Raymond Barone – a negotiator of masculinity
Starting a journey on the road called masculinity is an exciting one. Not knowing where you are going to arrive, how you are going to get there or even the basic understanding of what “there” is, is a perfect starting point. The quest for masculinity and its definition seems at times to be fluid, amorphic and constantly changing. The question of “who is considered a man”, or the effort to define “what is manly”, what is the role of a man in a romantic relationship, as part of a family, as a father, spouse, partner is always being negotiated and debated. Intuitively it is safe to assume that there is no clear answer to these questions. These definitions and roles are mostly time dependant (specific periods throughout history) and culture specific.
The cultural environment idealizing consumerism in a capitalistic economy, one that is overshadowed by the information society has managed to scramble all the traditional forms of manhood that in the past were considered solid, stable and unbreakable. In the past, men were depicted in paintings and, in more modern times, in advertising as assuming a stronger role, the stronger of two genders: knights, mechanics, operating power tools, emotionless, that typical male macho character that is often referred to in our everyday lives. Men are there to symbolize action, the doers. This consensus that prevailed earlier forms of advertising and media depiction of gender roles, one that showed women as beauty objects and men as a symbols of power has since been decreased. The male macho character became smaller, and made way for the emotional type. Men are seen as having some of the characteristics previously that were the sole ownership of women showing that our behavior as men and women is anything but stable and fixed.
The social movements of the 60’s and 70’s have shuffled male dominance in the areas of work, family life and politics (Kimmle, 2006) and at the same time undermined the dominance of women over the emotional realm. Men have started to speak of feelings and seeking mental and psychological help, as a product of masculine gender role socialization (Addis & Mahalik, 2003). These were domains foreign to men. The idea of expressing feelings and admitting vulnerability in the workplace or in a relationship has undermined previous notions of the men as the head of the household or sole provider. Gender role socialization has an additional effect on masculinity. Men and women learn gendered attitudes from cultural values – seeking help is labeled as an emotional problem (Addis & Mahalik 2003). Emotions, as cultural socialization dictates are feminine characteristics and a domain unknown to manhood. But the emotional realm is not the only aspect affected. Work, or men’s work has also been affected and put into question.
First aired on CBS on September 1996 and ran for 9 seasons until May of 2005. Much of the stories in the series are based on the real life experiences of both the principal actor, Ray Romano and the series creator/producer Phil Rosenthal . With 49 awards won and another 129 nomination this groundbreaking sitcom gained international popularity with more than 18 million viewers in the US alone (Marshall, 2010). Everybody Loves Raymond revolves around Ray Barone, a successful sportswriter living on Long Island with his wife, Debra, daughter, Ally, and twin sons, Geoffrey and Michael. Ray’s relationships with his wife, kids, brother, and mother and father play out in comedic ways while addressing serious real-life issues. Joel Stein (2004) described Ray’s character as:
“…Jackie Gleason with updated wife-management techniques, having replaced threats of violence with pathetic groveling. While Romano’s superego is sensitive 21st century husband, his id is pure ’50s. He just wants to eat, golf, watch sports, have sex and keep his wife from getting mad at him” (Stein 2004, p.52)
Certain aspects of the old macho masculinity are lacking in Raymond’s personality, other characteristics remain (the notion that he needs to provide for the family while his wife stays at home, lack of displaying emotions) and new ones emerge (laziness, immaturity, and an attempt of showing support). There is an attempt made by the creators of the show, to re-invent the 21st century man. While attaching old stereotypical characteristics to new forms of masculinity, the character of Raymond tries to conquer new domains of masculinity. One of these domains is the emotionally supportive husband.
The character of Raymond is said to be the typecast of a sensitive 21st century husband (Stein, 2004). Through the development of the character, in the series, Raymond is trying to explore what Nardi (1992) labeled as Newmenism. Newmensim as Nardi defines it is the attempt for the man to reinvent himself in terms of a more humanistic approach, accepting and understanding that balance between family and work, relinquishing control over dominance of the household, and accepting the fact that there are other people beside himself that matter (Nardi, 1992).
More than just depicting the character of Ray as the “21st century sensitive husband” (which more often than not he fails miserably) the show also perpetuates old time patriarchal familial values. Everybody Love’s Raymond repeatedly de-legitimizes any effort by any character to deviate from the prescribed gender roles; especially the efforts made by Debra to escape the bonds and pre-determined roles appointed to her by the patriarchal society she lives in. However, in doing so it is important to note the efforts made by the principle characters to accommodate for the changing cultural values of both femininity and masculinity. Although the end result is a return to the status quo, the negotiations that are present along the way are sign of hope to the much anticipated change in gender roles and the role of masculinity.
There is room to open up and re-define the concept of masculinity. As in the past, there seems to be a method of defining certain term by first looking at what the term doesn’t mean. If before the social revolutions of the 60’s and 70’s the way men used to the define themselves is by their dominance of other subordinated groups (women, blacks and homosexuals), the result of these revolutions caused men to redefine themselves (Kimmle, 2005). In analyzing masculinity we tend to look at feminine traits and say “that is not manly”. I have come to the understanding that masculinity is first and foremost culturally determined but more so it is a process of negotiation and is changing. We are a midst a process of socialization and cultural changes that require us to adjust to new forms of masculinity. Although the show Everybody Loves Raymnd keeps a certain status quo by always returning to the tired formula of a working man and a loving supporting housewife, it does so through testing the boundaries of these stereotypical gender roles.
The first sit-coms of the 60’s and 70’s used to test the boundaries by assigning key roles to women, blacks and homosexuals which are now commonplace in popular culture, Everybody Loves Raymond is gently pushing new forms of masculinity into the mainstream culture. The much needed change in gender roles takes time in manifesting itself in popular culture. The persistence and persuasiveness of these media messages are crucial for the process of negotiation masculinity. The change that is so needed to move from old dogmas of masculinities to new forms of manhood takes time. In order to redesign masculinity in order to fit the changing cultural climate in gender relationship and to challenge old hegemonic forms of gender roles a negotiation process must take place. Negotiations of what is acceptable socially, while empowering men to leave behind their beliefs on what is means to be manly and look for other ways to define themselves while respecting the cultural and social climate changes that point to equality and shared responsibility.
*full paper can be found here
*references can be found here