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Friends is the Epitome of Toxic Masculinity

Don’t get me wrong, I love Friends. It’s an iconic show and I often times put it on in the background while I clean or do work due to its comforting nature. It’s pretty funny, especially when you watch it with other people, and the characters really have life on the screen. Obviously it’s not the best show of all time, there are many shows I like better and that are more inclusive. Friends is a majority heterosexual, cisgender, white show. However, instead of touching on the rampant racism, homophobia, and transphobia that goes on in the show, I think it’s time to recognize that Friends was the absolute epitome of toxic masculinity. 


I’ve watched this show all the way through several times. I know every episode and could probably recite every word of some of them. It’s a little unhealthy, if I’m honest. However, because of this, when I was brainstorming for this, I was able to easily recall a couple episodes with this toxic masculinity off the top of my head. So here are just the ones I remembered:


S3E4: The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel

This episode really embodies what toxic masculinity is. Ben, Ross’s newborn son, obtains a Barbie doll, and Ross begins to lose his mind. Thus begins the gag of the episode: Ross trying to get Ben to relinquish the Barbie and play with a “boy toy.” He tries giving Ben monster trucks, G.I. Joes, and even straight up taking the doll from Ben. By the end of the episode, the Barbie has somehow disappeared and Ben is now playing with a Dad Approved Toy. Carol and Susan are suspicious about the Barbie’s disappearance, and Monica chimes in, “So he has a doll? You used to dress up like a woman.” Then, after some banter, the episode ends and we see a flashback scene of young Ross dressed in his mother’s clothes, singing “I am Bea, I drink tea, won’t you dance around with me?” It’s a little funny, but also disappointing when you realize that the irony here isn’t a commentary on Ross’s fragile masculinity, but rather making fun of the femininity that young boys often engage in. 


S6E8: The One With Ross’s Teeth

The running gag for this episode is Joey’s new roommate, Janine, is decorating their apartment with “girly” decor, and this is only brought to Joey’s attention when Chandler points it out. However, it’s evident that Joey really likes the “girly” things that Janine has around, and moves several of them from the common space to his own room after Chandler’s derogatory complaints. Then, Chandler is mocked throughout the episode by being surrounded by “girly” activities, like Joey’s newfound knowledge of flower arrangements and walking in on Ross putting on makeup in order to dull the white of his bleached teeth. This episode feels more mocking of Chandler, but comments like “Where are all the men?!” make it much more unpleasant. 


S8E13: The One Where Chandler Takes a Bath

This episode honestly gets on my nerves. Chandler appears to be having a stressful time at work, so Monica, his loving wife, decides to do something nice for him and draws a relaxing bath. Chandler objects to the bath, claiming that it’s too girly, but eventually gets in and finds that the bath is really relaxing and enjoyable. In order to make himself feel better about being in a bath, he has a toy boat with him for masculinity. However, he’s a little ashamed of his newfound bath love, and gets embarrassed when people see him taking the bath because it’s girly. This is all fine and well, but the comment that gets me is actually Monica’s. When Chandler steals a bath she’s drawn and he won’t get out, Monica takes the toy boat and says, “Now you’re just a girl in a tub!” and walks out. I just don’t get it!


S9E6: The One With the Male Nanny

I think this is my least favorite episode. Ross and Rachel, having just had their new baby Emma, are searching for a nanny so Rachel can return to work without worrying about Emma or burdening her mother. Neither of them like any of the candidates, but Rachel is over the moon when a male candidate comes in and kills the competition. He’s cheery, open, and has a great connection with Emma. What could possibly go wrong? Well. Ross. Ross has a serious problem with the idea of a male nanny, claiming that the man is too sensitive and that he doesn’t want the man to take care of Emma. There are hints throughout the episode that Ross is jealous of the manny, but the main issue here really seems to be Ross’s projection of masculinity and misogynistic expectation for women to be caretakers. 


As I was thinking over these instances (along with other, smaller instances in the show) of fragile and toxic masculinity, I realized something. Joey, the macho ladies’ man, appears to be the male character with most confidence in his masculinity. He’s open and accepting throughout the show and has the least amount of shitty comments toward the other characters regarding their masculinity. Hell, there’s an episode where Joey wears Rachel’s underwear – something Ross could never do, and Chandler would need something in return to do (see the episode with Julia Roberts). It’s almost as if having confidence and comfort in your sexuality and masculinity allows you to be open to things which are considered to be feminine and not for men.



Meagan Speich is a writer & senior editor for WesCo HerCampus. She has an English major and minors in Religious Studies. When not writing, she can be found reading, sleeping, or eating, and finds it unfortunate that she can't do all at once.