F.R.I.E.N.D.S is an American television sitcom created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman starring Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matt le Blanc, Mathew Perry and David Schwimmer. The series revolves around six 20-30 something friends living in Manhattan. It is one of those American series which is considered a style statement of being “cool” in various countries of the world.

Even after 13 years of its completion, the series continues to have the same popularity among the new generations of people. What goes unnoticed is the impact that it might have on the youth’s perception of how gender is binary and how a man and woman should behave.

It started off as a progressive show in the 90s with a woman (Rachel Green) running away from her wedding because she was not ready to marry a guy her parents chose for her, who then cut her credit cards and she resorted to working as a waitress in order to become an independent woman. But, as the show progressed, the sexism and gender stereotypes started taking the place of the progressive attitude that it portrayed in the pilot episode.

the show does not have a single black woman or man as its central characters.

After all these years of popularity, it is really necessary to look at F.R.I.E.N.D.S from a gendered perspective and see how it reflects and exaggerates the stereotypes of society in its own way. Now the series makes me cringe and sit with a straight face rather than laugh at all the scenes that portray the racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and gender stereotypes engraved in the society around us.

The foremost problem is the casting of the show. Even after being progressive enough to show a single mother and a lesbian couple, the show does not have a single black woman or man as its central characters. The only black actress to make an appearance on the show is Charlie Wheeler who was introduced as a guest actor in season 9 of the series.

The portrayal of all three female characters in the series is a paradox of how women can be independent but they are still supposed to be “feminine” and “womanlike”. Even their independence is associated with a negative connotation to it.

Just like when Rachel runs away from her wedding, the story line follows a dependent daughter of a rich father and hence the only job she is capable of doing is that of a waitress. In the same way Monica and Phoebe are portrayed as cook and masseuse, respectively, whereas the male characters in the series are portrayed as IT professionals (Chandler), Scientist (Ross) and Actor (Joey).

Image Credit: Meme Center

The football game in season 3 is when Rachel is called an “useless girl”, Monica is ridiculed for being competitive “like a boy” and Phoebe flashes her breasts to win points – an apt example of how society views women and how media, in order to over-accommodate the views of society portrays women in the same way. In the same episode, the way Ross says that “We are not going to lose to girls”, indicating that women are weak creatures who cannot win a rough game like football.

Even the language used when the male characters are talking about women is such that it reduces women to “ice cream”. Like the time when Ross was doubtful after his first divorce whether he will be able to love again or not and Joey sweeps him to explain that “There are many women in the world, just like ice cream”. He advises that Ross only needs to “Grab a spoon”. Throughout the series all Joey does is objectify women by comparing them to the flavours of ice cream and choosing a roommate only because she is ‘hot’.

Also Read: Why You Need To Be Watching Netflix’s Dear White People

In the episode where Paolo assaults Phoebe, the show gives this shocking act a humorous turn; instead of acknowledging it as sexual assault, it terms it as “Making a move”. Instead of encouraging women to come forward and report sexual abuse, it just shakes it away lightly by saying that he was “Making a move”.

Chandler’s father is portrayed as a drag artist and is stigmatised throughout the series. In fact till Chandler and Monica’s wedding his father was just a character without a face who everyone knew existed and was an element of mockery for them. Throughout the series, there are incidences like when Chandler’s mom says “Don’t you have a little too much penis to be wearing a dress like that” that emphasize the stigma attached to a sexual minority of society. Chandler was often teased by saying that he has a gay dad, because of which he has that ‘quality’ which translates into him not behaving in a stereotypically masculine way. A heterosexual man should be ‘masculine’, anyone who is otherwise will be considered gay. Whereas, the playboy character of Joey always leaves an imprint on the viewers that having sex with ‘n’ number of women is an ideal ‘masculine’ characteristic.

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Ross is another character which has been portrayed as someone who has the “right” to compare two women (Lucy and Rachel) in order to choose one. And this scene in the series again leaves the two ‘desperate’ women to compete for the ‘affection’ of a man. Throughout the series Ross is portrayed as the ‘meek’ man who is the victim of cruelty of every woman in his life. When he says the wrong name during his wedding with Emily, all of his friends constantly keep blaming Emily for leaving him.

Throughout the series Ross’s character uses “We were on a break” to prove that he was right in sleeping with another woman whereas at the same time he is jealous of her colleague Mark because he is tall and handsome and Ross thinks that he will take Rachel away from him. This again emphasizes the stereotype that women are just supposed to forgive, whereas it is okay for men to get jealous and expect woman to leave her career because they are “insecure”. Ross’s stereotypical attitude clearly comes into the picture when he has a problem with Ben playing with a doll and creates a big deal out of it.

Monica’s younger self is portrayed as a “fat-kid” and made fun of. The series again emphasizes the need to be of a certain body type. The series is full of body-shaming attitudes like this. Monica’s transformation from a “fat kid” to a thin “sexy” woman again emphasizes the need to be sexy in order to be accepted in society by men.

Double standards of the series come into view when it questions Monica about the number of her sexual partners but never raises a question on Joey’s sexual escapades. Chandler is always teased for not having “enough” sex and is labelled as gay because he is too “feminine” to be a man.

Monica’s transformation from a “fat kid” to a thin “sexy” woman again emphasizes the need to be sexy in order to be accepted in society by men.

The series emphasizes that men are “masculine” and “tough” and they do not express their emotions; whereas women are more expressive, weak and feminine. That is why Monica is made fun of for being “competitive like a boy”, Joey and Ross are ashamed of themselves for taking a nap together and everyone in the series thinks that Chandler is gay.

Though, the show portrays a lesbian couple (full of offensive, homophobic stereotypes), a drag artist, a single woman and a surrogate mother, it also portrays women who are independent and talk openly about their sexuality. But throughout the series, all it does is make fun and stigmatise all these identities through the medium of its male characters. In the show, all the other characteristics act as a tool of fun and jokes for masculinity.

Despite being popular and continuing to be a solace from real life for viewers, it should no more be considered a show that the next generation should watch and laugh at. Instead it is time to say good bye to all the humour that we have seen in the show and face the stark reality that F.R.I.E.N.D.S is homophobic, sexist, racist, transphobic and a show full of gender stereotypes like many other sitcoms.

Also Read: 4 Progressive Web Series That Are A Must Watch


Featured Image Credit: Cosmopolitan

18 COMMENTS

  1. Oh great someone is offended, for Christ’s sake this wasn’t made recently, it’s an old show who’s comedy is meant to be timeless. At the time there was no emphasis or pressure for diversity and not offending people

  2. Hi Shinjinee, firstly I really like this feminism page and a pro- feminist myself.
    Like you I grew up watching this show but I believe the views you have projected in this page are super cynical and have overlooked the big picture which the series always wished to highlight.
    Very frankly I find this show highly feminist and pro women liberation. From breaking sterotypes of being a lesbian couple, to being a surrogate mother without any shame, to being a single mother in the big city, to woman living on their own terms.

    The girls may not have pro-macho professions but they loved their jobs, they all managed to live on their own and on their own terms, marrying when they felt right, having babies out of a wedlock, these were some of the very progressive thoughts. And not all women in the series were not smart.Ross would have been the scientist but he did date a lot of fellow female scientists. yes, Charlie was the black women both Joey and Ross wooed but even much before that even in the initial seasons Ross dated an asian descent scientist-Julie and I believe even Chandler dated an older Italian woman.

    Coming to Joey, he was a typical alpha male sleeping with multiple woman but was always mocked for being stupid in doing that as well. And Phoebe also did have a lot of dates quite similar to Joey.

    Also, the age barriers which were displayed through out the season with Monica- Richard, Ross dating his student and Rachel dating the student’s father were all very gender neutral and progressive in the thoughts.
    Another example of gender neutrality was 2 main characters falling in love and marrying with characters who were not heterosexuals( Phoebe and his gay husband and Ross and Carol).

    The football show , I would say showed the feminist side of Monica who was brought up in a much more tougher way, she was fat she fought against stereotypes, yes became thin but excelled, her parents didn’t think much of her and yes she was as good in football as her brother. Rachel was born in luxury and was not a street kid but she did knew how to ride a boat much better than a man( Joey owns the boat episode- our macho Joey was feeble in front of “petite, beautiful and dependent Rachel”).

    As far as Emily being mocked for leaving Ross, well wont your friends support you as a friend and mock the person who leaves you. They did realize and so did Ross that he was at fault in saying the wrong name and the friends found it unfair since now “Emily”( Rightfully though) had trust issues and asked him to leave Rachel and Us all together and with him in London. Ross himslef had much more trust issues (when he didnt trust Mark around Rachel). The friends maintained neutrality over who was justified for “we were on a break” and acknowledged Ross for being the one wrong for saying the wrong name.

    Chandler did have a troubled childhood, her parents were way away from “normal” at that time and he was different and he was less risky because of it, whether it was with his chance with women or his job, this weakness made him more susceptible to “feminine” jokes. I personally believe the “gay” jokes showed that heterosexual men can also have a soft side like Chandler and Ross did but the women were barely ever shown to be meek.

    All the woman in the show were super strong independent and followed their hearts and were shown emotionally also much more stronger than the men. Phoebe lived on the streets , grew up practically without any family,struggled hard and refused to follow the stereotypes, made a life for herself on her own which was on the foundation of being happy and spreading happiness -singing being a masseuse she didn’t care about the world’s thoughts about her, became a surrogate mother and dated many many men before she settling in the final season.She was a freak but so emotionally strong.

    Monica grew up in a more chauvinistic family where her brother was favored,she was fat, but she fought against it all, became thin, struggled initially as a cook, fell in love with a man her dad’s age but never gave up on her self confidence. She became a successful head-chef , took charge of the purchase of a new house and adoption of a kid when her husband was demoralized because he could not giver her a child and had left a stable job and was struggling with his new found profession in advertising.She was also an inspiration for her “pampered” friend Rachel as well. She was always the one which everyone was scared of since she was this strong and temperamental- qualities which are traditionally masculine.

    Rachel , yes she was pampered and delicate to start with and had just started being independent when she left the man her parents decided at the altar but found a new foundself, learnt to be on her own- yes, she took a job as a waitress because she was looking for jobs to start with. But she came back to job and did what she loved- Fashion and sales, she became successful in the fashion sales industry and returned a few weeks after her maternity to fight back for her position, She was ambitious professional and an independent single mom by the end of the season. Her journey from a pampered daughter to an independent single mother is indeed inspirational.

    The show actually highlights how all the friends grew and became matured throughout its 10 seasons. The women in my understanding became stronger, much more matured and independent as the seasons progressed. I think to the contrary it is a much more progressive and pro-feminist of a series and one series which I can always watch when I am down,it makes me laugh, feel positive and inspired.

    • Very well said. I was quite hurt by this article actually, Friends has been in my childhood from the day I was born and it is such a wonderful memory for me. The characters are brilliant, strong and likeable. The storylines emotional and very real. It is a programme done decades back, but I really wish it were still like that. Very sad to be a part of this current powerful movement which seems to shame and hate anyone who doesn’t conform to such extreme views.

  3. I am a feminist(as they say so) but it looks like the excerpts from the series are pulled only with the intention to prove it sexist etc.If the boys objectify the women,Joey in particular,the ladies also talk about men’s bodies and have ditched various men in the show(hardly ever got dumped themselves).In the similar manner how Pablo made a move on Phoebe,the latter had kissed/touched a client’s body unappropriately for which she was even suspended for “making a move” on client.As far as all five blaming Emily for leaving Ross,they were just supportive of their friend Ross.What about the time when Rachel called off the wedding as Barry looks like Mr. potato head to her,wasnt that ethically wrong to leave him for his looks.Altough I do agree about fat shaming and how being fat was related to being ugly and other beauty parameters were laid quite often!!

  4. Why cant people watch it just as a tv show and ignore everything else, what if there’s a group of 6 friends and they dont have a black person..Should they find a black person and include him in their group just to prove they r not racist.. Its just depressing that people find out negativism , in any good thing, be it in the form of racism, gender equality n all. U are the one discriminating by assuming certain jobs are better than others..Some people are a certain way, and have certain jobs, nd certain family situations, due to which they turn out to be a certain way. Unlike the writer, everyone cannot turn out to be perfect! They have their flaws which are brought out as flaws in the series and are not glorified in anyway as i see it. So try seeing the good in thing than bringing out negativism

  5. Well, as you said you have to sit through the show with a straight face and laughing at those ‘moments’ of biased towards sex, race or color.

    Well, same went with me. I read your article through and through, and was also smiling at your failure to understand the show AT ALL.

    Well, from where do I start!!!

    Every little thing you said has been pointed out by show itself, to be starters.

    Note: you forgot the name of ‘Lisa Kudrow’ in the very first paragraph. Please add.

    Accusation #1 Not One Black person in main caste
    While I congratulate you on your observation, I don’t think this qualifies enough to call the show ‘Racist’.
    Nowhere the show PROMOTES racism. And even when Charlie comes, she is commented as Most Beautiful, so much that two well established Men (Ross and Albert) fights over her.

    Apart from this, there is not so much as a single joke or passing reference that depicts show’s or any character’s racist nature.

    Accustation #2 Portrayal of Female characters
    1. Rachel is ONLY Waitress: Yes, becuase she was never trained to be anything. But then, she rises up, experiences society, bursts her protective bubble that her father built around her, so much so that she ends up getting an offer to go to Paris, and even then, she chooses Love over Career, becuase she knew where her heart was. She never lost her humanity. She never ran after money anymore then it was necessary to sustain herself. She had the perfect balance. And that’s what makes her so likeable.

    2. Monica is ONLY Cook. No..she was the BEST Cook. She was passionate about it. And god knows she saw her ups and downs. She even decided to dress ridiculously even when things hit low. But she kept going. In the end, she was a HEAD CHEF.

    3. Phoebe is Only masseuse: Again wrong. She was a musician. I am not saying a great one, but that never stopped her. She was the only one to grow up without a decent family, and in the endxthat’s exactly what she got, A Family. The thing she longed for since childhood.
    And FYI, she was an excellent masseuse as well.

    Accusation #4 Male had good jobs.
    Seriously. Good job?? Chandler HATED his job, and Joey was an actor, which is even worse then being a waitress, coz its even more unstable job.
    Only Ross loved his job. And he strived hard for it. A Ph.D is no joke, mind you.

    Accusation #5 Season 3 football
    Rachel is useless, because she didn’t know a thing about football, but even then she tried. Even when labelled as Useless, she actually caught the last throw. So who is useless now.
    And i don’t understand, If monica is competitive like a boy, that’s not a bad thing, is it? It is a Sport. By definition, it is a competitive sport. No one sees Mon in a bad light ,she actually pulls through really well.

    And How is Ross saying ‘we are not gonna lose to girls’ any different from Monica’s comment(in the same scene) that we are not gonna lose to boys. Explain please.

    Accusation #6 Joey Objectifying Woman.
    Yes, but just think, who was the only person left unmarried, only one who could never achieve his/her love. He got punished for what he did all his life. By the later seasons, even he turns around and starts craving real relationship, after seeing Mon-Chan’s and the Frank-Alice.

    Accusation #7 Paolo Making a Move.
    As you wrote, Yes, it was an assault. But it was dealt with best way. Paolo was completely ostracized. So no, it wasn’t normalized at all. It was justly treated.

    Accusation #8 Gay talented Chandler vs Masculine Joey.
    Already pointed out where the so called ‘Masculinity’ of Joey led him. As for Chandler, he was never called gay because of his father, just that he was sensitive. And take a guess who ends up having love of his life in the end. Chandler.

    Accusation #9 Ross
    Ross’s comparing two women in no way belittle two women. Ross do have ‘Right’ to decide who HE ‘d rather be with, just as EVERYONE. Both loved him. But whom he loved? Can’t you even allow him to makr a choice. And its not like he went straight to Julie (another thing who want to correct) He waited for a YEAR in showtime, and many years before. it was she who was oblivious.

    And Yes …ROSS was highly wrong in her sleeping with another, and was constantly reminded of it. Chandler said ‘Bullets have left guns slower’ and theb Chandler’s own mirror situation with Kathy.
    So tell me, where was Ross praised for his behavior?

    And his objection to dolls comes at a humorous conclusion, when it us revealed that he himseld was like that, stating that it wasn’t something exclusively feminine, but general. Not self consciously though.

    Accusation #10 Fat Shaming
    Yes, she was Fat shamed. But even she later agreed upon that ‘Yeah now I don’t have as much chance of heart diseases as before’. So she took it positivity. Even in the alternate world, where she was fat, Chandler ends up with her. So no one Body type, I would say.

    Accusation #11 Amount of Sex directly related to one’s Coolness
    Richard had sex with only 2 women, did that make him any less likeable?
    Chandler didn’t have enough sex, but did even that affected his getting married with Monica.
    And even Joey admitted the sex he was having was Meaningless. So it was a moral after all.

    Accusation #12 Show had 3 main male starcasts, and numerous others. And almost everyone of them showed their emotional side. Never did we are presented with a ‘Macho’ man. Coz deep down, there aren’t any. If show would have been so keen on imposing so called ‘Masculine’ values, we would have been presented with one. But we never did. Everyone has there emotional sides. So how is this bad?

    Accusation #13 Last: Too many jokes on all the ‘Different people'(taking umbrella term.)
    Yeah. It is a COMEDY show at the end of the day. From where do you think that will come? And its not a skit, but entire SHOW. Chandler’s one liners and others what makes it what it is. And even these Jokes were Joked upon. Talk about levels.

    At the end of the day, yes, this do comes from a fan, who have seen whole series 6-7 times, and will do so again anytime. But that only did give me more understanding of the show. Maybe these are the reasons ‘You Won’t watch F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ .But as you said, this show continues to influence generations. Why? you should ask.

    Maybe you’ll turn around, Maybe you won’t. In any case, i wish you all the best.

    • Thank you so much for this. It is important to have people like you portraying your opinions unafraid of comments labelling you to be a racist or masculinist. I am a part of this current generation which is pushing ‘feminism’ to be anti-men and forcing people to conform and am very sad to feel so lost within it. Keep sharing your valuable opinions.

  6. This article makes me so sad. This is one of the most progressive shows I have ever seen. It is so progressive that if you do some of the things, that these characters have done, in India in this century the society will shun you.
    Why did you have go that far when we have the most derogatory shows in India, where all women do is plan and plot against each other.
    Please watch “F.R.I.E.N.D.S.” again from the point of view of all those who have commented.. I am sure you’ll love it. 🙂

  7. I always found something weird about this show but could never put my finger on it. You have pointed out exactly what bothered me. The show tries to be progressive but derives comedy from the age old stereotypes. It is hypocritical.

  8. Something about FRIENDS always bothered me but I could never put my finger on the reason. You have pointed out exactly what that is. The show tries to be progressive but the comedy is based on the age-old stereotypes. This hypocrisy irks me a lot.

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