Average Joe and His Knockout Wife

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Has anyone else noticed that, particularly in American  sitcoms, the loving married couple consists of an average, usually overweight man and a very attractive woman?

I think it probably does happen in real life…but I’ve been thinking for a while now, “Why don’t we see an average, possibly overweight woman with an absolute hunk?” Are there cases of this out there and I just don’t know about them? If there are, I’d wager that they are few and far between, unlike the Average Joe/Gorgeous Wife cliche that appears so often (see shows like According to Jim and The King of Queens for recent examples).

I’m not sure why it bugs me so much. Maybe it gives me this sense that men expect beauty while women, apparently, don’t.

Comments

  1. Glaivester says

    Although she isn’t overweight, Fran Drescher in her new sitcom is married to a man who is a lot younger than she is.

    Although it was intended to be ironic, Mimi Bobeck in Drew Carey had some lovers who were more attractive than she was.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Fran Drescher in her new sitcom is married to a man who is a lot younger than she is.

    Very cool – this is another one that happens more often in real life than TV would lead you to believe. Good to see it being represented.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Maybe it gives me this sense that men expect beauty while women, apparently, don’t.

    That’s what bugs me about it. A sense that men are entitled to beautiful wives, but if women want attractive men… well, good luck with that.

    Not that anyone should make beauty the top priority in mate selection.

  4. Revena says

    The only example of “less attractive woman, more attractive man” that I can think of is in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (although, really, I think Nia Vardalos has tons of charm. But the character of Toula Portokalos was clearly meant to be frumpy). I can’t think of any television examples, though.

    I think you might be on to something with the idea about men expecting beautiful wives and women not so much expecting beautiful husbands, but I wonder if there might also be some other stereotype reenforcement going on. Like, how often do you see the male lead in a sitcom as a healthfood nut and/or exercise buff who tries to get his wife to give up beer/pizza/hotdogs? But “health conscious” is a pretty frequent character point for female leads in sitcoms.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yes, and according to the NutriSystem ad, “what GUY has time for” calorie counting and so on? That’s one of those silly things women worry about, with all that spare time they have on their hands laying on the couch and eating bonbons. ;)

    I can’t speak for every region, but where and when I grew up in the South, a guy who expended effort to look nice for ANY reason, even in hopes of attracting women, was chastised for acting “gay”. I never quite got that; my best guess was that they were trying to prove how well they had women trained to put up with anything, even fugliness? No, seriously, I never did figure that out. And maybe it doesn’t happen anywhere but there.

  6. Mecha says

    This has come up before, I think, but part of me also thinks that there’s an ‘everyman’ component to the choice to appeal to male viewers directly (as opposed to the indirect ‘you can have a woman like this too’ setup.) Sitcom male leads not being particularly attractive, but the women being attractive is a plus for male viewers on both sides (identification and wish fufilment) not just the one, because it doesn’t set up a standard for you to like the guy.

    Male leads in ‘modern’ sitcoms, in my mind, tend to start with bland unthreatening societal norms (pick any, really) for identification, stereotypes (Al Bundy, Tim Taylor) for comedic impact/situation boosting (they are ‘sit’coms, are they not?), or just extensions of their stand-up-comedic basics (Seinfeld) because the humor ‘works’. Maybe I’m being a leetle too general there, because whatever works for comedy in general will work for a lead, but. I don’t know much about the theory here, but that’s my guess. Look at how the ‘abrasive’ role has moved out of the main character position. The main character doesn’t hold hard abrasive positions, because that might drive the viewer away.

    With respect to Revena’s comment… I think that goes along with ‘stereotype’ plots. A lot of comedy revels in stereotypes, whether working with them or twisting them or just flat breaking them in one way or another. Comedic irony, I suppose. Which can often make comedies very good at perpetuating stereotypes, because critical analysis isn’t always their strong suit. And, of course, the biggest stereotypes of them all in male-female relationships are prime fodder for sitcoms.

    I also always have this nagging feeling that when all the actresses are attractive to begin with because all the ‘unattractive ones’ get culled, you end up with mainly attractive actresses to use anyway. Perhaps I’m underestimating the talent pool.

    -Mecha

  7. Mecha says

    It’s tough to approach the ‘gay’ insult in any real reasoned manner anyway, nowadays. According to my experience, it is apparently now ‘gay’ to modify a video game, get grounded by your parents, miss a catch in football, look at m-f porn, be rejected from a job or college, have sex with a woman instead of going out with the guys, or basically anything else. ;) Using gay as a generic razz is pretty much ubiquitous, nonsensical, and frustrating nowadays.

    More directly on point to the gay thing, look at the concept of ‘metrosexual’. Since when has ‘looking good’ actually had anything to do with sexuality? Why is it called ‘metrosexual’? Shouldn’t it be called… well, anything else? At best, it’s working off the flawed (and annoying) stereotype that all gay men are pretty and built and take care of themselves perfectly. It’s not much wonder that gay males tend to neuroses. Heteronormative pressure on one side, insanely looks-conscious pressure on the other side, and a normal person in the middle. And at worst, it’s saying that ‘real’ guys don’t need to look good, especially not if they want to get in a relationship, only them queers would bother.

    Sorry, got sidetracked there for a second. ^^; Ahem. Anyway. I think that’s really the same sort of thing, Building off the stereotype in reverse, as ‘gayness’ is associated with ‘male prettiness’. Which is really too bad for women, because I’m sure they want a good looking guy too. *cough* And one wonders where the ‘all the good ones are gay’ joke/concept comes from…

    -Mecha

  8. sbg says

    Very cool – this is another one that happens more often in real life than TV would lead you to believe. Good to see it being represented.

    I was going to say this, because I don’t find Fran Drescher a particularly average-looking woman. And good for her! In an industry where male leads (esp. in movies) are often 20+ years older than their female counterparts, it’s nice to see the flip side. Even if it’s in a comedy I’ve never heard of. ;)

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    Sitcom male leads not being particularly attractive, but the women being attractive is a plus for male viewers on both sides (identification and wish fufilment) not just the one, because it doesn’t set up a standard for you to like the guy.

    Right. Once again, it’s all about attracting men, because studios are determined to believe they’re the only worthwhile audience, despite plenty of evidence that women direct or at least influence 80% of household purchases and represent a huge, responsive market.

    And you’re right about the fact that very few women who don’t meet the insanely narrow and teenage-boyish beauty standard will try to make it in TV or movie acting. They would be wasting their time, and they know it. This is why Joss Whedon had to ask Jewel Staite on Firefly to gain a few pounds: he wanted a girl who looked a healthy, normal weight, and could not find an actress out there who wasn’t 20 pounds underweight.

    But that’s the industry’s design. If people like Joss Whedon don’t like it, they’re going to have to yell a bit louder, and risk getting shunned by the whole industry.

    No matter what anyone says, to me it still boils down to the fact that our entire society is more tolerant of flaws in men than in women. We may all disagree about what constitutes a flaw, or how tolerant society should be, but anyone who thinks we should be harder on or less forgiving of women is supporting prejudice.

  10. Mecha says

    No matter what anyone says, to me it still boils down to the fact that our entire society is more tolerant of flaws in men than in women. We may all disagree about what constitutes a flaw, or how tolerant society should be, but anyone who thinks we should be harder on or less forgiving of women is supporting prejudice.

    Well, I would hope nobody explicitly thinks, ‘We should be harder on women’ WITHOUT thinking it’s prejudice, because that is prejudice pretty much by definition.

    But you know, when you said that, I thought, ‘That’s because women are a them to society, not an us.’ Then after a bit of dithering I realized that was exactly it, the mindset underlying all of it. From society’s viewpoint, women are a them. (Yes, I realize this doesn’t sound earthshattering, but it leads somewhere. I think.)

    For male-focused society, women are generally a them. It is always easier to criticize a them directly. Earlier discussions about how women cut down other women… because they’re ‘them’s to those women. Men cutting down ‘attractive’ men or calling them gay, makes those men ‘them’. Not us. It’s pure psychological and societal division. Someone who is different isn’t in your group, and hence the flaws in them, especially ones caused by environments you share, aren’t your flaws. It’s all about ‘them’.

    And I think, more than just ‘male’ versus ‘female’ (although you are right), society is just more tolerant of anyone who fits in the average joe WASP set. Because to society, hetero WASPs are the ‘us’. That’s a stunningly narrow and yet incredibly broad space, simply because so many people (men) can appear to inhabit it in media and real life. Outside of that, tolerance drops rapidly. Women, effeminant men, tomboys, foreigners, weird religions. Men versus women, there’s more tolerance in the ‘man’ side of things, but gay versus straight, black versus white versus hispanic versus what-have-you… it’s all about the white male (protestant in the US) hetero norm in most of western society.

    Things may be complex, but… in the end, it always sorta seems to boil down to us and them. Sympathetic/empathetic capabilities, people on both sides, whatever. Us and them. Even the discussion ends up being forced into terms of us and them. The most basic primers on how to deal with male privilege and talking to, say, feminists, the ones written by feminists, (http://blog.shrub.com/archives/tekanji/2006-03-08_146 because I know it) makes it very clear that no matter how nice you are, no matter how much you try, a guy will always be a ‘them’ in the discussion. Even if you get to the point where you can be a partner, you’re still a them. And to reaffirm I’m not going batty, women get even more ludicrous ‘them’ treatment. Why the hell would someone you are engaged to/married to be a them? Shouldn’t that be an inherent us? Isn’t that the point of marraige? Meh to all of it.

    The entire institutionalized set of dichotomies is very mentally frustrating, both on examination and when living in it directly. At least to me.

    -Mecha

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    I totally agree with your whole comment. Everything does boil down to us v them, and there are lots of perceived usses and thems, and subsets of both under every category and so on.

    It’s one of the great unfairnesses of existence: we’re all put here to die, ultimately, but in the meantime, we’re programmed to fight each other tooth and nail to survive. By convincing yourself someone else is a them, you can comfortably dump your basic human empathy for them and treat them like trash – it’s easier than a fair competition for survival. Sort of the Tanya Harding method – if you can’t beat ‘em, break their legs in advance so they can’t show up to the game.

  12. scarlett says

    At a stretch, in some cases you could argue that women are more capable of seeing beyond beauty. One of my faborite relationship arcs in television was Charlotte and her second husband, who’s name I can’t remember but who, IMHO, bore a strong resemblance to a pug dog. He was fugly, but he would have contrived to fetch her the moon if she’d asked for it. He adored her and was constantly looking to better himself for her, and inspired her to do the same. He wasn’t much to look at, but he more then made up for it in love and devotion.

    But shows like King of Queens, Married With Children etc make no sense to me. Not only are these men not much to look at (with gorgeous wives, to boot), but they often don’t seem to respect them, either. From what I remember of MWC (I haven’t watched an American comedy in years) Ed Bundy constantly dispariaged his wife Peg, and spent all the time he could at the strip club.

    That was the bit I didn’t get. I could buy a beautiful woman marrying an average (or fugly) looking guy. What I couldn’t buy was a beautiful, charming, giving woman marrying an average-looking, selfish, disrespectful guy – at least not without there being some serious insecurity issues.

    • Casey says

      If memory serves me right, Al constantly disparaged Peg by telling her how ugly and unappealing she was…this sheer ridiculousness has even provoked discussion on stereotypically ignorant, dude-bro-y forums asking “How could Al not see how hot Peg was and WHY did he treat her like garbage?”
      Very interesting…

      • littlem says

        Memory serves you right.

        It’s gotten to the point where I’ve seen PUA dudebros encouraging each other not just to go after the “hot” girls, but the hot insecure girls — so I think you’re far from the only one who’s noticed that connection.

        I think it’s a very ugly subdivision of the wish fulfillment ‘trope’, if we can call it that.

  13. says

    I am a male and I am what you could consider an exercise buff and nutrition nut. I am absolutely infatuated with a woman that is overweight and eats pizza and wings.

    I just want to say, as far as I am concerned, there is no sexier woman on this planet, pizza, wings, beer, and all.

      • says

        Well, now, hold on there. I salute your enthusiasm, but I don’t think Mike was sharing it because he thought we should care what he’s into – I believe he was just trying to provide us anecdotal evidence that at least some heterosexual men are capable of being turned on by women who are NOT your typical Hollywood “knockout.”

        • Casey says

          Aw, you’ve got a good point…it’s just, my knee-jerk “BLARGH!!” reaction kicked in because what he was saying was so reminiscent to me of comments I’ve heard from guys looking to score brownie points on feminist/womanist forums by saying they like THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what the mainstream culture deems as attractive.

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