Text Review: “Friends”

Many of us are familiar with the popular ‘90s sitcom, Friends. It is a comedy about six White, straight best friends who live in New York and the integration of their lives as they struggle through relationships, jobs, fights, children, and other dramatic experiences. As a fan of the show, I can say it is very funny and entertaining when you need a laugh. However, as you may predict, the show also contains many problematic themes that are hard to miss when examining the show’s content with a critical eye. For the sake of this project, I will focus on just one problematic theme that is evident across the entire show: the transphobia and stigma around trans people. 


There is one main trans person that is featured in the show and that is the father of Chandler (Chandler is one of the six best friends) who has come out as a transwoman. During the entire show, Chandler is mocked by his peers, even his close friends, for having a father that is not a man. He claims that he has been traumatized by the experience of witnessing his father, Helena Handbasket, transition into becoming a woman and instead of receiving proper help or communicating with his father, Chandler uses his experiences for comedic purposes, and his trauma is a running joke. Additionally, when Chandler and his friends are around his father, they act as if she is some type of character, not a person. When they speak about her, they use he/his pronouns at times, and the phrase “gay dad” at other times, completely disregarding her preferred pronouns. 


I would argue that the obvious issue concerning transness in Friends is a direct result of clashing identities between straight men/women and a transwoman. The interactions between the straight best friends and a trans woman was something new to them, and it was difficult for the friends to interact respectfully. During the ‘90s, the straight friends were in a place of privilege and failed to put themselves in the shoes of a trans woman. The overall production of this sitcom always reminds me of Spivak’s concept of the subalterns and the lack of voice subalterns possess. Friends was produced and released during a time in which producers were less educated on transness and representation in pop culture, and while this is no excuse, I feel as though they did not know how to handle this theme. The subalterns in this example are trans people who were left out of the conversation regarding the production of this show. Their exclusion from the discussion is evident considering the transphobia and offensive content in the show. Even the woman portraying Chandler’s father is a ciswoman which further proves how trans people have been positioned as the subalterns. 

From this show’s content, I don’t think the creators were trying to be offensive on purpose, but their lack of education on the topic was surely evident and as a result, their show displayed problematic themes. While the content in Friends doesn’t completely deserve to be celebrated, I think we can examine the sitcom with a critical eye so as to understand how certain time frames and identities shape certain content and how important it is to avoid creating a subaltern group.

Friends" The One with Chandler's Dad (TV Episode 2001) - IMDbHow to watch Friends online and stream each season around the world |  GamesRadar+


Week 13: The Parallels Between Wakanda in Black Panther and the African Continent in the Real World

When individuals from Western nations, like America, are asked to recall their knowledge about the African continent, many tend to describe the nation as impoverished, disadvantaged, and in need of assistance from wealthier, entitled countries. This narrative isn’t new, as many mainstream media outlets still tend to focus on the corruption, famine, armed conflict, and diseases that exist in Africa and intentionally exclude the actions of Western colonizers in Africa that have contributed to these circumstances (Schreiber, 2019). The historical component to this story is critical. The “Scramble for Africa” began between the years 1884 and 1885 and continued until 1914 (St. John’s College, n.d.). This conquest entailed the colonization of Africa by the United States and thirteen European nations with the ultimate goal of acquiring Africa’s raw materials to help exploit the industrial revolution back home (St. John’s College, n.d.). Colonial control facilitated the construction of railways, induced large inflows of European investment, and forced profound changes in the operation of labor and land markets (Frankema, 2015). Eventually, the African continent was stripped of its dignity as European and American colonizers invaded the country with no regards to the already established African tribes, villages, and culture (St. John’s College). 

Through this week’s content, we learn that the disruption of African customs and dehumanization of African citizens can be compared to the story told in Black Panther about their precious country of Wakanda. To the Western world, the African nation of Wakanda is useless. Western nations view it as impoverished and in need of assistance, as they believe it possesses no form of wealth or value. However, this image is false, and Wakanda is extremely wealthy, advanced, and is home to the world’s strongest metal, vibranium. The ignorance that many Westerners possess is evident in Black Panther when CIA Agent Ross struggles to believe Klaw’s argument that Wakanda has an extensive amount of vibranium. Why would the Wakandans work to create such a distasteful and inaccurate image of their country? Because they fear that the same thing that happened to other African nations (i.e. what happened to African countries in the real world) will happen to them. They have recognized that if they reveal the true value of their country and its precious vibranium metal, then Western colonizers might try to exploit the country for the rare and powerful resource whilst disregarding the natives of the country (Lu, 2018). The Wakandans feel more comfortable being isolated and free of interference than having their country stripped of its precious culture, customs, and overall way of living by Western colonizers, even if it means that they look unprofitable to outsiders. 

While Wakanda is a fictional country, as critical learners, we must recognize that it is a symbol for the colonization that occurred in Africa in real life and the circumstances that occurred as a result. As we analyze the economic state of certain African countries today, we must not ignore the factors that contributed to the current state. Our film for this week helps shed light on this topic and tells the story from the point of view of those who fear being colonized, not the colonizers. Through this lens, we gain insight on the true implications of European and American colonization and what colonial control entails for those living in African nations. Ultimately, Black Panther and the story of Wakanda represent the ignorance and greed of colonizers while also demonstrating the unfortunate reality of those nations who diligently work to protect themselves from the possibility of being colonized.  


Works Cited:

Frankema, E. (2015, July 15). How Africa’s colonial history affects its development. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/07/how-africas-colonial-history-affects-its-development/.

Lu, J. (2018, March 2). Why Big Thinkers Can’t Stop Talking About ‘Black Panther’. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/03/02/590216283/why-big-thinkers-cant-stop-talking-about-black-panther.

The Scramble for Africa. (n.d.). https://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/library/library_exhibitions/schoolresources/exploration/scramble_for_africa.

www.facebook.com/grant.schreiber.14. (2019, February 6). Changing The Way Americans See Africa. Real Leaders. https://real-leaders.com/changing-the-way-americans-see-africa/.


Male Guardianship System in Saudi Arabia


In Saudi Arabia, there is currently a legal male guardianship system that rules the ways Saudi women live. This means that once a Saudi woman is born, her father is her legal guardian, and once she is married, her husband becomes her legally documented guardian. They have these guardians until the day they die. The guardianship system also entails that women cannot be recorded as legal guardians for their children, must gain approval from their husbands before applying for a passport, must be accompanied by their guardians (father or husband) when traveling (even for educational purposes), and are prohibited from earning a paying job without the approval of their guardians. 

The nation’s leaders and the Saudi men who stand by this system defend their laws and oppressive actions using Islamic guidelines. They quote Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an, when attempting to justify their actions. However, professional Muslim scholars and I, a Muslim woman, will tell you that the religion of Islam in no way oppresses Muslim women, justifies any oppressive behavior, nor does the Qur’an contain any information that implies or explicitly states that men are superior to women. The issue here is not solely Saudi Arabia’s attempts in disadvantaging and belittling women, but it’s also the the fact that the Saudi government is communicating Islam, to its citizens and to other nations, as an oppressive and unjust religion. Uneducated citizens of Saudi Arabia and citizens around the globe may begin to internalize these messages and reinforce the false and harmful stereotypes that revolve around Islam.

As of August 2019, multiple reforms were passed to enable women to travel without a guardian, allow them to obtain family records on their own, to be protected from work discrimination, and to make their own decisions about their body as they relate to pregnancy and birth. While these reforms mark a big turning point in Saudi women’s fight for equality, the country is still rooted in systemic sexism and injustices. This is evident in the newly passed laws, as they still refer to women as in need of legal guardians. These laws continue to belittle women by presenting them as incompetent on their own and in need of the assistance of a dominant male. 

Saudi women are the subalterns, individuals who are excluded from the conversations around policies (new and old) that will continue to affect them. The subalterns are the individuals who are purposefully left out of a certain story or discussion despite the fact that the discussion yields their presence and input. The Saudi women are the subalterns in the sense that they have not been heard from for generations. Although the nation has deemed it legal for women to travel without their guardian, they still are not viewed as their own individual selves. The terminology used in these policies is proof that Saudi women were not involved enough, if any, in the decision making and policy making process. While the policies may appear progressive on the surface, there is still a long way to go as the Saudi women must fight against the systemic sexist practices of their country. 


Additional Information:


Citation for Discussion:

  • Ending Male Guardianship in Saudi Arabia. (2016). Equality Now. https://www.equalitynow.org/ending_male_guardianship_in_saudi_arabia