Gender Disciplining in Scrubs
In American society, mass media and pop culture there is a constant underlying struggle for women. From day one in any type of workplace women are seen as inferiors; this concept is shown as language, behavior and metaphors of the female gender are being used to gender discipline both men and women. This type of disciplining is seen every day in mass media. An example of this is prevalent in the Emmy winning comedy, Scrubs. Scrubs is a medical comedy based around the lives of medical and surgical interns at Sacred Heart hospital. Gender disciplining is seen as female names and body parts are meant as insults when used towards male characters. It is also seen in the roles that each character plays, and the stereotypes portrayed. There are both feminist / progressive aspects and non progressive / non feminist aspects to this show, the progressive nature of the show will be observed by pointing to specific episodes that make attempts to show the power women can have over men and will note that the characters that use gender disciplining are ultimately punished. Therefore this paper will argue that gender disciplining is being used every day in the work environment and the idea that the female sex is seen as inferior is reinforced by mass media, even though it does make attempts at becoming progressive; this specifically prevalent in the hit television show, Scrubs.
We are exposed to instances of gender disciplining both within society and in pop culture. This is seen in Scrubs as female names and body parts are meant as insults when used towards male characters. Language is a powerful force when it comes to gender disciplining, “through language, humans have the capability to set boundaries on phenomena occurring in an unbound state, to define and classify people and things” (Epstein 34). When using female terms as an insult, language is not only used to demean men but it is shaping women and the perceptions of them. JD, a main character of the show is constantly belittled by his superior, Dr. Cox. Dr. Cox is a typical alpha male and rarely if ever refers to JD as his real name. He even makes verbal note of this in the episode, “My dream job” and states, “but our thing is that you are a little girl.” He states this as an insult to JD and uses the female names to make JD feel as if he is a little girl, and subsequently inferior than the rest of the doctors. The use of female terms is used as an insult because, “Women, regardless of whatever social positions, they hold, are first identified as women, and being female itself is a devalued status” (Wilson 287). Both in the workplace and in society many female terms are used as derogatory and as insults towards both males and females. James states, “that there are typically far more derogatory terms referring to women than referring to men” (401). James continues to note that a way to insult a man is to say he is, “weak in character, like a women / homosexual [and this] reflects the idea that it is natural or inevitable that women should be weak in character compared to men” (403). Jordan, one of the main female characters of the show and coincidently Dr. Cox’s significant other, is constantly called a bitch or a witch. Both men and women in the show use this term as an insult towards
Another example of gender disciplining is shown through the stereotypes of both male and female characters. “Any stereotype can serve a social control function, but it appears that stereotypes of women function especially well because of their narrowness and rigidity” (
Although there are many non feminist aspects to this show, the progressive nature of the show will be observed by pointing to specific episodes that make attempts to show the power women can have over men and will note that the characters that use gender disciplining are ultimately punished. Looking at specific examples it is easy to find patriarchal examples within any medium. Examining the big picture we can observe the attempts that Scrubs makes at being progressive. A progressive attempt is made in the ultimate downfall of the alpha male characters. Dr. Cox, the main patriarchal character is ultimately punished in that he is incomplete and miserable without his female partner, Jordan. Another progressive example of this is in the episode, “My female trouble.” This episode focuses on how women have the ability to have the power and the three main female characters have made the three main male characters feel like young boys. This episode is a prime example of feminist text as the women all take masculine roles and the men take more stereotypical female roles, the power is divided between gender lines. Masculinity is seen as the dominant race and what is known in our society as normal. Halberstam notes, “Masculinity always boils down to social, cultural and political effects of male embodiment and privilege [and]…as the powerful and active alternative to female passivity and as the expression therefore of white male subjectivities” (345). The concept that we live in a patriarchal society is reinforced daily, yet this episode of Scrubs made a successful effort to break away from this idea. As the series progresses each female character becomes one of strength that is not only confident but has a man or co-workers that dependent on her.
In conclusion gender binaries are present in every day society and reinforced through mass media. An example of gender binaries is portrayed in the television show, Scrubs. Both male and female characters are given certain stereotypes which mold their behavior. The gender binary system is one that is constantly present and is used as a tool to keep women as the other. In both society and the television show, female terms are used as insults towards men, and in a derogatory manner to question ones sexuality and manhood. This paper has explored the feminist and the non feminist aspects of Scrubs, as well as observed the gender disciplining that occurs. Although progressive action has been taken to overcome these binaries there is more that can be done.