Friends was one of the most popular television shows of all time, and ruled the world in the 90’s and early 2000’s, as it followed six 20-something friends figuring out life in New York City, and had some feminist moments while doing so.
Now, Friends isn’t exactly the epitome of feminism, in fact several story lines would not fall in line with feminist ideology at all. However, there were moments of representation and female empowerment that definitely walked the line.
The most feminist thing about Friends was the three, female characters: Monica, Rachel and Phoebe. All three women were very different and were pursuing different paths in life, work and love. All had their own careers and strived for advancement that didn’t just include a boyfriend. Perhaps the most feminist characterizations though, was the way the death with pregnancy and motherhood.
Motherhood is often divided from feminism because to some, being a mother is connected with the domestic, patriarchal structure women have been forced to adhere to for generations. By excluding motherhood though, we exclude certain women which means we aren’t operating intersectional. Nurturing and accepting a woman’s right to become a mother in whatever way she chooses is what really makes the movement inclusive.
Throughout the show, all three women deal with motherhood in very different ways which illustrates that there is no one right way to enter into motherhood or pregnancy, it is about a woman’s choices for her life and body.
Rachel becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with her ex-boyfriend Ross, and for the majority of the time they decide to keep the baby and co-parent as they live single lives. Monica is faced with fertility issues and she and her husband choose to adopt twins, after considering surrogacy and sperm-donors. Lastly, Phoebe acts as a surrogate for her brother and sister-in-law, carrying and delivering his triplets.
All very different story lines, but common themes of a woman’s right to her own body and choices when it comes to pregnancy and motherhood, which acts as representation for parents from all backgrounds.
Some of the other representation in Friends was both positive and problematic. The show aired an episode with a lesbian wedding in 1996, before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere in the world. I think that was a great stride, but often homosexuality was the punchline to a joke which is problematic in its own way.
Pure problems with the show exist with the comedic and mocking representation of Chandler’s dad – a trans-woman and with the absolute lack of diversity. I can count on one hand the number of characters that were people of color, and all major characters were white, straight cis people.
Most of the problems with Friends’ feminism I believe existed because of the time and a lack of intersectional awareness from the writers. It would have been nice to see more representation and less mockery of diversity, but even with that Friends does have feminist undertones in regard to some women. I would say in today’s scope, the show appeals to white feminism , but did teeter on the edge of some more profound representation that just never came full circle.