Dominance is argued to be a biological trait of the male species in which the larger size of males as well as their higher levels of testosterone lead to their “aggressive and dominant behavior” (623). In contrast, females are described as being more timid and shy which lead to them being more nurturing. The dynamic duo of Sylvia Beach (author of Shakespeare and Co.) and James Joyce (author of Ulysses) are two friends who experience a swap in their gender roles. As has already been noted, the typical role of the female in a relationship is as the subordinate while the male role is as the dominant. In the case of Beach and Joyce however these roles are reversed. Through the simple act of a handshake, Beach is described as being more masculine than Joyce:
“We shook hands; that is, he put his limp, boneless hand in my tough little paw–if you can call that a handshake” (35).
The wording of this quote provides clues to the roles in which Beach and Joyce are to play in their future relationship. By describing Joyce’s hand as being limp and boneless, it can be read that the rest of Joyce is also limp and boneless, with specific reference to his “masculinity.” For a man to be limp or boneless indicates a failure to perform sexually which would fit the description of Joyce as the feminine member of the duo. While this is not accurate–Joyce being married with children–one can not help but wonder on the suggestive wording used.
In the following paragraph, Joyce is described as appearing more feminine than Beach in that he wore jewelry on his narrow hands, had beautiful blue eyes, fair skin with a flush, freckles, narrow and fine-cut lips, and think, wavy hair (35-36). Beach also described him as giving “an impression of sensitiveness (36).” These feminine descriptions continue to reinforce that fact that Joyce performs the role of the “female” in their relationship while Beach performs the “masculine” one.
The TV persons being compared to Joyce and Beach are Penny and Raj from The Big Bang Theory. Penny is a farm girl from Omaha, Nebraska who moves to Pasadena, California to become an actress. Raj is an astrophysicist from India who moves to Pasadena to work at Caltech. Penny, while beautiful is constantly being undermined as a feminine character through her many sexual conquests and ability to perform masculine tasks such as fixing cars and watching football. For example, in “The Love Car Displacement,” Sheldon describes Penny in the following way:
“Amy: Yes! He had you in the other car, but I got you upgraded.
Sheldon: She made the case that if we break down in the middle of nowhere, your Nebraska backwoods skills and brawny hands will give us the best chance to survive in the wild.
Leonard: They’re bigger than mine.”
It is interesting that the two females being compared are both described as being masculine based on their hands. Beach with her tough little paw, and Penny with her brawny hands are both seen as possessing a desirable masculine trait, however they are both females. Through their obvious lack of strength, the women being compared are going against the list of traditional female stereotypes I listed in my first post. It is the men who are supposed to use their hands while performing “dirty” jobs, while women are supposed to keep clean and be less active than men. It is interesting how it is through the use of their hands that these characters are viewed as masculine, not through their looks, clothing or attitudes.
Just like Beach was placed in opposition to Joyce, so too is Penny placed in opposition to Raj, a masculine character who loves to bake, watch sappy movies and has a Yorkie Terrier. Many of the episodes involving Raj show a joint confusion among outside characters as to the sexual preference of Raj based on his feminine traits. His relationship with his best friend, Howard, is often confused for a homosexual relationship by both Raj’s parents as well as Leonard’s mother. Rajs feminine characteristics are so prominent that while attempting to find a new girlfriend, Raj ends up dating a lesbian in an attempt to appease his parents…
Joyce may not be described quite as effeminate as Raj, however the two do still share similarities. Both characters posses feminine character traits when compared to their female counterparts. Raj and Joyce are happy to allow Penny and Beach to take on the dominate role in their relationships–Beach as Joyce’s publisher, and Penny as Raj’s matchmaker. Both Joyce and Raj do provide input into what they are looking for, however it is Beach and Penny who succeed in making these desires come to life.
The relationships shared by Beach and Joyce, and Penny and Raj show the differences in gender roles based on dominance and subordination in which it is not always the male who must perform in the dominant role. For some men, all they really want is a girls night out…
Beach, Sylvia. Shakespeare & Company. United States of America: First Bison Book, 1991.
Ryckman, Richard M. Theories of Personality 9th ed. United States of America: Thompson Wadsworth, 2008.
Lorre, Chuck and Bill Prady. “The Love Car Displacement.” The Big Bang Theory. Season 4, Episode 13. 20 January 2011. Warner Bros. Television.