Movies & TV Shows

5 Times The Show Defied Gender Norms (& 5 Times It Didn’t)

During a recent interview with The Daily Beast, actress Lisa Kudrow dished on a ’90s run-in where the Seinfeld lead, and the world-famous comic, Jerry Seinfeld told her “You’re welcome” for Friends’ success. When Kudrow had asked, “Why?” Seinfeld had replied, “You’re on after us in the summer, and you’re welcome,” suggesting that his popular show Seinfeld had helped boast Friends’ rankings. Kudrow agreed that Seinfeld’s popularity did have an effect on Friends’ viewership, noting, “Not to take anything away from the writing on Friends, or the cast, or how good Friends really was, but the first season our ratings were just fine.”

While Seinfeld and Friends were part of NBC’s stellar ’90s lineup, the former is known as its spiritual successor. It broke fresh ground by mapping out character arcs through progressive gender representation. That said, italso features infamous instances of reinforcing various gender stereotypes throughout all nine seasons. Compelling arguments can be made for both sides.


2 Defy:

Elaine Handles Peer Pressure

In season “The Soul Mate,” Elaine’s friends peer pressured her into having a baby. She respected their choice to procreate and tried to avoid the discussion the best she could.

RELATED: Each Main Seinfeld Character’s Best Quote

Later at the magazine stand, Elaine raised questions about her friends’ behavior and their nerve to push pregnancy onto her against her will. She reiterated that not wanting kids didn’t make her a bad humanitarian and that she was a good person at heart. Elaine maintains motherhood is a choice and doesn’t let societal expectations dictate her.

Elaine Shuts Down Mansplaining

Elaine was a part of an overbearing male dynamic, and as a consequence, her friends would sometimes talk to her in a condescending and patronizing manner. Seinfeld‘s “The Finale” is counted among the most hated series finales of all time. It features Jerry and George expressing disapproval of Elaine making a health inquiry on a cell phone, and calling her “pompous,” “selfish,” and “dismissive” for it. Elaine uses the best tactic to shut down the conversation, in that she gives the mansplainers a stern look and walks away.

Elaine stayed true to her feminist ideals throughout, in that, she had less tolerance for people who tried to talk her down and in doing so, became Seinfeld‘s stand-your-ground character.

Kramer Buys Super Hydrating Moisturizer

Kramer was one of the Seinfeld characters way ahead of their time, and in “The Secretary,” he asked Elaine to pick him a super hydrating moisturizer with UVA at Barneys New York.

Kramer’s attitude towards skincare emphasized that he, a man, needed skincare just as much as the next person. His attitude was not only heartening but also broke the rigid and pre-defined gender stereotypes surrounding male beauty.

Kramer Compliments Helen Seinfeld’s Hand Lotion

Kramer’s progressive approach towards beauty ideals also includes borrowing Helen Seinfeld’s hand lotion in the season 5 two-parter, “The Raincoats.” Without caring too much for Jerry who looked at him in disbelief, he used the lotion and what’s more, complimented Helen on the fragrance.

RELATED: 10 Seinfeld Episodes That Go Against The Norm

Kramer’s approach to skincare and beauty was gender-inclusive. It subverted the archaic standards that only enforce higher appearance requirements for women. His healthy gender expression transcended gender norms and given the said episode aired in 1994, it was a step in the right direction.

Elaine And Female Sexuality

Season 4’s “The Contest,” is one of Seinfeld‘s timeless episodes. It features the critical debate about self-gratification ensuing after George’s mother catches him “doing that.” Consequently, the men place an abstinence bet and Elaine has to fight her way to be included in the competition.

Whilst the guys think that, as a woman, it’ll be easier for Elaine to abstain, she goes ahead and educates them on the taboo topic of female pleasure. The storyline is an eye-opener on sex positivity, and Elaine’s character helps demystify the notions surrounding female sexuality.

1 Didn’t Defy:

Jerry Cannot Watch A Man Sing

Jerry is heavy-handed about sticking to outdated, traditional “masculine” traits. When in “The Jimmy,” Elaine asks him out to a benefit featuring singer, Mel Tormé, he declines, saying that male singers make him uncomfortable. He tells Elaine he gets embarrassment from watching men sing because they get all “emotional.”

Jerry finds it socially unacceptable for men to cry or to express their emotions, and thus perpetuates the false myth surrounding male emotions and affection. The gender stereotyping of emotions suggests that men shouldn’t cry or express affection and Jerry deserves all-round condemnation for perpetuating a harmful narrative that strips men off their emotional intelligence and narrows their range of emotions.

Jerry Wants Elaine To Run Like A Man

In season 4’s “The Airport,” Jerry and Elaine rush to make the plane from St. Louis to New York. As it’s seen, she is lugging her hand baggage, trying her best to catch up to Jerry who doesn’t have any baggage on him.

RELATED: Memes That Perfectly Sum Up Each Seinfeld Character’s Personality

When Elaine asks Jerry to wait up, he remarks, “…a girl runs like a girl with the little steps and the arms flailing out…” and shortly after, yells that he wants her to “run like a man.” Jerry’s commentary stems from a place of deep-rooted gender bias. Women are physiologically well-suited for endurance, and in this case, it’s evident that Elaine’s bags are slowing her down. Jerry could have offered to carry one of her bags, or better yet, restrained himself from making sexist remarks.

Women Nest And Men Hunt

The opening stand-up of season 2’s “The Baby Shower,” features Jerry’s incoherent commentary about women being bound by nature to nest and men, to hunt. Jerry conforms to the false notion that men and women in ancient societies had strictly defined roles.

The “man the hunter” notion is crumbling in face of scientific discoveries, according to The New York Times. New pieces of empirical evidence show that women too constituted ancient big-game hunters and that they worked just as hard as men. Jerry’s beliefs about ancient gender roles are ill-founded and born out of his unconscious biases.

Elaine Is Disparaged For Buying A Case Of Sponges

In Seinfeld‘s polarizing finale, lies the glaring incident of Elaine being disparaged for buying a whole case of the scarce Today sponges off the Pasteur Pharmacy. The pharmacist, Mr. Roger Hoffman is called to the stand and narrates his experience selling a case of sponges to Elaine.

The courtroom crowd groans in unison to what they wrongfully perceive as a case of moral deviancy on Elaine’s part when it’s actually one of her best decisions on Seinfeld. Aside from wrongfully suggesting that a woman must be chastised for transgressing expectations of behavior, the incident reversed years of progress Seinfeld made by writing Elaine as a sex-positive character.

Leadership Gap At NBC

In season 4’s “The Pitch,” Jerry is approached by NBC to develop a TV series with him, and a meeting is set up. George worms his way into the meeting, and eventually, the two of them are called in by the NBC execs.

Jerry and George open the door to a powerful room, and it’s disappointing to witness only one woman, Susan Ross, standing among three men. The scene represents an askew gender ratio of men to women occupying powerful offices. This is further exacerbated when two more men, Jerry and George enter the room, resulting in a despicable 5:1 gender gap ratio. The episode only highlights the leadership gap in corporate America, and it reflects the double standard that persists in appointing women to top leadership positions.

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