How I Met Your Mother’s Battle with Gender Norms

In the comedy television series, How I Met Your Mother, there are a lot of instances where women are sexualized, portrayed as objects, and fit the mold of a stereotypical girl. However, two of the characters in the show challenge the gender norms we have seen throughout history. In Little House on the Prairie, “girlhood” is portrayed as feminine and domestic, but in How I Met Your Mother, “girlhood” isn’t tied to a single/feminine definition– it’s just however a girl was raised.

First of all, one of the characters, Ted, is a hopeless romantic who is constantly looking for “the one” and actively searching for a long-term serious relationship. In today’s modern view of men, some might call him “soft” or “feminine” for constantly longing for emotional investments. Robin, on the other hand, is a career-driven, independent woman who is not looking for any long-term or emotional commitments. These traits challenge the common characteristics of girlhood as we know them today. For example, in Little House on the Prairie, Laura’s main goal in life is to grow up, get married, and have a family. It’s expected of her to do so as a woman in her culture. Robin’s goal is exactly the opposite; she has no intention to get married, have kids, or settle down.

There’s another part of “girlhood” that is challenged significantly with Robin’s character, and it’s the activities and appearance commonly associated with girlhood. Robin always talks about her girlhood growing up in Canada with her father. He always wanted a son, so he would take Robin hunting and fishing and do activities with her that are described as “boy-like.” In contrast, in Little House on the Prairie, Laura and her sister were always playing with dolls. Robin also played hockey as a child and spoke of her times fighting with guys on the ice—obviously different than playing with dolls, playing house, doing dance or cheerleading, etc. Last, there is an episode that shows her as a young girl wearing long shorts, a baggy t-shirt and sporting a short haircut. It also shows Robin greeting her father with a handshake instead of a hug while saying, “Hello, Sir.” This scene alone depicts more of a “boyhood” than a “girlhood.” In comparison, Laura Ingalls Wilder always wore a dress. With that being said, Robin’s character not only challenges the “life goal” aspect of gender norms, but it also defies the appearance and activity stereotypes associated with being a girl, especially these associated with Laura’s character in Little House on the Prairie.

3 thoughts on “How I Met Your Mother’s Battle with Gender Norms”

  1. I definitely agree that girlhood is different today than from Laura’s time. In Laura’s time, women depended on having a man/husband for many things such as proving the family with food and shelter. In her time, women did not go out hunting nor were they the ones constructing the houses. Those were all tasks done by men. Laura grew up watching her father do the outside “fatherly jobs” and her mom do the inside “feminine jobs.” Laura grows up knowing that she needs to marry to have someone take care of her. However, today many women grow up independent and motivated. More girls are going to school and college today in order to get degrees and be able to support themselves.

  2. I think it is great that such a popular show is reversing the typical gender norms. In the Keywords essay “Gender” it explained that children’s literature is showcasing boys as movers, doers, intelligent, and leaders, and girls as emotional and passive. I would say Robin fits the boys description the best! I think Robin’s upbringing had a lot to do with the way she was. Since she grew up hanging out with her father most of the time, she saw his qualities and may have imitated them. I also wonder if different countries have different gender norms since the person you become has a lot to do with your cultural background.

  3. Even though times are different today in terms of gender norms and it’s okay for girls going through girlhood to express some interest in more masculine things, I agree with the fact that “gender” has everything to due with how you were brought up/raised. During Laura’s childhood, it was the norm to be raised to be a mother instead of obtaining a more professional occupation. Many families back then lived a more conservative life of having the men of the household be the “bread-earner”. Even though today it’s okay, or sometimes encouraged, for girls to engage in boys’ sports or activities, in Robin’s case, they way she was raised formed her own identity. In both of these examples, the values the parents had molded the kids into who they are today.

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