With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies: Psychoanalysis of America’s Favorite Sitcom

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For ten years, America watched as six charmed, twenty-somethings waddled their way through life’s least worrisome obstacles and overly joyous events. Each character brought something different to the table and offered a unique perspective, allowing the audience to act as a sponge on a range of topics, but making sure to consistently restore order in the form of patriarchy. In a particular episode entitled “The One With Ross’s Teeth,” Joey has gotten a new female roommate and Chandler thinks she has “over-feminized” their apartment, evoking his anxiety towards manhood. Chandler’s masculinity is constantly questioned throughout the series and he has a severe reaction to the feminization of his former room and apartment. This episode of Friends reinforces patriarchy through the projection of castration anxiety, rejecting the presence of feminine energy, and using Freudian implications of sexuality in order to insult the status of womanhood, further inhibiting the creation of an egalitarian home.

One topic that is rarely brought to the spotlight throughout Friends’ ten-year run is gender, but it acts as a foundational asset to the creation of character. Chandler Bing, one of the three male leads in the series, is viewed as overly feminine by his peers. Chandler non-coincidentally is partnered with Monica Gellar, a dominant, type-A personality who portrays traditionally masculine qualities quite regularly. Prior to this episode of Friends, Chandler has moved out of his apartment with Joey and moved in with Monica. Joey has found a new roommate named Janine, who is a dancer and very physically attractive, a trait that is mentioned by all male characters whenever she is present. When Chandler visits Joey after Janine has moved in, he notices that his former room is covered in traditionally feminine objects and colors, causing him to profess that “It’s like a man never lived in there.”

Chandler then begins to intently observe the common areas of the apartment looking for signs of Janine’s influence. As Laura Mulvey outlines in her “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” text, one avenue of escape for men from castration anxiety is investigating ‘the woman.’ Chandler notices many new additions to the apartment and condones Joey for allowing her to shower the apartment with “feminine stuff” and remove almost all traces of a male dweller. This is the beginning of Chandler’s projection of his castration anxiety and the shift of focus from Chandler to Joey, the most confident and masculine of the three male protagonists.

All the objects that Chandler calls into question around the apartment have Freudian implications. Flowers in particular are a dominant symbol present in this episode. According to Freud, flowers are the sexual organs of plants and can be used to symbolize the female sex organs. As Chandler wanders around the apartment pinpointing the feminine takeover, each object he addresses involves flowers. Later on in the episode when Joey confronts Janine about her widespread femininity, Joey uses a nearby bowl of potpourri as an example. Potpourri in itself is also symbolic, considering it is by nature the destruction of flowers, meaning the destruction of womanhood, which is Chandler and Joey’s objective. In addition to household objects, flowers are also represented through clothing. When Joey approachs Janine and asks her to remove her things from the common areas of the apartment in order to maintain an aura of masculinity, she is wearing a sweater with flowers knit over the breasts. The last symbol used in this episode that Freud believes symbolizes the female body are the multitude of tiny boxes Janine leaves around the apartment. These boxes serve no significance and it is pointed out by Chandler that they are too small to even hold anything. They serve no physical purpose, rather there simply to highlight the overwhelming presence of femininity in the apartment, which is also unwanted and serving no significant purpose.

One of the main points in Laura Mulvey’s text is the idea of the ‘male gaze.’ Mulvey believes that “in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/ male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly.” The problem that faces Chandler that he projects onto Joey is ultimately that the woman has become too visible and therefore active. She is not the “passive object of the male gaze.” According to Naomi Rockler in her article on feminism in television, “almost all of [Friends] female characters are unlikable to the level of the satirical.” This is a tactic that coincides with the male gaze, but as soon as one of these females expresses herself and begs to be seen outside the circle of male authority, she is called out and punished for such behavior. Mulvey states that women in film are the “bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning,” and when such an arrangement is jeopardized, the female must bear the consequences. Janine and Monica can be women and can be feminine, as long as such strides do not outshine that of the dominant male and are done in the proper setting.

The most significant piece of dialogue that highlights these ideas comes at the climax of the episode. In the midst of a discussion about Joey’s new tendencies, Chandler says to him “You’re turning into a woman,” and Joey responds by saying, “What did you say that for? That’s just mean.” The symbolism present in this episode as well as the attitudes surrounding male and female acceptability bring home the idea that is even stated in dialogue – it is demeaning to be a woman. Calling someone a woman is mean. It is an insult. Despite Chandler’s natural tendencies, he is trying to remove his feminine qualities. It gives him security to force masculinity onto others as the rightful position and status.

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