Warner Bros. Television
I spend a lot of time thinking about why it’s taken Hollywood over a hundred years to start treating human women like they’re more than objects. There’s obviously a correlation between what we see and how that reflects who we all have become.
Over the years, Hollywood has incessantly tried to sell this notion of the “nice guy.” A man who does the work gets the money and deserves the girl. Except, most of the time this nice guy archetype can be pulled apart to depict the worst sort of men. The nice guy is the character who walks a woman home, not to keep her safe, but with the hopes that she’ll sleep with him as a reward. A nice guy believes that women simply exist to fulfill his desires–because he can’t believe that they would have any of their own.
In this way, Friends isn’t just the quintessential 90’s sitcom, it also defines the annoying nice-guy/bad-guy archetype through Ross Geller. Ross is a paleontologist with a Ph.D. from Columbia University who’s in love with Rachel Green, his sister’s BFF. He also is a single dad, who barely ever has his son with him and compulsively lies to and manipulates women so that they do not break up with him. But that’s ok since he’s also a self-professed “nice guy.”
In case you don’t remember, after two seasons of pining over his dream girl, he finally gets Rachel interested in him. I remember everyone wanting them to get together and for Rachel to give him a chance–and then she does and he never really treats her like a human being for the duration of their relationship.
Ross makes a list when he’s supposed to choose between the woman he meets on his trip, Julie (Lauren Tom), and Rachel. He is a grown man who makes a list of pros and cons like he’s deciding on a car or a house to buy and not the person he loves. Not only that, but one of the cons is that Rachel is a waitress. He literally thinks she is beneath him because she does not have a career. And then, once she gets a chance at her dream job, Ross has a complete meltdown.
The reason Rachel and Ross originally break up is that Ross becomes overwhelmed and jealous of a guy Rachel’s working with. Ross does this even though he found it a turnoff that she worked in the service industry. Instead of being a supportive boyfriend, Ross suffocates Rachel. Ross struggles to separate his personal feelings of inadequacy from allowing Rachel to be able to grow and be satisfied and proud of her job. Ultimately this leads Rachel to feeling overwhelmed so that she asks for a break after a cringe-worthy anniversary that Ross ruins.
While they’re on a break, Ross sleeps with another woman–which ultimately leads to the demise of their relationship. But still, that’s not the worst thing Ross does to Rachel. Later on, Ross and Rachel have a crazy drunken night in Las Vegas and wake up married. They agree to get the marriage annulled but then Ross decides not to go through with the paperwork because he will be too upset that his failed relationship with Rachel is also his third divorce.
And these are just his grievances against Rachel. I don’t even have the time to get into the compromising relationship he has with, Elizabeth (Alexandra Holden), a young student who takes his class. After being super weird around faculty (in part thanks to their age difference, but also because he knows what he’s doing is, on some level, unethical), Ross decides to get serious with Elizabeth.
Ross even follows her to spring break after she tells him she’s going. No one points out that his behavior is weird, obsessive, and borderline stalkerish. Over the course of this relationship (if you even want to call it that), Ross has to contend with Elizabeth’s overbearing father because a woman can never just decide what’s good for her. Once he does get permission to date Elizabeth, he breaks up with her because she makes him feel “old”.
This comes after Ross treats Monica like she is some sort of monster for dating her ex’s son. The son is a consenting adult and there wasn’t anything unethical about the relationship, but Ross cannot handle not having an opinion. This is because, to Ross, women aren’t people with feelings. They’re objects he believes he deserves because he has put the time and effort into building his career, which he uses as leverage against a series of women he was never good enough to date in the first place.
Ross is every guy in a fedora who says he rejected a woman who wouldn’t even give him the time of day. He’s only the victim of his own self-centered desires. And don’t think for a second that I’m not aware that all the other characters aren’t just as selfish. The cast of Friends are each narcissists, who lean into their particular archetype. In Ross’ case, it happens his is the prototype for stifled internal misogyny that helped normalize a really horrible behavior pattern.
This “nice guy” mythos built around Ross brainwashed an entire generation of men into believing if they pretend to friend a woman for long enough, they might end up with her. It also gives credence to men who think it’s possible to f*ck someone who’s astronomically out of their league. Worse than that, it taught women that this behavior is romantic and not emotionally abusive.
This nice guy prototype is remarkably identical to many of the #notallmen complaints. Ross Geller is the quintessential cultural symbol that allowed this sort of immature, self-serving behavior to become socially acceptable. In fact, I’ve known and dated tons of guys just like Ross. Guys who are never “bad guys.” Guys who just want to love a woman, even if that woman says she does not want to be with them. And I think, if we plan to heal and move away from characters that use and castigate women, we have to demand Hollywood create responsible male characters who are self-aware, have human emotions without melting down, and treat women with dignity and respect. Until this kind of well-rounded, supportive male character emerges, we will be stuck with the general population imitating Ross Geller, which is more disappointing than anyone ever thought it would be.
Sabrina Cognata is an award-winning writer, producer and storyteller. During a decade long meltdown, she burned her life to the ground and revamped it as often as Madonna. Sabrina has written or produced for HuffPost Live, CBS Radio, TMZ and XO Jane, and she’s currently producing a syndicated news show for FOX television while tirelessly fighting the patriarchy Every. Damn. Day.