stopviolenceuw

Men, Men, Men, Men, Manly Men?

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I have seen almost every episode of CBS’s #1 hit comedy, “Two and a Half Men,” since its inception and I have come to the inevitable conclusion that I am embarrassed as a violence prevention professional and feminist that I watch and (on occasion) enjoy the show.

It can be very funny – I’ll be the first to admit that, especially in the beginning.   I mean, I own the first four seasons on DVD and regularly sit down on Monday nights to see how Ashton Kutcher can possibly fill the shoes of the infamous Charlie Sheen.

However, whether because I’m taking a closer look at gendered violence and inequality due to my position at the university or if I’m only just now realizing it, I’m really bothered by the significant amount of aggression and conceptual violence against women in the show.

Usually, when we think about violence, we think: murder, mayhem, guns firing, cars exploding – and there are plenty of television shoes that offer these obvious forms of violence.  However, the majority of shows (Two and a Half men in particular) offer much more subtle forms of violence and aggression.  For example, throughout its nearly nine seasons on air, “Two and a Half Men” has, in one way or another, addressed stalking, sexual assault, and unhealthy relationships/domestic violence.

Can you tell me where or how?  With the exception of the character, Rose, who was Charlie’s stalker, these subject have been brought up subtly, dismissed as “normal,” “acceptable,” and the show continues.

The minimization of these serious issues serve as micro-aggressions in our everyday lives – little acts of violence that hinder us from respecting the experiences of victims and further supports the traditional gender paradigm.  I want to break down these aggressions a little bit to see if you can see what I do.

Stalking:

This is, without a doubt, the most obvious form of aggression present in the show.  Rose is a neighbor and former girlfriend of the main character, Charlie.  She is portrayed as a humorous and generally non-violent stalker whom the family simply accepts.  She has been known to: sneak into the house and sleep with Charlie in his bed, super-glue his cabinets shut, follow Charlie, follow Charlie’s current girlfriends, super-glue Charlie’s testicles to his thigh, and many other things.  At the beginning of season nine, the show implies that Rose finally convinced Charlie to marry her, he cheated on within a week, and he “accidentally” fell in front of an oncoming train.

Take away the laugh track and the quick witted jokes, this situation doesn’t seem funny anymore.  I mean, just reading through what Rose did to him: following his girlfriends, sleeping in his bed and sneaking into his house – not funny.  Killing him – not so funny either.

Many people (approximately 7% of UW students) experience stalking and are forced to completely change their lives in order to not live in fear of the individual stalking them.  By turning their experience into a joke through Rose and Charlie, we are de-valuing their experience and making it a laughing matter.  We are invalidating their terror and fear and saying that what they went through wasn’t that bad, that they need to “lighten up,” and “get over it.”

Rose wasn’t the only appearance of a stalking situation.  During one episode (Season 3, Episode 7), Martin Sheen makes a guest appearance as Rose’s father, Harvey, who falls in love with and begins stalking Charlie’s mother, Evelyn.  At the end of the episode, Evelyn asks to stay with Charlie for a couple of days because she feels so uncomfortable staying at her house, for fear that Harvey will be there.

This is a common experience for victims of stalking – being too afraid to stay in their own homes.  Sometimes, victims are forced to relocate – changing their phone numbers, habits, patterns, everything – in the hopes that the stalker doesn’t find them.

Sexual Assault:

The portrayal of sexual assault on the show is one of the most disturbing aspects to me.  While the writers never say the word “assault” or address the fact the Charlie is oftentimes putting himself in a position to become a rapist, we never hear about this negative consequence.  Every now and then Charlie gets tested for an STD or a frantic call from a girl who’s missed her period, but never the call that says: “I was drunk.  You took advantage of me.  You raped me.” – which is a VERY likely situation.

Legally, when one is intoxicated, you cannot give consent.  Consent must be SOBER and ENTHUSIASTIC.  Charlie’s primary game plan is to get the girl as drunk as possible in order to have sex with her.  This is predatory behavior and representative of a mindset held by serial rapists.

Now, Charlie would certainly never identify himself in such a way, nor would he give credence to a woman who told him that he had raped her.  He’s too self-absorbed for that.  But his apparent nonchalance and apathy towards women in the manner encourages other men to behave in the same way.

By allowing the myth that “alcohol makes sex better” or  “if you’re drunk, then it doesn’t count” to continue, we are perpetuating a dangerous culture for both men and women, where once you’re drunk, you’re free game for anyone to do whatever they want to you, with no consequences.

Let me be clear here – when it comes to sexual activity, if you are drunk, YOU CANNOT CONSENT.  Period.  If sexual contact occurs while you are drunk, it can legally be considered sexual assault.  If you have sex with someone who is drunk, you could be raping them.

Controlling Relationships/Domestic Violence:

*Spoiler Alert* For those of you who haven’t seen the new season, I’m going to spoil the first episode a bit for you here.  The new main character, Walden Schmidt, played by Ashton Kutcher, is introduced to the audience right after his attempted suicide.

I’m going to ignore the fact that they have trivialized suicide in this manner and turned it into a joke, and focus more on the controlling behavior Walden exhibits towards his ex-wife.  After she kicks him out, he attempts suicide, then calls her and tells her that without her, he will try again.

Minimal – yes.  But this is a tactic often used by abusers in order to manipulate and guilt their victims into returning.  It’s a means of power and control over the other person.  And the blatant disregard for the guilt and pressure this puts on Bridget, the ex-wife, and turning the whole experience into a joke is demeaning to those who have actually been forced into that situation.  It devalues their feelings and their experience as something worthy of a joke.

There are further examples of controlling behavior and the power dynamic throughout the show is constantly in play.  For example, in Season 7, Episode 2, the women “take over” the house and the men spend the remainder of the show trying to “regain the power.”  Or, in Season 6, Episode 17, Charlie says, “I love you” to his girlfriend, Chelsea.  She responds: “Thank you.”  And he spends the entire episode trying to “regain the power in the relationship” by conjuring up new ways to trick her into saying “I love you” back.

While used in a humorous situation, these are all signs of a potentially abusive partner.  There is a pattern throughout the series of this need for power and control, particularly with Charlie.  He has to have control over his house, his brother, his girlfriends – if it was a drama instead of a comedy, it wouldn’t be much of a leap for him to begin physically abusing people.

Take away the laugh track, and Charlie is actually a pretty scary guy.

Masculinity/Femininity:

Finally, the traditional dichotomy of gender is very much present in the series, with few exceptions (Berta and Evelyn, mostly).  Charlie is portrayed as the Alpha Male: he gets a lot of women, he has a lot of men, he does whatever he wants, and few people cross him.  Alan is the Beta Male: he’s constantly walked on, “pussy whipped,” belittled by women, and lonely – everything a guy doesn’t want to be, especially in contrast to the larger-than-life Charlie character.

Further, women are very rarely afforded a significant role (again, with the exception of Berta, Evelyn, Rose, and Judith).  Those who are regulars represent extremes of what being a woman is. Berta is harsh and demeaning.  Evelyn is an emasculating shrew with severe power issues.  Rose is a stalker.  Judith is a heartless bitch who consistently demeans Alan.  The thing they all have in common – they, in one way or another, emasculate the men of the show.  This is not a true representation of what a woman is or can be, it doesn’t show a range of behavior or femininity – it focuses straight on the bad and that’s it.

The majority of women on the show are lucky if they are awarded a name.  Women, in general, are disposable.  In many instances, they even re-used actresses to play different roles.  I don’t know if they thought the audience wouldn’t notice or care, but I noticed.  And I care.  There are tons of “floozies” that flit in and out of the show with little to no recognition.  However, if a male guest star appears, he is at least granted the courtesy of a name, no matter how small his role.

If they’re not floozies, women are portrayed as looking for something – whether that be to tie Charlie down in a relationship (God forbid), steal his money (filthy gold diggers), or seek some sort of revenge or retribution (by cheating with Charlie on their husbands, etc).  Also, not a true representation of what a women is or can be.  Or how being in a relationship can be mutually beneficial and healthy.

And that’s not even going into the way the women are objectified as sexual objects and playthings.  or how the men are incapable of restraining themselves around a beautiful woman.

Only two women were really awarded a chance to be something more than a fling: Mia and Chelsea.  Two women in eight seasons who were portrayed as real, caring, independent, strong women.  Wow.

***

Now, I know that this show is designed to be humorous, funny, satirical – but, after a while, these things just aren’t funny anymore and they do more harm than good.  By normalizing these behaviors and viewpoints, we are encouraging a culture that already devalues women and turns a blind eye to sexual and relationship violence.

And, believe me, I get it.  I can take a joke.  And I’ve often laughed while watching the show and I continue to watch it every Monday night.

But the more I think about the show and the messages it’s sending, I find that I enjoy it less and less.  Am I alone in this?  Am I just spending too much time thinking about interpersonal violence?

What do you think?

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