Just Another One of the Bros: How Jenny Condemns Male Femininity & Reaffirms Hegemonic Masculinity on FX’s 'The League'

Curator's Note

The Bromance parody’s latest iteration on FX’s The League (2009-2014) has been widely received as the most hilarious and complex television depiction of pseudo-romantic ‘bromosexuals’ (Castillo & Mack, 2014). The ‘mock-macho’ sitcom (Hanke, 1998) follows a group of long time and life-long friends and their hyper-competitive fantasy football league—wherein these ‘emotionally-stunted man-children’ profess their feelings through parodied bro-on-bro intimacy, homosocial shenanigans, and a “love language” of faux-expert football commentary. Yet, the most “liberating” promise the show holds lays in how the five best buddies actually allow a woman into their satirical cohort of misogyny. Not only does the sitcom stretch the “unspoken” rules for bro-couples beyond its exclusive one-on-one dyadic pairing between two buddies (Chen, 2012), it ventures toward upending the long-standing social codes of the ‘Men’s Club’ (Bird, 1996) which has held to two strict, clear-cut rules: No women and no gay men (Dowd, 2010).
Jenny, the only female main character, represents a revolutionary figure in BromCom entertainment for how she successfully performs female masculinity while simultaneously holding onto her traditional feminine roles (faithful wife, nurturing mother). Jenny even seems to navigate the fantasy league with more savvy than her husband, Kevin. She often gives Kevin advice on draft picks; she remains more skilled at bribery and “insider” player trading than Kevin; she even renders Kevin’s manhood the focal of ridicule when she beats him in a head-to-head playoff match-up. Yet, Jenny’s co-opted performance of complicit “bro-masculinity” does not actually challenge male dominance so much as it retranslates dominant gender hierarchies. Jenny embodies a complex kind of hegemonic masculinity, which refers to “not a single, static masculinity but a range of multiple and shifting masculinities” (Connell, 1995). One way hegemonic masculinity maintains the global gendered social order is to not eschew typically ideal masculine traits but to conceal itself, rendering its power invisible. Hegemonic masculinities, writes Connell (1987), are the dominant mode of power from which all other identities become measured and judged—namely, women, homosexuals, and feminine-acting men. Because masculinity is not a fixed biological trait automatically inscribed onto the body (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005), but rather a learned set of performativities (Butler, 2004) open to being performatively engendered onto female bodies (Halberstam, 1998), Jenny understands -- however unconsciously -- that “performing power IS performing masculinity” (Hatfield, 2010).
Considering FX’s faux-empowered brand of female masculinity, I hope to spark a fan-discussion over how (or whether) 'The League' does the hegemonic work of Hollywood as well as works on feminized bodies. I wonder: how does Jenny’s bro-masculinity work in a hegemonic position over other forms of male femininity like Andre’s—with his sensitive traits, naturally feminine posturing, and love of fashion? Of simultaneous critical importance, I wonder the extent to which doing femininity in any of its forms gets policed in bromantic relational dynamics: Why does Jenny become only permitted to perform heterosexual monogamy while her husband and his “bros” are allowed (and, to some extent, expected) to participate in homosocial bonding? Ultimately, how does doing female masculinity (e.g. Jenny’s performance) and feminized masculinity (e.g. Andre’s performativity) fit into a hierarchy of masculinities that ultimately condemns femininity in all forms? When looking at female bro-inclusion intersectionally (Crenshaw, 1989), why is the bromantic identity almost always upper-middle class and never a person of color?


By Anonymous

The League does the hegemonic work of Hollywood by reinforcing a gender hierarchy. At the top is masculinity, representing the traits most associated (by societal standards) with being male. At the bottom is femininity, representing the traits most associated (again by societal standards) with being female. In between these two extremes are varying degrees of masculinity and femininity, allowing room for characters like Jenny and Andre. Both Jenny and Andre defy typical gender expectations by portraying traits normally associated with the opposite sex. Jenny is ambitious and powerful. She is better at Fantasy Football than her husband, demonstrating her masculine traits and placing her higher on the hierarchy. Despite the fact that she is a good Fantasy Football player and is a main character, which in a sense empowers her, she can never reach the top of the hierarchy because she is physically a female. We see this when Jenny wants the vacant spot in the league, but it is given to Rafi, Rodney’s bother-in-law. Jenny is clearly capable of competing in the league but is rejected because she is a woman. Conversely, Andre is a male who demonstrates feminine traits when he tries to be fashionably trendy. This places him lower on the hierarchy but still higher than Jenny. Andre is constantly ridiculed by his guy friends because of his feminine traits, emphasizing the wrongness of being a male and acting anything but male. Nonetheless, Andre is still physically a male and is subsequently able to participate in the league unlike Jenny. In this representation of the gender hierarchy, where one's sex ultimately dictates one’s places in the hierarchy, Hollywood has successfully reiterated hegemonic masculinities.

By Anonymous

I really thought this was an interesting blog post. I watch The League all the time with my brother and I definitely see what you discussed through your ideas of Jenny showing female masculinity over the guys including her own husband. Jenny is an example of hegemony within genders. Jenny doesn’t even officially join the fantasy league until season 2, but still has the ability to seem like on of the guys as she helps her husband with various games. She is capable to creating and competing great teams, which shows how she is able to play with the guys and express traits that can be more considered for the opposite sex. She is rejected from The League at first when they had to choose between Rafi, Ruxin’s brother-in-law and her, but is eventually brought in after Rafi leaves the league. I think that both Jenny and Andre do have similar characteristics as Andre is very feminine, but still has masculinity in him as he enjoys the manly things like football. Jenny still possesses the feminine aspect for being a woman as she is a nurturing, loving mom of two though she is also powerful in the way she can manipulate the guys to get the trades or players that she wants. The League is a perfect example of how masculinity can be hegemonic in the ways of gender.

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