Friday, July 16, 2010

How to Be a Woman According To Michael Scott

In Season One of the hit NBC show, “The Office”, we got to know and love the characters who range from the sensitive and physically cute salesman, Jim, to the ridiculous and over-the-top boss, Michael Scott.  Since then, their antics have entertained the public for six seasons.  However, how innocent are the show’s intentions?  Consider the episode “Basketball”.  In this episode, Michael Scott demonstrates that he is both a racist and a male chauvinist. He makes comments that reinforce basic racial stereotypes as well as insinuations of female inferiority and objectification. The focus of this paper will be upon Michael Scott’s chauvinist tendencies.  Michael’s behavior toward the women of the office clearly illustrates what he thinks it means to be a desirable woman and his idea of the perfect power structure.

The first blatant display of male chauvinism is when Michael denies Phyllis a place on the sales department basketball team.  She had said, “I’d like to play, if it’s just for fun” (Basketball).  This indicates that Michael Scott sees sports as a masculine activity. Therefore he believes that women should not participate in sports.  Inversely, he believes if a male is a good athlete, it increases their masculinity.  Michael Scott’s beliefs are part of a patriarchal society.

Patriarchy is a system “of symbols and ideas that make up a culture embodied by everything from the content of everyday conversation to literature and film” (Johnson 94).   By Michael Scott asserting that Phyllis was not able to play basketball, he demonstrated how patriarchy could be seen in “everyday conversation.”  Allan Johnson says in “Patriarchy, The System An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us” that patriarchy is “about the valuing of masculinity and maleness and the devaluing of femininity and femaleness” (94).  Michael Scott upholds this claim by only wanting to pick males for his basketball team.  Johnson also says that “…we all participate in something larger than ourselves, something we didn’t create but that we have the power to affect through the choices we make about how to participate” (92).  By Michael reinforcing prominent chauvinistic ideas, he is upholding the system and values associated with patriarchy. He believes that to be a desirable woman, she must not participate in sports.

The second outrageous example of sexism is when Michael Scott asks office “hottie”, Pam, to cheerlead for the team.  The outfit he expects her to wear is demeaning.  This is demonstrated when he says she could wear a “little, uh, haltertop, you could tie that up and, ya know, something little just youthful for a change” (Basketball).  He also rejects Phyllis when she volunteers to cheerlead saying, “that’s worse than you playing” (Basketball).  The difference between Phyllis and Pam is based upon weight.  By Michael denying Phyllis the position of cheerleader, he is asserting that both beauty and femininity are based upon weight.  By encouraging the women in the office to pay attention to their appearance, he is in effect, telling them to spend less time on other aspects such as their work and their intelligence.

Jennifer L. Pozner supports the idea that men prefer women who are beautiful rather than intelligent.  In “The Unreal World,” Pozner mentions an account of a medical student, Elyse, who was a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model”.  Pozner quotes hostess Tyra Banks’ criticism of the intelligent model. Tyra Banks says, “’one thing with [your] intelligence is that it can intimidate people’” (Pozner 97).  This is one of the best examples of valuing women who are vapid over girls that strive to have a job that will get them somewhere in life.  The message that this is sending is that a woman possessing masculine traits is inherently intimidating.

Michael’s ideas are reinforced through his hegemonic methods that grant his ultimate superiority.  Hegemony is not just the power of one group over another, but it is also the “method for gaining and maintaining power” (Lull 61).  Overall, Michael is demeaning in his manner mainly to assert his power.  Due to his male chauvinism, he believes being a male means being at the top of the power structure.  Through his demeaning actions towards women, he maintains a male dominated power structure.  He not only believes that he must utilize hegemonic methodologies to maintain power over women, but also that hegemony supports his vision of men being at the top of the power structure. 

From these arguments, one can gather some inkling of the ideal woman according to Michael Scott.  She is conventionally beautiful and is either not smart enough to realize when he is taking advantage of her or too submissive to care.  She regularly wears clothes that accent her figure.  She works hard and diets regularly in order to maintain her figure. By emphasizing his male chauvinist ideals, he perpetuates the system of patriarchy.  He uses hegemony to maintain patriarchal values instead of questioning patriarchy.
Works Cited:

“Basketball.” The Office – Season One. National Broadcasting Company, 2005.DVD.

Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy The System An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology. Ed. Estelle Disch. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 91-99. Print.

Lull, James. “Hegemony.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text- Reader. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication Inc., 2003. 61-66. Print.

Pozner, Jennifer L. “The Unreal World.” Women: Images & Realities, A Multicultural Anthology. Eds. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2006. 96-99. Print.


  1. When you left your Blog-Buddy feedback for Meagan, you seemed to misuse the word "feminism."
    Masculine and male/man are not synonymous terms, just as feminine and female/woman aren't synonyms.
    Feminism is a political movement and a political word, one that isn't the same as merely being female or feminine. Therefore, it looks like you may have meant "femininity" or perhaps saw she should have substituted femininity for "masculinity" based Megan's argument about this show conveying what it means to be a man through the two characters she chose.

    Try to stick with the 2-3 strengths and 2-3 areas for improvement-based feedback. They can be bullet points or complete sentences, so that's up to you. However, as the class progresses, you should be able to start picking up on the areas of analysis your blog buddy has excelled in, as well as the areas s/he could use a bit of improvement.

  2. Christian-
    Great choice of show, episode, and character for this assignment.
    Be careful with your terminology. Phrases like "male chauvinist" are a bit outdated due to the lack of companion term "female chauvinist," which would seem absurdly silly if applied to a woman. Try to stick with "misogynist" or the terms from the assignment instructions. It seems as though Michael's character is depicting a definition of man that is heavily reliant on the mistreatment of his colleagues, egomaniacally opinionated views about women, and his status gained from being a white, upper-middle class heterosexual male character. Therefore, in that vein, he's conveying very clear messages that associate the examples you cited from the show as stereotypically (or hegemonically/normatively) masculine traits to convey what "it means to be a man."
    However, the office seems to play with every possible stereotypical scenario, employee (informally and formally) role in an office-environment, which many of its viewers work in on a daily basis.
    The whole show is a potentially satirical look at the hierarchies produced by "Corporate America" in contemporary US society. Therefore, is Michael's character necessarily convey the stereotypes about masculinity as defining what it means to be a man in the context of a satire? Could the audience interpret the messages about masculinity that the character, Michael sends as outdated and antiquated? Could the messages about manhood and masculinity be seen as just absurd when his character enacts them in the context of the TV show?

    Nice job choosing the quotes you used to support your points.

    The post, overall, is a bit on the short side; therefore, the analysis would benefit from more examples to deepen your analysis and to prove your thesis about Michael to the best of your ability. Perhaps, a look at the understanding of Michael's character as satirical, would make a nice complement to the analysis without necessarily undermining your proof of your thesis. Wouldn't that satirical understanding of his character mean he's subverting masculine qualities and actions, while undermining their normative association with what it means to be a man?

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