Richard Butsch conducts a content analysis to how gender has been used to construct contrasting images of the working class and the middle class within American domestic TV sitcoms. Butsch obtained information from viewing episodes, reading scripts, and descriptions of episodes and reviews and constructed an analysis from 1946-1989 and then extended this work to 1999-2000. Domestic situation sitcoms are defined as half hour series in which the main characters are members of a family and majority of the action happens among these family members. The results of the research were that, within each decade, TV sitcoms continued to establish class based on gender. A man displaying typical feminine-traits, or non-masculine traits, such as an inability to lead his household and provide for his children, is typically seen in working-class sitcoms and rarely in middle-class sitcoms. Working class men are depicted as immature and unintelligent, while working class women tend to be more sensible and responsible then their husbands while the children are smarter than their fathers. This reminded me of an episode of American Dad, “Irregarding Steve”, where Steve realizes his dad isn’t as smart as he may seem. Stan mocks the image of the middle class man, as he represents a wealthy ‘competent’ husband yet possesses the qualities of a working class man. In another episode, Stan pushes his wife into a pool at a party when she embarrasses him with a poorly timed joke (placing her in the ditzy blonde department of middle class women, yet she’s more of a working class). Later in the same episode, Stan gets pushed into a pool after embarrassing his neighbour, Greg. This could be seen as a symbol of emasculation as this gender role reversal may feminize Stan by placing him in Francine’s position. However, Greg is depicted as a gay man within the show – does this mean Stan is being referred to as the “woman” in the relationship, embarrassing the dominant man? Or is it more of a mockery of traditional gender roles by reversing Stan’s status?
In the article, “The Man Inside; Trauma, Gender, and Nation in the Brave One”, King claims that although the film may seem to show concerns about the nation and masculinity, “it does so in order to reinscribe white, masculinized, and heteronormative construction of the masterful nation-state.” By placing a strong female figure as lead and emphasizing her masculine qualities, through a sense of “female masculinity”, only supports the notion that women need to be manly in order to have power. So, in relation to the depictions of gender and class in sitcoms, women need to possess masculine traits in order to support their dumb feminine husbands. Do viewers see sitcoms like this and think “Oh, so I can just sit on my ass and have a babe love me and take care of me?” Do shows like “King of Queens” and “According to Jim” support hegemonic masculinity by making it the norm to have incompetent, lazy, husbands or do they mirror images of society?
King, C. S. (2010). The Man Inside: Trauma, Gender, and the Nation in The Brave
One. Critical Studies In Media Communication, 27(2), 111-130.
Butsch, R. (2003).A Half Century of Class and Gender in American TV Domestic
Sitcoms. Cercles 8: 13 – 64.