The following definitions were used to "code" each episode for analysis. These definitions include references and citations when necessary, which can be found in my full reference list.
Otherness. The embodiment of subjective qualities considered fundamentally different by a dominant system.
The dominant system uses a shared identity based on what Tyson (2015) describes as cultural difference, which informs “the ways in which race, class, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, cultural beliefs, and customs combine to form individual identity” ( p. 398).
According to Kastoryano (2010), Otherness relies on the social construction and public recognition of a shared identity. These combined processes allow dominant systems to persist in society.
Shared Identity in The Golden Girls. As the main characters in the series, Dorothy (Bea Arthur), Rose (Betty White), Blanche (Rue McClanahan), and Sophia (Estelle Getty) are recognized as, one of many possible, dominant systems with a shared identity.
Their shared identity includes, “an awareness of belonging to a specific group that asserts its difference with regard to its cultural, social, and economic environment” (Kastoryano, 2010, p.80).
Additionally, since the series is a contemporary pop culture artifact, portraying the time period it aired in, 1980s-90s, my analysis is not limited to the main characters’ shared identity but will include societal definitions of Otherness.
Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia are females who typically engage in heterosexual relationships and can generally be described as White Non-Hispanic, although their ethno-cultural backgrounds could contradict this racial characterization.
For example, Rose often speaks about her Scandinavian heritage, Dorothy is first generation Sicilian-American and Sophia tells stories about her immigrant experience as a young woman from Sicily.
Blanche offers a different cultural perspective that is rooted in American Southern values reminiscent of the Antebellum South, a romanticized narrative of plantation life that is told from the viewpoint of White male landowners.
Their socio-economic status can be described as middle-class. Even though, they are on a fixed income and share a home that effectively subsidizes their housing costs, they often attend special events (banquets, dances, concerts etc.) which indicates disposable income.
Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are characterized as over 50 years old and Sophia at around 80 years old. As women over 50 years old, they share both a generational and gendered perspective that includes values, norms, and ideas that predate their contemporary period, 1980s and 90s.
They are employed and involved in the community either through volunteer work or advocacy.
Their religious affiliations vary (i.e. Dorothy and Sophia are Roman Catholics) however, their faith is rooted in Judeo-Christian values.
They discuss their own ‘church weddings’, encourage their children to follow the same path, and occasionally speak about their own relationships with God.
There are several episodes throughout the series that center around, or feature, a member of the clergy (i.e. priest, pastor, or nun).
Othering. The systematic “practice of judging all who are different” (Tyson, 2015, p. 401), within the context of a dominant system or shared identity.
According to Tyson (2015), the generic process of othering works to divide “the world between ‘us’ and ‘them’ (p.401)”. Dominant systems often frame themselves as the norm, proper self, civilized, moral, or superior, in order to distinguish itself from the individual and/or community being othered.
The other traditionally exists in direct opposition to the dominant system, framed as abnormal, improper, uncivilized, immoral, or inferior. The process of othering may include both explicit and implicit actions.
Explicit Othering in The Golden Girls. A direct representation of characters, either main or supporting, in any given scene which acknowledges cultural, social, political, or economic difference.
The direct establishment of a real or symbolic boundary. This could mean dialogue among characters that include direct insults, jabs, “calling out”, or criticisms about a person’s behavior.
Physical actions like forcibly removing someone or something out of a situation can be an example of explicit othering.
For example, Dorothy directly forbidding Sophia, her ‘elderly’ mother, from certain activities (i.e. working, romantic/sexual relationships, travelling by herself) because of her age.
Implicit Othering in The Golden Girls. An passive reference of individuals or groups that are considered outside the social or cultural norm of mainstream society or the main characters’ shared identity.
Visual elements such as a character’s wardrobe (clothing, accessories, etc.), may communicate a stereotype, social status, or a belief system that differs from shared identity.
For example, Blanche wearing provocative lingerie at a formal dinner party.
Intragroup Othering. The practice of judging at least one member within a given group for a perceived social, cultural, or economic difference.
This is an open definition and is meant to explore how the main characters, as a small group, mark each other as fundamentally different from the norm established within the group.
This could reveal itself as a difference in values, beliefs, economic status, attributes, or behaviors.
For example, Sophia being excluded from activities Rose, Blanche, and Dorothy are involved in during an episode. Or the other women deriding Blanche for dating multiple men.
The Sexual 'Other'. This definition relies on two concepts that overlap and underpin the various facets of sexual identity.
An individual and/or population whose sexuality is believed to fall outside heteronormative values, including transgressive sexuality which “throws into question the rules of traditional heterosexuality” (Tyson, 2015, p.326).
Additionally, traditional heterosexual relationships rest on what I’ll refer to as heteromonogamy, the assumption that a ‘normal’ heterosexual relationship cannot exist without monogamy.
For example, LGBT+ representation, homoerotic and homosocial, “same-sex bonding” (Tyson, 2015, p.307) activities, and polyamorous behavior (more than one romantic/sexual partner) regardless of sexual orientation.
The Cultural 'Other'. Rather than focusing just on racial difference or representation, this is an all-encompassing definition that measures observed difference of race, ethnicity, and cultural elements.
According to Macionis (2010), Race can be defined as “a socially constructed category of people who share biologically transmitted traits that members of a society consider important” (p. 356).
Race is typically used to identify people based on their physical appearance often their skin color but it can include hair color and texture, eye color, body shape, and facial features.
Ethnicity is “a shared cultural heritage” (Macionis, 2010, p.358), which allows “people to define themselves – or others- as members of an ethnic category… rooted in common ancestry, language, or religion” (Macionis, 2010, p. 358).
The components or elements of culture include symbols, values, norms, language, and beliefs (Macionis, 2010).
Reinforcing Otherness. According to Merriam-Webster (n.d.), the word ‘reinforce’ is a verb meaning “to strengthen by additional assistance, material, or support” or to “make stronger or more pronounced”.
For example, an LGBT+ character could be portrayed in a stereotypical fashion such as, a Gay man cooking in the kitchen, a traditional role for a heterosexual woman, or a Lesbian woman working on a construction site, traditionally seen as ‘man’s work’. The optics would ‘reinforce’ social stereotypes about LGBT+ individuals.
Reflecting Otherness. The word ‘reflect’ carries varied subjective meaning, definitions, and uses. For the purpose of my analysis, I will use two of Merriam-Webster’s (n.d.) definitions; 1.“to give back or exhibit as an image, likeness, or outline”, 2. “to bring about a specified appearance or characterization”.
This could take the form of a character who acknowledges he or she operates outside of the norm either in society at-large or within the show’s shared identity.
For example, a Cuban immigrant who verbalizes how they are discriminated against because of their perceived political beliefs (i.e. Communism, Socialism). This would be in direct opposition to the political beliefs (i.e. Democratic principles) dominant in the United States.
Rebuking Otherness. According to Merriam-Webster (n.d.), to ‘rebuke’ someone or something is to exhibit “an expression of strong disapproval” or “to criticize sharply”.
This could be presented as someone who shows a level of tolerance and/or acceptance of a person or situation that is traditionally marginalized.