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Why Modern Family Was Criticized For How It Portrayed Its Female Characters

"Modern Family" may be regarded by many as a groundbreaking show for its diverse cast and aspects of representation, but a deeper look into the long-running sitcom reveals a more problematic side that's hard to ignore. 

Throughout the show's lengthy run, "Modern Family" has been criticized for its dated depiction of its female cast members. In particular, the family matriarchs Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) and Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Sofia Vergara) are often picked on for how they are portrayed on the show. While the show's male cast is shown to be immensely successful in their chosen fields — with Phil as a real estate broker, Jay owning a construction company, and Mitchell as a working lawyer — Claire and Gloria have largely been depicted as stay-at-home moms. 

While Claire did find herself eventually working for her father's company starting in Season 5, it came at the cost of her work/life balance, and she is shown struggling with significantly more than the male characters. In addition, their characters are shown to have a less dynamic range of hobbies, interests and activities than their male counterparts.  The show's enforcement of these traditional gender roles is certainly something worth noting, not only as an issue with the series but as a problem with the industry as a whole. 

The Modern Family writers were mostly male

Having an over decade-long run spanning from 2009 to 2020, "Modern Family" has had more than enough time to further evolve the depictions of their female characters. And while some steps were made, many of these characters' accomplishments were still largely rooted in stereotypical tendencies and tropes. And one look at the show's writing team can pinpoint why this is. 

According to IMDb, the show's 70 writing credits are comprised mostly of male creators. The most prolific female writer on the show is Elaine Ko, who is credited with writing 28 episodes and acting as a staff writer on 24 of the series 250 episode run, followed closely by staff writer Jessica Porter who is credited on 21 episodes. The few other credited female writers seem to be lucky if they've written more than two or three episodes. This is a prevalent issue within the industry as a whole, which, while seeing some improvement in recent years, continues to see writer's rooms dominated by men, as well as seeing men make more than female writers on average. 

There's a sad irony that a series called "Modern Family" showcases such old-fashioned depictions of a true contemporary family unit. But if things are going to change on-camera, there needs to be a major shift in what occurs behind the scenes as well.