Two and a Half Men through the Lens of Gender & Attachment Styles
Femininity and masculinity are two contrasting concepts that appear in different degrees in any social setting. Structured by different cultural and traditional expectations, various stereotypes are associated with each of these characteristics, and social expectations ascribe behaviors similar to any stereotypes to particular gendered dispositions. For instance, a conservative society will most likely equate a patriarchal behavior to masculinity and would shun women who behave competitively as behaving in a masculine manner. From the literature reviews conducted, it has been shown that the balance between masculinity and femininity in any given social setting depends largely on the individual attributes of people in that particular setting. Barry et al. (2015) also suggested that individual attachment characteristics are attributed to different psychological and social issues. For instance, a social group comprising of three people such as in the Two and a Half Men TV show, can easily have contrasting attributes that are assigned to different ends of the gendered perspective. For instance, in the TV show, Jake Harper shows greater potential for masculinity, evidenced through his behaviors and decisions, relative to the other characters in the show. The concept of masculinity was depicted in the show through the consideration of various themes, which provide support to the study thesis. These themes include: gendered communication, gender identity, gendered attachment and masculinity, social norms and attachment, and the impacts of socio-cultural factors on masculinity and attachment.
Communication in a Gendered Perspective
The extent to which an individual displays masculine or feminine tendencies depends on various factors including social stereotypes, cultural inclinations, and upbringing among others. As discussed by Hofstede (2001), gender identity is a sense of the self as either male or female. The behaviors exhibited by any individual in relation to gendered perspectives, therefore, are pointers towards their internal self-perceptions. From this perspective, there are different traits that are commonly found in males and not in females. One of these traits is the use of communication. While women use communication as a tool for creating relationships, men use the same as a tool for proving independence (Tannen, 2012). The character of Jake Harper depicts a kind of gender identity confusion that reflects the argument that one’s sense of gender identity is an internal inclination and comes from within.
Gender Identity in Two and a Half Men
In the case of Jake, his gender identity is a function of the interactions he has had with the different people in his life including his father, his uncle Charlie, and his mother. Each of these people contributes a particular aspect of his beliefs, influences his choices significantly, and develops a particular perception of the gendered identity in him. From his father, Jake learns the importance of patience and family. From his uncle, he learns the influence of money and how he does not want his life to end. Through his constant interactions with these two men, he develops a character that is both hardworking and with a sufficient value for the family. For Jake, his identity as a masculine individual comes through a combination of the conventional perception of the male as the powerful one and the unconventional consideration used by his father. The conventional stereotype describes the masculine as the powerful in the society who are independent, disrespectful of women, and who are constantly under the influence of alcohol and cigarettes. The show also exemplifies other social stereotypes that do not conform to moral standings of the religious such as recognition of the LGBT lifestyle and its prevalence in the society (Morabito, 2015). Jake initially feels that he is not obliged to social conventions, which is a rare show of the secure attachment characteristic in his childhood.
Power and courage are conventionally expected to be attributes of the masculine. However, power does not always have to be shown through confrontations, abuse of the weaker gender, and chest thumping. A stronger power comes through the recognition of folly and its impacts on the individual and the community, and making the decision to go contrary to the stereotypes despite the consequences. Additionally, the pressure from society, his peers at school, and their parents who have specific expectations as dictated by the societal norms could have compounded Jake’s challenges in making the decision as to what type of masculinity he would want to depict. In exploring the masculinity depicted by Jake, therefore, the concept of attachment also comes into play. For the boys in school, the challenge is a result of the people they are close to just as much as it is for Jake.
Attachment and Masculinity
The theme of attachment has also been extensively discussed as an essential part of the gender identity discourse. While discussing the concept of attachment, most researchers whose articles were reviewed opened their discussions with the hypothesis that most children develop attachment patterns that correspond to the patterns of care received during childhood (Bowlby, 2015). Attachment evidenced in males is a sign of infant relationships and can be explained through various infant attachment theories as discussed by Bartholomew & Horowitz (1991). Different upbringings result in different perceptions of self, which also have an impact on the negative perceptions of the self. Jake’s upbringing, for instance, can be mentioned as the key cause of his masculine tendencies. The absence of a mother results in a masculine disposition, in that, one does not adopt characters that are mostly attributed to women. The sense of attachment is also visible in children brought up by single mothers as a result of their probability of mirroring the behaviors of their mothers. A perfect example of this is in the character of Charlie in Two and a Half Men.
The pursuit attachment is based on the four cells of attachment attributes. The cells include secure attachment, preoccupied, dismissing, and the fearful attachment. The dismissing attachment is characteristic of those who have a positive attitude of themselves and a negative attitude toward others. For instance, Jake Harper from Two and a Half Men is an example of an individual with the dismissing attachment characteristic. He dismisses Charlie’s character, particularly the hedonistic and chauvinistic bachelorism as inappropriate of a conventional man and decides to develop his own masculinity in contravention of the social expectations. With the decision not to follow his uncle’s footsteps, Jake feels that he is better off than his uncle who dies later under the control of his stalker. Jake’s dismissing style proves the argument by Bartholomew & Horowitz (1991) that men are more likely to have the dismissing style while women are more likely to be attached through pre-occupation.
These differences in attachment styles are expected across the genders for various reasons. For instance, Scharfe (2017) reported that the societal socialization of girls is different from that of boys; hence, the high tendency of the two genders to differ in terms of their perception of social interactions. What is considered as right for one gender may not be considered the norm for another gender. For instance, women would be shunned for staling men or having relationships with multiple partners. An example in Two and a Half Men is the character of Charlie’s mother, who was even described as the mother of all cougars. For a woman, this was a negative connotation and a source of huge disrespect. On the other hand, when Charlie had multiple women in relationships, he was not considered to be of ill morals. Rather, his character embodied the conventional masculine stereotype in the society. Caught in between the characters of salience as reflected by Alan and the negative implications of the type of masculinity showed by Charlie, Jake comes out as not only reasonable but also quick in making decisions.
The duration Jake takes to decide that his uncle’s ways may not be the best for him or anyone else is a confirmation of the argument that differences in attachment styles begin manifesting in middle childhood (Guidice & Belsky, 2010).In the early years when they first moved in with Uncle Charlie in the first scene of the film, Jake was confused based on the seemingly exciting life led by his uncle. The alcohol, cigarettes, and many women gave him a perspective of masculinity, which contrasted sharply with that presented by his father. A deeper understanding of the implications of the high race life led by his uncle only came to the fore during his middle childhood, and he was eventually able to distinguish between right and wrong. The masculine culture is characterized by high competitiveness and the desire to be visible as the best. This can only be achieved if one is willing to do things differently. For the case of Jake, this manner was a deviation from what the society felt was acceptable.
Masculinity, Social Norms and Attachment
The acceptance of norms that embody quietness and moral responsibility in Jake is, however, short-lived. It could be deduced that social stereotypes, the environment in which one lives, and the interpersonal interactions they experience also contribute more significantly to the development of gendered traits. In the case of Jake, conflicting characteristics of caregivers contribute significantly to the capacity to develop consistency in masculinity displays. The most probable rationale for Jake’s behavior changes observed in his young adulthood is the fact that in his mind, there were conflicting stories on what the society expected from men. Masculinity traits displayed by his uncle such as alcoholism were compounded by the societal demands and peer pressure, resulting in behaviors such as drug addiction and abuse, which were unexpected based on Jake’s initial thoughts about his uncle’s behaviors. The societal shunning of Alan could also have contributed to Jake’s decision to veer off from the moral compass due to a desire to be considered manly.
Jake’s masculinity becomes all the more evident of the separated parenthood he has had as a child as he grows into a lazy, disrespectful young man who is also food-obsessed, as is seen in season 9 onwards. The laziness is most probably a result of the more feminine features displayed by his dad, who is less manly, constantly has money issues, and is used to cheaper and weaker material properties based on the societal perceptions. In such a person’s life, it can be deduced that wealth building is a priority of low importance. Considering that Alan lives with Charlie and later with Walden, who are both wealthy enough to live in Malibu, it was expected that as a masculine man, he would be motivated to work harder and develop his own wealth, but it appears that he feels just comfortable having to beg from his fellow men (IMDb, 2003). One possibility is that he has the secure attachment characteristic, which considers the development of close friendships with others as important. The evidence of this is that after Charlie’s house is sold, he eventually agrees to continue living with Walden even though they have not known each other before. On the one hand, this attribute contributes to his sloth as the perception that people would support him could have made him easily ignore his role in his own welfare. On the other hand, the lack of resources could have led to his decision to stay with other men. This gives a cyclic relationship between dependence and low masculinity. It can thus be deduced that Alan, is a more feminine character than the other men in the TV show.
The impacts of Alan’s femininity are directly observable on Jake’s laziness and his obsession with food that he has not earned. As a young adult, the decision to continue living with another man without a source of income, to lounge on the couch every day, and to spend his time eating, are all based on a preconceived idea that a man can still be considered manly even without actively participating in resource acquisition. This personality largely contradicts the personalities of the other men with whom Jake has lived over the years. For instance, both Jake’s uncle and his father’s friend Walden, have their own properties, good cars, and women, and are considered the epitome of masculinity in the TV show. With this social perception, the two men have a sense of arrogance, which is characteristic of the secure attachment type, in which they are comfortable in their self-worth yet value close friendships with others. In essence, they also develop a sense of arrogance based on what they can do and their social influence. In Jake’s position, he has adopted some of the arrogance, hence the perception that besides being lazy and a food addict, he is also disrespectful. These characteristics contradict the moral setting of his personality, hence the perception that he has multiple personalities developed as a result of the interactions he had in childhood. While some of the personality traits exhibited are masculine, others are out-rightly feminine.
Alan’s contribution to Jake’s laziness is further seen in his dependence on people, most of whom he is unrelated to. For instance, in season 6, a series of episodes show Alan getting closer to Judith, the wife to his friend, Herb, with whom he moves in after being kicked out by Charlie for being ungrateful. From Alan’s perspective, the world owes him more and people should help him begrudgingly while he should not be expected to help anyone. This is observed when Charlie’s car breaks down and he has to drive Charlie to work, which he does begrudgingly. Similarly, when Charlie borrows $38 from him, he forgets that he has been living in Charlie’s house, eating and contributing nothing, and goes as far as siphoning gas from Charlie’s car to his own as amortization of the money owed (IMDb, 2003). In episodes 9 and 10 of season 6, Alan gets excited because his girlfriend, Evelyn, agrees to pay Jake’s college fee. Rather than being motivated to work even harder, Alan feels that he does not have to work anymore and wants to continue living with Charlie, without considering his future or Jake’s. Observation of these influences could easily contribute to Jake’s change to a secure attachment personality, even though it was wrongly guided.
Cultural influence on Social Behavior
Another theme depicted in the show is that of cultural influence on social behavior. The show is set in the context of the Western culture, which is a highly individualistic and masculine society. The high individualism implies that people are more likely to focus on developing their individual goals than on the welfare of society as a whole. Similarly, the aspect of masculinity is such that the society is highly competitive, and even though there are certain areas where there is a gender balance, the society concentrates more and awards winners than it does those who struggle to maintain the right moral exhibition. Each of these choices comes with an opportunity cost, and in most cases, the opportunity cost will be the probable substitute for the choice made by the character.
As Jake grows older, the changes in his personality as a result of social interactions exemplify changes in his attachment style with continued interactions with other people. In his middle childhood, he develops a preoccupied attachment style, which is characterized by feelings of worthiness and the expectation that he will be accepted by social circles. The evidence of this kind of attachment is visible in Jake through his activities pertaining to drug addiction, through which one can say he seeks social validation of his masculinity. The self-worth can be driven from the impression that Jake had of the fun and social acceptance of his uncle’s and Walden’s lifestyles and behaviors. He feels that since the two manly adults he lived with were actively using alcohol, he would also be considered manly enough if he used alcohol and drugs. The perception is further compounded by the society’s respect for these two individuals relative to his dad who was the less communicative one. The impression of social acceptance could have contributed to the feelings of worthiness.
Jake’s decision to run away with Celeste is a replication of the many episodes in the show, in which men, considered masculine, move in with their girlfriends either for upkeep or as a show of their masculinity. For Alan, moving in with Evelyn or even Judith was a need for upkeep. On the other hand, Charlie going to Chelsea’s house was his own way of compromise in a relationship in that initially, he did not even feel comfortable with it. For Alan, this is an indication of the dismissing attachment characteristics, in which one has a positive self-view and lacks the need to develop close relationships with others. Further evidence of this attachment is visible in his lack of second thought on hurting those who have taken care of him in the past such as Charlie (IMDb, 2003). On Charlie’s side, moving in with women is a show of the secure attachment in that he already feels his self-worth and is more comfortable with the ladies coming to his house due to his autonomy, yet goes to their houses because of the desire to develop close relationships and the need for compromise that comes with that desire. Jake’s own actions are in between the secure and the dismissing attachment characteristics in the sense that he seems confident in his self-worth, yet has no rational argument for his self-worth. He is also moving towards developing close relationships with others yet destroys his relationships with other people. For instance, when he is found mooning a group of girls in his school in season six, Judith finds it difficult to subject him to punishment measures. Similarly, he runs away with Celeste without consideration of how his actions would be perceived by his father.
Hazan & Shaver, and Kobak & Sceery (both cited in Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991) provided similar attachment characteristics, which define people based on their self-perceptions and their feelings about social connections. Each of these authors suggested that personalities differ from one person to another and different attachment styles are common with males and females. Through the arguments presented by these authors, it is clear that personalities change based on different factors including environmental influence, interpersonal relationships, and cultural expectations. The influences in Jake’s life are not only limited to what he observes from his uncle, his father, and Walden but also on what they say to him. For instance, in the third episode of season 9, Walden convinces Jake to drop out of school accidentally during a talk. With an already conflicting personality and attachment style, it is easy for Jake to take the easiest road as he also has adopted some of the attributes of laziness from his father.
The confusion that Jake faces as a child and as a young adult can be attributed to social perceptions as he lives in an individualistic society that does not focus on the psychological impacts that interpersonal relationships have attachment characteristics. This explains why despite the fact that Jake lives with two men in a house, neither of them is committed to giving him a sense of direction in his activities. They do not mention the importance of hard work to him as much because the wealthy are more focused on celebrating their wins by having multiple women, drinking, smoking cigarettes, and going on holidays while the ‘losers’ focus on explaining the insignificance of social perceptions on individual lives. The outcome is a split between whether to be a winner and be applauded by society or to be a loser and stay in one’s comfort zone.
Understanding the concepts of masculinity and attachment requires a distinction of individual traits based on influences that subject one to certain behavior characteristics. In the TV show Two and a Half Men, the personality of Jake in terms of masculinity, is developed through his interactions with others, the social context within which he grows up, and the observed attachments from the adults with whom he lives. Jake’s attachment characteristics grow from the fearful attachment in childhood based on his experience of Charlie’s life, his perceptions about the fun involved, and the impression that social expectations have on him, as well as his interactions with the socially unaware attachment that is characteristic of Alan. In his later years, Jake develops different attachment styles based on his continued interactions with others, the school environment, and the societal stereotypes of the masculine characteristics. Towards the end of the show, Jake has an attachment style that is a combination of both the dismissing and the secure personalities, adopted from attributes of his father, Charlie, and Walden.
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