In the Netflix Original Series Master of None, Aziz Ansari, a comedian famous for his stand-up and other television roles, plays Dev, a thirty year-old Indian-American actor trying to get by in New York City. Created by Alan Yang and Ansari, this show covers many aspects of Dev’s life including episodes on parents, childbearing, social culture, ethnicity, and gender. In episode seven of the series, titled “Ladies and Gentlemen,” Dev, his girlfriend Rachel, and a woman working on the same garden supply commercial as him all interact with the constrictions of gender in their respective lives. In this paper, I will show speak about three different scenes: one with a man trying to pick up a woman at a bar, a scene split between shots of what men and women go through walking home at night, and a scene where Dev’s girlfriend and friend talk him through experiences that affect men and men differently. Through scenes depicting gender roles and restrictions blatantly or subconsciously, they show how gender is such an omnipresent and powerful force in everyday culture.
The first scene of the episode begins at a busy bar. Here the audience is shown an interaction between a man going up to a woman (Dev’s friend from the garden commercial) at the bar counter. He tells her that he has two tequila shots for them. She rejects him and he persists by responding aggressively that he will have to throw out both of the shots. In the end, he drinks both shots of tequila and lurks to see if maybe there would be a chance for them to be friends. She shrugs him off and walks away. In Barbara J. Risman’s Gender as Structure, she speaks to the social structure of gender as being “the context of daily life [that] creates action indirectly by shaping actors’ perceptions of their interests and directly by constraining choice” (Risman 128). In this scene, the woman consistently pushes the man away from her, dropping hints that she does not desire having any further interaction with him. His persistent actions can be attributed to the fact that he, as a male, is comfortable with being able to push for his own desires without much hesitation. Even after he takes both tequila shots, he does not respect the fact that she has said no. In examining this situation in terms of power structure, it is clear that the male aggressor believes in his power to enthrall and entertain this woman, even though what unfolds proves that theory wrong. This scene is only one of the ways in which Master of None shows how men and women act and respond in different ways, whether it be through socialization and stereotypes, and how these learned and practiced customs translate into their interactions with the other binary sex. Her interaction with this aggressive man at the bar is not presented in as much of a serious vain as it would be in a drama or a mystery series and because of this, the message that comes across to the viewer is that of ridicule and lack of pity for the man in this situation, which goes against the normative behavior of having the audience sympathize with the male who tends to be the protagonist. This is not to take away from the seriousness of the interaction, but her reaction, mixed with disgust as well as empowered confidence, characterizes the situation with a bit of comedy and a bit of seriousness.
Another scene in this episode that deals with the differences in experience that men and women face is the switching back and forth between shots of Dev and his friend Arnold walking home and shots of Dev’s friend from the garden commercial walking home alone. Looking first at the demeanor of the scene, Dev and Arnold talk about the weather over light-hearted background music while the woman walks alone through dark streets with haunting music in the background. She pulls out her phone and, even without any blatant threat to her person, dials 9-1 just in case she will have dial the last 1 to call the police. As they walk, Dev and Arnold meander through parks and take their time through the dark night. On the other hand, the woman darts home as fast as she can, but, much to her chagrin, the man that offered her tequila at the bar is following her home. He is obviously drunk, but even as she picks up her pace, he gets into her apartment building and bangs on her door saying “Let a nice guy win for once” (Shelton). This active stalking situation really demonstrates the norm of aggressive and empowered masculinity where even with the amount of rejection that this man has received from her, he pushes her beyond the point of comfort and reprimands her for not giving him a chance to form some kind of sexual relation between them. After both of these scenes unfold side by side, Dev meets up with this woman the next day on the set of the commercial and he asks her how her night was. The opening credits interrupt her story and with that, all of the events of her treacherous night after leaving the bar remain unshared with Dev. The intended purpose of these scenes is to show the blatant differences between the experiences of both men and women in a general context. Women have to be vigilant and watch out for themselves, while men do not have to face the same struggles in any relatable way. One of Dev’s friends, Denise, speaks to this situation with a more general viewpoint in that “if you’re born with a vagina, everybody knows creepy dudes are part of the deal” (Shelton). This is definitely an exaggeration in some way, but by looking at this situation in a more broader lens, one can make the observation that generally women do have to watch over for and take care of themselves more than men need to in terms of their person and the external factors that they face. In Luisa Capetillo’s “Mi opinión sobre las libertades,” she speaks to how a “woman educated in what concerns her sex…has to know how to defend herself” (Capetillo 24). As a woman, Dev’s friend is impelled to learn to protect herself and stand her ground. This scene does insinuate some humorous dialogue in the sense that the circumstances and experiences of these men and women are so starkly different from each other to the point of being ridiculous. Like the scene in the bar, this scene has comedic elements present, but in its blatant portrayal of these inescapable norms, show how seriously concerning these normative and stereotypical behaviors can be.
With Master of None, a significant aspect of the way these characters conduct themselves is through a sense of where their roles, as influenced by sex and gender, stand within time. Through subtle and obvious situations, many conceptions of blatant sexuality are highlighted negatively, which is very different from the normal and stereotypical boy chases girl scenario. In that common plot, the man goes after the girl, but it tends to be portrayed in an endearing light, rather than verging on the category of a stalker. The woman’s interactions with the man at the bar can be viewed within the context of how culturally accepted beliefs and differences between men and women have been up to this point in time. As Sharon Marcus speaks to “Between women: Friendship, desire, and marriage in Victorian England,” many perceptions of women have defined them “in terms of male standards, desires, and power,” and the casual demonstrations of power by the woman in Master of None, in response to her aggressor, shows that even as he remains a threat to her, she knows how to avoid trouble, be successful, and keep herself safe (Marcus 9). As this is a comedy television series, she also does maintain some casual humor throughout her disacknowledgement, self-defense and unwillingness to give into this man’s assertions and pleas.
Through this episode of Master of None, the argument that men and women do differ in their common experiences as well as think about situations with different mindsets is put forward within the context of a humorous yet serious dialogue. Women and men become socialized into certain gender norms very easily, as they are constantly interacting with the culture around them and all of its implications. Towards the end of the episode, Dev’s girlfriend, Rachel, confronts him in his dismissal of her experiences at a restaurant regarding comments another man said to her. She tells him that what she does not want to hear is someone telling her that her experience is wrong. This episode, through satire and humor, shows how blatant and influential certain gender roles and expectations are in our everyday life and how there are underlying factors that each gender carries with them, burden or not.
Capetillo, Luisa. Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Library Heritage Series: Nation of Woman: An Early Feminist Speaks Out: Mi Opinion: Sobre Las Libertades, Derechos y Deberes de la Mujer. Houston, TX, USA: Arte Público Press, 2004. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 28 January 2016.
“Ladies and Gentlemen.” Master of None. Writ. Andrew Peters. Dir. Lynn Shelton. Netflix, 2015. Web. http://www.netflix.com/search/master%20of%20none
Marcus, Sharon. Between women: Friendship, desire, and marriage in Victorian England. Princeton University Press, 2009.
Risman, Barbara. “Gender as structure.” Gender Vertigo: American Families in Transition (1998): 127-132.