From Our Readers
July 02, 2015 6:30 am

In addition to being known for its timeless humor, lovable characters, and the phrase, “How you doin’?”, the hit TV show Friends also contains many examples of feminism on television. I was so thrilled to find that the show I was obsessively binge-watching had social commentary that was so subtly embedded within it. The first time I had watched the show, I barely noticed it underneath all the “We were on a break!!” drama, but the more times I saw the show, I noticed moments where Friends gets it right on the gender equality front. Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe were some seriously strong independent women, and the whole show exhibited a certain attitude that echoed feminism. Here are some of my personal favorite feminist moments from Friends.

Ben chooses to play with a Barbie doll, not a G.I. Joe

When Ross’s son, Ben, brings home a Barbie doll and Ross reacts unhappily, he spends the entire episode trying to convince Ben to play with a stereotypically male toy, like a G.I. Joe, instead of the Barbie doll. Ross believes his lesbian ex-wife and her wife forced the Barbie upon Ben, when in reality, Ben picked out the doll all on his own. This episode breaks down gender stereotypes and shows that neither Barbies nor G.I. Joes should be strictly assigned to either gender; girls can be interested in action figures just as much as boys can like dressing up their Barbie dolls.

Rachel hires a male nanny for Emma, because gender doesn’t determine being good at a job

When Rachel hires a male nanny for her daughter Emma, Ross shows immediate signs of feeling weirded out about hiring a man to take care of their daughter. He feels it is untraditional, but unable to give a solid reason not to hire him other than he feels guys should not be nannies. Ross is visibly put off by the male nanny, who is a sensitive and gentle man. Rachel does not welcome these sentiments and becomes increasingly frustrated, even disgusted, with Ross’s behavior, ultimately saying that the male nanny is smart and qualified and deserves to be hired. His gender has nothing to do with it.

Rachel keeps her career even when Ross gets jealous

When Rachel finally gets her dream job working for Bloomingdale’s and becomes too busy to enjoy time with Ross, Ross fails to be understanding and intrudes on her workplace when she tells him she can’t spend their anniversary together. He causes serious trouble at her office, setting her desk on fire, unable to understand that Rachel needs to focus and simply does not have the time to celebrate with him. During their argument that follows, Rachel stresses that she is completely unwilling to just quit her job so Ross can “feel like [he] has a girlfriend again” and when he tells her to remember that it’s just a job, Rachel feels personally attacked, stressing that she’s finally working at a job she enjoys and is good at, and refuses to let Ross’s jealousy and desire for more time with her to get in the way of that. She’s aware that she doesn’t need to sacrifice her own happiness to continue being with Ross. Right on, Rachel!

Monica was incredibly good at football

As is revealed in one of the funniest episodes of the show, Monica is boss at football. She and Ross have a history of defeating one another in the sport, because even though she is younger and female, she is a perfect match for Ross. She’s competitive, daring, and has a fighting spirit about her that never dies. Even when she’s forced to play on a team with just Rachel and Phoebe, who are admittedly less skilled at football than the other four members of the group, she shows off her strategizing skills and ends up winning by motivating her teammates, taking advantage of her opponents’ weaknesses, and bringing victory.

Rachel and Mindy united to confront Barry, who cheated on both of them

The series begins with Rachel leaving Barry, her fiancé, at the altar, and his infidelity is confirmed throughout the series. Rachel finds out that Barry cheated on her throughout their engagement with her maid of honor, Mindy, and that Barry went on their would-be honeymoon with Mindy. If this wasn’t enough, later on in the series when Mindy and Barry are engaged, Barry cheats on Mindy with Rachel. All this tension gave both women plenty of reason to dislike each other, but this was fortunately not the case. They apologized, valued their friendship over how a single man had hurt both of them, and confronted Barry together. Rather than let him get in the way of their own friendship, they worked together to tell Barry that his behavior wasn’t okay.

Phoebe empowers Rachel to take hold of her own wind

Phoebe introduces a feminist, empowering book titled, “Be Your Own Wind-Keeper” to both Monica and Rachel and all three girls happily learn that they need to take control of their lives and keep men from “stealing their wind.” Rachel, currently in a relationship with Ross, puts these newfound realizations about her own womanhood to action immediately. When Ross asks her to hurry and go to a movie with him, she admittedly overreacts and responds by telling him he isn’t letting her grow. While her actions are heightened for comedic effect, the message rings loud and clear—she must be independent and in control of her own life and relationship, bringing to attention the common imbalance of power in relationships between men and women.

Rachel turned Ross down and specifically chose to be a single mom 

When Rachel gets pregnant, she chooses to tell Ross that he can be “as involved as he wants” and doesn’t pressure Ross to marry her or support her in any way. Ross, however, assumes that they will need to get married on account of the baby. Rachel responds to this with surprise and is completely taken aback by this assumption, unhappy with the fact that Ross assumes she cannot take care of the baby herself. She says that she doesn’t want to just get married because they have a child, but because they love each other. She shows that she can be an independent mother, capable of handling the toll of raising a child on her own. Marriage is great, but it’s not a default setting. Rachel’s choice illustrates that families come in all kinds of forms, and not just the traditional one.

Monica wanted Pete to make her head chef because she was skilled, not because he liked her

Pete, the billionaire Monica met during her short time at the roller-skating Moondance Diner, took a liking to Monica and started his own restaurant with the goal of making Monica head chef. Monica, however, refused to take the job unless it was given to her fairly and for her abilities as a chef rather than for the crush Pete had on her. Pete finally convinced Monica that he was over her, so she felt it was appropriate to take the job. Monica’s defiance and decision to turn down the amazing opportunity reflected her desire to be taken seriously and to deserve the respect she merited, not simply for how Pete felt about her. 

Friends gave us great character development and hilarious running gags, but also gave us many feminist sentiments in advocacy for gender equality. It’s worth cuing up on your Netflix one more time.

Linsha Qi is a dog lover, religious foodie, and a late-night television show aficionado. She currently attends UC Berkeley and is studying Political Science and English. She has worked for the Daily Californian and EmpowHER. Her hobbies include working out to Blogilates, attempting to eat healthy, and knitting while re-watching her favorite comedies. 

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[Image via NBC]

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