“That ‘70s Show” has very strong portrayals of gender in all of its main characters. However, for the purpose of this analysis I will focus on Donna Pinciotti. The show depicts Donna with masculine traits and feminist ideologies. However, these are still overpowered by hegemony and patriarchy since she is oppressed by her boyfriend.
Donna seems to exhibit some traits that are more masculine. These are mainly seen in her physical mannerisms, such as the way she walks and holds herself. This is also seen in the way she dresses. While the other women on the show wear floral skirts and dresses, Donna often wears plaid shirts and jeans. In addition, Jackie often comments on her masculine appearance, calling her names, such as “lumberjack.”
Her masculinity is further emphasized in comparisons to her boyfriend Eric. The gender roles in their relationship are somewhat reversed and Eric is portrayed as more feminine. His tiny build and sometimes overly sensitive personality are frequently made fun of by the other characters. In addition, Donna is portrayed as the more rational one in the relationship, while Eric is more emotional.
The masculinization of Donna can be viewed as a form of counter-hegemony. Hegemony is defined as “the power or dominance that one social group holds over others” (Lull 61). In this case, that would mean the power that men have over women. Therefore, counter-hegemony involves changing hegemonic messages and ideals in order to present new messages that are resistant to these dominant ways of thinking (Lull 65). Thus, showing Donna’s masculine traits goes against traditional views of gender in order to portray a different view of women as individuals that are not limited by female stereotypes forced upon audiences by males with power in the media.
Donna’s masculine qualities seem go hand in hand with her feminist attitude. Since the show takes place in the 70’s, her character is progressive and ahead of the times. She is rather independent and she speaks her mind. When Eric sees her expressing her maternal instincts he makes a comment that she would be great staying home with their future kids. Donna gets angry and says that she wants to be a working woman and that Eric should stay home with the kids. This starts a fight between the two of them
The fact that her ideas are progressive is accentuated in comparisons to other females on the show. Jackie cannot understand why Donna would not want to be a housewife. Donna’s mother is also confused and thinks of a working woman in terms of a “dancing girl.”
Donna’s progressive attitudes and views on life are a further example of counter-hegemony. She is shown as an independent and capable young woman who is not confined by society’s expectations of women. Additionally, she is not afraid to stand up to her boyfriend, acting as an equal and not a subordinate.
Despite Donna’s masculine traits and progressive feminist attitudes, traditional gender roles still win out in the show. For one, she is constantly oppressed by her boyfriend and she stays with him anyway. When she gets her story published in the school newspaper, Eric is disinterested and barely notices. Later, when they are fighting, Eric uses Donna’s desire to be a working woman as a way to put her down by suggesting that she would look sexually attractive in a business suit and should strip for him.
In contrast with the earlier examples, these are examples of hegemony. Hegemony is clearly seen in the way that Eric is depicted as Donna’s superior. He treats her like an object rather than an individual with thoughts and opinions. Moreover, Donna does nothing to stop him. This is hegemony in the media because it shows how women should behave by putting them in their place.
These examples also exemplify patriarchy. Patriarchy can be defined as a social system that oppresses women. “All men and all women are therefore involved in this oppressive system, and none of us can control whether we participate, only how…” (Johnson 98). Eric oppresses Donna through his actions. Since it is a social system, Donna is also participating. However, she can control whether she is proactive about it or not and by letting it go she opts for the latter.
Perhaps the most significantly telling part of the episode, in terms of Donna’s character, is how her fight with Eric is resolved. After having a talk with her mother, she is afraid that they might break up. So, instead of confronting Eric about her feelings, she decides to just drop the issue so that they can stay together.
This further illustrates both hegemony and patriarchy. Although Donna originally stands up for herself, she backs down for fear of losing her boyfriend. Since he does not even treat her that well, it comes off as fear of being alone. Thus, although she is initially portrayed as independent, it is only as long as she has a man by her side.
All in all, Donna is characterized as a progressive feminist woman with masculine traits. This represents counter-hegemonic ideas. Nevertheless, these traits are ultimately overpowered by her boyfriend’s poor treatment of her and her fear of losing him. Hence, hegemony and patriarchy are maintained in the show.
Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them or an Us.” The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997. Print.
Lull, James. “Hegemony.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-65. Print.