By Bronwyn Neal
Whether Michael Scott is making crazy jokes, leading a Diversity Day discussion, or complaining to the camera about Toby, there is no denying the comedic appeal of The Office.
Although The Office uses humor to shed light on the issues of white male-dominated Western white-collar workplaces, it also, reinforces gender stereotypes that hinder the success of women and men in these corporate settings.
Now, before you curse my name for criticizing this ever most popular and timeless “reality show”, let me explain.
In 2013, Jessica Birthisel and Jason A. Martin analyzed the first 2 seasons of The Office and assigned gender related incidents into 3 categories: gendered hierarchies, corporative initiatives magnifying gender tension, and informal mixed-gendered interaction. The researchers used real-world workplace research in order to explore the ways in which The Office reinforces these frameworks. As a result they were able to assess if the representation of real life office situations in The Office reinforce or challenge the patriarchy that is American corporate life.
Gendered hierarchies are basically power structures; how men and women, as bosses, are perceived. Women in leadership positions tend to be seen as uptight and aggressive; whereas women in a support role are viewed as sweet and helpful. Men as bosses on the other hand are viewed as in charge, but more feminine due to their “suit” and corporate image when compared to more “manly” blue collar positions. These stereotypical characteristics are carried out by The Offices’ main characters; Jane and Michael. Jane, Michael’s boss, is the HBIC at Dunder Mifflin; she is no-nonsense and aggressive when dealing with problems and coworkers. Michael, on the other hand, would rather be seen as a friend than a boss and would rather be seen as “cool” than authoritative.
When corporate initiatives magnify tensions in the workplace, they usually organize a meeting or workshop similar to the one that Michael facilitate called Diversity Day. These meeting essentially place everyone in a space to talk about uncomfortable issues in an effort to make people feel more comfortable. Sounds like a full proof plan, right? I didn’t think so either. Researchers observed that despite good intentions, these meetings tend to increase racial and gender tensions, as demonstrated through Michael’s inappropriate joke telling and conducting activities.
As a fan myself, it saddens me that I was unable to get through this article without mentioning Jim and Pam’s infamous love story. Although their unspoken attraction and lust for one another brings a little flavor to the show, their romance emphasizes that a white, heteronormative romance is the only spark that excites an otherwise boring office setting.
It’s all just fun and games right?
Well, no. Due to the reality show feel and authentic depiction of everyday office life in corporate America, The Office presents its viewers with a work environment where offensive employees and unfitting behavior is neither punished nor received repercussions. Due to the transparency and the realistic characteristics of the office, the lack of responsibility taken for actions naturalizes the sexualization of women and harassment of people based on gender or sexual orientation.
What can you do? I’m glad you asked.
- Do not entertain jokes that repress someone’s identity as an individual. This could be something as simple as walking away or not laughing in order to show your discomfort.
- Hold people accountable for behaviors and actions that may be offensive to others. It is never fun to call someone out, so taking them aside instead of talking in front of a group will make you and the person more comfortable when trying to educate them on what they did wrong.
- Question policies that seem to create division as opposed to collaboration. Policies can change. Just because it is written down doesn’t mean it is set in stone. If you feel like a policy hurts more than help, talk to HR and figure out how you can improve it.