Feminist Criticism of 2 Broke Girls

2 Broke Girls is a sitcom which revolves around the lives of Max Black and Caroline Channing as they try to run a cupcake business with the hopes of making them financially stable. Caroline is the daughter of Martin Channing, a businessman who was involved in a Ponzi scheme which robbed the entire state of New York. Because of this incident, Caroline is left broke and desperate in looking for a job. On the other hand, Max is a waitress in the Williamsburg diner and has spent most of her professional life waiting tables. The two girls cross paths when Caroline becomes a waitress in the same diner–and inevitably becomes Max’s roommate. The two girls devise a plan to capitalize on Max’s baking skills and Caroline’s business background in order to build a successful cupcake business–while handling the idiosyncrasies of their personal lives.

This criticism seeks to analyze the sitcom’s first season using a feminist framework. The way I see it, the text presents contradictory values in terms of women’s emancipation. In fact, I would argue that the text presents means by which women can be emancipated from their socio-economic conditions. However, the aforementioned argument becomes moot because the text also reinforces patriarchal realities in status quo. The reinforcement then questions the extent of emancipation women have in issues which are gendered at its very core. Some of the guide questions posited by Tyson (2006) were used to analyze the text.

Role of Sisterhood in Gaining Economic and Emotional Leverage

In this text, it is clear that class intersects with the issue of gender. In line with this, one of Tyson’s (2006) guide questions for feminist critique talked about uncovering the role of sisterhood in creating opportunities for women to progress in different factors of their lives. Max and  Caroline’s relationship in the series can be likened to that of two sisters because of their personal involvement in one another’s life and their connection in handling the different circumstances that they face. It is  also important to note that Max and Caroline’s immediate family aren’t with them in the moment which is probably why the two relay facets of their lives such as family background, desires, and even insecurities
to one another. Even the level of trust they had in planning their  cupcake business is a testament of their strong relationship. Indeed, in the absence of family, these two become close friends because of a central goal which binds them.

Max and Caroline’s relationship in the sitcom then accords them with economic leverage because of the convergence of their skills. Albeit the process of establishing their cupcake business is relatively slow—one can see that throughout the progression of the storyline, Max and Caroline were relatively becoming economically independent because of the extra income they earn from selling cupcakes in the diner. Max and Caroline also connect on a personal level—conversing about a myriad of topics from sex, love, to even work life thus enabling the two to even gain a semblance of emotional and psychological development. Indeed, their sister-like relationship fills in the gap of their characters which needed to be developed (i.e Caroline’s adjustment to the poorer way of life, or Max’s trust in her talent of baking).

Oleg & Reinforcement of Patriarchal Norms [1]

Oleg is the diner’s cook who continuously harasses Max and Caroline with his sexual innuendoes. Oleg is characterized as a funny, yet sex-crazed individual who’s an immigrant from Ukraine. In this text, his acts of sexual harassment are seen as part of comic relief. To this end, the strategy of the text to illicit viewers disregards the battle against sexual harassment that women are still fighting for. In one scene, Max even thanks Oleg for his sexual remarks towards her [2] , implying that
insecure women may find security in comments which incite lust towards them. In a postmodern way of viewing things, such actions may be empowering towards women because a single standard of empowerment is disregarded. However, it is safe to assume that no woman will ever feel comfortable about such statements in a regular basis especially when such comments incite the possibility of being raped. Sexual harassment, from simple acts such as catcalling, may exponentially grow to other issues of women’s abuse especially when it is not reprimanded head on.

The text presents two women, Max and Caroline who do not act on the sexual remarks of Oleg. Though they may offer witty rebuttals to innuendoes—these responses do not make Oleg stop from continuously hitting on them. Their reactions imply a form of disdain on their part, but nevertheless, they were still at the mercy of Oleg’s misogynistic humor. Ironically, in terms of number, Oleg is the only employee in the Diner who harasses Max and Caroline and yet, even their Manager/ Owner (Mr. Han) cannot emasculate Oleg from his antics. In this manner, the text emphasizes the proliferation of sexual harassment in workplaces where employee benefits and wage are relatively low. In these types of context, women are presented to be more vulnerable because of labor-intensive jobs which are generally assumed to be tailor-fit for male workers. 2 Broke Girls does not provide solutions to this gendered issue that they presented—instead, the series relies on its ability to poke fun at such seemingly harmless jokes.

Even if Max and Caroline have the potential to handle Oleg’s sexual advances, not every woman may have the willpower or gut to confront such problems because the burden of proof always lies with the
victim. The intended comical reaction of the audience is also appalling especially in the scene where Max makes she said she may need to remove the duct tape from Caroline’s mouth and hands [3] because
Caroline was in the kitchen with Oleg. A comic take on women’s abuse does not help in enabling people to understand the regrettable nature of such an issue. Indeed, women in this text are presented as individuals who may only have band aid solutions in solving a historically-ingrained problem of objectification and abuse. These women may be able to gain economic independence at some point, but
there will always be a continuous struggle to go beyond economic emancipation in order to attain a higher form of emancipation—emancipation from complete inequality generated by mere biological differences.

Conclusion

The impact of comedy in our daily lives is immense. The feeling of happiness that this genre brings creates a feeling of connectedness with a text that other genres might not be able to provide its
readers. However, in the process of laughing, there is always a chance for hidden ideologies to be unconsciously inculcated in the minds of readers. This is rooted from an assumption that comedies
seemingly legitimize certain norms and render some problems as non-urgent. In the case of 2 Broke Girls, readers must not be disillusioned by the notion that it is easy to laugh off issues such as sexual harassment. In doing so, readers may fall into the trap of assuming that the battle for equality among the genders may already be over—when in fact, the battle is continuously evolving as different perspectives rise and assertions of gender dominance come into fruition.


[1] Refer to the video “Best of Oleg”

[2] Best of Oleg- 0:45-0:49

[3] Best of Oleg (3:05-3:15)


References

2 Broke Girls – Best of Caroline [Video file]. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks3aXID3Acc

2 Broke Girls – Best of Max [Video file]. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcmRqnWKFGA

2 Broke Girls – Best of Oleg [Video file]. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51zk8BwwF8M

Caroline Channing – 2 Broke Girls Wiki. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2014, from http://2brokegirls.wikia.com/wiki/Caroline_Channing

Girl & Girl Jokes on 2 Broke Girls – Season 1 [Video file]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tczMk3t-bQ&list=PLLsA9ZcjDx7_sC8qLqUGP5A_t8wCnpoUo

Max Black – 2 Broke Girls Wiki. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2014, from
http://2brokegirls.wikia.com/wiki/Max_Black

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