Friday, July 16, 2010

Blog Post 2: Exploring Masculinity Through the Character of Barney on How I Met Your Mother

“The Fight,” an episode from the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, addresses many ideas concerning what it means to be a man in today’s society.  The episode explores values such as aggressiveness that are associated with being masculine.  At the same time it causes the viewer to question what it means to be either a homo- or heterosexual in today’s society. Barney demonstrates that being a man means having a strong heterosexual sex drive along with being aggressive; at the same time he demonstrates that the line between hetero- and homosexual behavior is ambiguous.

A common theme in the episode and the sitcom is the goal of Barney to have sex with many beautiful women.  Barney’s sexual drive is part of his masculinity.  He believes he proves his masculinity by having sex with many beautiful women. However, his definition of masculinity is not surprising.  Instead, he is conforming to a common notion present in today’s society.  There is no derogatory term used to describe a male who has many sexual partners, but if he were a female he would be called a slut or a whore.  He proves his masculinity through his sexual appetite.

However, it is not just in a sitcom such as How I Met Your Mother that demonstrates the idea that men prove their masculinity through having sex with multiple women.  In the article “The Beauty Myth,” the author, Naomi Wolf, demonstrates this concept when she says, “The quality called ‘beauty’ objectively and universally exists.  Women must want to embody it and men must want to posses women who embody it,”(121). Barney demonstrates the pertinence of this quote.  Barney tries to possess women by having sex with them. According to both Barney and today’s society, to be considered a man, one needs to be a heterosexual male that has multiple sexual partners. 

Therefore, the question arises how does Barney try to attract women.  His ideas are formulated based upon values found in a patriarchal society. To best understand how he is affected by a patriarchal society, it is important to understand the basis of patriarchy.  Allan Johnson defines patriarchy as, “…a kind of society organized around certain kinds of social relationships and ideas,”(93). The social relationships and ideas include an emphasis upon the “gender dichotomy” of male toughness and female’s docile nature.

The dichotomy is explored in the episode of How I Met Your Mother.  In the beginning of the episode, Barney did not believe being aggressive proved that he was a man.  He actually attempted to discourage his friend, Ted, from going to fight.  However, after Robin, a woman he considers to be attractive, explains how sexy aggressive men are he goes to participate in the fight.  Barney’s change emphasizes the idea that, in a patriarchal society, masculinity is often derived from aggressiveness and toughness.  If one is not willing to fight, they are not considered to be masculine and, by extension, not considered to be attractive.  Because Barney wants to be attractive to many women, he needs to become more aggressive.

Johnson helps to explore Barney’s experience of having to be tough.  Allan Johnson says, “It’s about defining women and men as opposites, about the ‘naturalness’ of male aggression, competition, and dominance and of female caring, cooperation, and subordination,”(94).  Here Barney learns that, to be considered a man, he needs to be able to fight and prove that he is aggressive.

However, Barney is an ironic character.  He emphasizes his heterosexuality by having sex with and objectifying many women.  At the same time he has characteristics that are considered to be homosexual. Barney is able to portray a character that demonstrates that the line between heterosexuality and homosexuality is both subjective and changes based upon a person’s own views.

The best way to understand this concept is to explore a certain scene in the episode where the question arises. Towards the end of the episode, his friend, Marshall, makes a comment about the fact that he gets a manicure and pedicure once a month makes him a “wuss.”  Barney then nonchalantly retorts, “Weekly, Wolverine. Some of us care”(The Fight). For Barney, the fact that he gets his nails done does not make him less of a man.  He still feels that he is masculine.  However, for Marshall and the audience watching, it did affect their opinion of his masculinity.  This is demonstrated by the fact that a laugh track is played after Barney’s comment, and Marshall calls him a “wuss.” 

However, the ambiguity between hetero- and homosexual behavior is a common idea.  It is particularly used in sitcoms to generate humor.  Diane Raymond explores the idea when she says, “Again, this trope [heterosexual men with gay mannerisms] might serve to undermine essentialist notions of a clear boundary between hetero- and homosexual identity.  Indeed, part of the humor in these episodes is that the heterosexual character’s mannerisms come to be recoded as queer,”(108). Barney believes that, to be masculine, one should be concerned with the appearance of their nails.  However, this is not a common belief throughout society, which demonstrates the ambiguity of sexual identity. 

Barney’s confidence about his maleness demonstrates that masculinity is based upon one’s own idea.  However, because he lives in a patriarchal society it forces him to question certain aspects of his masculinity.  Therefore, he chooses to participate in a fight to try to maintain his masculinity and continue to attract women.  At the same time, he is able to be confident in his homosexual mannerisms because he defines masculinity differently than the majority of people.  Overall, Barney provides an interesting lens in which to examine the meaning of masculinity in today’s society.

            Works Cited

Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, The System An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology. Ed. Estelle Disch. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 91-99. Print.

Raymond, Diane. “Popular Culture and Queer Representation: A Critical Perspective.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text- Reader. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication Inc., 2003. 98-110. Print.

“The Fight.” How I Met Your Mother:The Legendary Season 4. 20th Century Fox, 2009.DVD.

Wolf, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth.” Women: Images & Realities, A Multicultural Anthology. Eds. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2006. 120- 125. Print.


  1. Strengths:

    Interesting argument that is backed up with examples from the show and quotes from the text.

    I like the idea of "blurring" the line between hetero and homo sexual characteristics. It was a neat idea.

    It was a good piece to describe feminine and masculine qualities of Barney's character.


    A few grammatical errors, nothing too major though (I'm a little picky). I don't think you need a comma to end your quotes. It would be "... end" (...). [period] or something like that.

    Better transitions may be used for the flow of the paper. "However" is a particular one that you like to use. Maybe you can combine paragraphs with like ideas.

  2. Hannah-
    Well done for your first assignment!
    I really don't have many significant concerns or crucial areas of improvement for you. I thought you chose a great show, episode and character to analyze. I definitely agree with Henry's feedback (and yes, I'm picky like that too :o).
    The only additional info I would have liked to see was you describe the hegemonic construct for a heteronormative man is to depict traits associated with masculinity; therefore, a gay male-character is often stereotyped into feminine qualities and characteristics. Barney's character, given the non-normative sexual identity, doesn't necessitate an understanding that the feminine qualities depicted by Barney are a challenge to the definition of what it means to be a man (due to the heteronormative masculine definition).
    One question:
    Could the masculine characteristics displayed by this character ever be seen as a challenge to heterosexist stereotypes/constructs/assumptions about what it means to be a gay man?
    Overall, nice job & keep up the good work!

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