Jan 2003 exemplar answer
The TV sit-coms ‘Man About the House‘ and ‘Men Behaving Badly‘ offer two very different views of gender representations as much because of the time they were made as because of the content of the programmes themselves.
Both programmes discuss gender as a central issue. In MATH Robin transgresses the patriarchal male role model by being domesticated and liking to cook – (in fact he’s a cookery student but Chrissie would rather he didn’t mention this in front of more sophisticated men like the accountant or architect at the dance.) this concept is enhanced by his being dressed in a flamboyant woman’s dressing gown. His actions are also quite camp. In this programme domestication and transvestism are benchmarks of what it means to be gay.
In MBB Gary discusses what it means to be gay and cites ‘Antique Shop’ and ‘hairstyle’ as factors indicating Tony’s gayness. In addition to this he believes what he wears, where he holidays and what he does for a living also mark Tony out as homosexual. Gary’s old fashioned bigotry are similar to George’s in MATH.
George will not even touch Robin when he thinks he may be gay, as though it may be some sort of transmissible disease, though his wife Mildred obviously doesn’t think much of his manhood, constantly emasculating him through her dialogue, ‘I think I recognise a man from memory’ and ‘you can hardly keep the pot boiling down here.’
Dorothy, in MBB, also castrates Gary by attacking his sexual prowess, ‘the man with the live animal down his trousers’ sarcastically. This turning of traditional roles on their heads is known as Carnival theory and here Dorothy and Mildred both retain the upper hand in their humiliation of their men.
Both men too are represented as bigoted and homophobic while Tony by contrast is shown as having pictures of naked women on his wall a stereotypical male characteristic. He also assumes all women can sew and his current love Debbie conforms to that stereotype. In addition to this Tony confidently lies to get women to sleep with him assuming they wouldn’t if he didn’t!
By complete contrast Jo and Chrissy in MATH transgress their ideological gender patterns by being undomesticated, ‘if you get the urge, and can remember how, feel free to do the washing up,’ says Robin; by being brazenly sexual beings, they talk openly about their latest lusts and conquests (quite radical in the 70s), and quite slobbish in that they expect Robin to do the tidying up. He has become a mother hen to them even while openly admitting to fancying Chrissy and constantly asking her out. They in turn take advantage of him in the way that children do of their mothers.
Jo however does conform to another stereotype
that of the dumb blonde; she can do nothing for herself not even boil an egg and her only apparent topics of conversation are shopping, clothes and men! Chrissy too is quite undomesticated but cleverer than Jo; this was a stereotype of the female student of the 1970s. Whereas Deb and Dorothy from MBB are unashamedly domesticated but also hold down well respected jobs. In fact there isn’t anything they cannot do and in that programme both men are represented as failures as is George in MATH. Gary though he has a job and would like to believe he has some power, at heart realises it isn’t real power and smarts a bit from Dorothy’s stinging attacks on his abilities in all realms. She is good at undermining his masculinity and he and Tony usually take refuge in the ubiquitous cans of beer or in singing ‘Lady in Red’ (badly). Tony of course is often unemployed or if he is, it is doing something a trained monkey could probably do better. Mildred, Dorothy and Deb are predominantly the males in their relationships, in control, strong and overtly superior to the men.
Our understanding and acceptance of gender roles comes from the ideological views and values of society. In the 1970s the male is the character who can get away with sleeping around, be the bread winner and act the dominant patriarchal figure in society and relationships. The representation of Robin in MATH challenges this ideological view and makes his persona comic. He is clearly a sensitive man; he is interested in cooking, drinks cherry brandy miniatures and wears an outrageous apron! George by contrast likes to believe he is the dominant figure, master in his own house but is quite clearly not at all. He is emasculated by his wife, his authority and intelligence constantly undermined and therefore his portrayal subverts the traditional male representation.
His wife too, who should be the traditional weaker domesticated female, housewife figure, is not that either! Her role challenges the accepted ideology but this is acceptable by situation comedy standards since it is almost the sole genre in which women are allowed to reign supreme, where males are allowed to fail and be laughed at for doing so. In all other areas of life and television males reign just as they do in our patriarchal society.
Both texts disrupt the equilibrium in terms of the way gender is portrayed and can be interpreted as radical. Unfortunately in Men Behaving Badly life has imitated art. Society empathised with these men who meant to represent arrogant and sexist, unreconstructed males suddenly became role models. These two men were archetypes in a time of political correctness but the eighties gave rise to a new era of ‘laddishness’ in which with post-modern irony it became alright to go out with the lads, get drunk, have one night stands and be proud of it. Hence Gary and Tony never learn better, never become reformed characters but remain quite happy with their juvenile behaviour, to the eternal disgust of their women!
Both texts transgress and overturn traditional gender roles. But both texts restore the equilibrium at the end of the episode by conforming to social ideologies and stereotypical views of their time e.g Robin is disgusted at the idea of homosexuality and Gary and Tony conform to lad culture stereotype which the programme encourages the viewers to condemn (though as observed earlier this wasn’t entirely successful!)