Friday, April 25, 2008

Trahan: Media Analysis

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 Jordan, even though she is the only constantly strong character on the show. Jordan, even though she is a woman, uses female body parts and terms to describe Dr. Cox and to question his manhood. The female terms are used to belittle and degrade other men; “according to men, the worst thing one could call another man were terms…that generally imply the referent is like a woman” (James 406). This concept is prevalent both in the television show and in society as men and women use female terms as insults towards men.

            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” (Wilson 287). The female characters in Scrubs are controlled and molded by the stereotype each represents; Dr. Elliot Reid, Carla and Jordan represent three stereotypes of women. Dr. Elliot Reid is portrayed as emotional, Carla is seen as the nurturing, mother type and Jordan is seen as the ball buster and bitch. The male roles are constant with the patriarchy as Dr. Cox is the alpha ego male, and is the most successful doctor. JD, who is constantly belittled and compared to the female gender, is a struggling intern and resident. The stereotypes about males and females are reinforced through the series with the exception of JD, who complies with most female stereotypes. The characters in the show comply with “behavioral characteristics of men, that they are aggressive, loud, blunt and of women, that they are emotional, talkative, gentle” (Epstein 36). This is also seen in that the women roles are nurses, constantly seeking the approval of their male superiors. The exception to this is Dr. Reid, yet she is seen as emotionally unstable and in need of support from her male co-workers. The show Scrubs reinforces the idea that man is normal and women are seen as the other, “Feminists have often observed that language reflects a male-centered view of the world and serves men’s interest more readily than women’s” (James 404).  Throughout the series Dr. Elliot Reid is controlled by stereotypes under the assumption that “the stereotype serves as a frame of reference for others who judge us. If we step out of bounds, we are likely to be labeled deviant or otherwise unacceptable” (Wilson 287). She subjects herself to gender binaries as she describes her self esteem problems and her search for love in a male partner continues through all seven seasons. Halberstam states, “… feminism becomes a diluted discourse about women’s desires for domestic security, love and family” (347). This discourse is enforced by Dr. Elliot Reid as she discusses her already planned wedding, the wedding dress she has already bought, and the fact that counterpart. Wilson observes that, “females, rather than males, will be more consistently rewarded and punished…in order to instill in them more conforming attitudes” (284). This appears to be present as both Elliot and Carla are eventually rewarded, yet the show takes a progressive turn as alpha male, Dr. Cox, is ultimately punished for conforming to patriarchal stereotypes.

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.  

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