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The insidious sexism of Modern Family

There are lots of criticisms which can be made about Modern Family, as a distinctly old fashioned show dressed up in a superficial liberal progressivism. It’s nonetheless been a guilty pleasure of mine and I’ve been rewatching it during this grim coronic winter. There’s one aspect which stood out to me during this time which I’d only vaguely noticed during previous viewing: the remarkably gendered way in which personal interests are portrayed during the show. These are the interests depicted for each of the main characters over the ten seasons of the show I’ve watched:

JayPhilCameronMitchellGloriaClaire
Boxing
Brazilian Jui-jitsu
Reading
Astronomy
Shooting
Fishing
Model aeroplanes
Dog shows
Watching football
DIY
Woodwork
Chess
Golfing
The club
Drinking 
Films
Weightlifting
Writing (briefly)
Magic
Tight-rope walking
Inventing
Tumbling
Cheerleading 
Stand up comedy
Technology (early adopter)
Sports (generically)
Cheesy films (with Claire)
Science fiction and cosplay 
Online gaming 
Hip hop dancing
Clowning
Drumming
Art projects
Carol singing 
Acting
Cooking
Hosting concerts 
Hip hop dancing
Gym
Cooking
Gym
Astronomy
Reading
Yoga
Cooking
Dancing
Chess
Drinking
Yoga
Running
Cheesy films

The family patriarch has an astonishing range of personal interests portrayed over ten seasons, suggesting a lifestyle utterly incongruous with his portrayal as a character whose life has been dominated by running his business. Even if some of these activities are in his past (e.g. boxing and BJJ) while other are depicted as seasonal hobbies (e.g. an annual fishing trip) he still spends an incredible amount of time in self-focused activities distinct from work or his home life. In contrast Gloria and Claire barely have any interests, restricted to self-cultivation (yoga and running) or activities which are shared with their partners (dancing, cheesy films, chess). When Claire takes a high-powered job, she’s depicted as neglecting her family and struggling to retain any work/life balance. In contrast, Phil engages in a wide range of activities despite working throughout the show. The depiction of Cam and Mitchell is more ambiguous and I’m not entirely sure how to read it but there’s a lot going on here about how selfhood intersects with gender and sexuality in the representation of family life.

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Mark

3 replies

  1. In season 1, Alex asks what Jaegermeister is, and Phil says “You know how in a fairy tale, there’s always a potion that makes the princess fall asleep and then the guys start kissing her? Well this is like that except you don’t wake up in a castle. You wake up in a frat house, with a bad reputation.”

  2. Yes some of the sexism is a little bit more explicit than the implicit stuff I was writing about here….

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