By: Lauren Vella
There are very few series on television and online streaming services that properly address social issues quite like Aziz Ansari’s new comedy Master of None. In particular, his episode entitled “Ladies and Gentlemen” delves into deeply rooted gender inequality and the ways in which we can talk about and resolve these problems. Master of None is a great watch for both comedic entertainment and an introspective analysis of the issues our society faces today. This article is not only a recommendation for the series, but also a discussion about why this series is so important to understanding and talking about gender inequality.
The opening bar scene in “Ladies and Gentlemen” is the first of many juxtaposed “men versus women” scenarios. In this episode, Ansari highlights the ways in which certain social inequalities and discriminatory experiences are directly related to being a woman. As Denise (Dev’s best friend) so delicately puts it, “Everyone knows that if you are born with a vagina, creepy dudes are part of the deal.”
Dev (Aziz Ansari) and his friend are at their local “watering hole” desperately trying to get a drink from the bar tender, but to no avail. The bartender is too focused on the women he is serving to pay attention to two seemingly single dudes who just want a drink. At the other end of the same bar, a woman sits quietly on a stool waiting for her friends to arrive. A man approaches her eagerly with shots in his hand and asks, “Do you want a drink?” She politely declines, uninterested in mingling with a stranger tonight. The man replies, “Great. I just paid for those drinks, and I have to throw them out.” After these passive aggressive remarks, the man rolls his eyes and throws back the shots he felt the woman was obliged to take from him. As the night progresses, the young woman at the end of the bar finally meets up with her friends. The disgruntled Dev and Arnie (who could not get a drink) cut their losses and begin to walk home. Meanwhile, the woman at the end of the bar walks home by herself and realizes that she is being followed by “shot guy” from the beginning of the night. As she picks up her pace, so does he, and a full-fledged chase begins as she frantically makes her way towards her apartment. The chase concludes with the woman dead bolting her apartment door and calling the police.
We find out later that the young woman who was followed at the bar is Dev’s coworker. On Monday morning, he begins to tell her about his “bad time” at the bar. He couldn’t get a drink, and later on in the night he stepped in dog poop. As he takes in her story about being followed, he realizes his “bad night” seems trivial in comparison to hers. He has never experienced that kind of harassment at a bar.
On paper, men and women are supposed to be equal, correct? In the United States, we pride ourselves on anti-discrimination laws to protect women from various prejudices. We also acknowledge a woman’s right to vote, and that she is her own being with important knowledge and independent thoughts. Sure, what women experience today is less than the inequality that took place one hundred and fifty or even twenty-five years ago, but Master of None shows the viewer that there is much work to be done. How do we talk about the covert inequality and harassment like Dev’s coworker faces on a Friday night at the bar? How do we deal with the expected obligation to accept a drink, the subsequent stalking, and the later acceptance of these experiences as normal? How can we remedy situations from which laws do not protect women – experiences that are engrained in daily social interaction? Master of None is one of the first series that not only acknowledges gender inequality, but also provides a way to talk about these problems in a productive, forward-moving manner. Dev’s approach to understanding gender inequality is simple: listening. At the end of “Ladies and Gentlemen”, Dev and his girlfriend Rachel get into an argument. Dev’s boss refuses to shake Rachel’s hand at a restaurant table. Rachel tells Dev his action was discriminatory, but Dev shrugs off the interaction and dismisses it as unintentional. After their disagreement, Dev and Rachel begin to have a discussion. Dev then concedes that he will never know what it is like to be “in a woman’s shoes”. He cannot fully understand the “subtle little things” women experience because he is not a woman. However, he can try to understand as much as possible by listening and engaging in an open dialogue about the subject.
The episode’s message is straightforward, yet it is something that we forget to do when we talk about controversial topics like gender inequality. I concede that Ansari’s episode is not without its flaws. It still has its sexist moments and, at times, the episode seems overly scripted and almost unnatural. However, Dev’s approach of listening and trying to put himself in another’s shoes is a good one. Rachel and Dev’s argument shows us that we cannot dismiss or reject someone’s feelings because we ourselves do not experience them. Master of None shows us that, without discussion and empathy, there can be no progress. I highly recommend this series to those who appreciate witty comedy, social awareness, and, ultimately, a great streaming experience.