Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On Barney Stinson...

I've been kind of unmotivated to write lately. Not that there hasn't been plenty of fodder out there for a feminist to jump on, but for some reason nothing has sparked my interest. I've also been mulling over calling out feminists for being assholes to one another in the blogging world, but I'll save that for another day...

The subject of this blog is Barney Stinson, and this feminist's relationship with liking him.

What can you say about Barney Stinson? I guess I could start with the basics. For those of you unfamiliar, Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is one of the five main characters of one of my all time favorite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). Barney is the prototypical superficial play boy womanizer who is always on the prowl for another woman to trick into bed. He lives by a set of principals he calls the "bro code" which are, as you could assume, unapologetically misogynistic and male centric. Barney is often portrayed as lacking morality, unscrupulous, and all around sleezy, with the occasional display of his softer side, which we can never be 100% sure is genuine.

So how could I, someone who is in many ways the living opposite of Barney Stinson, like him and this show? How did I know you would ask! There are a few redeeming things I find in the portrayal of Barney and his place in the context of the show.

Firstly, I think Barney serves as a reminder that these guys exist. Unfortunately, creepers like Barney are real...and I'm actually OK with reminding women that the Barney Stinsons of the world are out there, looking sharp and debonair, with an incredible story of lies designed specifically to get in your pants. Now, if you're comfortable with a pack of lies and a one night stand, more power to you! But if that's not your cup of tea, just remember Barney.

Also, Barney is often portrayed as ridiculous. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Barney is often the laughing stock of the group. The show isn't designed to necessarily condone his behavior. Barney's conquests often backfire in his face leaving him in incredibly ridiculous situations. Of course, he doesn't ever really learn a lesson, reform, or truly get his comeuppance, but there's still time left in the course of the series.

And finally, and most importantly, you have to view Barney in the wider context of the show and the world. In the context of the show, I would argue that Barney is the only non-feminist character. Lilly and Robin are both fairly headstrong women who have made reference to feminism before, Lilly kept her maiden name, and Robin is a rabid hockey fan and isn't interested in kids; all things somewhat rare in prime time comedies. Ted and Marshall are both portrayed as romantics and sensitive men who cry or like things like theatre and art. So within this frame work of characters who are not gender stereotypical, we have Barney who is...and, as mentioned, is often the butt of jokes.

Also, the relationship of Lilly and Marshall is egalitarian and healthy and stands in contrast to the debauchery of Barney. We're not supposed to want to be Barney. We're supposed to want what Lilly and Marshall have. In fact, Barney learned his bad behavior from having his heart broken. In a flash back, we see Barney as a sensitive and caring boyfriend to a girl who leaves him for the "bad boy." Seeing this happen, Barney stops being the good person he truly is and assumes the persona of the Barney we now know. The lesson: if women put up with men who disrespect them, it breeds more men who disrespect them.

Also, in the wider context of the world we live in, I take a certain satisfaction in the fact that TVs possibly most womanizing man is actually played by a homosexual. For some reason, gay actors are questioned in a way that straight actors are not for their ability to play characters who have a different sexual orientation from them. For this reason, I love that Neil Patrick Harris is Barney. No one else could really pull it off like him.

Ok, ok, so at the end of the day Barney Stinson is essentially as deplorable as Tucker Max. I can agree to this much. (At least the good news is that Barney is fictional!) Sure, I wouldn't hang out with Barney. Hell, I couldn't even have a productive discussion with him. But for what he is in the context of the show, I'll allow it. In fact, I love it.


  1. I'm writing a feminist paper right now about Barney's anti-woman behaviour and I definitely see where you're coming from. I've been watching the show for years but now, I can't help watching without a feminist mindset. As much as I've enjoyed Barney from a comedy standpoint, it bothers me how many guys my age are adopting certain aspects of the Bro Code that are not so much about brotherly love.

    Ah well.

  2. That's an awesome paper topic. I wish I had liked HIMYM while still in school...he's perfect fodder for analysis.

  3. And exactly that is why I like HIMYM but hate 2&1/2 men. In the second one, Charlie, who disrespects women and often makes pretty sexist jokes, is portrayed as the 'winner' who laughs about his brother who can't get one-night stands, who is divorced (with a stereotypical bossy ex-wife) and has a child - what a loser! (I'm ashamed I know so much about that show *shudders*).
    In HIMYM, the womanizer is the one you are supposed to laugh about, because his sexism is just so ridiculous (and not like "haha, funny sexist joke" but "jeez, how can anyone be so disrespectful").

  4. I love the show too, but I don't agree with you entirely.
    1) MANY of the teenage boys I know - do take him seriously. His behavior is legitimate, normal to them (really). Their (as in these specific boys, other people's friends are probably more intelligent than mine) way of seeing the world is partly based on HIMYM and they think the way Barney acts is the way they should/are supposed to/for some reason would make them the happiest.
    2) The greater part if not all of the moves in his playbook are legally defined as rape. And a lot of the rest should be IMO.

  5. Also, Barney jokes about rape and the fact that he has avoided/won 9 of 9 sexual harassment suits (he actually kissed his fist and raised it up as in to thank God about it.. ) I mean, how can anyone joke about things like that ?
    And his friends don't say anything, just roll their eyes.
    None of Barney's friends have any sympathy for the women he mistreats all the time.
    What it comes to sex, I think a grown up woman knows what she wants..sometimes to fuck a goodlooking fit guys. They don't need any trickery.
    Still the basis of all Barney's 'tricks' is that they are needed to seduce women and to point out how stupid women are.

    Also, the show implies all the time that though being 'the good guys', Ted and Marshall secretly want to be Barneys too, they just don't know how.
    They want to cheat, trick women, strip them off their value and boss them around, like Barney does. It's way more painful to realise that it's them than when it's Barney who is openly misogynist character.

    The show is very clever ; it shows outrageously misogynist material with a smirk followed with Barney's minor failure that he quickly turns to his victory (even bigger one than the original one would have been) and it's usually noted that he didn't want the original 'price' anyway.. Then there's some boyish charm and 'true' emotions of his (maybe even tears).. then the hateful misogynist tricks continue again. All this is written in the middle of great dialogue, funny characters and clever plotlines, so it ALMOST seems acceptable..almost. But not quite. For a female viewer, there's always something distracting in HIMYM and it can leave you feeling very sick after few episodes.

    I really hope that Barney gets what's coming to him.
    Several little, and then few bigger, punishments, to put him back to his place.
    To reward him with marriage with sweet beautiful smart Robin makes no sense after the way he's been acting.. why would Robin want to marry him anyway ?

    1. I actually agree. I wrote this almost 3 years ago and a lot has changed. Much more problematic material has arisen and I feel the show lost its way both in terms of gender and overall.

    2. He was at least redeemed somewhat by falling in love. But the Robin he ended up marrying wasn't exactly a prize. She wasn't season 1's cool, independent, smart, kickass woman, by season 9 she became a shrill, neurotic, narcissistic, obnoxious wreck, even her looks and style seemed to have regressed somehow.

  6. I'm a Christian guy and I google searched,"What do women think of barny from..." and got here. As a Christian man who, thanks to God, knows sex is sacred and should be saved for marriage... I really don't like this show. It sheds light on Barney and I also can't help but notice how barny's friends don't care (sympathize) with the women that Barney mistreats... THEY EVEN ENCOURAGE HIM! Sometimes Barny exclaims a challenge.. like his gonna try to seduce a woman a certain way.... once he said he was gonna try to get a lesbian or pick one up with a childish boys.. then he says challenge accepted and his friends.. all of them.. get wide-eyed and go,"wooooooooo" all impressed.... JUST WOW.

  7. Barney is the hero of the show and a complete misogynist. The fact that his character and the show are favorites among educated, progressive women is hugely ironic.

    1. Why are you blaming women? How can you expect women to control what they find sexually attractive? Educated progressive women also love Don Draper. they also love Christian Gray. So what?

  8. Did you finish your bloody paper?.


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