Moving beyond period jokes


A SYTYCB entry

I’ve been watching a lot of Friends reruns lately, and after revisiting the episodes, it has become blatantly clear to me that the writers rely on stereotypes about men and women to make the show funny. For example, I recently watched an episode where Rachel claims she kissed a female friend while in college. When her college friend (Winona Ryder) claims to not remember the kiss, Rachel recreates it to the amusement of her male audience as represented through Joey’s reaction throughout the episode. He consistently asks her about this sexual encounter because it makes her more attractive that she has “been with” another woman. Similarly the show relies on this idea that Monica used to be fat. In various episodes, Monica’s previous weight is a source of humor. For example, when Chandler admits to breaking up with another woman due to her weight, Monica becomes concerned that Chandler will break up with her for the same reasons. In the end, Chandler says he’ll love Monica at whatever size she is, but then Monica asks “How much weight did this ex-girlfriend gain?” When Chandler says about 150 pounds, Monica says, “Did she eat a whole person?” and the audience laughs. But really, why are we laughing? I don’t think it’s funny to call another person fat or assume that all women kiss other women as a source of fun and amusement during college.

I was asking this same question about why we find certain jokes funny in popular culture while watching the recent episode of Modern Family where the women in the Dunphy household have their periods and Phil does everything he can to get away from the women. They are portrayed as overly emotional, angry, and hysterical because apparently all women lose their sense of reason and intelligence when they have their periods. It was particularly problematic that Alex, the Dunphy child that is often valued for her intelligence and quick wit, is belittled to an overly emotional wreck who cries at movies all of the time. The episode ends with Phil simulating “period symptoms” with the dialogue “I feel nauseous, hungry, angry, and upset all at the same time.” This fits with Phil’s character on the show since often the writers use his “feminine side” as a joke. For an example, you can refer to a previous post I wrote on Phil’s visit to the spa.

This episode was also frustrating in light of the recent drama in the media about men making decisions about women’s bodies and birth control. Women’s bodies are constantly being portrayed as not belonging to them or as peculiar and abnormal. This episode of Modern Family reinforces this idea that once a month women become crazy and lose their ability to make clear judgments. I see a clear connection between this thinking and the doubts that women can hold political office or high roles in companies. Let’s break this stereotypical thinking…

Note: Let me also be clear that I like both of these shows and enjoy watching them! I just think it’s important that people become intelligent consumers of popular culture. Otherwise, we’ll keep falling for the same stereotypical bs!

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Join the Conversation