Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The "No" Code

How I Met Your Mother is one of my favorite shows; it is funny without being crude, and the characters push the boundaries of being comically over-the-top without venturing too far outside of plausibility. I especially liked how Neal Patrick Harris' character Barney was a total womanizer and one of the highlights of the show, while in reality Harris is gay; it made it 'okay' for some guys I knew to really like a character regardless of the actor's sexual orientation and even made one of them a little more open-minded.

However, Barney had major issues in his treatment of women and the elaborate lengths he was willing to go to just to find another one-night stand. His character also went to extremes to portray himself as 100 percent "real man," never emotional, only interested in sex not relationships, independent and focused on his job and making a lot of money. Barney also acted as the masculinity police of the group, enforcing the so-called "bro code," quickly pointing out any time another guy was acting too emotional or making fun of their committed relationships. However, this outer behavior is revealed to only be a "mask" for Barney's insecurities due to being abandoned by his father, and cheated on, dumped and abandoned by his first love. This has created a considerable amount of gender role strain because "cultural gender demands conflict with naturally occurring tendencies" which "creates a discrepancy between the "real self" and the "ideal self concept" (Kimmel 145). Barney's behavior highlights several of the six areas Kimmel outlines on pages 148-149 as being most evident of gender role strain for men:

  • Power, control and competition - his constant need for competition, frequently saying "Challenge accepted!"
  • Achievement, success and money - Barney's exact job title is unknown, but he doesn't seem to care about the illegal or morally questionable things done at his job because he makes a lot of money 
  • Femiphobia - Barney rarely expresses any emotions considered to be feminine, such as attachment to others, sadness or guilt
  • Sexual initiative and performance - Barney is all about one-night stands without attachment; he has an entire playbook of ways to trick women into sleeping with him

The concept of the bro code is both frustrating and confusing from a female perspective; there is no unofficial "girl code" limiting our behavior or degrading men. While it would be nice to feel more sense of community with other women and be united in something, I mostly see a bro code as being very limiting and a way of men reinforcing "acceptable" behavior in the same way that boys and teens may use homophobic slurs toward another boy who "is labeled for failing to live up to masculine role norms" (Kimmel 134). So, maybe instead of a "girl code" or "bro code," we should have a human code where we stop limiting what people can or cannot do, feel or express because of their sex or gender.

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