Gender Norms and “The Office”


On a normal night of binge-watching Netflix, it’s common to find me watching my favorite show, “The Office”. And when I mean binge, I really mean binge (currently on my 6th time watching this show through). From this class and my other social work classes that I have taken in the past year, the subject of gender and gender norms has been a huge topic of discussion. The more our society grows away from the typical gender norms that, say, our grandparents experienced, the more I can point them out when they are visible. After watching a show for a 6th time with the knowledge I now have, I have been noticing more gender microaggressions than I did the first 5 other times.

I guess the only reason as to why I am just now noticing all of this has to due with the fact that I started watching “The Office” when I was in high school and my guy friends used the same kind of jokes as Michael Scott did. The classic one-liner “That’s what she said” has probably been used in almost every episode of “The Office”, and was a classic joke said by teenage boys. Not only did I realize that phrase was said so often in front of me and my other girl friends growing up, but that we weren’t affected by it. At the time, I wasn’t really sure how to act when I heard that phrase so I just went along with them and laughed it off like everyone else. Now that I’m a little older and realize what it actually being said, the more the phrase rubs me the wrong way.

In an episode from season 2, airing in 2005, the office had to go through a review of the company’s sexual harassment policies after Michael’s jokes had been taken to another level and he had seen no harm in what he had been saying. The women in the office had finally had enough with his rude comments that targeted females and their stereotyped sexual behaviors. But as the episodes and seasons progressed, the more the phrase was said and the less the female characters reacted. In society today, we can see the same things happening.

When these microaggressions are first recognized, they are easily addressed and the behavior is changed, but only for a short while. Like in “The Office”, the next couple episodes were absent of Michael’s famous phrase. But as time goes on and the affected parties don’t seem like they have a problem with it anymore, the micro aggressions continue. Women get to the point where the gender stereotyping just “doesn’t bother them anymore”, even though most of the common phrases are hurtful and degrading to women. Recently, I’ve learned to point out these stereotypes against gender roles and the surround us more than we think. As I come across them more and more, I think about the typical gender roles that we have seen in past decades, and how they have changed. As our society grows out of norms, the more these comments and phrases are viewed as unacceptable to say.

6 thoughts on “Gender Norms and “The Office””

  1. I completely agree with you. I actually watched “The Office” with my parents when I was younger. Granted, at the time, I didn’t fully understand all the jokes they were saying, but I knew that they were funny–or that they were suppose to be viewed as funny. Even when I rewatched the show when I was older, I don’t think I realized all the microaggressions that were in the show until I really thought about it. I think I definitely fell into the category that felt like I wasn’t really affected with the gender stereotyping. I remember in middle school when the “go back to the kitchen” jokes were popular, I didn’t really get offended. However, knowing now that some of those people weren’t really joking and experiencing gender stereotyping firsthand, I do get more offended with those jokes. It kind of disappoints me that a good show like “The Office” added to the gender stereotyping. If I could as the producers and writers of the show, I would ask them why they felt the need to have those jokes. Was it because they thought everyone would consider it humor?

  2. I definitely agree with you that the more popular these jokes become, the less people notice them and what their true meanings are. Because of this I think it could be possible that the writers of the show maybe don’t even realize the depth of what they are actually writing into the show. Also, after viewers see the jokes told by their favorite characters in the show, they may think this makes it okay for them to say the jokes too. The jokes are probably meant to be harmless and all fun and games, but as our society continually evolves (like you said), the true meanings of these jokes become much more apparent to audiences, particularly to those who the joke are aimed at, and potential for conflict rises.

  3. It is so interesting to read your take on this, and it couldn’t be anymore true. I haven’t watched the office in a while but I definitely can see how I overlooked the crude jokes and the humorous take on sexually demeaning situations aren’t ok, yet we don’t really talk about it on a bigger scale. I think that as time goes on, and as the challenging of gender roles grows alongside it we will be more alert to recognize these things the first time around.

  4. Since beginning college and taking women and gender studies courses, these microaggressions have become more and more blatant for me. We don’t realize it but they’re everywhere! I always think about how these messages enter our subconscious and affect the way we act and think about women.

  5. I was drawn to this post simply by the mention of The Office (I’m strongly considering watching it a third time). While I absolutely love this show and all it’s humor I agree there is so much that goes by as just “fun humor” that is ends up actually being somewhat degrading that this is so normal. As societies and culture evolves this humor is being brought with them and overall gender shouldn’t be a joke or degraded as much as I would like to say it’s “just a show” people do take away meanings from it.

  6. As a big fan of The Office, it’s hard to rewatch the episodes and see how many awfully sexist jokes are made. It makes me wonder if the show would still be considered “funny” without them. The popularity of the show promotes these behaviors instead of diminishing them.

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