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Brook Williamson
ENC1145
Jeff Naftzinger
1 May 2015
Gender Roles in Seinfeld
Our gender is assigned to us before anything else. The first question a woman is asked
when someone finds out she is pregnant is what gender will the baby be. Gender is constant
throughout all mankind. According to Mulvey, gender roles are different than gender, [gender
roles are] from popular culture that men and women are offered the cultures dominant
definitions of themselves (1). Females, for example are put in a more submissive role, or a less
dominate position. The female gender role is defined as, spectatorship, suggesting colonized,
alienated or masochistic positions of identification (Ibid). This being said, a female is identified
as being inferior to a man, with jobs such as a secretary, or a nurse, but never thought of as being
in a position of power. On the other hand, males are thought of as powerful, masculine, and
dominant. The real man thinks about practical matters rather than abstract ones and certainly
does not brood upon himself or the nature of his sexuality (Showalter 7). This means that a man
is smart, and independent, and does not think about anything but important matters. The male
gender roles, or the masculine man myth is to be tough, masterful, self-possessed, knowing, and
always in control (Easthope). Popular culture defines our gender roles. We define them when
looking at television programs, advertisements, magazines, music, and the media. One particular
show we can evaluate the use of gender roles in is Seinfeld. In the show, we will examine the
use of gender roles in each of the four main characters. We will look at ways they abide by their
so-called gender roles and we will look at how they go against their gender roles.

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Throughout the series there are many instances that the characters follow their set gender
roles. One specific gender role that the men in the show tend to follow is being dominant in all
aspects (Easthope). For example, in the episode The Shoes, we watch George exercise
dominance in a sexual way, even though inappropriate, it is almost always expected out of a
male. Jerry and George are in the office of the producer of a television program who is deciding
whether or not to run the pilot episode of their new show. While in the office, the producers
daughter comes in and takes off her jacket, wearing a shirt that shows a lot of cleavage under the
jacket. George gets caught starring at the producers daughters cleavage while George thought
he was in the bathroom. The producer ends up cancelling the pilot episode of their new show.
Another typical gender role we see through the show is masculinity, or toughness
(Easthope). In the episode, The Fire, Kramer is the character that is expressing these
masculine traits. Kramers girlfriend Tobi gets her pinky toe run over and cut off by a cyclist
after she walks out onto the street. After the ambulance leaves, Kramer finds the toe and in a rush
to get it to the hospital, he hops on the bus and tells the driver to hurry. A guy in the back of the
bus then pulls out a gun and threatens Kramer. Kramer, being as masculine and tough as a man
can, walks right up to the guy and gives him a few good hits. Meanwhile, the bus driver passes
out from all of the commotion, so then Kramer takes the wheel and starts driving the bus to make
it to the hospital. The thug, as Kramer calls him, comes back and Kramer has to fight him off
while still driving the bus. Finally, Kramer makes it to the hospital and the toe gets reattached
like nothing ever happened.
Kramer is one character that no one ever knows what he is going to do next. He is
random, crazy, and for the most part, out of his mind. One thing about Kramer is that he seems to
always be very confident with what he knows. Knowledge is a male gender role that Kramer

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seems to possess and express in many episodes throughout the series. We never really know
whether or not what he is saying is actually true, but he is very confident and never really doubts
his knowledge. The real man thinks about practical matters rather than abstract ones
(Easthope). For example, in the episode The Masseuse, when Jerry and Elaine are talking
about Elaines boyfriend and how he has the same name as a well-known serial killer, Kramer
comes in and starts rambling about why the guy is a serial killer and what typically leads to
people becoming serial killers. This is a typical behavior with Kramer, and it shows masculinity
because he is fully confident in his knowledge about this subject, just as Easthope says man
should be.
Elaine is different than the men in the show. Although she acts like them and thinks like
them most of the time, she still expresses many female gender roles. One specific female gender
role that we can look at in Elaine is submissiveness (Ibid). Elaine tends to express the need for a
man. Elaine goes through a few different men throughout the series, but there is one that is
consistent through a few episodes, and no matter how many fights or arguments they get into,
Elaine can never seem to end things for good. The fact that she cant be without him is showing
that she relies on him, whether it be for money, handiwork, or even just companionship, she still
relies on him. Just as Ibid says, a woman should have a masochistic position of identification,
and Elaine defenitly expresses this.
Men are known for taking control, whether it is taking control of a situation, or of a
relationship, or just of the remote control, male gender roles tell men that it is their duty to take
control (Easthope). In the episode The Apology, we see Jerry exhibiting the male gender role
of taking control of a situation. In this episode, he is dating a girl who walks around his house
completely naked all of the time. Jerry enjoys this at first, but as he starts to see her do things that

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people typically do not do naked; he starts to dislike this habit of hers. So being the man that he
is, Jerry decides to take control and walk around naked too. Almost immediately, his girlfriend
tells him that it is not good and that he should put clothes on. Eventually, Jerry can not take it
anymore so he just talks to her about it and they work everything out and both of them wear
clothes regularly again. Jerry takes control of the situation just like a man should.
We have looked at all of the characters and some of the ways they abide by their gender
roles. However, in this series, it seems as though our characters go against their set gender roles
more than they abide by them. Elaine, for example, is almost the most masculine character in the
show. She expresses more male gender roles than almost every other main male character in the
show. A good example of this would be in the episode The Sponge; Elaine is very hesitant to
use one of her sponges as a method of birth control to have sex with the guy she has been seeing.
As a female, she is supposed to fall into a more submissive role, having little control over when
to have sex. A female should leave all control to a man and leave all decisions to him (Ibid). A
female is supposed to give into what a man wants, or in other words, almost masochistic, or
finding pleasure in self-denial or submissiveness (Ibid). However, she shows a more dominant
role, a manlier role, while talking to her boyfriend and asking him to give her reasons why she
should use a sponge on him. She shows that she has all of the control in the relationship, leaving
little to no control to the man. In this particular instance, we see a complete switch of gender
roles between Elaine and her boyfriend. Spectatorship, suggesting colonized, alienated or
masochistic positions of identification are what is typically expected out of a
woman, but not in Elaines case (Ibid).
Elaine continuously abandons the female gender roles, it is part of who she is as a
character, but sometimes it doesnt work out for her. One of the gender roles that was abandoned

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by Elaine is that women should be more than willing to appease a male. Females should put
males above them all the time, and tend to their needs before their own (Ibid). In Elaines case,
she never really abides by this gender role. But in one specific episode, The Opposite, Elaine
finds out her boyfriend had just been hit by a car and is in the hospital, but before going to see
him she gets a box of juju fruit candy in the move theater. When she gets to the hospital, her
boyfriend asks her where she got the candy and she told him she got them at the theater right
after she heard he got into an accident. They get into a big fight and he tells her to leave. This
behavior is very typical of Elaine. She has the tendency to not care too much about other people,
as long as she is happy, clearly defying the female gender role of making sure the needs of a man
is put before her own needs or desires.
Male gender roles are pretty well defined. It is extremely common to hear about males
having to be athletic, or be in control, or not show emotion. Also, it is very common for men to
feel that they need to be in complete control during sex, or in complete control of their sex life,
and their sexuality. When it comes to George, he isnt really in control of much in his life,
especially his emotions. For example, in the episode The Stranded, George is hitting it off
really well will this girl at a party. She asks him to make love to him and when he is talking to
Jerry about it he starts to stress out. He begins overthinking the whole situation and making
himself believe that he should just call the whole thing off or something will go very wrong.
The real man certainly does not brood upon himself or the nature of his sexuality
(Showalter).
George is never really in control of his emotions. He stresses out about little things and
makes a big deal out of a minimal problem. For example, George loses his temper in the episode
The Shoes, when he asks his therapist how she liked the script for the new show him and Jerry

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are writing. Everything was fine until the therapist said she did not find the script very funny.
George blew this way out of proportion and expressed his anger very clearly and very loudly.
According to Easthope, men should be always in control, and George is never really in control.
Just as Showalter says, the real man thinks about practical matters rather than abstract
ones. This seems to be an issue for George. In the episode The Masseuse, George wants
Jerrys girlfriend to like him. He goes out of his way to impress her, or make her think he is a
likeable person. He thinks about the fact that she does not like him so much that it is all he talks
about to anyone. His new girlfriend gets so tired of hearing about it and they get into a fight and
end up breaking up. George is so preoccupied by the thought of another person not liking him,
that it drives him crazy. According to Easthope, men should be masterful and self-possessed,
meaning they should act upon their own wishes and desires, and not act upon what they think
others will like or think or them. As we can see in this specific situation, George worries about
what others think too much, making him do things he would not usually do, and that alone is
defying the male gender roles.
Moving onto Kramer and also Easthopes idea of the masculine man myth and the gender
role that comes with it, we can see Kramer defying this gender role in the episode, The
Apology. In this episode, Kramer does not know how to shower properly. He goes to Jerry to
ask for help, trying to get tips about how to shower properly and quickly. He then goes to the
mens locker room at the gym to watch how other men shower. He ends up getting beat up in the
mens locker room when the guys see that he is watching them shower. This is an example of
Kramer defying the male gender role of being full of knowledge, and also the male gender role
of being masculine and tough. Kramer should know how to shower, and he should know that it is
not right to go into the mens locker room and watch other men shower. He should not have

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gotten beat up, he should have defended himself and fought back just as a masculine man should
do.
Jerry has the tendency to defy the male gender roles in unusual ways. He does not act
unmanly, he doesnt worry about his sexuality or his sexual abilities, and he does not show his
emotions. Jerry lacks the ability to be self-possessed at some points in time. For example, in the
episode The Van Buren Boys, Jerry is dating this new girl. He really likes her and gets along
with her very well. But everyone else seems to have a problem with her. Everyone makes him
think that she is the loser of her group of friends, but he does not understand why. Finally, after
hearing everyone elses opinion he finds himself not liking her that much anymore, and breaking
things off with her. Jerry is lacking the ability to make his own decisions about an important
situation. According to Easthope, being self-possessed is a male gender role, and Jerry was
definitely defying it in this situation.
Gender roles are an ongoing issue in our society. The media, television programs,
magazines, and music continuously tell us what we should and should not be doing or how to act
and how not to act. Just as the characters in Seinfeld, there are millions of people everyday that
abide by their set gender roles in order to fit in with what our society tells us is normal. And just
like our characters in Seinfeld, there are millions of people that go against their set gender
roles, whether it is on purpose or not, or just trying to stand out. Just as Mulvey says, it is popular
culture that defines us, and until we stop letting it define us, we will live in constant judgment.

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Works Cited
Easthope, Anthony. "Men's Studies and Masculinities." Cultural Theory and Popular Culture:
An Introduction. By John Storey. 5th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2009. 159.
Print.
Ibid. "Gender and Sexuality." Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. By John
Storey. 5th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2009. 137. Print.
Mulvey, Laura. "Gender and Sexuality." Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction.
Ed. John Storey. 5th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2009. 136-37. Print.
Showalter. "Men's Studies and Masculinities." Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An
Introduction. By John Storey. 5th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2009. 159.
Print.
Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. 5th ed. Harlow, England:
Pearson Longman, 2009. Print.
"The Apology." Seinfeld, Jerry, and Larry David. Seinfeld. NBC. New York City, New York, 11
Dec. 1997. Television.
"The Fire." Seinfeld, Jerry, and Larry David. Seinfeld. NBC. New York City, New York, 5 May
1994. Television.
"The Masseuse." Seinfeld, Jerry, and Larry David. Seinfeld. NBC. New York City, New York, 18
Nov. 1993. Television.
"The Opposite." Seinfeld, Jerry, and Larry David. Seinfeld. NBC. New York City, New York, 19
May 1994. Television.
"The Shoes." Seinfeld, Jerry, and Larry David. Seinfeld. NBC. New York City, New York, 4 Feb.
1993. Television.
"The Sponge." Seinfeld, Jerry, and Larry David. Seinfeld. NBC. New York City, New York, 7
Dec. 1995. Television.
The Stranded." Seinfeld, Jerry, and Larry David. Seinfeld. NBC. New York City, New York, 27
Nov. 1991. Television.

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"The Van Buren Boys." Seinfeld, Jerry, and Larry David. Seinfeld. NBC. New York City, New
York, 6 Feb. 1997. Television.