By Jake Moross:
In our reading for this week, one thing that was written about was the difference between household sitcoms and workplace sitcoms, particularly in the way that they promoted different gender norms. Namely, household sitcoms promote the idea that reliance and dependence on family is more of a norm whereas in the workplace sitcom, most people are depicted as single, hardworking individuals who are capable of independence in a way that was not seen in the household sitcoms. Despite the fact that they are both sitcoms, they appear in quality to be very different types of television, in my opinion. The workplace sitcom, supposedly, breaks down the sexist gender norms that were common to earlier household sitcoms – particularly ones that held that the mother was to be an obedient caregiver whereas the father was to be the hardworking breadwinner. But now, in workplace sitcoms, the woman is able to hold her own in the workplace – she can be single, not dependent on the family, and still have an active role in the workplace. This, of course, is a huge step forward in the promotion of equal gender norms of television. Nevertheless, the workplace sitcoms don’t completely fix the problem. One thing that is clear through these shows is that in the workplace, the man and woman do not hold equal roles. Yes, they are both able to work and be independent beings who are not dependent on their families but women are depicted as simply incapable of working the same, difficult jobs that the men hold. Therefore they are depicted as working lesser jobs, such as secretary or receptionist roles, while the men are doing the difficult labor.
You would think that over the last forty years this would have changed, especially considering the strong representation that women have in all fields of work. But if we think about a show like The Office, a prototypical workplace sitcom, the women in the show not only occupy lesser roles (roles where they work for the men) but are also, for the most part, sexualized and spoken to and about in clearly demeaning ways. So yes – workplace sitcoms do in large part eliminate gendered stereotypes, but they don’t do so completely, and instead they further the idea that women are lesser than men, even in contexts where they are able to exist independently.