house, etc, etc. However, Mitchell takes on a very masculine role in the career aspect of his and Cam's relationship. Whereas Cam gave up his career to stay home with Lily, Mitchell cannot stand to spend two straight weeks alone with Lily in the house. This does NOT by any means mean that Mitchell is a bad parent, but simply infers that Mitchell needs that element of a career in his life, something that I completely identify with. I simply could never ever be a stay at home mother. Ever. I need to be out of the house and doing something and working. I just could not spend 24/7 cleaning and cooking and being with children under the age of two all day. For me and Mitchell, a career is important to our lives. Thus, Mitchell, a gay man, takes on the role of breadwinner, a traditionally masculine role. Mitchell doesn't just take on a career, but a very ambitious career. Mitchell is obviously extremely smart since he's a lawyer, and so this other side of Mitchell paired with his sexual orientation is definitely a step in the right direction for Modern Family.
In terms of the other families on the show, the only other positive thing I have to say about them is that Alex, the middle daughter of Phil and Claire, is a great example of a strong female role. She is extraordinarily bright and usually likes to distance herself as much as possible from her rather ditzy older sister, Hailey. She does still want to feel pretty, just like every other teenage girl, and thankfully, Gloria helps her with that issue. So, go Alex!
After a small exploration of the positive aspects of what Modern Family does for gender roles, I'm going to talk about some things that I really wish the show would work on or that I wish they would change altogether. I'm emphasize again that I really do love this show and I criticize because I love, just as any try fan does.
So let's get to it.
As much as I admire Modern Family for really playing with and exploring the characteristics of gay characters on TV, I still feel like they're falling a bit short. However, I think this is mostly due to audience reception rather than the preferences of the show's writers. In just about every episode, Claire and Phil or Gloria and Jay give each other a loving little peck. I'm not even talking about a full on the lips kiss, though those are in there every once in awhile too. However, not once have I ever seen Cam or Mitchell display any kind of loving affection towards one another except in the form of a pat on the leg or a hug. No kiss. No holding hands (I could be wrong, but it's definitely not a common occurrence). I'm not even sure we've really seen them just sitting in bed together.
That's about the most I recall seeing of their physical interaction.
I think it's really sad that as modern and progressive as this show attempts to be sometimes, it's really disheartening that the show can't even show a peck from one to the other.
Another thing that really irks me about the gender roles in this shows is that ALL of the main women in the show are stay at home moms. And here, I'm going to count Cam as a "mom" simply because he acts more maternal. Obviously this goes against everything that I stand for, that gay people do not have to fall into the heteronormative "one father, one mother," but that is the dichotomy that the show casts Cam into.
Claire once had an incredible job that she gave up for her kids. Some mothers really have the desire to do this. Maybe it's because that I just cannot fathom this desire. I don't know. But Gloria doesn't worked either. She may have used to work before she married Jay, but she certainly doesn't now. Maybe it's just because Jay has a lot of money and she doesn't need to work. But the fact is is that in every one of these family, the show portrays a family with one stay at home parents, the woman. The woman cleans, and cooks, and essentially cares for the children. It is as if the show is saying, "This is what an ideal family looks like. The father goes to work, the woman stays home." It irritates me that a show can show so many facets of familial life and yet doesn't bother to show a working woman.
Cam and Mitchell's plot line actually did discuss this dichotomy in one episode, after Mitchell had quit his job to spend more time with Lily and Cam had taken up teaching or something again in order to bring in some money. And it did show that some people are just different than others. Some really enjoy the home life and some must have that aspect of their life outside of the home.
I need for everyone to understand that I don't in anyway criticize stay at home moms. They do a job that I could never do. I want to have my own kids but I could not be a stay at home mom. My problem with Modern Family is not that they portray stay at home moms but that every woman in the show is a stay at home mom. Claire is, Cam is, and Gloria is.
The way that Mitchell talked about staying at home with Lily and how it was driving him crazy is exactly how I would feel and at times I was jealous of the way that Cam described how much he loved staying home with Lily. I bet it brings people like Cam so much joy to stay home and watch every step their children make. Mitchell and I though are different kinds of people.
Anyways, I just wish that Claire had been written as a working mother. Cam already has the role of stay at home parent covered. I just don't think it was necessary to have Claire as one too. She could have easily been the same character even if she just had a part-time job. She would have been just as detailed and uptight and anxious at work as she would have been at home.
Anyways. I thought that I was going to have a lot more to say about this, but apparently I'm all out of ideas haha. I hope that what I've said was at least thought provoking and has encouraged you to take a look at your own favorite shows and look at the gender roles and relationships that the characters have with each other and the types of stereotypes that they either portray or break.
I am going to be out of town for the next week, so I won't have any postings then, but I am preparing either a full TV show roundup where I recap my favorite parts and least favorite parts of my favorite TV shows of the past year or a seasonal recap of the first season of Glee. Both will be coming eventually, just depends on which one is first.
I hope everyone is having a great week and have a great weekend!