“Boys and Girls”-Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions
Michael: “Why can’t boys play with dolls? Why does society force us to use urinals when sitting down is far more comfortable?”
When trying to analyze culture, there are many different aspects to study with many different perspectives to study them through. Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions is one theory that seeks to analyze different levels of communication within a culture. These include individualism vs. collectivism, high context vs. low context, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity vs. femininity, monochronic vs polychromic, and power distance (Engleberg, & Wynn, 2006). An episode I found that exemplifies masculinity vs. femininity and power distance is the Season 2 episode, “Boys and Girls.”
The premise of the episode is that Jan (Michael’s boss) visits the Scranton branch from corporate to hold a seminar on women in the workplace. Michael is immediately put off by the idea of his not being allowed to take part in a meeting that involves his own employees.
Jan: “Now you’re really not allowed in this session.”
Michael: “Well, I’m their boss, so I feel like…”
Jan: “I’m YOUR boss.”
That first confrontation is a good example of power distance. Michael feels like he has authority over his employees, which entitles him to be part of any meeting they are part of, even if the meeting is being organized by authority higher than his. His unwillingness to yield forces Jan to use her title against him, and she excludes him from the rest of the meeting.
The first sign of the tension between masculinity and femininity is shown when Michael, feeling a masculine urge to be competitive, tells the men in his office that they will have a “man day” with the men in the warehouse just out of spite that the women get to have their own meeting. Michael then decides to exert his authority over the warehouse and says, “Oh I think this is gonna work out great, because managing the warehouse is a very important part of my job and I haven’t been there in months.”
The total environment of the warehouse reeks of stereotypical masculinity. They have loud music playing, a basketball hoop, darts, and even a blow-up doll. In fact, there is only one woman in the warehouse, and she is a larger, stronger, more masculine woman than most women. This expression of a hard labor environment is a good example of what is considered a masculine job.
There is also a point where Ryan thinks of a way to get the job of unloading the truck done quicker by forming an assembly line. Stanley then tells Ryan that, “this is a run down the clock scenario,” implying that he doesn’t want to work hard. That is an attitude that you would be unlikely to see in an office of women.
Another stereotypical quality of masculinity is the ability to be careless. Throughout the day, Michael slowly destroys the warehouse by driving around the forklift and knocking things over, spilling packaging, and slowing down the overall progress of the warehouse’s workday. Also, the men start to get competitive and confrontational with Michael…which comes up later in the episode.
On the other hand, the women upstairs are sitting at a table discussing things together. The entire tone of the meeting is much more reserved and gentle. They talk about their aspirations and dreams—which include typical “feminine” goals—having nice houses, talking about clothing, having kids and driving them around, etc. What Jan had hoped with the meeting is to inspire the women to break traditional roles and aspire to be more ambitious about moving up in the professional world.
Another example of power distance is when Jan shows her authority at the end of the episode. While Michael is in the warehouse for the day, he gets the warehouse men so worked up that they start to talk about unionizing. This is something that Dunder-Mifflin definitely cannot afford. Jan goes downstairs and reprimands everyone in the warehouse and elaborates on the consequences of forming a union.
Overall, this episode does a good job of forming lines between power and gender roles. Perhaps someday these lines won’t be so defined. Because according to Michael, “What is more important than quality? Equality.”
Engleberg, I., & Wynn, D. (2006). Working in groups. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.