Family Guy is a well-known animated television series that people who’ve seen it either love or hate. Seth MacFarlane’s outrageous and occasionally controversial show revolves around the Griffin family, which includes: Peter, the man of the house; Lois, his wife; and their children Meg, Chris and Stewie. Brian is the humanized, ultra-liberal dog that completes the family unit. To the unfamiliar viewer, the Griffin family appears clearly dysfunctional and is oftentimes disconcerting in their mannerisms and exchanges. For seasoned fans, however, the show’s (admittedly offensive) crude humor works to draw public attention to our oftentimes ludicrous notions of normalcy and other social expectations, including gender roles. Family Guy portrays the Griffin family members in distinct and purposeful ways by employing stereotypes, hyperbole and humor about gender to unsettle our notions of “normal” gender roles and shake up our expectations about how those roles should be fulfilled. The relationship between Peter and Lois most explicitly illustrates popular perceptions about normal gender roles and our expectations about how men and women should interact and behave.
Peter symbolizes traditional perceptions about the man of the house as being the boss or leader of the family. In the episode “Method to Madness,” after Lois says that she is glad she won’t have to cook, Peter nonchalantly responds "Oh, no, go ahead and cook anyway, Lois, and we'll throw it out. I don't want you to get rusty." Here, Peter’s comment represents a typical assumption about both the mother and father of the house, and bears a subtle implication about the expectations of their roles. Peter is portrayed as the head decision-maker, while Lois is portrayed as the submissive, obedient housewife. Peter’s implied wastefulness, however, and his biased, outdated assumption that cooking is a women’s duty call the authenticity of his authority into question. This begs the question: Is authority, control and leadership an organic quality of masculinity? The satirical nature of Peter and Lois’ exchange suggest that it takes more than simply being male to be a good head-of-household.
In another episode called “A Fish Out of Water,” Lois asks Peter before his trip, “Are you going to miss me?” Peter gingerly and matter-of-factly responds, “Only until I go to the newsstand and buy a Hustler.” This comment illustrates Peter’s objectification of women while calling attention to social valuations of women. While it might seem initially insensitive or offensive to women, Peter’s remark exemplifies the misguided male admiration of women that determines which women we put on a pedestal and which women we take for granted. Here, MacFarlane is giving literal attention to (and through satire, criticizing) the fact that some men take their hard-working housewives for granted and are much more impressed by (and attentive to) unknown women solely for their bodies.
Many of Peter and Lois’ exchanges are riddled with common gender biases and assumptions. What emerges from the span of these instances over the course of multiple episodes is a social commentary that exposes and ridicules traditional perceptions of masculine and feminine roles both inside and outside of the family unit. Peter, for example, always ends up needing Lois to correct whatever trouble he has caused with his assumptive way of thinking and his impulsive decisions. Lois, on the other hand, is clearly conveyed as the true backbone and moral compass of the household with her modern, liberal opinions about society; her decisiveness, quick-wit, intelligence and strength; and her commitment to bettering herself and her family despite what society demands, expects or dictates. Upon getting to know the characters and plot outcomes of the Family Guy series, viewers come to understand the show as a criticism of “normal” gender roles and expectations by literally portraying the absurdity of certain assumptions.
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