Compulsory Masculinity on The Jersey Shore
In order to be cast on the Jersey Shore, both the men and women are expected to conform to the conservative gender roles implied by the controversial label, “guido”: men must be tanned, muscular, sexually voracious, and quick to throw a punch, while women must outfit themselves in signifiers of hyperfeminity like long hair, high heels, and heavy eye make up. Since adherence to these traditional gender roles is central to the identities of the Jersey Shore cast, it is not surprising that the men are dedicated to objectifying and humiliating women. In two different episodes, Mike (aka, “The Situation”) and Pauly D publicly shamed their housemates for their inability to maintain the invisibility of their menstruation. The men also sort the women they meet into one of two categories: as “DTF” (attractive women who are “down to fuck”) or as “grenades” (unattractive women who may or may not be DTF). The Jersey Shore men refer to intercourse as “choking” or “smushing,” terms that posit sexual activity as an act of violence or at the very least, uncomfortable touching. What is fascinating to me, however, is that while the men of the series make the oppression of women a daily activity, they also adopt many of the behaviors and chores that feminists have historically attributed to the oppression of women: they burden themselves with unrealistic beauty standards and are resigned to their own domestic servitude.
For example, almost every Jersey Shore episode features a scene in which the roommates sit down to an elaborate Sunday night dinner—plates of pasta and sauce, sausage and peppers, garlic bread, etc. This traditional Italian-American meal, usually prepared by the matriarch of the house, is a time to put aside arguments and reconnect with “family” before the start of the workweek. It is significant, however, that the shopping, cooking, and very often the cleaning for this ritual meal is orchestrated by the men of the house. This stands in contrast to the casts’ personal experiences with domestic chores. When, for example, Vinny’s mother visits the house in season one, Pauly D compares her to his own mother, an “old school Italian,” because she cleans the Jersey Shore house after fixing the roommates an extravagant lunch. And Snooki claims that Vinny’s mother reminds her of her grandmother: “That’s like a true Italian woman. You want to please everyone else at the table. And then when everyone’s done eating, you clean up and then you eat by yourself.” However, lacking compliant women to perform these domestic labors, the Jersey Shore men must men cook and clean for themselves.
The men also violate traditional gender expectations in their obsessive grooming habits. Mike codifies his daily toilette with formal titles, like “Gym, Tan, Laundry” and discusses his grooming habits as an imperative, not as a personal choice: “If you don’t go to the gym, you don’t look good. If you don’t tan, you’re pale. If you don’t do laundry, you ain’t got no clothes.” Mike also makes weekly trips to the barbershop for haircuts and eyebrow waxing. Likewise, when preparing for a night on the town, the men don something Mike has termed “the shirt before the shirt,” a preshirt that is worn until moments before heading out the door. Although Mike’s clever reframing of his obsessive compulsive grooming habits as de riguer behavior for any self-respecting guido provides yet another way to cash in on his reality stardom, it also deflects attention away from behaviors that would otherwise be deemed “too feminine.”
The women of Jersey Shore are not burdened with a similar beauty regimen; often, when the men head to the gym, they go shopping or get drunk. And Snooki has been known to go to work wearing the same outfit and make up that she wore the previous evening. While we do see the women in the house prepare for a night at the club with hairspray and push up bras, MTV’s cameras do not devote nearly as much screen time to this process. Instead, Jersey Shore highlights the labor that goes into the production of male beauty within the guido subculture.
Can we read the Jersey Shore men’s singular drive to humiliate, bed, and then dispose of an endless string of women as simply another symptom of the complex gender roles they must inhabit in order to be cast members on the Jersey Shore? If Mike didn’t GTL or smush, would he still be a guido? And if the roommates didn’t eat a traditional Italian meal every Sunday could they still lay claim to their status as authentic Italian Americans? Jersey Shore highlights the conditions under which certain gender roles are performed within ethnic subcultures, specifically, how the presence of reality TV’s cameras enforces a compulsory masculinity on the aspiring Jersey Shore “guido.”