Monday, July 28, 2008

My Boys and tomboys

My sister and I frequently watch the TBS show My Boys. It's about PJ Franklin (well-acted by Jordana Spiro) and her group of mostly male friends. PJ's a sports reporter in Chicago who is often contrasted with her "girly" friend, Stephanie. For her male friends, there's Brendan, an old roommate who DJs; Mike, the goof of the group; Kenny, the nice nerdy guy; Bobby, another sports reporter who PJ kinda likes but is getting married; and Andy, PJ's brother who lives in the suburbs.

I like PJ because she embodies a lot of the traits I have/would like to have (funny, smart, little bit neurotic), but mainly that she's in a non-traditional field (sports journalism) and has a lot of guy friends without relationship jumping from one to the other. Plus they have a neighborhood bar they go to all the time, and I've always wanted one of those.

Right now in the show, Bobby's getting married and one episode revolved around his bachelor party. Because she's a woman, PJ wasn't invited to the party but instead his fiancee's wedding shower; she doesn't want to go because she doesn't know Elsa very well and there's no beer at the shower. She laments bachelor parties inherently sexist nature - not inviting women along unless they're strippers - but PJ and Stephanie end up at the same bar anyway.

While watching, I thought, "Yeah, awesome! Way to call out bachelor parties as sexist and to show someone having a nice party without strippers and all of that stereotypical junk! PJ is so awesome for being 'one of the guys' and not conforming to standards of femininity!"

However, that particular episode just barely passes the Bechdel Test:

1: Two female characters - yes; PJ, Stephanie, Elsa, Andy's friend from work, shower guests
2: Talking to one another - yes; lots of talk between PJ and Steph
3: About something besides men - barely yes; most of their conversations are about men, however, they do talk about Stephanie's career as an author a bit. Seems solid, but Stephanie's book is about relationships and men - so technically it passes, but juuuust barely.

While this post was still in the planning stages in my mind, I came across this post from Bitch PhD about "playing the [race/gender/sexuality/etc] card":

I'm sexist. On this one, I'm much more sure why. Because I'm a woman, I see all the sexism directed at me even as I'm directing it at others. So it's easier to name. I prefer having male friends to having female friends. I enjoy being told that I'm like "one of the guys." When people tell me that I have masculine qualities, I feel a sense of pride. I feel somewhat less pride when people tell me I am caring, emotionally open or self-sacrificing because I associate those qualities with femininity and they are thus denigrated. I have disdain for the idea of being a 'stay-at-home-mom'. I have privately assumed that women who have lots of sexual partners must have emotional issues. I internally criticize women for dressing too provocatively or not provocatively enough. I have been disdainful of movies and books that are associated with women. Like above, I could go on. These are only some of the things I have thought about, and am self-critical of.

I've always wanted to be 'one of the guys,' and have valued tomboy qualities over others. At some point between kindergarten and third grade, I stopped being "girly" and it took until 9th grade confirmation, then high school graduation, for me to wear a dress again.

So while I like PJ because of the gendered traits she has and feel ambivalent towards Stephanie because of her more traditional female traits (not actively liking is almost the same as disliking), I'm reinforcing and buying into the idea that masculine/male is better. In a way, one could argue that My Boys, while trying to be different and subversive in their choice of a protagonist, just ends up reinforcing conceptions of male privilege and praises women for acting more like men.

For me, at least, that's kind of depressing and I'm not sure if I (completely) buy into that argument.

If anything, this makes me feel better about the feminist qualities of the show: it was created, executive produced, and written by Betsy Thomas (writer/production blog here), with Arlene Sanford directing five episodes, and 3+ female writers on staff. Considering how little representation women have behind the scenes in the television industry, I'm really glad to see the show, while depicting a strong female character, represents that in real life as well.

Anyway, as much as I may have inadvertently ripped on My Boys, I do love it and enjoy it. I'd suggest watching a few episodes, at least.


Habladora said...

I haven't seen the show, but I'm going to venture a guess that part of the problem is the way we label 'feminine' and 'masculine' traits. It sounds like PJ's good qualities are that she's funny, knowledgeable, and active in an interesting field. None of these things are inherently 'masculine,' but sometimes they're presented that way. I'm going to guess that she's also empathetic and kind - most likable TV characters are. Are Stephanie's 'feminine' characteristics frivolousness/an over-emphasis on fashion or men, over-emotionality, or something equally as negative?

Of course, I could be waaay off-base. I will watch some of the show, though, since you recommend it.

frau sally benz said...

I had a recent post about this-- the conflict you feel with being "like a guy" or "one of the guys." I've never seen this show, but it seems interesting. Is it on Hulu? Maybe I shall check it out.

Lindsay said...

I know they have episodes that stream on I'm not sure if it's on Hulu or not.

Are Stephanie's 'feminine' characteristics frivolousness/an over-emphasis on fashion or men, over-emotionality, or something equally as negative?

They really set up the contrast between Stephanie and PJ, to balance out their representations or to provide a foil. It's not necessarily a bad contrast, just played up a lot. For example, PJ complains about having to go to "lady-parties" while Stephanie loves the wedding shower since everyone there loves her book about relationships.