UNST 254C – Popular Culture
Instructor: Daneen Berglund
Single Mid-30’s Women Personified in Popular Culture
The identity that I’ve chosen to write about for this assignment is single mid-30’s woman. In one of the planning assignments for this essay we listed many different things that we identify as, but I feel more than any of the other identities I listed, this represents me the most as an individual. The examples that I’ve seen of this persona represented in popular culture are quite varied. I thought that the different variations of single mid-30’s women and the differences in how men are portrayed would be interesting to examine more closely. More often than not, television shows portray single women as desperate, lonely, or bitter. Though some more modern shows show men this way too, female characters in TV shows are often depicted as being obsessed with their romantic relationships. We’ll look specifically at examples of the popular culture artifacts that I’ve chosen as sources for this assignment, Sex in the City, Friends, and How I Met Your Mother. And even more specially at the characters of Miranda Hobbs, Joey Tribiani, and Ted Moseby. Most commonly single women in their mid-30’s are represented as desperate or lonely, whereas single men in their mid-30’s are considered ladies’ men or they can’t be “tied down” making them all the more desirable. How I Met Your Mother, being the most recent show, tends to bridge that gender gap and has the most gender balanced of characters of the three shows.
To analyze this trope further, first let’s consider the characters of Miranda in Sex and the City and Joey from Friends. Sex and the City, created by Darren Star, produced by HBO, 1998 – 2004. Sex and the City was an American television show. Throughout its six-year run, the show received contributions from various producers, writers and directors, including Michael Patrick King for HBO. This show was set and filmed in New York City, it is based on a book of the same name by Candace Bushnell. The show follows the lives of a group of four women—three in their mid-thirties and one in her forties. The target audience for this show was women in their late 20’s to mid-40’s. It was stylish, the main characters were all white women who drank a lot and were wealthy or at least had seemingly little income worry, at least according to their apartments and wardrobes. This series was notable for it’s style, which is very high fashion and expensive. The character of Miranda Hobbs, played by Cynthia Nixon, is very career driven but the show often focuses on her lack of dating prospects and her cynicism.
Friends, created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, broadcast on NBC, 1994 – 2004. The series was an American sitcom produced by Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions, in association with Warner Bros. Television. The original executive producers were Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane, with numerous others being promoted in later seasons. It revolved around a circle of friends living in Manhattan. The target audience for this is similar to the one for Sex in the City, but expanded to both male AND female. It was funny in a cute and silly way. Also set in New York, all the main characters were heterosexual Caucasians that were very focused on their dating and relationship status. This series was very light hearted, almost slapstick. It comes off very much like a show that was a watered down version of young singles in New York City. It is interesting to me how the creators seem to do that on purpose to appeal to a wider audience. It worked too because Friends was one of the most popular shows ever on television. It’s always bothered me how with the exception of a few of the main characters, most of the people in this show were struggling professionals in their various fields. A common theme with people of this age range, however they didn’t seem to struggle when it came to their giant inner city apartments. I’ve spent a lot of time in New York and none of the people I know have apartments that nice. Also they drank a lot less than the other shows I’m using as artifacts and spent more time in their coffee shop than a bar or nightclub. The character of Joey Tribiana, was an actor, and unlike Miranda who eventually had a main relationship with the character Steve, never has a main relationship.
In the article Constructing Gender Stereotypes Through Social Roles in Prime-Time Television, the authors looked at 100 television programs to examine the social roles enacted by female and male characters. The findings confirmed that female characters continue to inhabit interpersonal roles involved with romance, family, and friends. In contrast, male characters are more likely to enact work-related roles. Maybe that’s why the character of Joey is less concerned with his dating life and could therefore focus more on his career, which was an actor. I remember more episodes centered around his job as an actor than his dating life.
My final popular culture artifact is How I Met Your Mother, created by Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, for CBS from 2005 to 2014. This was an American sitcom that follows the main character, Ted Mosby, and his group of friends in Manhattan as Ted, in the year 2030, recounts to his son and daughter the events that led him to meeting their mother. This show has a similar target audience to the other two artifacts I’m using. All college educated, Set in New York City, Mixture of men and women, Two of them were a couple. Main male character more concerned with finding love than female. The main character Ted was pretty atypical because he was a man looking for love. Most shows portray women in those types of roles or characters. The opposite is true of one of the other female characters, which is commitment phobic and not desperate at all. I like how they didn’t fall back on the same old stereotypes. While examining the dichotomies in portrayal of the female character of Miranda and the male character Joey from their respective shows, you can clearly see the slant the media takes on single-ness and gender. Because I am a happily single woman, by choice, I feel like, regardless of age, gender, or sexual preference it would be nice to see a portrayal of a mid-30’s character who wasn’t obsessed with her or his dating life.
I feel like all of these shows were popular and successful so the three similarities that I see all show how marketable shows set in New York about the romantic relationships of single mid-30’s friends are. My theme for this assignment is Mid-30’s Single Woman. I wanted to show how most TV shows who deal with mid-30’s single women are most often portrayed as desperate, lonely and/or updateable, whereas single men in their 30’s are usually less focused on their dating life and more on their work life or other pursuits. There are a lot of similarities in these 3 television shows. All are young, single, white people with little seeming shortage on funds. As I mentioned earlier this must be a very profitable formula and indeed it is. I could list countless other shows and movies centered around young single people on television today, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Friends With Better Lives, Mixology to name but a few. Being a single woman who is focused on her career and education, it would be nice to see a happily single person shown on a TV show.
In the values affirmation activity we did in week 2, the values that I listed that matter most to me were honesty, loyalty, sincerity, dedication, determination, and working hard. Of those values, I chose loyalty as being the most important as it tends to encompass a lot of the other values I listed. I think that sometimes loyalty comes naturally to people, but it takes a certain amount of determination and hard work to carry it out. I feel that my commitment to finishing my degree is a sense of loyalty to myself and my future as is definitely my main focus in life right now. Because I work full time, going to school has been that much more challenging and I’ve had to make sacrifices in almost every other area in my life, which definitely connects with my personal interests and goals. I think that my determination and focus on school is part of what brought about the focus of my essay being single mid-30’s woman because I think that this identity has made school being my main focus possible. So much of the media out there around single people in their mid-30’s has to do with dating and relationships and because I’m focused on my career and school at this point in my life and have very little time for much else, I have a hard time finding that reflection in popular culture. I’ve had a hard time connecting on a personal level to the research that I’ve done for this essay but the activities have helped me understand why this topic is so important to me, so it’s been very interesting.
Martha Lauzen, David Dozier, and Nora Horan. Constructing Gender Stereotypes Through Social Roles in Prime-Time Television.
Sex in the City. Retrieved from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0159206/
How I Met Your Mother. Retrieved from http://www.cbs.com/shows/how_i_met_your_mother/
Havrilesky, H. “Never Forget Your Friends”. Retrieved from: http://www.salon.com/2004/05/07/friends_finale/