Set on the Upper West Side of New York City, How I Met Your Mother is a television sitcom that tells the long-winded story of the main character’s bachelorhood. The main character, Ted Mosby, narrates the story from the year 2030 to his future kids. With Ted’s four best friends (Barney Stinson, Robin Scherbatsky, Marshall Erikson and Lily Aldrin), multiple girlfriends, one-night stands and fellow “bros”, the search for his wife is narrated. Ted meets Marshall and Lily at Wesleyan College and the three become best friends. Lily and Marshall were a couple since college and eventually get married in the show.
Robin is a girl Ted meets at their usual bar whom he becomes romantically involved with. They eventually become close friends with an on again off again romance. Finally, Barney is Ted’s self-declared “best friend” and notorious womanizer. All of them form an eccentric group with rich with background stories, catch phrases and inside Jokes. However each character does not always occupy a traditional role of their gender set by society. Gender “refers to the personal traits and social positions that members of a society attach to being female or male. (Maconis, 2012) Arguably, gender is socially constructed and changeable with ime. Each character has some deviation of what is perceived as a norm with their gender. The whole show embraces these non-traditional representations of gender identity for comedic affect. Humor in the show stems in the oddity of these characters. Ted posses some stereotypical feminine qualities while Robin has some masculine. But, at the same time the show reproduces and reinforces some traditional gender roles to an extreme parody like Barney.
Combined these characters depict different types of gender identity and roles in the modern world. Ted Mosby is the hopeless romantic who grew up idolizing his parent’s relationship nd desperately wants to start a family. His approach on dating is similar to a stereotypical female due to his strong desire to commit and settle down. It only takes four minutes into the pilot for Ted to talk about his imaginary wedding to a girl at the bar. Ted’s feminine qualities go beyond Just dating. General words to describe him include emotional, passive, nurturing and sensitive.
Traditionally all of these traits are associated with women. In terms of gender, “socialization stresses expressive qualities, such as emotional responsiveness and sensitivity to others” for girls (Maconis, 2012). Ted is in touch with his emotions and talks about how he feels often. Many times he is seen expressing the way he feels to his friends who either support him or make fun of him. Typically men who show too much emotion are deemed as weak. Society enforces this gender norm along with others since straying too far away from them will cause rejection of the opposite sex (Maconis, 2012).
Part of Ted’s humor is being seen as being exceedingly emotional, wimpy and “pansy-like”. At times in the series Ted does things that are feminine. Some examples include wearing his beloved pair of red cowboy boots, writing calligraphy, mentioning that he atches Project Runway (a fashion show geared towards a female audience) and uttering, “Did the Jets get new costumes? ” during a football game. He does not exhibit stereotypical gender behaviors of men. Ted is one of the characters that portray gender role reversal, which is sharply contrasted by the female counterparts.
More emotional/irrational ways. Robin Scherbatsky is the strong, fiercely independent career-focused Journalist who has no desire to have kids or get married. While growing up, she was socialized as a boy because of her son-seeking father. During the socialization process, “gender becomes part of our personalities and our ctions” (Maconis, 2012). She was taught to be rational, self-assured, and competitive by playing hockey, hunting and smoking cigars. She had no acknowledgment of being a girl by her father. Ironically, Robin does not have a prominent maternal fgure .
The audience has not seen Robin’s mother once in all nine seasons. Her childhood justifies why she acts so masculine. In a study done by Kathryn Mikeska at Trinity University used a coded system charted the amount of times Robin did stereotypical male habits or behaviors. She exhibited 17 stereotypical male behaviors versus only 14 female. Her masculine behaviors included talking about scotch, beer and sports, engaging in rugged activity, swearing or using profanity, casual sex, being aggressive (physically or verbally) and engaging in ridicule/insults. Men commonly mock each other on sitcoms as a form of camaraderie.
Women usually do not partake in this act. When women make fun of other characters, especially men, it is humorous because it is unexpected (Mikeska, 2012). Robin’s most common feminine behavior was talking about her relationships and emotions. This was seen in 100% of the test episodes. This makes her character more believable since she displays many masculine ualities. She contrasts the extremely feminine Ted (which also adds humor to the show). The two have essentially reversed gender roles in their relationship. This is evident when Robin and Ted break up.
Robin wants to focus on her career and possibly travel while Ted wants to settle down and have kids. She does not adhere to a traditional representation of a woman in a sitcom. Robin is seen as both a fellow masculine “bro” and feminine love interest. Barney Stinson is the illustrious womanizer who is wealth-driven, well dressed and witty. Unlike Ted, he enjoys being single to the fullest extent. He is completely unemotional with his relationships with women and discards them quickly. The reasoning behind his sexual behavior could stem from his pathetical liar mother, lack of father figure and fear of abandonment.
In the series, Barney has slept with over 250 women through lying and manipulation with his notorious “Playbook. ” On top of his active sex life, he has a high paying Job and always seeks control and relevance in the work place. Barney’s humor is mostly seen in his hypersexual tendencies. Sleeping around and objectifying women prove his manliness to his peers and the audience. Josh Radnor, the actor who plays Ted, aid in an interview with Riki Lindhome that Barney “is like a total alien parody of masculinity’ (Radnor, 2013).
This take on the alpha male gender stereotypes is so extreme that it is humorous. No real man would be nearly as determined or assertive as Barney is outside of a sitcom. Since his heterosexuality defines him as masculine, this aggressive approach is necessary. But since he is successful with his approach within the show, the audience sees him as masculine. When watching him interact with women, it is a predator and prey scenario. Since he posses power, he initiates all conversations with random women at bars. It is considered masculine to take control of social encounters, which Barney does.
Barney also often interrupts his friends because he does not feel the need to ask the opinions of others. He often this. Ted often humors Barney and follows him even through it leads him to trouble. Barney also likes considering himself as the leader of the gang. In comparison to Ted and Marshall, Barney is the manliest. The desire to have power and lead the group is due to his masculinity. As a character, Barney is an exaggerated and humorous representation of a man in a sitcom. The characters of How I Met Your Mother resent unique representations of gender in the 21st Century.
The show challenges preexisting stereotypes with feminine men like Ted and masculine women like Robin. At the same time the show propagates gender stereotypes with Barney but to an extreme. All of this is executed through humor but still examines gender roles in society. The mass media shapes views of gender. By watching a character’s attitudes and behaviors on television, society can create gender norms. Hopefully more comedies like How I Met Your Mother can continue to challenge gender norms. Comedy is a form of entertainment that is provocative and thought engaging.