In today’s society, TV shows have become a major part of popular culture. Television is known for its great source of entertainment. Over the years, the pop culture genre of television has shaped our views and opinions of “appropriate” societal expectations. Over the years, dominant ideologies have been constantly reinforced and represented as a frame of what the world is supposed to look and act like. Through TV shows, the media perpetuates stereotypes and places men and women in what seems “normal” in our present day society. The Commander in Chief is a popular TV series that once aired on ABC. In this particular show, Geena Davis depicts masculinity and femininity in the characterization of President Mackenzie Allen. The Episode focused on in this essay is the first episode of the first season where Mackenzie, a female vice president, decides to take the oath as the first female president after the death of the former president. Throughout the episode, President Mackenzie Allen’s ability to act as a dominant force over men shows masculinity and how it is constantly challenged by her femininity.
Being the president of the United States, Mackenzie is forced to take on a powerful, strong, confident, and aggressive attitude. In today’s society, this type of behavior is not usually associated with women. She displays a strong independence, which according to Rogers, “deviates from the codes of mainstream femininity” (94). This confirms the fact that society has constructed a specific gender role that she is “presumed” to occupy. By accepting one of the most important jobs in the world, she proves masculinity from a female’s character.
Being a woman, Mackenzie is initially associated with passiveness, vulnerability and weakness. She fails to conform to societies expectations of her. Therefore, she is perceived as stepping out of her lane. However, she counteracts her masculinity because she has a family. She creates time to perform the dutiful roles of a mother and wife. Thus, portraying a feminine character of being loving and caring.
Further affirming her femininity, Mackenzie feels overpowered after being told by President Teddy Bridges (Will Lyman) that she must resign from her vice president position. She tells her assistant Kelly to write her a resignation letter. Mackenzie felt the pressure to “behave in ways that are considered gender appropriate” (Newman 2 pg54). Throughout the episode, gender roles are switched around and hegemony is expressed in various ways. According to Lull, “Hegemony is the power or dominance that one social group holds over others” (61). According to the 25th commencement, Mackenzie being the vice president automatically resumes the presidential post after the death of a current president. For this reason, she is asked to leave office to save the country from the possibilities of having a female president. The former president’s cabinet and staff also wanted Mackenzie to step down so as to to pave way for Templeton to rule the country. The dominant group in this incident is the upper-class men while Mackenzie belongs to the subordinate group. Surprisingly, she does not confine to her domestic sphere but takes on a strong masculine character as a prerequisite for an effective political leadership.
When one thinks of some typical characteristics of a president, they are inclined to picture an honest, intelligent, sincere and educated man. They see a man who is willing to confront difficult issues and convey tolerance during critical periods of time. Newman stated that, “any positive connotations derived from such terms are available only to those within the particular group in question” (77). Therefore, the fact that Mackenzie does not belong to the social group of a man, she is subjected to be seen as the outsider of the social group. Mackenzie does not pose a threat to masculinity, but she is an outcast in a world ruled solely by men. Through her firm, aggressive and confident charisma, she defines what it means to be a man by depicting masculinity.
During an interview with speaker of the house, Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland), Mackenzie is challenged by Templeton to step down. He says, “The world is in turmoil, this is not the time to make social advances.” Viewers can clearly infer by this statement that Templeton is saying that a female president does not fit into the norm and it simply appears as a stunt for social advancement. “To live in a patriarchal culture is to learn what's expected of us as men and women, the rules that regulate punishment and reward based on how we behave and appear” (Johnson 95). Templeton blatantly admitted that we live in a patriarchal world. He tells President Mackenzie that, “A woman as the leader of the free world? How many Islamic state you think would follow the edicts of a woman. I fear very few.” Templeton’s perspective of religion and gender emphasizes the point that men are dominant over women at any given time.
Although Mackenzie tries to be “manly” as much as possibly, she is constantly condemned and assumed to be incompetent at her job. Johnson argues that to “live in patriarchy is to breathe in misogynist images of women as objectified sexual property valued primarily for their usefulness to men” (96). This phenomenon is clearly shown when Templeton says “we will lose the country for a lady who couldn’t keep her legs together.” After finding every way possible to attack McKenzie, he eventually places her as a sexual object rather than a strong and capable presidential candidate. She is identified as a commodity rather than a distinct proficient individual.
Dominant ideologies of masculinity and femininity have been constantly subverted. At the same time, these ideologies are reinforced by the characterization of Geena Davies as President Mackenzie Allen. We clearly see how TV shows represent social construct of gender. We also see that when people do not conform to these norms they are perceived as being deviant. McKenzie’s struggle for acceptance from the dominant social group depicts separation between what is considered “appropriate” to be a man or a woman. Throughout the episode, viewer’s attentions are called to the social construct of masculinity and femininity by showing those traits in a female’s character.
“Episode 2: Pilots.” Commander in Chief: ABC September 27, 2005. Prod Rod Lurie. http://www.hulu.com/watch/91506/commander-in-chief-pilot
Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy The System An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology. Ed. Estelle Disch. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 91-99. Print.
Lull, James. "Hegemony." Dines, Gail and Jean M. Humez. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. London: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-66.
Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 30-105.
Rogers, Mary F. "Hetero Barbie?" Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Comp. Dines, Gail, and Jean M. Humez. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 94-97.
"Television and Health." The source book for teaching science. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Jul 2010. http://www.csun.edu/science/health/docs/tv&health.html.
To watch episode 1 of Commander in Chief click!
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