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Have you lived and loved the sitcom FRIENDS like I have? Read on to find out the surprisingly feminist statements it makes through the 10 seasons.
24 years after the much loved sitcom FRIENDS made its way into our lives, it still remains as endearing and popular as ever. I have watched multiple reruns of the entire series and I am sure you have, too.
FRIENDS takes us through the personal and professional lives of six 20 somethings living in Manhattan – the challenges, the heartbreaks, the friendships, the hookups, the breakups, the proposals, the marriages, the divorces – and it does all of it keeping its weird comic identity intact, making you laugh and cry as the 6 friends deal with the ebbs and flows of their lives.
I have always marvelled at the understated progressive outlook of this show, especially with respect to the three female characters Rachel, Monica & Phoebe. From a gendered lens, FRIENDS would end up ticking a lot of boxes. After all, one has to have conversations about feminism, right? And conversations which may seem trite, but are damn right powerful.
Instead of demonizing or glorifying feminism, which in fact alienates a lot of people who do not wish to be straitjacketed as a feminist, FRIENDS manages to tie important issues around the common threads of humour and friendship. We have listed 10 ways in which FRIENDS is more feminist than you know:
Phoebe lives up to her gutsy, loving and selfless characterization. She decides to be a surrogate for her brother and his wife, Frank & Alice, and convinces everyone as to why it isn’t such a big deal. It is pretty radical for a 90’s sitcom to pull off surrogacy and make it sound cool and funny, with all the prejudices surrounding the issue till date. You can’t miss Phoebe managing to scandalize people around her with statements like “I am going to have my brother’s baby”!
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Ross’s ex-wife Carol turns out to be a lesbian and marries her partner, Susan. Both of them do a wonderful job of raising Ross and Carol’s son, Ben. It is heartening to see how Ross deals with his divorce, makes peace with the fact that his ex-wife is a lesbian and finally goes on to walk Carol down the aisle when she is getting married to Susan.
It isn’t one of those situations where the two lesbian characters are in-your-face lesbian, where the LGBT brigade is out there to advocate that it indeed is ‘normal’, rather, the story seamlessly projects a normalcy which is rather rare, human and beautiful.
The story of Ross and Rachel forms the central theme of Friends. How it all began was when Rachel left her husband-to-be Barry at the altar, in addition to her financially secure, lavish lifestyle in Long Island, to pursue her dreams of making a mark of her own in New York.
Much of what follows is inspirational as Rachel goes on from being a waitress in a coffee house to an executive at Bloomingdales and builds a remarkable career in fashion for herself. Through the journey of her life, Rachel drives home an important point – it is fine to walk out of a relationship if there isn’t any love or companionship – in fact, she goes back with her head held high to Barry and her best friend Mindy’s wedding the subsequent year. You go, girl!
Monica is projected as a cantankerous, bossy woman, who is the head chef of her restaurant and is often termed as the ‘bitch’ by the restaurant staff. She cares two hoots, as would any woman who likes to get her shit done.
She is fiercely competitive in her personal and professional space – she is unbeatable in tennis, table tennis and football, she always strives to beat her previous performances whether as a chef or a dancer, she pins a woman down with all her might when she tries to steal her chosen wedding dress, and the list could go on – she basically is the best version of herself while being immensely dependable, forthright, loud and ‘bossy’. And we couldn’t love her more!
How often have women been judged for partaking in One Night Stands? Questions being raised on their sluttiness, their character, and how one night stands are not befitting of a woman! Phoebe, Rachel and Monica have their fair share of one night stands unapologetically and make a statement therein – that it is a matter of choice and not of character; that a woman has physical needs too, as much as a man does, if not more.
Rachel ends up being pregnant after a one night stand with Ross, and despite her father’s hilariously disparaging comments such as “Rachel Green, there will be a wedding, right? Oh, please don’t tell me that my first grandchild will be a bastard!”, she takes a stance to remain single, and decides to live with Joey first and then Ross and raise her daughter, Emma.
The beauty of Rachel and Ross’s friendship reflects in such times where Ross respects her space and in turn, Rachel appreciates his efforts to help her in every way possible. Some relationships need no societal validation – at times, love is all that matters. So here’s to never running out of love.
Rachel comes back to work to find ‘Super Gavin’ in her place and she cheekily makes sure he moves out not before responding to Gavin’s suggestion of her baby vacation by saying, “My idea of a vacation does not involve something sucking on my nipples until they are raw”.
Most women are subjected to stated and unstated forms of unfair discrimination of this sort when they return to work after maternity leave. And we should take a cue from Rachel, and never take it lying down.
The cutesy proposal where Monica lights up her entire house with candles and proposes to Chandler, while getting down on one knee, defies the expectations that proposals are a ‘male-only’ thing.
Rachel hires a male nanny, Sandy, much to Ross’s chagrin who views Sandy as a guy who is ‘too sensitive’ to be a guy, inducing comments from her such as, “Too sensitive to raise our daughter? I gotta tell you Ross, it’s not like you came in from branding cattle.” Well, do men have to exhibit their ‘manliness’ to prove they are men? Clearly, Rachel doesn’t think so.
In yet another parallel story, Monica is unable to conceive and goes on to register with an adoption agency. The desperation to have a child, to get accepted as respectable and capable parents by the agency, dialogues by Monica such as “No one will love that baby more than us”, connect on an emotionally heightened note with the audience, while doing away with the biases associated with adoption.
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