Friday, July 15, 2011

Patriarchy and Hegemony in "That '70s Show"

“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.

Works Cited

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.


  1. All in All I think this was a great post. I've seen a lot of That '70s Show and after you explain the different examples of Hegemony and Patriarchy I was very surprised on how different that show can be seen. I really enjoyed reading this. Here are my comments:

    Things you did well:

    - Although I have seen this show before I like how well you explained the show as though no one has seen it before. You explain each character you are going to use well and if I hadn't seen the show I don't think it would have made much of a difference.

    - I very much liked how you included both how Donna fights Hegemony but is also bound to it because of everyone around her. This contrast made the post very interesting.

    Things to improve on:

    - Although I think the contrast between the fight between counter-hegemony and hegemony itself was a great idea, I also think you have to be careful with how you write it because if read the wrong way it can almost seem as though you are battling against yourself and your thesis.

    - Other then that and the occasional grammar error I think your first blog went very well!

  2. Danielle-
    Sam has targeted the key areas I'd point out to you to build on for the strengths, and improve on for future analyses.

    However, the thesis, quote usage, and structure act together to build a great analysis. Therefore, the following is a blueprint of sorts to address these key areas so that you'll be able to make consistent upward progress:

    One of the key areas that needs to be cleared up is your thesis. The thesis should use the terms of the assignment (i.e. masculinity and/or femininity) in relation to the choice of characters used for the analysis.

    The primary issue with your quotes here was that they needed to be introduced and contextualized in a sentence (quotes can't begin and end their own sentences) and formatted in MLA style.

    The following outline can be used as a reference point (the numbers indicate the paragraph sequence) to structure and order a basic, written analysis:
    1. Intro Paragraph (with thesis at the last sentence)

    2. Point A (your first point/assertion that supports your thesis)

    3. Point A with quote from "expert witness" (author cited through the use of a direct quote to back up your point/assertion made in paragraph 2)

    4. Point B (your point/assertion that supports your thesis that can be directly linked with point A, so that your transition from point A to B is logical and adds depth to your analysis)

    5. Point B with quote from "expert witness" (author cited through the use of a direct quote to back up your point/assertion made in paragraph 4)

    .... repeat the steps above until your points have been made and you've adequately proven your thesis.

    #. Conclusion (after all points have been made)

    For the alpha-numeric grade, see the "gradebook" section of SOCS; however, for the more specific breakdown of points, click on the link for "assessments" to view the "TV Analysis" rubric that was used to calculate the grade you see in the gradebook section.

    - Jessie

  3. Eric emotional, and Donna rational? Lol. Donna is portrayed as an attractive female, who can think for herself, yes. But why she is always said to be 'too good for Eric' and that 'Eric is lucky to have her' and that she is 'out of his league' is beyond me. It goes to show that however 'empowered' and above societal norms Donna claims to be, she still values physical appearance above character and intelligence. Eric is the non-complicated guy who just wants to do his thing when he wants it. Often he says the wrong thing at the wrong time, or expresses a different opinion from Donna's. Now, Donna expects him to apologise to her just because he did not worship her enough or he disagreed with her. Basically, in their relationship, Eric wasn't entitled to his own thoughts and opinions. Having a different opinion, and god forbid he voiced it, he had to apologise to her. Donna did whatever she could to defy Eric. Like when Eric for obvious and very rational reasons tried to put a stop to Mitch and Donna spending time together because he knew that Mitch was in love with her and that he was creepy, she still went all out to defy him just to prove that no one could tell her what to do and that she had freedom of will and that she wasn't under her boyfriend. But if that had been Eric in her place, we all know how that would have turned out.