Have you ever had those moments when you’re watching a film or television show you grew up loving and you take a pause— with your life experience, feminist sensibilities, and refined critical thinking skills—and you’re like, “Well this is kind of a bullshit message.”
For example, a few years ago I sat with my three-year-old niece watching Disney’s Snow White. A previously whimsical tale in my mind, I now watched in indignation the story of a young woman who is the target of a hit by her jealous stepmother who’s like, “Stupid talking mirror, nobody’s prettier than me!”
After Snow White’s murderer-to-be can’t do the deed and let’s her know of these plans, she runs off into woods screaming with her hands in the air. She stumbles upon a small cottage where she comes upon seven little, weird, dirty men. Instead of maybe taking a second to be like, “Wait a minute, I’m the rightful heir to the throne who can talk to animals, for crying out loud! I need to figure out what my next move here is.” She’s like, “Welp, I’ll just cook and clean and take care of these dudes because, that’s what women do.”
And don’t even get me started on the fact that her main goal in life is to have her prince come and…. fulfill her destiny of being in love, or something.
Bitch, you just escaped death.
Her ability to eat and apple and be paralyzed to the point where she is mistaken for a corpse and the Prince’s (arguably necrophilia-ish) impulse to kiss her, ultimately breaking the spell, leads to her desired fate of getting on the back of his horse and live happily ever after or… whatever.
These kinds of love stories and fairy tales are so plump with tropes of the helpless woman who is ready to be swept off her feet, if only that jealous older woman would just back off, are pretty common and as a little girl is something I ingested without a second thought, until, you know: LIFE HAPPENED.
Being a child of the 90’s, Friends was one of my favourite shows. Like millions of others, I tuned in every week, laughing and guffawing at Chandler’s sarcastic wit, Phoebe’s unabashed quirkiness, Monica’s persnickety nature, Joey’s stupidity and rakish posturing, Rachel’s progression from spoiled princess to self actualized career woman, and the ever persistent geeky nature of the slick haired, dinosaur loving Ross.
I owned whole seasons on DVD. Rachel was my hair idol. I once knew all the words to Phoebe’s “Smelly Cat”. I watched it over and over again, able to quote punch lines. Like so many others, some the show’s idioms are still in my lexicon: I’m sure every time I’ve moved or help someone move I still quote Ross’ manic “PIVOT” instruction, or when talking with buddies about things in the boudoir, Monica’s “SEVEN! SEVEN! SEVEN!” when it comes to the erogenous zones of a woman’s body. Like, could I BE anymore of a Friends fan? Probably not.
Now that the series has been recently released on Netflix and I’ve been tuning into some episodes.
Let me just say: Friends is a funny show. It was funny when it first came out, and it still stands up today. However, besides the jarring laugh track that has been mostly phased out of comedies along with the “movie guy” narration for movie trailers, there are a few issues I can see with the show now that I didn’t really think about when I was a thirteen-year-old super fan.
Most notably: The glaring lack of diversity (all straight white people), rampant fatphobia, the heteronormative and prescriptive gender roles on which much of the comedy relies upon (“men are like this” haha, “women are like this” HAHAHAHAHA).
Also the fact that there is no way that these people could possibly afford to live in their fucking huge apartments in New York City when four of them work part-time gigs.
Although I could go on about any of these issues in the show, there’s something that has grabbed my attention and was mentioned by a very good friend of mine: Ross Gellar is kind of a misogynist asshole.
I mean, all the characters are kind of dicks to one another. The premise where one friend has lied to, or tries to manipulate the other, is found in many episodes. They tease one another relentlessly, and it’s that kind of sardonic banter that I like about the show.
But Ross, Ross is different in the way that he perceives, treats, and approaches women. Specifically when it comes to the “Ross and Rachel” saga which is pretty much the tale of a stubborn, unapologetic, disingenuous, man who “finally” ends up with a woman who’s put up with her fair share of his shit and I can’t believe we’re supposed to just accept this as the conclusion to a great love story.
The series begins with Ross’ total devastation due to the end of his marriage to Carol who has come to the realization she’s a lesbian. In comes Rachel, just having left Barry at the altar ready to emerge from the cocoon of a sheltered life where she would have been financially provided for by a wealthy, yet douchey, husband. Instead she chooses to move to the city and start anew. We quickly find out that Ross LOVES Rachel and has since high school, but was always too nervous to ask her out.
This doesn’t change throughout the first two seasons and we see him silently struggle with his perceived unrequited love that produces some comedic moments. Then Rachel finds out, and she digs him too, but then he’s with Julie, and then he finds out and can’t decide between the two and…
EXHIBIT ONE—ROSS GELLER IS A JUDGY FUCK
After compiling a list of pros and cons when deciding between Rachel and Julie (because he’s just so desirable) “Just a waitress” is a con for Rachel. Ross judges Rachel on her occupation of being a server as a reason not to be with her. Despite the fact that she’s taken a huge step away from a privileged life and is trying to make her own way in the world, Ross thinks he’s better than her because he’s a dinosaur doctor.
She finds out, and her feelings are hurt (understandably) but, blah, blah, they still get together even though there’s an overlap when he’s still technically with Julie. ButIguessweforgivehimbecausehelovesRachelSOmuch…
After he deigns to go out with said waitress and the two start a relationship, because I guess he’s cool if she serves him.
Shortly after, she gets a dream job offer at Bloomingdale’s. But WAIT—a man (Mark) offered her the position and it must be because of his desire to stick it inside of her. Even Chandler and Joey agree and, I would argue, are complicit in Ross’ obsession with the possibility that another man might find his super hot, talented, funny, and ambitious girlfriend desirable (heaven forbid!). Therefore, he should be inserting himself into every aspect of her waking life so that everybody knows that she belongs to him.
For a show the was regarded as “progressive” for its time, Ross’ possessive attitude towards her borders on something from the 1920’s and instead of moving past this he’s all, “Guys and broads can’t work together, see. He just wants to jump ya, that’s all.”
EXHIBIT TWO: ROSS GELLER IS JEALOUS AS SHIT
Instead of listening to her assertions that she is not interested in Mark, Ross smothers Rachel with his unrelenting affection rooted in possessive jealousy that manifests itself in flowers, gifts, and even a barbershop quartet.
This is psychotic behaviour.
This attitude of ownership over women in his life also extends to his sister Monica when he realizes (and witnesses) the secret relationship between her and Chandler, “MY SISTER?!” And later on when he’s dating a young student and joins her on summer break after realizing that she’ll be wearing a bikini—the notorious garb of the unfaithful woman.
We’re supposed to take the idea that Ross’ ex-wife is to blame for his mistrust of Rachel because he encouraged Carol’s friendship with her lover Susan. I guess I can believe this for a second or two until his jealousy ultimately ends his relationship with Rachel, and the whole “We were on a break” when he sleeps with someone else TRIES TO COVER IT UP and then, instead of apologizing and showing legitimate remorse he fights tooth and nail over what it meant to be on “a break” instead of consoling his wounded soon-to-be-ex-partner.
He spent fucking months being insanely jealous of the fact that she sat across from a man at her job, and acts like that fact that he fucked a hot girl the night before is like, no biggie.
EXHIBIT THREE: ROSS GELLER IS A HUGE LIAR
Ross and Rachel’s relationship waxes and wanes over the rest of the series, he proceeds to marry again, and divorce. Yet we never see any kind of emotional growth from Mr. Gellar. When they reunite at the beach house (where he, again, is involved with another woman) he neglects to read Rachel’s lengthy letter about her feelings about them getting back together. When he realizes Rachel is asking him to admit to his mistake and “infidelity” that broke them up, he freaks out and refuses to take any agency.
When Rachel and Ross get wasted and marry in Vegas, he tells her that they are divorced. But doesn’t because he just doesn’t want to be a guy who’s had three divorces.
That gets settled, and you think it’s finally over and they can just both move on with their lives, but Rachel becomes pregnant with their child after a one-night stand. He not only has a delinquent first reaction (going on about the effectiveness of condoms) when she first tells him, but when they live together (to like, simulate a family unit or something) she takes a night off and he babysits. A prospective suitor calls for her and he neglects to tell her even though they aren’t romantically involved. When she finds out this I think fourth or fifth HUGE lie Ross has told her, instead of apologizing he complains that she shouldn’t be going out with her friends because she has a baby to take care of and shouldn’t be having a life of her own…
Now, I understand that the writers and producers of the show intentionally draw out this story to keep fans waiting with bated breath to see if they end up together, but honestly, after watching the series again with fresh eyes, I have to ask: What it is about Ross that Rachel is supposed to find so attractive? What it about the “Ross and Rachel” thing that we are rooting for?
Rachel has put herself out there so many times for this cockface: from offering to fulfill his sexual fantasies (Princess Leia in a gold bikini), supporting his career, clearly articulating her thoughts and feelings, and even offering to raise his child without his help, and she’s only been met with next level emotional manipulation, flagrant displays of disrespect, and inability to approach her with earnestness.
So when the series ends (SPOILER ALERT… but like, it’s been twenty years, get over it) Rachel decides to move to Paris, another evolution in her growth as an individual, Ross crashes the party at the last minute, stopping her at the airport to profess his undying love for her. Instead of saying, “Gee Ross that’s really sweet but we’ve tried this a few times and even though I do love you and have a child with you, a fact that means we will forever be linked, I think maybe we’re better as friends.” Rachel decides to “get off the plane” to be with Ross. She shows up at his place imbuing him with “I love yous” and “Let’s do this.”
Teenage me reacted with a, “Finally, they’re together!” but current day me was all like, “Rachel, he’s an asshole. GO TO PARIS.”
This love story is supposed to give us some sort of catharsis, a reinforced belief that true love conquers all, and Ross states, “We’re done being stupid.” Um, I’m sorry WE? WE are done? I’m left thinking that the story that’s being told isn’t actually about mutual love and support, but rather that grand gestures are the be-all and end-all of love, instead of the hard work and emotional intelligence it takes to foster a successful relationship (which, I mean, I’m not perfect at or anything).
Looking back on the examples of love that I watched as a child and then young adult, I can’t help but think that maybe there has to be something better than waiting to be kissed alive, or putting up with a decade’s worth of assholery to end up in a “Happily Ever After” sort of situation.
If you want to read more about what most likely happens after the series concludes, you should most definitely check out The Belle Jar’s brillant article: http://bellejar.ca/2015/01/05/friends-where-are-they-now/.
Seriously, it’s perfect.