Compare how gender is represented in the (appearance and) dialogue of your two chosen television programmes

Episodes used ‘Autoerotica’ from My Family and ‘The Anniversary’ from Roseanne


‘My Family’ is a situation comedy in the great British tradition, following in the footsteps of such classics as Steptoe and Son, Hancock’s Half Hour and On the Buses. Each of these programmes were built around the premise of the central character being a failing male. In their respective situations each failed either to gain social acceptance, or to overcome the inadequacies of upbringing or to break out of the rut into which they’d got in their lives. The comedy each week derived from seeing them try and watching them fail, time and time again.

In the US, situation comedy, as a TV genre, began with Lucille Ball, a well-known comedienne, and her real life husband Desi Arnaz. He played a famous bandleader and she played the wife that was always trying to muscle in on his act. She brought to this new genre a variety of comedy that was very physical. She played to the camera, indeed mugged to it, and the comedy centred on her and her antics. Since then US sit-coms have almost exclusively been the province of women. (In general apart from soap opera, sit-com is the only public arena in which women ritually humiliate men and get away with it and in which men are seen to fail and it is accepted.)

My Family has at its heart a family: Ben Harper a dentist, Susan Harper a tour guide, Nick twenty something oldest son, sometimes still living at home, Janey older daughter, single parent with baby (also sometimes living at home depending on plot needs!), Mikey youngest boy mid-teens and Abi, cousin of some sort, brought into the family ostensibly so she could go to college from their house.

Ben has a decent respectable job with obviously no money problems but significant problems with his family! He, having provided for his children during their formative years, now feels very strongly that they ought to be leaving home to let him renew his marital ties. Instead of the archetypal, avuncular father figure, generous and indulgent – Ben is constructed as a jealous, possessive child himself; at times he is no more grown up than his children with his obsessions about sex and in this particular episode a car, which comes into his life like a ghost from the past, conjuring up strong memories of his courting days and particularly childfree days!

Susan, who should by rights be a motherly, maternal, caring and nurturing sort of person, is constructed as a manipulative, competitive, poor cook and disinterested housewife. Interestingly we rarely hear of her work, though we are sometimes treated to shots of Ben in his dental surgery, to emphasise his importance, though this is often in direct contrast to the narrative or themes of the episode since he is so often subjected to failure or humiliation at the hands of his wife and children.

Nick is a dysfunctional young man who cannot grow up – an eternal Peter Pan – whose sole aim seems to be to get his father to acknowledge his well hidden feelings of affection for him! In this episode as usual he demands money from his father for being allowed to work on Nick’s car but what he really wants is a hug; ‘Please Nick darling, can I work on the car,’ he demands his dad say, and Ben, finally forced, spits it out between clenched teeth. Yet at other times he is quite happy to exploit his father’s desire to get rid of him by demanding money for various nefarious schemes which might or might not enable him to lead an independent life.

This episode has begun with Susan writing ‘DORSET?’ on lipstick on Ben’s forehead. We get the feeling that this is common practice for these two – communicating by writing notes to each other so they cannot be ignored; and predictably ends after the anniversary debacle with him writing ‘SEX?‘ On hers and her writing ‘NO!‘ on his. These two are constructed as children in the way they compete with each other and the elements of physical contact in the form of roughhousing. Ben always seems to have sex on his mind – typical male! And Susan always seems determined to thwart him – typical female! This can best be seen when he comes to bed after having worked on the car till late at night; she comments ‘you’ve got oil on your collar’ clearly indicating that she sees the, battered wreck of a, car as a rival, and so when he makes overtures to her she responds to ensure the primacy of her place in her husband’s affections; he makes ‘brrrming‘ noises as if driving a sports car and other comments more suited to driving than sexual activity, she comments on the softness of his hands under the bed clothes, until she abruptly realises he’s still wearing driving gloves and then the game’s up and he’s lost!! The whole thing is a game to them and games have winners and losers and in the British sit-com it is the male who always loses and the female who always wins.

The US sit-com Roseanne has a completely different ethos and ideological viewpoint to promote. American sit-coms are very keen to perpetuate the ideals of the American nuclear family, the possibility of the attainment of the American Dream for all citizens and the rules and values of law and morality. As such this programme is a particularly good example. Here we have a working class family, Dan does a manual job, Roseanne rarely seems to have an actual job, they have lots of kids and relatives, live in a poorly furnished and appointed house and yet everybody is happy!! These parents are role models, they have fun in their relationship, fun with their kids and yet have very strong moral standards and they stand together against any problems without undermining or competing with each other. Roseanne is not a great cook and Dan is not a great handyman but in joining forces to overcome the family’s problems this is a true sit-com of the ‘dom-com’ variety as identified by Taflinger. Even when the adult characters have their disagreements as in this episode where Roseanne wants a holiday in Florida in a hotel, like the honeymoon they never had, and Dan wants to go camping and fishing, Todorov’s narrative theory of equilibrium, disruption, disequilibrium and resolution is fulfilled in the end as they agree amicably…..

Viewers are encouraged to feel satisfied with the life that they lead and not dissatisfied with what they haven’t got like some programmes do and thus society’s dominant ideological viewpoint is perpetuated and the status quo is maintained.

The choice of the actors was also important in defining these characters and their gender roles – Roseanne Barr is a large woman with a great sense of humour. John Goodman is quite a large man but often seems larger because the camera angle used on him is often a low angle one making him seem even bigger and more slob like than he is. This particular American programme continued the grand tradition of naming itself after the main female character which can lead to problems if ever an actor wants to get out of the role.

Show how the characters and dialogue reveal issues of gender in your chosen sitcoms

PS the Frasier episode is called Daphne Does Dinner

And please spell their names right!!!


  • Start your essay with some historical overview only a few sentences. UK vs. US, male and female centred, narrative and farce, character and jokes etc.
  • Also if you can quickly summarise how the mise en scene sets the scene for the representation of gender – good! Chloe writes:

‘In MBB Gary has long scruffy hair, is excreted upon by a pigeon and lives in a dirty flat littered with beer cans and other masculine items. This way of appearance, living and happenings means this character conforms to his constructed masculine role of the slob, the typical young bloke. By contrast in Frasier both he and his brother are feminised males because they take pride in their appearance, their flats and know terms like ‘ramekin’ which ordinarily only a chef or perhaps a woman would know!’

  • Objectification! Very important concept as Gary and Tony ‘do it’ (objectify women) all the time but show a total inability to understand its offensiveness to women, hence the discussion about breasts and buttocks, posing for a porn magazine and Tony’s appreciation of porn magazines and the remark ‘what you mean like vases?’ their insensitivity to the needs or even rights of women to their bodies is the source of much humour but sadly representative of so many men in the real world!
  • Gary and Tony are represented as male slobs – they are the ‘lads’, ‘blokes’ from the mid 90s, who know what women expect and don’t see why they should conform to their expectations; they are unreconstructed men: beer drinking, foul mouthed, women ogling, sex obsessed, couch potatoes.
  • Ultimately Tony would rather give up the girl than his magazines.
  • Roseanne is comfortable enough to be able to mock her own female role (to laugh at herself as a mother and wife)
  • Gary and Tony have never grown up – they are childish, competitive, jealous and emotionally inarticulate.
  • Originally broadcast in the mid-90s it is a post-modern sitcom in that after the political correctness of the 80s these characters are a return to the old stereotype of the ‘lad’
  • Frasier’s male pride is hurt but his way of showing it is feminine, hurt feelings, nose in the air, stalk off!
  • It is more masculine to refuse help (Daphne) to want to do it on her own.
  • Daphne and Roz are masculinised and Frasier and Niles are feminised therefore there is a swapping of traditional gender roles; however, Martin Crane is a conventional male stereotype – beer drinking, steak eating and action film watching; the painter Mike Shaw (also traditionally male) cleverly mocks those who keep him rich!
  • It’s all about competitiveness which is male but the context is a dinner party which is a female domain traditionally.
  • In both sit coms the males set themselves up for a fall by being unable not to take up challenge or by a stereotypical inability to be truthful (Gary and university)
  • Ben and the car are important because it reminds him of his youth, just as the anniversary reminds him of life passing him by; sadly at the end he admits he ‘couldn’t fix it then either!’ also men like to lavish time, care and attention on their cars because then other men will admire them but above all they don’t answer back!!
  • Nick – if he can’t get his father’s affection at least he can get his money.
  • Becky and the toad – her reasons for refusal are not the usual feminine ones of squeamishness but principles which is still a feminine trait.
  • There are different gender representations in these programmes:
  • Ben: respected, high status job, father , husband, emotionally illiterate (always after sex but never mentions love / also incapable of showing it this children); childishly jealous of his children; going through a mid-life crisis (the car / Jasmine); stereotypical interests – a garage full of ‘junk’, scrap metal, car parts; failure at home – poss also at work; realist; sex obsessed; cowardly (cowers in corner when Nick threatens him with the chain saw); uses flattery to deflect his wife’s anger; the butt of the humour; set up to fail and be humiliated each episode (Todorov’s circularity of narrative and repeated motifs). This is the whole point of Ben being portrayed as sensible and respected, a role model so that he can be undermined, sit-com being the only genre in which this is permissible!
  • Susan: mother, nurturer (though a terrible cook); wants kids at home; job unimportant; usually at home; manipulative; nagging, bossy, uses threats and blackmail; emotional; childish need to be right ‘I told you it wouldn’t work’ and to win; pessimistic, she knew Dorset wouldn’t happen; romantic but realistic.
  • Abi: ditzy, blonde, naïve, childish, manipulative – Mikey and the teddy bear and bra! Thinks she’s clever but isn’t really very bright – lighting the candles in the garage! Hopeless romantic, optimist, generous, open; emotional.
  • Nick’s desperate quest for a demonstration of affection from his father lead his character to subvert the usual masculine representation of the emotional illiterate.
  • Frasier and Niles by contrast being psychiatrists also subvert the usual expectations that males can’t express their feelings since this is what they do in their jobs all day.
  • Dan conforms to the stereotype of the working class American male.
  • He’s the boss in his household even if Roseanne does get her own way, US sitcoms don’t allow their men to be undermined; this reflects the US ideology and values that families are at the heart of American life and thus sitcoms perpetuate the expectations of love and the bonds of family life. Not until Malcolm in the Middle came along did we really see a dysfunctional family yet even here, though zany, this is a very close knit family.
  • Sitcoms main fuel is the battle of the sexes – in My Family this is epitomised by their anniversary which Susan sees as an occasion to be celebrated, while Ben sees it as one step nearer the grave!
  • Dorothy and Debs are constructed as caring and maternal, the opposite of their men.
  • Deb’s ‘no’ to Gary about his coming to her dinner party is only after she has tried to let him down gently and he’s refused to take the hint, ‘I could bring my own chair?’
  • Frasier is an example of the buffoon type of character – pompous and arrogant. He is constantly set up to be ‘taken down’. The narrative of each episode always ends up humiliating Frasier, exposing his snobbery and failings and prejudices; in this way subverting the traditional American male stereotype.


Useful phrases:

Subverting his masculinity or the traditional view of masculinity

Conforming to the stereotypical view of the mother figure as nurturing and caring


Many sitcoms portray children as manipulating their parents – Nick does this in his offer to let his father work on his car in return for him being nice to him! This kind of affection seeking is more often seen as a female characteristic here, though, we are shown the vulnerable , insecure side of Mick which is not often seen in males, thus subverting the traditional view of males. His good humour and slight ‘denseness’ is endearing and prevents his neediness becoming cloying or nauseating!


Each of the teenage children in the programme are shown as greedy, selfish and manipulative, and consistently work on the premise that their dad’s only way of showing them affection is by ‘buying them off’, thus Ben is an ‘easy mark.’

The car is a metaphor for their marriage ‘up on blocks and going nowhere!’


  • Both programmes use humour in the representations of the characters – Susan’s sarcasm to undermine Ben’s masculinity, ‘oil on your collar’ and ‘you can’t park there!’ and Roseanne’s gentle ‘digging’ at her husband’s lack of romance to undermine his.
  • These two females also represent very different ideas of womanhood; Susan is cool and rebuffs Ben’s advances while Roseanne is portrayed as more of an ‘earth-mother’ type, sexier and earthier, despite her lack of obvious glamour, attractiveness and sophistication.