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Lecture explores gender in pop culture

Irena Zajickova | Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Men Against Violence club sponsored a lecture entitled “That’s What HE Said: Images of Modern Masculinity” in the Hesburgh Library’s Carey Auditorium on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

The event, which featured a viewing of an episode of the popular television show “The Office,” as well as a panel discussion, explored the topic of how masculinity is portrayed in popular culture.

The first panelist, Dr. Augustin Fuentes, a professor of Anthropology at Notre Dame, discussed gender roles within “The Office.”

He said that the sitcom worked well because the male-female dichotomy present within the episodes is so embedded in society’s understanding of gender.

However, in real life, gender roles are much more subtle, Fuentes said. There is overlap in how people act, and no one can be placed solely into one gender category.

Dr. Eileen Hunt Bottig, the director for the Gender Studies Program, spoke about the metaphors for unsuccessful romantic relationships present on the show.

She mentioned a plot line where a character tried to live her relationship with another character by a contract. Bottig said this is not the way that a true, loving relationship works, and that the storyline showed the errors involved with this way of life.

“It forces us to contemplate what’s wrong about [the relationships present on the show],” Bottig said.

Dr. Mark Gunty, a Notre Dame sociology professor, said how relatable the show’s characters are. However, Gunty said all of the characters are caricatures of various archetypes of people.

“These are caricatures, and there is some truth in the types, but the representations of whole persons is almost uniformly missing,” Gunty said.

Gunty said that even though viewers of “The Office” can relate to various aspects of each character, they are two-dimensional. People in real life are much more complex than any character in “The Office.”

Dr. Cathleen Kaveny, a John P. Murphy professor of Law, spoke about the boyish behavior present on “The Office.”

She said that Michael Scott, one of the main characters, often engages in behavior that is like a child.

“What does it mean to be a grown-up?” Kaveny said.

She listed five characteristics necessary for successful adulthood: Self-control, awareness of other people’s boundaries, sense of one’s own boundaries, understanding of what is appropriate in a given situation, and ability to relate to other people’s needs.

Dr. John Cavadini, the chair of the Theology department, said “The Office” presents a great sense of irony and also reveals the flaws in the traditional structure of masculine identity.

“‘The Office’ is a place where the women are just as likely to be your boss as they are to be damsels in distress,” Cavadini said.

Cavadini also discussed the illusion of manliness present on the show, citing examples of how each character’s masculinity is undermined in some way.