Feminism and Pam Beesly
by Josh Franklin
I've been thinking a lot about how 'feminist' has become such a feared label. I have always considered myself a feminist, maybe without really considering exactly what that meant. But as I've talked to my friends about writing for this blog, a great number of women have been confused or even dismayed about my feminism. So I've been trying to articulate my own vision of feminism and figure out exactly what about it is so unappealing to my friends.
I love The Office, and I was surprised to read feminists complaining about the turns that the show has been taking. The show did indeed reveal the absurdity of sexism in a dramatic and hilarious way with Michael Scott's antics, and some of that has changed and mellowed. Michael is a much more sympathetic character once new dimensions of his sad saga with Jan are revealed. Jan has become a much more problematic character in terms of feminism after her collapse during the "Dinner Party" episode. But the most interesting new development in The Office is Jim and Pam's blossoming romance, and now engagement. Their relationship is indeed somewhat traditional, and seems to cling closely to stereotypical gender relations.
But what I want to ask is: what do Jim and Pam mean for feminism? Despite the gender stereotypes, their relationship is a fairly good model. Pam does indeed inhabit a traditional female role in the relationship, but she does so consciously. Her relationship with Jim is meaningful and fulfilling, as is the career in graphic design that she pursues in New York.
I have no great love for traditional relationships and stereotypical gender roles, for a variety of personal and philosophical reasons. But for better or worse, Jim and Pam are the characters that my peers seem to identify with. I have always believed that a fundamental part of respecting women is respecting women like Pam. And I feel that amongst my friends with whom Jim and Pam's love resonates so strongly, there is a feeling of alienation; they seem to feel that their lifestyle and values are devalued next to a shiny sexual progressivism.
Despite my personal dislike for them, I believe that traditional forms of gender relations are not necessarily bad. The challenge for a feminist approach to our culture is to figure out how to tell the good from the bad--for there is certainly far too much unhealthy sexism and gendered interaction. So my question to feminists is: am I missing the point? How can I work against the deep injustices that gender can do to us all while still accepting the values of my friends?