Feminism in Family Guy?

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“Look, I’m all for equality. but if you ask me, feminism is about choice.  I choose to be a wife and mother and now, I’m choosing to end this conversation.”

This was a quote made by Lois Griffin to a one-off character named Gloria Ironbox near the end of the episode “I Am Peter Hear Me Roar”.  I think it’s very interesting that she said this.  This definition of feminism that Lois is outlining is typically attributed to what is called third-wave or liberal feminism.  I think this is very interesting because the context in which Lois she says this in is in an episode that spent the twenty minutes before this quote and the last two minutes after it being virulently anti-feminist.  I think the fact that something like this can use feminism to justify its anti-feminism exposes a huge hole in any type of feminism (or any social justice movement) that defines itself by prioritizing individualism over collective liberation and justice through dismantling the oppressive structures in place, but that’s another conversation entirely.  Let’s focus on Family Guy right now.  I don’t think there is actually anything feminist about this episode, or any Family Guy episode really.

“I Am Peter Hear Me Roar” is about Peter Griffin having to attend a women’s retreat under threat of being sued for sexual harassment.  He comes back home in touch with his feminine side, but too in touch with his feminine side for Lois or any of his friends.  The episode sets itself up for the conflict with Peter making casually sexist remarks and talking to Lois in a condescending manner.  This leads to Peter telling a female coworker an inappropriate joke, for which she promptly sues him and the company they work in.  Up until now, the episode has mocked Peter’s sexist attitudes but it exposes what it really thinks of feminists with the introduction of the suing coworker’s lawyer, Gloria Ironbox (subtle name as you can see).  When Peter returns from the women’s retreat, he comes back a whole new man that is sensitive, considerate, and dedicated to women’s rights.  Or as Chris defines this brand-new Peter, “Oh my God, Dad’s a chick”.

The rest of the episode now makes hay of how crazy Peter drives everyone around him by acting like a stereotypical woman.  He cuddles with Lois (the male stereotype just likes intercourse, not cuddling), tries breastfeeding Stewie, takes candlelit bubble baths, checks himself for breast cancer, thinks that he missed his (nonexistent) period, and worst of all, can no longer fill Lois’ sexual needs.  What finally gets Peter back to his old masculine self is by getting aroused by watching the Dynasty-inspired fight between Lois and Ms. Ironbox.  And unsurprisingly, the first thing that the re-masculined Peter does is give Lois a wonderful night of hot sex.  He’s gone back to his casually sexist attitude like in the beginning of the episode, but at least he’s a “real man” that can fill Lois’ sexual needs.  Although the episode mocked Peter’s sexism, it clearly suggest that a sexist Peter is favorable over a feminist Peter.  This is what Family Guy thinks of feminists, women, and men.  This viewpoint is completely consistent with a much later episode “Peter Problems”, where Peter loses his job forcing Lois to become the breadwinner of the family.  After the episode makes a few jokes about Peter acting like a stereotypical housewife, the conflict arises when Peter becomes impotent in the bedroom.  He gets over his impotence by the end of the episode when he gets his job back and Lois quits her’s (and they have really hot sex).  Gee, what a coincidence!

Am I being unfair to Family Guy?  After all, Seth MacFarlane’s a good, pro-choice liberal who wrote the “Sensitive Male” episode of Johnny Bravo a thousand years ago.  Hell, The Simpsons goes back on forth over whether or not it wants to be feminist.  Maybe other Family Guy episodes aren’t so anti-feminist, right?

Totally feminist!

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Feminism in Family Guy?

6 thoughts on “Feminism in Family Guy?

  1. Hey I just discovered your blog. I really like what you had to say here because, speaking as a fan of Family Guy, I do recognise the show does appear conflicted in terms of a feminist message. The most recent iterations of the show demonstrate a quickly denigrating level of comedy similar to what’s happened to the Simpsons. I do think though, despite the appearances, that the episode does have a feminist message in the fact that Peter is an idiot. Yes he makes tons of stupid jokes both before, and after, he discovers feminism but the show is really making fun of him as a character.

    Most important for me though is Lois’s statement about equality because she’s right. Feminism is first and foremost about choice, and if a woman wants to be a housewife she should be be able to make that choice without fear of being denigrated, LIKEWISE, there shouldn’t be fuss or muss made if a woman forgoes having a family in favor of making a career. I think the feminism that’s expressed at times in Family Guy is subtle. Beneath the fart jokes and jabs made at women’s lib there’s always the irony of yes these characters are making sexist jokes, but should you really take them seriously. When a fat headed idiot makes a dumb sexist joke is that a person you should model your ideals after.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts about this because like I said I’m a long time fan of the show and even I recognise at times that the jokes get a little blase and borderline offensive. Great article.

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    1. Thanks for the praise for my blog! I appreciate it.

      I disagree that Family Guy is conflicted in its feminist messaging because I don’t think it has one. Sure, this particular episode had one (which I’ve already talked about), but as a whole it’s one of the more anti-feminist cartoons I can think of.

      I’m a dude, so take my opinion about feminism as you will, but I think there is a heck of a lot more to feminism beyond making choices. Choice is a big part of it, but putting that as the foundation of the whole movement doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. Without dismantling the structures within society that perpetuate systems of inequality between men and women, women’s choices are always going to be limited in comparison to men’s choices.

      And I didn’t get the impression that Peter learned anything by the end of this episode. In “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein”, it was very clear that Peter learned his lesson about not stereotyping Jewish people by the end of it. At the end of this episode, all that happened was that Peter reverted to his old self, who as the beginning of the episode established, was a chauvinist. And it wasn’t even a soapbox speech or grave injustice or anything that made Peter turn around; it was getting aroused after seeing two women fighting. Whatever other subtle feminist or gender equality messages are in Family Guy (I don’t think they’re there, but let’s say they are) are way overshadowed by the very overt and continuous sexist jokes. The most generous thing I could say about those jokes is that they’re probably intend to be “ironically sexist”, which is still sexist. The butt of their jokes are much more often the women instead of the sexist men. I watched enough episodes of the show to see them do this again and again and again. And it’s only gotten worse since “I Am Peter Hear Me Roar”. Whether or not anyone is suppose to take any of these characters seriously, they still perpetuate sexist points of view instead of challenging them.

      I used to be a fan of the show, but I’m not so much anymore because it became to ugly, vulgar, lazy, and mean-spirited for me to sit through anymore. But I still have a soft spot for earlier episodes like “I Am Peter Hear Me Roar” (despite my criticisms).

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      1. I really don’t have much more of a response you summed up everything perfectly. It is disappointing as a fan of the early show to see how the humor has devolved into the Drawn Together/It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia method of “let’s put horrible people together in a room and watch them go” method of story telling.

        I really like your “Wish Upon a Weinstein” point particularly because that sums everything up. The characters don’t seem to learn anything at the end of an episode which is supposed to validate the stupidity and comedy earlier. I wonder if part of it is a social rejection of such didactic-ism in media because many cartoon programs used to explicitly have morals or lessons at the end. It could be as audiences we’ve just grown tired of hearing people, for lack of a better phrase, “preach” at us through the television. People are more interested in sociopathy in their stories than they are in learning something.

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  2. […] As far as feminism about giving women choice, I agree.  However, I don’t think discussing feminism, or any movement for social justice or liberation, strictly within the realms of choice sets their target goal high enough.  Our choices don’t exist divorce within the structures that they exist in.  And in the system of patriarchy our society has been structured in, women’s choices are always going to be limited in relation to men’s choices.  I don’t love the theorizing of ideologies that seek liberation from oppressive structures on choice because I think it’s a limited way of looking at the world and it’s a painfully easy ideology to pervert.  From this point of view, choosing to be anti-feminist could be framed as a feminist act. […]

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