Gender, Sex, & Perfect Couples

Thursday at approximately 7:10 pm is my favorite time of the week. It’s when my last class ends and Friday is finally on the horizon. My usual routine is to leave all of my scholarly thoughts behind as I travel away from campus and towards a night full of Must See Thursday on NBC. It’s a whole lot of television to watch in one sitting, but after an intense week of work and school I usually deserve it. And, even though my television go to’s are Community, Parks and Rec, and this season’s The Office (we have to admit, they’re bringing the big guns for Carrell’s eventual farewell), I usually watch all of the shows in between (I’m a dedicated 30 Rock fan, but still waiting to be wowed this season!).

So, by now you’re probably wondering why I’m going on about Thursday night comedy and what this has to do with the title of this post, “Gender, Sex, & Perfect Couples”. As mentioned earlier, the almost 3 hours I spend watching television on Thursday nights acts as an escape for me from the grip that is grad school. Or, so is usually the case.

This semester I am enrolled in an Intercultural Communication course on Thursday afternoons. The topic of this week’s discussion happened to coincide with the story line of this week’s Perfect Couples, which made my attempt at leaving scholarly thoughts in the classroom a failure (I’m sure my professor is glad to hear this – might you be reading?). Just to recap – the title of this week’s Perfect Couples episode was “Perfect Crime” and the stimulus for the episode was a middle of the night intruder scare that brought to fruition three different responses:

  1. Rex taking a super masculine role and jumping out of bed with a lacrosse stick,
  2. Dave being emasculated by Julia as she yells out the window to the rowdy guys outside, and
  3. Vance and Amy hiding scared behind a shoe rack.

In essence, these three responses were capitalizing on the gender stereotypes we have in American society and using them for humor. Coincidentally, the topic of discussion for my intercultural class was gender identity, so my mind was already primed for this episode. It’s possible that I’m reading too much into the episode due to my 3 hour exposure to gender identity during class, but the lesson that I hope everyone took away from this Perfect Couples episode was that gender doesn’t have to be associated with sex.

On the surface, this statement might seem logical to some and completely illogical to others. What’s the difference between gender and sex you might ask?

To borrow from the wonderful Brenda J. Allen, “Sex is a biological classification…[whereas] gender refers to cultural norms of femininity and masculinity” (p. 42). So, what does this mean? Well, it means that gender is something that we do as opposed to something that we inherently have. In American society, as well as most others, men are expected to be strong, both physically and emotionally, and women are expected to be more delicate and wear their emotions on their sleeve. Therefore, we gender stereotype men as masculine and women as feminine. Still with me? If so, let’s move on.

What I want to argue, however, is that men and women can “do” both gender roles, which Perfect Couples illustrated perfectly. In the context of this post the argument may seem fairly cut and dry, but let me outline a question that one of my fellow grad students presented last night in class.

“Many same sex colleges now face a situation where students are admitted as one sex, but change identities during enrollment (i.e. nongender-conforming or androgynous, transgendered students). What is the most appropriate way for same-sex colleges to handle this situation, when the original purpose of same-sex schools is to cater to the needs of a specific gender?”

Now, I want you to take specific notice of the last part of this question, “…the needs of a specific gender”. Considering what we have just discussed in terms of gender not being something that is inherently male or female, how can a same-sex school cater to a specific gender? Since the criteria for attending a same-sex school has everything to do with biology and nothing to do with gender, can they really evict someone for changing or shifting their gender identity? Furthermore, what does gender shift even mean if both men and women can display both feminine and masculine gender traits? How do we shift gender identity?

We all struggled with this a bit as a class and I’m not even sure that there is a right answer, thus, the reason why I pose it to you. What are your thoughts?


Allen, B. J. (2011). Difference matters: Communicating social identity. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

One Thought

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Evan Shaw, Tina Cipara. Tina Cipara said: Latest blog post inspired by @NBCPerfect – "Gender, Sex, & Perfect Couples" (Side Note: I'm starting to dig this show!) […]

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