Thursday, October 1, 2009

Family Guy and the Popularisation of Sexism

I have a confession to make: I watch Family Guy and for the most part enjoy it. It's shallow, cheap humour; easy to follow, no great philosophy - and to be honest, I put it on when I'm stressed and don't want want to think, get into bed and fall asleep.
Sure, I've always been aware that it is sexist, racist, fatist, ableist, homophobic - and whatever other form of bigotry that I have forgotten. However, in the past, I managed to compartmentalise those aspects.

As Seth McFalan has stated, the majority of the highly offensive shite dribbles out of Peter's mouth and it's meant to be derided and is often in stark contrast to Brian's position. However, the shows sexism has always been far more implicit and in becoming increasingly explicit. For this post, I am going to focus upon the implicit sexism presented by the characterisation of Lois.

Implicit Sexism: The Characterisation of Lois
At a very basic level, Lois is the loyal and beautiful (house)wife of an overweight, useless and unintelligent oaf. Pretty standard trope, but hey, if you let that rile you to the point of rage, your popular cultural pickings are few. Lois is built up as a dream wife, of sorts.

Lois' beauty is constantly reinforced. She was Miss Teen Rhode Island, had a brief stint as a model, is objectified by many of Peters friends and Brian is an inconsistent not so secret admirer. Lois' own children admire her beauty - often as a point to contrast Meg's unattractiveness.

She ain't a golddigger
Lois loves Peter unconditionally and through choosing to marry him, has divorced herself from a life of luxury through alienating her wealthy and 'landed' family. This 'good woman' stereotype works in contrast with the negative characterisation of women as gold diggers who pursue and marry men for their future financial security. Indeed, Lois must be perfectly happy with what she has; if she deviates from this she is firmly put back in her place with accepting only that which Peter can provide. In Breaking Out is Hard to Do, after shoplifting a ham, Lois becomes kleptomanic in her desire to acquire luxury items. Her frenzied theivery lands her in jail, throwing the familial bliss into chaotic disorder. The lesson here: women want, want, want and their consumeristic desire must be kurbed as it is dangerous, uncontrollable and destructive. Live with what your husband can provide and be happy with it! (Nevermind that he buys a horse, a rocket or whatever - with no obvious impact on the family - and it is his money anyway.)

Home is where a wife is: now don't get me wrong; I'm not bagging Lois for being a housewife - it's a hell of a lotta work, and heaven stop me before I ever volunteer myself to look after all of the unpaid drudgery. The problem aspect of Lois' portrayal is that any attempt to enter workforce is either misguided or dangerous to the family or Lois herself.
In FOX-y Lady, Lois accepts a role at Fox News, after the previous reporter is fired when a new type of television exposes her wrinkles (because news reporters must be beautiful and a wrinkled woman is hideous). Brian admonishes Lois for accepting the role on the basis that Fox is an incredibly bias network. Lois, demonstrating her typical naievity, passes off Brian and decides to give them a chance. The rest of the episode is devoted to essentially showing up Lois misguided trust and Fox news itself.
Even more concerning is Model Misbehaviour, in which Lois decides to follow her earlier ambitions to become a model that we thwarted by her father. At first, Lois' success is lauded - Peter is proud to be 'hitting that.' However, as the episode progresses - the danger presents itself. Lois loses weight, takes up smoking, hangs out a celebrity events and flaunts herself (much to Peter's alarm). It's interesting that Lois' 'dangerous behaviour' seems to be correlated in the episode with the fact that she is acting outside of Peter's control. Moral of the story - Lois must return to staying at home, covering herself up and devoting herself to the family.

In discussing this with my partner, I think the thing that bothers me most about Lois is that she is designed to appeal to wants and desires of young men. She is beautiful and yet controlled, devoted and doesn't demand anything of them; alot of her bad behaviour is related to when she isn't devoted to the family or when she wishes more for herself. To my mind, these are very male centered fears - what if my wife decides she wants more than I can provide? What if she overtakes me? She'll bleed me dry with her high maintenance ways if she is encouraged.
I realise that alot of these traits are mirrored by Marge in the Simpsons. However, personally, there is something much more disturbing in their presentation in Lois.

So tell me - I am off the mark here? What's your take on Lois as a feminist? Does she make you cringe?


Anonymous said...

I've always hated Family Guy precisely for these sorts of reasons.

Lois is the embodiment of the virgin/whore dichotomy, and definitely makes me cringe. I hate how this kind of couple (freakishly beautiful woman married to dopish awful chubby man) is so prevalent on TV. It sucks.
I also wish these shows would stop hiding behind the facade of "making fun of sexism/racism" guess what? If you were actually feminist, feminists wouldn't hate you. Male sexists would not adore and worship your show if it was feminist/egalitarian. If you're really against sexism, why are you so afraid to actually...not be sexist?

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