PSU McNair Scholars Online Journal

Article Title

He’s Just a Man: Power imbalance between female and male characters in American sitcoms


This paper describes the occurrence and context of dismissive, condescending, and infantilizing linguistic behavior as used by female characters toward male characters in stable heterosexual partnerships portrayed in American entertainment television. This study is based on grounded theory, in that the initial interpretive framework for the analysis stemmed from preliminary data gathered in the study; this working framework directed the analytical approach during subsequent data processing, and was then further developed in response to the overall findings. The methodology used in this study is discourse analysis, an applied linguistic method of studying small units of spoken and written language, such as sentences or individual words, within the larger context of a conversation. In the sample examined in this study, a conversation comprises an exchange of pre-written conversational dialogue in a televised scene. This study examines sitcom interactions between fictional spouses to determine how frequently and in what contexts power imbalanced exchanges occur. For the purpose of exploring possible ways in which relational power imbalances have been absorbed into American popular culture, the discourse data is drawn from three American sitcoms broadcast during prime time from open-access channels: Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother, and Rules of Engagement. Such interactions within this data sample are individually coded, and discussion of the findings focuses on the extent to which they reinforce gender stereotypes which rely on power imbalance.

Faculty Mentor: Kimberley Brown