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.