Monday, April 10, 2017

Gender Roles in Gossip Girl

The first episode of the TV show Gossip Girl aired in 2007. It’s storyline focused around the complicated lives of a group of extremely wealthy and elite teenagers of Manhattan, New York and one less wealthy family living in Brooklyn. The show targeted teenagers, it’s main audience being teenage girls, and through the portrayal of the complex dynamics of the relationships between the teenage characters on the show, enforced extreme ideas about the roles of males and females in romantic relationships. Because some of the main characters, although none extremely poor, came from families of different economic and social statuses, the blending of these groups on a romantic level both challenges and enforces gender stereotypes. Through following three separate relationships involving people from different social classes it is seen that, although typical and less dramatic positions of male dominance and female submissiveness are reached when both partners come from similar social statuses, lack of money can lead to feeling of economic inferiority in the male partner, while higher economic status can lead to hyper masculine and even violent behavior.

By the fifth episode of the first season, we know that Dan Humphrey, who is not a member of the elite, popular, and rich friend group that dominate his high school, is infatuated with Serena Vanderwoodsen, a girl born into money. In pursuing a relationship with her, Dan, who has never had a girlfriend before, is extremely nervous. However, his nervousness, as he describes it to his dad saying, “because she’s Serena Vanderwoodsen” comes not from inexperience, but from an inherent feeling of inferiority because of her wealth. Because society enforces the idea that males have to be the “breadwinner” and financially superior member of the relationship, Dan felt that because he could not fill the high school equivalent of this role he was not deserving of her company. Although the class difference called for significant shift some aspects of their relationship, the strength of gender roles ends up showing itself when throughout their relationship, Dan ends up being the Knight in Shining Armour that saves Serena from the selfishness of her status and shows her how beautiful she truly is.

Later in the episode, Dan’s younger sister Jenny goes to the party of a member of the elite group and gets sexually assaulted by a boy a few years older than her named Chuck Bass. When Jenny arrives at the party, Chuck, immediately upon seeing her without any conversation or further interaction, says, “Here we go”. This simple phrase and objectifying phrase began Chucks aggressive pursuit of Jenny, ending with alone and cornered on a roof. In the show Chuck represents the ultimate and most powerful man. He is the most wealthy of his friends and is at the center of his friend group. Being in the position of a fairly charismatic human being and committing such a serious act and violent against a female dramatizes sexual assault in a way that almost normalizes it. Chuck never receives any significant punishment for his horrific actions, demonstrating the idea that class can further and even encourage the enforcement of gender roles to a dangerous extent.

Towards the end of the episode, we explore the complex and fading relationship between two of upper class friends, Blair Waldorf and Nate Archibald. This relationship enforces the idea that even when the class playing field is evened, the partners of a relationship take on the classic roles of male dominance and female submissiveness. This episode focuses on Blair’s desire to lose her virginity to Nate. A few times throughout the episode, Serena Vanderwoodsen, Blair’s best friend, says to her, “but I thought you were saving yourself!” This statement being made by an extremely significant and likeable female character enforces the idea of a woman’s virginity holding her self worth and value as a human being. Blair spent the majority of this episode planning the “special night” and making sure everything was perfect for Nate, while all he had to do to participate was show up and have sex.

Gossip Girl has been off of the air for years, but it still on Netflix. Teenage girls and boys still have easy access to these complex characters. Although the extravagance of the lives of the characters is unrelatable to the average teen, many can relate or learn from the romantic relationships portrayed. Through this show it is seen that sexism and gender roles are so deeply rooted in society that they cross class lines and even affect the lives of those who seem to be living the dream. It is important that it is realized that, although these characters are caricatures and the plots seem unrealistically dramatic, the hardships they face due to gender roles and societal pressures are extremely real. Although Gossip Girl explores the ways in which class can bend gender roles and provides a platform for young teens to learn about them through colorful characters, it does enforces stereotypes more than it breaks them.

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