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5 Reasons Why the Ross and Rachel Breakup Was Totally Sexist
By Jessica Stilling
Anyone watching television in the 1990s remembers waiting with big eyes every week for the moment when Ross and Rachel would finally get together. In fact I’m re-watching Friends on Netflix with my 9-year-old son and he keeps asking me, “when are they going to go out?” I’m hesitant to let him watch the next episodes as it’s not just exciting watching the couple get together, but it’s tough when they break up. As Friends is one of the 5 most streamed rerun television shows out there now, there are still many TV watchers and re-watchers digesting The Ross and Rachel Breakup. While The Ross and Rachel Breakup was a good idea as far as ratings were concerned, the way the writers of the show went about writing not only the breakup itself but also the events that followed was more than a little sexist. Anyone who has seen those insightful advertisements David Schwimmer has been doing to help inform men about consent can see that the actor who played Ross wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t even the character of Ross that was the issue as much as it was the ways in which the show wanted us to just swallow the way Ross treated Rachel before, during, and after the break up.
The idea behind the breakup was not to take sides and to make it look like it was the fault of both parties. How else could they remain friends afterwards? And if they weren’t friends, how could there be a show? In doing so a dynamic was exposed that greatly favored the male side of things and rendered the breakup pretty sexist. Here are five reasons why The Ross and Rachel Breakup comes off as sexist especially to today’s modern TV viewers.
1. Rachel’s Job
There doesn’t seem to be much tension in Ross and Rachel’s relationship until Rachel’s dream of finally working a real job in fashion comes true. Ross is fine with his woman working when she’s just a lowly waitress who doesn’t like (and is kind of bad at) her job. But once she actually goes out into the world Ross throws a fit. Sure, he can express concern that he doesn’t get to see her as much, but he can couch that concern in wanting to see her because he misses his girlfriend. Instead Ross blames Rachel for not being around enough when what she’s doing is working. Things come to a head when Ross visits her office with a picnic (a kind enough gesture if it had stopped there) only to make a fool of himself by his inability to try to understand the dynamic of her office, which embarrasses her. How dare a woman be embarrassed by her boyfriend when he’s acting territorial and out of place at her place of employment, right? Let’s turn the tables, what if Rachel had barged into Ross’s job (then at The American Museum of Natural History) and demanded attention? I don’t think he would have been too happy about that.
2. We Were on a Break!
We have to stop believing that this is an acceptable excuse for sleeping with a woman you barely know a few hours after your serious girlfriend expresses a need for space. That is called cheating. And since Ross gets so caught up on semantics when it comes to this, Rachel never said, “I’m breaking up with you” or “Let’s sleep with other people.” “We were on a break,” is the mantra that Ross cries for the next six years every time the fact that he slept with another woman not even twelve hours after a fight (seems like he protests too much?). Yes, Rachel said “we need a break” but any guy who cares enough about a woman he’s in a serious relationship with would have been home wallowing, watching old videos, or looking at pictures. He might have been out with his friends for some guy time, but not hopping into bed with a woman he barely knows. And the fact that the show wants us to believe he did it because he was sad! The fact that he did that is bad enough but the fact that the show continued to allow “we were on a break!” to be a valid excuse for Ross’s behavior for the remainder of the time the series was on the air is what shifts this from a terrible thing Ross did to something sexist. And just think, what if Rachel had hopped into bed with someone else so soon?
Another reason, other than Rachel’s job, that Ross has his underwear tied up in knots, is Mark, a man Rachel works with who Ross sees as a threat. Rachel does talk about Mark with her boyfriend, because Mark is, you know, her colleague, and she’s excited about her new job, but she never expresses interest in Mark. Mark also never asks her out or really flirts with her. Ross, however, is very jealous, and later, after Ross has slept with another girl, after they have officially broken up, Rachel and Mark do get together and Ross loses no time in pointing out that he was right to be jealous.
4. Then She Has His Baby!
The aftermath of the breakup is in some ways just as sexist as the way the break-up was handled. We know throwing a baby into the fray in the 8th season of a show can spice things up but to assume that Rachel would sleep with this guy again, let alone have his child, is a little much. Not only that but Ross dates another woman during the majority of Rachel’s pregnancy and none of Rachel’s friends, not even Rachel herself, appear to have a problem with this. I don’t know a woman who would remain friends with a man who dates another woman while she’s having his child. Then after their daughter Emma is born, Ross acts jealous whenever another man enters Rachel’s life. Remember that message from a guy Rachel met while she was out that Ross “neglected” to give her?
5. And Then She Gives Up Paris for Him
After trying to live together and failing, after co-parenting a daughter and still not getting together for over a year the show decided that Rachel, career woman that she is, should give up a great job in Paris to be with Ross because he expressed interest in her for all of five minutes. So the woman has to give up her dreams because the man can’t bother to make an effort to alter his life for her? I don’t think that would fly today.
The above reasons do not make Ross a bad person. They don’t even make the character Ross sexist. Ross is entitled to act and react to situations without being labeled sexist. What is most sexist is the fact that the show asks the audience not to take sides, the show tells the audience that Rachel is just as much at fault for the breakup because why else would they remain friends? After all Rachel was excited about her new job (and she didn’t do enough to assuage her boyfriend’s fragile ego), she dared to question their relationship and then was immediately cheated on (because you know, “we were on a break”) and because another man whom she showed none but a professional interest in may or may not have had a thing for her (a thing he never acted on until she was single). None of these things are Rachel’s fault, they are all due to Ross’s fragile ego, and to ask her to share the blame equally is what is sexist about the way The Ross and Rachel Breakup played out on 1990s television.
About the Author
Jessica Stilling lives in New York City with her family. She has been published in various literary journals and magazines including Wasafiri, The Writer, and The Ms. Magazine Blog. Her debut novel Betwixt and Between was published in 2013. She teaches writing at The Gotham Writers Workshop.