Everybody seems to be obsessed with the CBS show How I Met Your Mother, so I decided to give it a try. I watched a few episodes, which I enjoyed to some extent. However, I soon found myself completely unwilling to keep going.
The reason for my premature abandonment of the show is one of the main characters, Barney Stinson. Widely considered the star of the show and the reason for its popularity, Barney is the consummate womanizer (or douchebag, for those who prefer the vernacular). His entire raison d’être seems to be to sleep with as many attractive women as possible, forgetting their names afterward.
Despite his superficiality, Barney isn’t a flat character, and he does have many other traits–many of which I can appreciate much more than the womanizing. But there’s a huge part of me that simply cannot be amused by a guy who treats women like shit. It’s just not funny to me.
Maybe in another century or two, the idea of a man who tricks women into sleeping with them only to discard them at the earliest opportunity will truly be hilarious, because our cultural scripts for dating and sex will have evolved. People who only want casual sex will be able to openly pursue it without being labeled “sluts” or “players,” and people who want serious relationships will be able to simply avoid getting involved with those who don’t.
In such a society, Barney’s ludicrous schemes to get women into bed with him might seem like a charming relic of another time. But today, I don’t see what’s so funny. People who lie, deceit, or otherwise pressure others for sex are all too common, and my own life has been affected by them, as have the lives of virtually all of my female friends. Barney’s stories might be several orders of magnitude more ridiculous than anything you’d hear in real life (see this for examples), but they’re still based on the idea that lying for sex is okay.
Barney’s character has been so successful that he’s even “authored” two books, The Bro Code and The Playbook, that regurgitate the same type of humor that the show does. Of course, I don’t believe that anybody would actually take these books seriously (although I might be wrong). The problem isn’t that people take this seriously; it’s that they find tired stereotypes about men and women so funny.
Indeed, Barney’s victims/partners are usually portrayed as helpless, dumb girls who are so mesmerized by an attractive, well-off man in a suit that they buy all of his bullshit. But in the real world, of which HIMYM‘s creators are certainly aware, women are rarely so one-dimensional.
Now, I’m sure that there are nevertheless many great things about HIMYM, so I’m not going to condemn the show in general. There’s a reason I titled this post “Why I Don’t Like HIMYM,” and not why you shouldn’t either. But I do think that the question of why we think it’s so fucking hilarious when men manipulate and exploit women* is one that you should ask yourself if you enjoy the show.
I don’t necessarily think that any womanizing male character ruins a television show. For instance, Community‘s Jeff Winger is also known for manipulating women (and people in general). However, Jeff is a much more complex character than Barney is, and he starts to change from the very first few episodes. Barney, on the other hand, seems to remain essentially the same throughout the show’s seven-and-counting seasons, despite a few attempts at actual relationships. Notably, even when he wants something serious with a woman, he still sees no problem with tricking her in order to get it.
No matter how unrealistic and ridiculous these situations are, I just can’t laugh at them. Maybe someday when I’m happily married, I’ll be able to. But not while I’m still surrounded by metaphorical Barneys.
*I am quite aware that women are most certainly capable of and often do exploit men as well. However, since this show is about a (male) womanizer, I’m confining this discussion to that.
Hi there :)! That’s exactly why I don’t like the show either… I was introduced to it by my then boyfriend, and he bassically told me that Barney was a hero for him. And oh, that was a crisis…
HA. Did he explain what he found so heroic about Barney?
sorry, I meant to comment here…
“I really left before he finished, but it was all about what a womanizer he was. Well, the guy happened to be some sort of Howard Wolowitz so you can guess…”
Isn’t this a male version of slut-shaming? I haven’t seen the show but I wouldn’t think the character coerces women to have sex with him. If he’s having fun having sex with attractive women, the women are having fun, too, having sex with an attractive man like him. You really haven’t explained how that makes him a douchebag and a manipulative liar. Having one-night stands doesn’t mean you treat women/men like shit. Women are capable of enjoying no-strings-attached sex, too.
That’s where watching the show would be helpful, Stringer. Barney blatantly lies and deceives women into sleeping with him, often by claiming to be somebody else or having accomplished something that he hasn’t. He disrespects their boundaries by continuing to insist after they have already declined.
Also, I think you forgot to read this part of my post:
“Maybe in another century or two, the idea of a man who tricks women into sleeping with them only to discard them at the earliest opportunity will truly be hilarious, because our cultural scripts for dating and sex will have evolved. People who only want casual sex will be able to openly pursue it without being labeled “sluts” or “players,” and people who want serious relationships will be able to simply avoid getting involved with those who don’t.”
I really left before he finished, but it was all about what a womanizer he was. Well, the guy happened to be some sort of Howard Wolowitz so you can guess…
Stupid is as stupid does. I think the reason why many people laugh(sometimes uncomfortably) is it isnt always that far from the truth(for certain individuals). The line that best sums up the behaviour for both Barney and “his” women is this…….
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me”
I don’t like it either. That is all I’m saying.
Hi Miriam! I found this post fascinating, but it also caused me a great deal of cognitive dissonance (a hallmark of exceptional writing if ever there was one!). Full disclosure, I’m hooked on the show. I started watching slightly before winter break, and currently find myself on the tail-end of the sixth season (although I will admit that due to being back at school, I have lost some of my steam).
I guess this post of yours cast my appreciation of the show into doubt as I contemplated how I could reconcile my desire for a more gender egalitarian society with my unequivocal need to feel better about my perpetually approaching departure from adolescence. But, lest you feel guilty for plunging me into existential turmoil, fear not for I have found a solution!
For what it’s worth, the following is mostly to sort out how I feel and offer a justification for the coexistence of two seemingly incompatible desires. I am in no way arguing or discounting your viewpoints, I find all of your post well-reasoned and sound. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but merely offering an alternative reading of the character of Barney.
I don’t think the character of Barney is intended as a modern masculine ideal, but is rather a satire of pervading social and cultural tropes of masculinity. Everything about Barney is a facet of modern masculinity taken to its most ridiculous and (in the eyes of those who appreciate such a parody) consequently humorous extreme. His choice of attire is a masculine archetype (the suit), which he wears CONSTANTLY (even when he sleeps). He’s incredibly confident and self-assured to the point where he could be characterized as pathologically narcissistic. He even lives in the most over-engineered “bachelor pad” ever conceived (there is never any food in his fridge, so breakfast after a one-night-stand is never an issue, etc.). Based on the tone of his dialogue, the contextual framing of his conduct, and the dynamics between Barney and the rest of the world, I would posit that the man is a parody, and (with a few glaring exceptions) everything he does is a parody of some part of society.
You take issue with the way he treats women, so do I. It’s entirely disrespectful, degrading, and dehumanizing. However, where I think we disagree is that I choose to view it as satire of how men are taught to interact with women. Whereas PUAs and members of the so-called “seduction” community might see certain aspects of Barney’s conduct as genuinely admirable, I would say most sane and well-socialized individuals would find his interactions with women completely ridiculous. I don’t laugh because I admire Barney’s world-view, but because in my eyes, the writers are ridiculing actual viewpoints with which I disagree (Tucker Max anyone?). At numerous points, the writers actually excerpt strategies employed by self-professed pick-up-artists while deconstructing Barney’s strategy, however they present it in an intentionally alienating and comical fashion.
I can see why some would be concerned about the portrayal of some of the women on the show. Anyone who would fall for Barney’s ruse of dressing up like an 80 year old version of himself, rushing into a bar, explaining that he’s from the future and that an attractive woman has to sleep with his younger self to save the world…well it would certainly say something about the writers if all women on the show ended up banging Barney. Fortunately, in one particular episode Marshall ends up crunching the numbers, and concludes that Barney is only successful in his attempts 1-2% of the time. Thus, I feel justified in saying that the humor doesn’t lie in the fact that Barney is manipulating (seducing through deception) and exploiting (having sex with) women, because he is not (at least, not 98-99% of the time). Rather, the humor of Barney is more subversive, and forces critical reexamination of modern masculinity, as well as gender dynamics. Whether or not that was the writer’s intention…meh, not my concern.
Furthermore, the show doesn’t just satire masculinity, but also satirizes a lot of other cultural norms. As an example, Marshall and Lily are a walking-talking parody of cisgendered heterosexual monogamous relationships. The writers even go so far as to imply that the two share each other’s headaches and indigestion.
The show also offers up a kind of interesting depiction of modern femininity which I’m not really going to touch, but I will point out that Lily and Robin socialize without difficulty with Ted, Marshall, and Barney. In so many other shows (read: Friends), their lack of dude parts would be used by the writers to highlight an invented rift between men and women, but in HIMYM, the “rift” is more of a crack in the sidewalk.
In conclusion: My personal strategy towards rectifying enjoyment of something that I shouldn’t find amusing is to consider it satire and your gripes magically disappear! Seriously, it’s the only way I can listen to Ke$ha
One reasons i don’t watch it -> after 6 season we still don’t know WHO IS THE MOTHER it’s lame !
I have to agree with you. The show obviously tries to be moral, but there’s no escaping the fact that the character of Barney is generally glorified. We’re supposed to dislike him, but often as not, we’re also supposed to admire him, especially for his total disrespect for women.
Mostly I like the show, but I often feel manipulated by the fact that it portrays that kind of a guy as someone who is basically a good guy at heart, so it’s okay that he’s nasty to some (probably undeserving, because they’re just dumb after all) women.
Barney is not the main character of the show, there is so much more going on than his adultery. Yes at the start of the show he may sleep around a lot but he changes around the 3rd season and eventually proposes to Robin. Ted is also the complete opposite to Barney what with wanting to settle down so I really don’t think it’s an issue tbh.