Representation of femininity and masculinity in Men Behaving Badly

What does society conventionally expect of men and women?



  • Like sports cars
  • Like expensive toys
  • Be able to cope
  • Be capable
  • Be responsible
  • Be emotionally stable
  • Secure
  • Competitive
  • Be unable to commit
  • Invulnerable
  • Intelligent
  • Possessive
  • Stable not whimsical
  • The breadwinner
  • Dominant
  • Command respect in the home and at work.
  • Honest
  • Jealous of their women
  • Fight for what’s theirs
  • Dependable
  • In control
  • Sensible
  • Be like male animals: strut swagger and fight!
  • Be successful


They are allowed to

  • Be untidy
  • Forget dates
  • Not understand women
  • Be unhelpful around the home
  • Need a woman to look after them
  • Not grow up
  • Be emotionally hopeless
  • Be unable to express themselves


If left alone, women assume men will

  • Slob around
  • Do nothing useful
  • Behave like children
  • Watch TV especially football or other ‘male’ programmes!
  • Use coarse language
  • Objectify women
  • Drink too much



Masculine characteristics represented here

Challenge to his masculinity, competitiveness:

Debs suggests a dinner party, but that Gary would need more than two days to organise it; his response is that she obviously hasn’t given very many dinner parties plus he adds the word ‘sophisticated’ to compete with hers.


Judging by his clothing and the refuge in drink Gary is not a success in his business or his relationship; in his work there is a certain lack of success because he refers to his employees both as mad and middle-aged, plus he’s hardly busy!


Do Anthea and George respect him? Probably not, he’s very rude, ‘Go, go, go type something…’ he’s dismissive of their capabilities and only sees them as adjuncts of himself.

Love of Toys:

As seen in the posters of red sports cars, the nodding dog, dartboard and target, guitar and adult mags.


Paper towel aeroplanes (can’t do roses but knows that this is what is expected), plus every other aspect of the dinner party shows him as a complete failure even: ‘But you’re my only friend and you know that you ponce!’

Inability to understand women:

Gary; ‘Deb,you’re a girl…’ Deb: ‘No I was a girl now I’m a woman’

Gary; ‘How does that work then?’

Like males in the animal kingdom:

At first upon Dorothy’s defection Gary’s self-esteem is laid low, he can’t understand what she sees in this new man but certainly won’t listen in case he learns something he doesn’t want to hear.

He tries to talk to her on the phone but uses typically childish tactics to try to make her jealous, ‘A BBC soundtrack and his friend making sucking noises,’ a ploy she has no difficulty seeing through; but the ‘challenge’ that Deb is inviting Dorothy and the new boyfriend to a dinner party reawakens Gary’s pride and he responds by declaring that he will do the same either to make Dorothy jealous or to remind her of the good times they had (i.e. he won’t now give in without a fight.) Later when they inadvertently meet in the hall Gary tries to put down the new man and his moped, but learns to his cost that he rides a Harley Davidson, which in turn provokes his childish sense of competition and the camera pans to let us see Gary mouthing, ‘A Harley Davidson’ with his mouth all puckered up in a sneer.





Tony tells Jill he’s been saving himself for the girl upstairs. And later when she asks if the photographs in the magazine turn him on, he admits, ‘Well yeah…she’s naked.!’ Expecting another woman to understand!


Gary is seen as scared of change and certainly in no way clear how to initiate it himself: ‘Meet new people, good idea…and how do I do that?’

It is important to remember that although written by a man (Simon Nye) it is produced by a woman (Beryl Vertue) and her touch is clearly evident here. So the viewer is treated to a meld of how women think men think women see them and how women think men think women see themselves!

The archetypal sit-com in Britain was based round the dysfunctional male, the man with frustrated ambitions, who felt himself a failure in life. Sit-coms are then unique in allowing women to have the pre-eminent position within the narrative; to be successful, to have the power, to have the last word and to show the male to be incompetent and dependent on her. It is marked that even though here in this genre, almost without exception men are shown as failures yet the superiority of the woman is clearly restricted to the domestic domain, therefore ensuring that women are not seen as real threat, and that it is acceptable to for women to be superior in this one area.

(Take Roz for example in Frasier, although the producer of his show, she is rarely shown doing the actual technical work and always defers to him in decision making and seeks his advice in her personal life thus allowing him to reassert any superiority he might have lost through their hierarchical positions at work.)

Audience Pleasures:

Viewers can gain pleasure from watching this sit-com a number of ways:

Superiority – women particularly gain pleasure from seeing the women constantly outwit and belittle the men. We are allowed to laugh at them as they are portrayed as if through women’s eyes and also at ourselves as we see us through their eyes as house-proud, overly sensitive, lacking a sense of humour and in the habit of deliberately undermining men’s efforts. Yet paradoxically the men do win their affections (while most of us are probably sitting at home shouting no at our screens!!) Another aspect of this is the superiority those of us with partners feel over Gary and Tony’s continuous efforts to find the perfect relationship in the sure knowledge that they won’t!

Intertextuality – there are two elements at work here, one is the references to British culture and the other is references to other British media and current affairs which in spotting them enable us to feel superior and in on the joke.

In-jokes – all series, like the Simpsons with their catchphrases, build up their own history and by making references to past events that have happened on the show the viewer is made to feel a part of a special group who are in the know. “They’ll be singing the Lady in Red.”

Sympathy or empathy – Through our identification with particular characters we come to feel a certain loyalty to them and that their fate matters, this keeps us tuning in.

Circularity of narrative – this is the fact that each episode comes full circle during the 30 minutes so we are not left hanging, this reassurance that all will be well appeals to many.

Reinforcement – e.g. of what men all ‘know’ women really want, ‘Richard Gere in a leafy glade…’ or what men are really like: lager swilling, insensitive louts, binds us closer together in mutual agreement or appreciation.

Incongruity – Gary: “You know what’s the worst thing…”, Tony: “Getting your balls caught between two bricks.”

Childishness – “It’s a Harley Davidson actually.” Gary mimicking Jamie. Or the two lads shaking up beer cans in the opening sequence.

The Battle of the sexes – seeing what the battle will be over this week and predicting who will win.

Smut, bad language and double meanings – “yank yer plank”

Comic Conventions

Slapstick or Farce – The bird pooping on Gary’s shoulder, not once but twice, also an ironic metaphor for his relationship with Dorothy. Or Tony getting hit on the head with football and falling over.

Anticipation – Gary thrusting a knife into the wine box and red wine predictably gushing out all over him. Tony and the magazine, we know he’s not thrown them out (after all a leopard can’t change its spots.) What will happen when Jill finds them?

Irony – Tony: “Dorothy loves you very much, she said so. She said she didn’t deserve you.” We know as does Gary that what she really meant was that she didn’t know what she’d done to deserve him.


Visual gags – Tony cleaning a glass on his shirt tails but the camera angle makes it seem as if he’s doing something much ruder!

Double entendres – most jokes are in some way sexual.

Timing – e.g. the bird poop – twice!

Repeated motifs – catchphrases or repeated actions like the drunken stupour or Lady in Red.

Smut – the song ‘I’m a wanker…’ and other examples of coarse language.

Characters’ flaws – Tony’s slowness to catch on.

Objectification of women

There are three stages in this episode:

  • The mags and Tony’s, “But she’s naked..”
  • Their dialogue when they discuss why women are so sensitive about being treated as objects and that it must mean being likened to a vase! Followed by a discussion of ‘artistic’ poses for men’s magazines and that women should be able to have their own.
  • And finally the debate about whether if they had to choose would it be buttocks or breasts.


All summed up by the much vaunted, by women, idea that men just don’t understand them. Here they freely admit they do not!


Women learn that they were right all along men are just overgrown little boys who are obsessed with booze and sex and men learn that they were, just…., right…….!


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