In September 2009, America was introduced to Modern Family, the new award-winning show. The show centers around three families, all of which interact with each other. Not only does Modern Family deal with the traditional family, but also introduces a homosexual couple, and a mixed marriage. Given that these families are interrelated, Modern Family can reasonably be described as “modern.” The combination of traditional and new elements grows from the blended dialog, which the producer of this show tries to communicate. These elements lay only on the surface, and deeper looks within each family structure prove that the show’s title is misleading. New family visions are never fully embraced, but instead altered to fit into a common family thought. In contrast to its title, Modern Family promotes traditional gender roles and stereotypes of women, which result in the portrayal of an inaccurate image of the female and weakens the stance of women in todays U.S. society.
Even though Modern Family tries to communicate an new idea of family, the show’s trust on male structures has created plotlines modeling traditional thoughts within each family. With Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker, the producers of Modern Family succeeded in creating a liberal homosexual couple characterized by their progressive denial of a traditional family structure. The intermarriage of Jay Pritchett and Gloria Delgado also deviates from the norm, not only by highlighting Gloria’s Latin American origin, but also by their visible age difference. With this interracial relationship, Modern Family follows the trend of recent television series such as Lost Grey’s Anatomy and Emergency Room to include mixed partnership in their story-lines. The significance of these examples is that the audience assumes that Modern Family promotes new families and dismisses the classic gender construction; however, it lacks resistance towards male family dominance, showing the false approach this show tries to communicate Stability is constructed around the promotion of a male, and traditional formation of the dominant thought of the “The Standard North American Family (SNAF),” as argued by Dorothy E. Smith.
In her article about “SNAF as an Ideological Code,” she states that the clear division of work sphere and domestic sphere between husband and wife characterizes the concept of a family. The men are the families’ principal earners, making the women dependent on their husbands’ income. As seen in Modern Family neither Claire Dunphy nor Gloria Pritchett is responsible for contributing to her family’s income, which forces them to rely on their husbands’ earnings. The show’s reliance on the deeply fixed thought becomes even more evident by looking at Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker. Their progressive portrayal seems to make a classical gender distribution unlikely, but the episode “Mothers Day” reveals that Mitchell takes the role as mother, while Cameron functions as father. Modern Family focuses on female gender stereotypes to further promote a male-dominant family thought. The mass media’s tendency to resolve social change and reproduce “assumptions about women’s appropriate roles” creates inaccurate images of Gloria and Claire as modern women (Dow 19).
The work “Constructing Gender Stereotypes Through Social Roles in Prime-Time Television” gives a definition of the construction of female identity and communication throughout television. It states “stereotypes offer overviews about people on the basis of their group membership” (Lauzen, Dozier, and Horan 201). While both women share the identity of motherhood, home life, and family-orientation, their individual characteristics differ. Gloria’s Latin American origin deviates from her white, American colleague. Gloria’s character symbolizes views many Americans have regarding Latin American women, such as being “‘passive, and dependent on men. ABC’s official description of Gloria states that Jay “married the much younger, much hotter, much more Colombian Gloria. Numerous episodes also make fun of her strong Latin American accent. The episode “The One That Got Away “features Jay’s birthday and instead of his wish to get a “saxophone,” Gloria gets him a “sexy phone,” a phone in the shape of a mouth. Additionally, little is known about Gloria’s educational or professional background in Colombia.
This results in the motives of her marriage to the much older Jay Pritchett are being questioned. Gloria is accused of being a gold digger for wanting to marry a rich white American, most likely to obtain the American Dream for her and her son Manny. Contrary to Gloria’s racist stereotypical description, Claire Dunphy represents the traditional stay-at-home-mother, who dedicates her life to the domestic land. Compared to Gloria’s glamorous looks, Claire is dressed more casually, indicating that her priorities lie within the family. Throughout the series the audiences discovers that she once had a successful profession, which she quit for her family. This shows that despite her strong, controlling character, she is not an independent woman. Claire’s description of vacation as a “business trip” demonstrates that she takes her position as mother very seriously, even more than her previous occupation. Through the promotion of traditional family values and the stereotypical presentation of women in the U.S. show Modern Family, an inaccurate image of the reality and impact of women in U.S. society is created.
Even though feminist scholar Andrea L. Press argues that it is not the role of television to immediately and accurately reflect social and political behavior in one’s society, she draws the attention to the representation of “contradictory notions about feminine gender identity and female roles” in mass media (Press, Women Watching Television Andrea Press has also studied the relationship between women and work on television, and has identified that the image of working women on U.S. sitcoms correlates with the rise of women’s participation in the U.S. labor force, resulting from the changing shape of the American family through rising divorce rates and increasing acceptance of alternative family forms (Press,”Gender And Family” 148).
While currently 58.9 percent of married women with younger children, and 70.7 percent with children aged six to seventeen are employed, it is questionable why none of the women in Modern Family holds jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Of course, the concept of women working is not the only controversial family-related issue that inconveniently left out of discussion in the television series. Even though the introduction of sensitive issues, such as sexuality and race, in present television shows (Press, “Gender And Family” 140) can be noticed, these narratives often minimize the real problems American women face today (Press, Women Watching Television27-28). This observation does not meet the ideals of Modern Family, whereas issues like race, sexuality, and career decisions might be shown, but not openly be discussed.
The longstanding moral concept of the traditional family is promoted through the show and by constantly repeating gender roles; the audience assumes these structures as true and authentic (Lauzen, Dozier, and Horan 201-202). A critical review on Modern Family easily reveals old-fashioned values. Despite its success, this show is not as modern as it claims to be and could easily have been aired in the 1980s, a television era that was also characterized by a return to traditional family values. Nevertheless, Modern Family, airing in the 21st century, is continually stereotyping women in an old fashioned manner as mothers and housewives. These lines do not meet real female ambitions or provide a satisfactory reading of today’s American women. As Bonnie J. Downotes: “the danger is not in enjoying television series but in mistaking these images for something more than the selective, partial images that they are” (Dow 214).