Tag Archives: media

Modern Family, Modern Masculinities

modernfamily photo

If you’re not already watching Modern Family I hope that I can convince you that it’s worth your time. The family friendly prime time comedy highlights three branches of a modern family through the spoofed lens of a European reality show. No laugh track, no forced audience applause and the occasional deadpan look straight into the camera make for a comedy that is a lot more realistic, and therefore lovable, than other shows on TV. Now, I’m not one to watch a lot of television but from the first episode of MF I saw I was hooked. Of course there are the issues around only showcasing traditionally attractive, nondisabled, (mostly) white folks, and for a long time showing the unrealistic portrayal of families where one parent, usually the women (can afford to) stay at home with the kids, which very much deserve to be addressed, but today I’d like to focus on one of the things Modern Family is getting totally right: its portrayal of the complexities of modern masculinities. I’ll try not to spoil anything if you haven’t seen the show/episodes yet, but no promises.

Jay and StellaJay Pritchett: The oldest member of the family, portrayed by Ed O’Neill of Married… with Children fame, Jay is a “man’s man” who golfs with his buddies, tells fish stories and remarried a gorgeous Latina woman half his age after divorcing the mother of his adult children. Jay is still a member of the old guard when it comes to masculinity, there are some things he thinks men just shouldn’t do, but he has definitely matured through his gradual acceptance of his gay son Mitch and his partner Cam. He rags on his son-in-law Phil regularly but it’s mostly out of love, and sometimes we get the feeling that Jay wishes he could be more like Phil. Jay tends to motivate by raising his voice, gets out of trouble with his wife Gloria by buying her gifts, and shows his family his love by buying them vacations too. Through the five years MF has been on air Jay has learned to show affection, even if it is only to his French Bulldog Stella. O’Neill does a fantastic job bringing to life the struggles of an older man starting over again, trying to get it right the second time around as a (fantastic) step-dad with a new baby in his 50s, and adds heart a the character who has few opportunities to be vulnerable. Throughout the series though we have seen this tough guy cry, sing Gladys Night to his grandkids, be embarrassed and achey and oh so human. Jay Pritchett is a character we all know, and it’s good to see that our influence is boosting his tolerance of the changing world around him.

Jay Mitch and Cam

LukeLuke Dunphy: Played by real life genius Nolan Gould, Luke is often thought of as a dumb, sweet kid. He shares many of his father Phil’s tendencies towards invention but is sometimes thwarted by his own criticism. As he’s grown up he has rebelled slightly against the very close bond he and his father shared for the first four seasons, but it’s clear he’s still Phil’s favorite. Some of his harebrained ideas really are quite genius though, like hiding his sister’s college acceptance letter because he’d miss her. As the youngest child in the Pritchett household he is quite independent yet occasionally shows a deep love and need for his family. In many ways Luke is a typical boy/young man, just trying to figure out how to skate by but have fun doing it. He often pairs up with his oldest sister Haley to rib the sister between them, Alex, for being a nerd but is usually grateful for her help with school projects. As he grows up Luke becomes more and more witty. Let’s hope the fact that he’s good with electronics, while academic overachiever Alex can’t even figure out the remote, remains one of the only hyper-masculine pigeonhole he’s written into. In fact Luke actually expressed discomfort with being selected by one of two twins based on physicality alone, but that didn’t stop him from making out with her. I’ll be very interested to see how his character develops as he goes through high school.

Luke and Phil

Mitch2Mitch Pritchett: Mitchell, like his other half Cam, both falls into and extinguishes gay stereotypes regularly. Jesse Tyler Ferguson (a gay man playing a gay man?! *gasp*) brings Mitch to life and makes you want to loosen his tie and take him out for a drink. His high-strung legal mind and organized manner stand in stark opposition to Cam’s flamboyancy and that of their gay friends Pepper, Longinus, Crispin and Jeaux. He has moments of queenliness too though, like when he and Cam ask their daughter “Who wore it better?” or when reminiscing about his childhood days of figure skating. He regularly jokes that his sister Claire is the son his dad Jay always wanted, but over the years they have grown closer through their trials and much of Mitchell’s success can be attributed to the pragmatism and work ethic he picked up from dear old dad. Mitch is the one who holds the family together, not in an emotional rock kind of way, but in a he’ll-make-sure-all-the-paperwork-is-correct way. Although his demeanor is consistently more masculine than Cam’s, because this stands in such stark opposition to the ways society thought of gay men for so long the character of Mitchell is even more challenging to heteronormative ideas of masculinity. He may not be as affectionate or fun as his partner but MF does a great job of showing how much Mitch and Cam rely on each other in myriad ways as they parent together and work to keep the spark alive. Mitch sums up their relationship to the gay community nicely when Cam is trying to figure out a way out of attending a wedding: “We’ll just make an excuse. We could say ‘We’re not going to any more weddings until the gays can get married.'” To which Mitch replies “Oh, now we’re political? We leave town on Gay Pride Weekend because we don’t like the traffic.”

Claire Jay and Mitch

ERIC STONESTREETCam Tucker: Cameron Tucker is a super interesting juxtaposition of superstar jock and star of the musical. Having grown up on a farm in Missouri he’s not adverse to hard work but is comfortable with his partner, Mitch, being the breadwinner. As a straight man Eric Stonestreet has said he based Cam’s mannerisms and demeanor on his mother, and the result has been Emmy Award winning. Even conservatives have learned to love this gay man. From shrieking in a crisis to destroying the kitchen making French toast with his adopted daughter Lily, Cam definitely can fall into the flaming stereotype. But for every instance where his portrayal of a gay man as partner and father is predictable there is a gentlemanly masculine counteraction. And then there’s Fizbo…. From coaching football to directing the choir to “punkin chunkin” Cam is a gloriously complex example of how human traits are pigeonholed into masculinity or femininity. The best thing about Cam, and Mitch, is that they are both aware of their strengths and their shortcomings, so much so that they often acknowledge their need for each other to be balanced. They squabble and diet and get into fender benders and gossip, but both as individual characters and as a couple they are so amazingly human and lovable you always find yourself rooting for them.

Mitch and Cam

mannyManny Delgado: Native Texan Rico Rodriguez gives voice to Manuel Delgado, who may be Colombian by heritage–he’s not afraid to wear a poncho to school or play his pan flute–but is mostly just an old soul who’s grown accustomed to the finer things in life. From sipping espresso to writing poetry Manny is a hopeless romantic and started out completely fearless (except butterflies). As he’s grown up his character has realistically become more self-conscious, yet retains all the charm and class he’s always had. Though he’s forgetting Spanish, to his mother’s dismay, Manny intuitively understands things that would go right over most boys’ heads. He’s not athletic, he’s not tough or strong, but he debuts a whole new understanding of what coming-of-age masculinity can look like in America. He’s stylish and sophisticated and just wants to find someone who will love him for who he is. I have high hopes that he will continue to be respectful, insightful and open-hearted.

Jay Manny Gloria

and finally

PhilPhil Dunphy: Phil, portrayed by Ty Burrell, is the reason I wanted to write this post. As an affluent, straight, white, able-bodied man he doesn’t sound too challenging to the typical discourse on hegemonic masculinity in the US, but he so is. Phil regularly says things that people interpret the wrong way such as “It’s Luke’s career day. I thought I’d offer the kids a chance to put their face on my body.” He was a cheerleader in college, is a self-dubbed “cool dad,” and has his feelings hurt when his wife Claire doesn’t realize he’s trying to look nice for her. Successful realtor by day and magician, tightrope-walker and inventor by night, Phil’s whimsical, creative side is never put away. Phil loves his dad, his wife and his kids, is not ever afraid to cry and just wants to earn his father-in-law Jay’s respect. He’s impulsive and reckless and always tries so hard. He’s hands down one of the most loving characters, let alone men, on television. Vasectomy or not I hope that nothing ever changes all the soft, fluffy manliness that is Phil Dunphy.

Phil with the girls

What I Learned From DFA


I recently finished Democracy for America‘s online activist training “The War For Women” in the hopes of combatting current Republican efforts to undermine women’s rights in the United States. To see the series of events that set off the need for this training watch this depressing video and refer back to this blog. Even Al Jazeera is exploring America’s feverishly religious abortion debates. The training was entirely virtual (and entirely FREE–thanks DFA!) and took place once a week for an hour; because of the time difference this meant I tuned in from 3-4AM to participate but, as any good student will tell you, sleep deprivation is a small price to pay for knowledge. This highly interactive War For Women training consisted of six topics, each featuring experts in their respective fields and downloadable action kits full of ideas, links and practical information for activists wanting to get their hands dirty in the fight for justice. What follows is my take on each session.

1) Heath and Reproductive Rights
Inhabiting the same (albeit virtual) space as Cecile Richards (President of Planned Parenthood) was a little overwhelming. Her fervor and success in fighting for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights is inspiring. The furor with which the religious right-wing is attacking women’s sexuality and bodily autonomy is terrifying, maddening and outrageous. Check out this timeline of reproductive justice that takes us up to October 2011 before the onslaught of War on Women legislation this year. Because of my extensive background in SRHR much of the factual information presented I was already familiar with, but the action ideas for fundraising house parties and creating more community dialogue and support for Reproductive Justice will be useful for even the most seasoned activist. Check out this session’s action kit here. Its 14 pages are full of useful ways to make sure women’s reproductive health and rights are not diminished by the government. Other downloadable tools for this topic include a Planned Parenthood Action Fund Toolkit, a WAW Volunteer Sign-up Sheet, an Obama/Romney Contrast graphic, and a WAW Pledge Card.

2) Victory Over Violence
Violence against women was one of the first topics as a young woman that enraged me, and consequently pushed me into feminism and activism. The highly successful and extremely established presenters of this session (Debbie Tucker, the Executive Director of The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence and  Susan Celia Swan, the Executive Director of V-Day) likewise have devoted their lives to combating gender based violence in the US and around the world. A considerable portion of the presentation is devoted to getting trainees up to speed on the sickening recent delays in passing the Violence Against Women Act. The hands-on training is facilitated by Ruby Reid, DFA’s spectacular Online Training Organizer who also emcees the other five sessions. Reid takes activists, step-by-step, through the proper etiquette for successful lobbying of elected officials. Lobbying should always be the first action those wanting to make change take; when lobbying fails, however, there are a host of strategic nonviolent actions to fall back on. Reid and Tucker share best practices for contacting supportive/undecided/non-supportive legislators, a great To Do/Not To Do list for lobbying, and tips on organizing a successful (and media flooded) rally. There are useful tips in the training for men who want to take action against violence against women too! The Victory Over Violence action kit can be found here.

3) The Economic Gender Gap
The feminization of poverty happens all around the world and in the United States the issue of equal work for equal pay is somehow still contentious. Host of The War Room, former Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm ties the whole War For Women together in a four-and-a-half minute video explaining how the underrepresentation of women in politics and science, and how injustice in reproductive health all affect women’s earning power and thus the economy of the United States. Shockingly, if all women in the US were paid equally it would add $523,900,000,000 to the consumer economy!  This session gives lots of other surprising and outrageous information about how unequal pay affects women’s lives, but the focus of the action-training is on branding. The “friendraiser” Jennifer Daniels, an expert in messaging, takes us through how to craft an effective narrative that addresses issues that affect you. The detailed and useful information here builds on the lobbying training from the second session and comes into play again in the fourth session. Here is the 13-page action kit for the Economic Gender Gap which includes an extremely useful tool for any strategic nonviolent activist: Creating a message that resonates.

4) Women and the Media
Used in conjunction with previous subjects like how to craft an effective narrative and how to be successful in lobbying (and because of the overwhelming importance of media coverage and access and how few women are represented in the decision-making processes of media,) this training may be the most important. The trailer for the 2011 documentary Miss Representation opens this session and a short analysis of how representations of women in the media affect everyone’s ideas of what women can and should be follows. MSNBC Analyst Karen Finney leads a discussion of how women can be seen as authority figures and effective leaders in the media across the spectrum of topics. She also addresses the fact that a woman has not anchored a presidential debate in the past 20 years. Since the training took place it was announced that CNN anchor Candy Crowley will moderate a town hall-style debate. Kimberly “Dr. Goddess” Ellis addresses what she learned from  the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the unequal and sexist coverage of the Olympics in the US. Her major point is that we must support women in media by watching women, supporting/funding women who are trying to make their way into the media and not tokenizing women or people of color. John Brougher, Founder of the blog Male Feminists, addresses how women’s allies can use their personal and political power to work for women’s progress. DFA’s Communications Director, Linsey Pecikonis, leads the training in earned media, explaining the differences between (and how to use) press releases and news advisories and how to make pitch calls to media outlets. The action kit for Women and the Media, including templates for news advisories and media kits, is available for download here.

5) Women as Voters
Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners and prominent strategist and pollster, uses research to oust incumbent Republicans from office. Her video highlights what issues have historically been important for women voters, how disparities in voting affect women and how to get women back to the polls. The NAACP National Training Director, Jessica Pierce, tackles the intersectionality of oppression and how voting affects issues that are critical to women, people of color, the working class, etc. She also addresses recent voter suppression efforts and how the NAACP is using all kinds of media and outreach to get more people to vote all over the country. The activist training portion of this session, lead by Ruby Reid, covers tried-and-true get out the vote “GOTV” tactics that work for women. Women as Voters action kit includes great tips on how to register voters and how to identify supporters and contact voters. The National Mail Voter Registration Form (which can be used in every state except New Hampshire and Wyoming) is also there for download.

6) Women as Candidates
With women representing an abysmal 17% of Congress, the importance of women running for office could not be clearer. Check out Emily’s List‘s Impact Project to see how important it is to have women in office. Jennifer Granholm is back in this session to share her experience as a candidate and encourage us to build bridges between women in office and those women who are considering running. The 2012 Project, with its tagline “Don’t get mad. Get elected.” is working “to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures by taking advantage of the once-in-a-decade opportunities of 2012.” Debra Shore, of the Illinois Water Reclamation District, takes us through practical aspects of running for office for the first time including crafting your narrative, the importance of fundraising, the impact of running on personal relationships and finding support in unlikely places. Angela Zimmann, a candidate for Ohio’s 5th Congressional District, shares her experiences as a candidate and how to overcome dismissive detractors and feelings of inadequacy. Erin Molchany, Candidate for State Representative in Pennsylvania’s 22nd District, explains what made her campaign successful: hard work, inclusivity and accessibility to voters.  Regina Schwartz, Deputy Director of the Analyst Institute, shares her very interesting work in understanding how voter outreach affects elections, how to make campaigns as effective as possible and more successful GOTV tactics.

Overall these six sessions were very enlightening and worthwhile. Take six hours of your life and watch each webinar video, then take another three and go through each of the action kits to make yourself the most effective activist possible in the War For Women. If you’d like to participate in any of the upcoming virtual or local DFA trainings, contact them here. To contribute to their very important work and make trainings like these more accessible for everyone, go here. Thanks for reading, now go out and change the world!


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