Kendall wanting his daddy in Succession? Girly! Richie in The Bear cry-singing to Taylor Swift? Girly! More and more men in pop culture are sensitive, sad and consistently unsure of themselves
In season one of FX’s popular show The Bear, it was easy to dismiss Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) as a sexist, homophobic, 40-something-year-old man with anger issues. From how he constantly spoke down to Syd (Ayo Edebiri) to how he would patronisingly resist Carmy’s propositions to modernise the restaurant, Richie was a character that felt difficult to root for. However, in season two, viewers witnessed a shift in Richie, which altered their perception of him. From a man once seen as representing white masculinity in crisis, he has become a fan favourite, with fans of The Bear lovingly referring to him as a ‘teenage girl’.
Richie isn’t the only fictional character to receive this treatment. Succession’s Kendall Roy was arguably the first fictional male television character to be dubbed a ‘teenage girl’. He is also affectionately referred to as a ‘baby girl’. When the hit HBO show ended in May, fans of the show, particularly young women, began reminiscing about their favourite Kendall moments. The scenes varied from: Kendall’s silent breakdown in Logan’s bathroom when he learned that he wasn’t first in line to take over Waystar RoyCo in season one, his “L to the OG rap” in season two, his breakdown during his 40th birthday party in season three, and when he threatened to lie in front of Rava’s car to stop her from taking their children out of town in season four. In all these scenes, Kendall can be seen acting in opposition to masculine stereotypes. While traditional masculinity dictates that men should be strong, competitive, assertive, confident and independent all the time, Succession showed Kendall failing to live up to those unrealistic expectations time and time again. Instead, he was sensitive, sad and consistently unsure of himself.
Bridget, who runs a Succession fan account, tells Dazed that while she understands the absurdity of calling a 40-year-old man a ‘teenage girl’, his character still reflects something that girls and women can sympathise with. “He struggles with his identity, morality and purpose, the same as a girl six months away from being a legal adult trying to figure out why everything hurts so damn much. Put simply, being a teenage girl sucks, and being Kendall Roy also sucks.”
Though most of this rhetoric online is in jest, fans like Bridget still feel a true sense of kinship with these characters because they validate emotions that young girls are often mocked for expressing. Madison Huizinga, writer of the essay “Is Kendall Roy a Teenage Girl?” for her Substack newsletter Cafe Hysteria, explains to Dazed that, “For so long teenage girls have been ridiculed for overt displays of emotion, while men have been revered for showing emotional restraint. Seeing characters with intense feelings helps legitimise the emotional ups and downs common in teenage girlhood. It’s like reverse gaslighting, something to point to and say, ‘See! This isn’t in my head. It’s not just because I’m a girl – these men are experiencing it too!’ It forces us to question why we find some displays of emotion to be “raw” and “vulnerable” and others as “annoying” or “hormonal”.
its so teenage girl to say you’re going to lay in front of your exs car so that they can’t leave you then proceed to just watch sad as they leave (this was done by kendall roy)— bridget (@allthebellslay) May 22, 2023
Richie and Kendall are shown not only expressing anger and rage but also deep sadness, shame, loneliness and more. They experience extreme highs and lows and a lack of control over their emotional state in a way that feels extremely adolescent, or more accurately, in ways that are seen as only being socially acceptable when one is an adolescent. Some of the scenes where Richie was described as being a ‘teenage girl’ saw him taking a Xanax for his depression and anxiety and screaming Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” in his car once he realised his true purpose on this earth. No piece of media has felt more true to my teenage experience than that scene.
Other fictional characters that have been awarded the title of ‘teenage girl’ are as follows: Jerry Seinfeld from Seinfeld, Dennis and Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Bojack from Bojack Horseman, Miguel O’Hara from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Robert Pattinson’s Batman. This group of men are all very different. Some are silly, some are moody, and most, if not all, are deeply insecure. And it’s not lost on these young fans that most of these men are flawed and problematic.
Huizinga explained that while “[Characters like] Bojack are super immoral, there are always these glimmers of him really trying, and you almost can’t help but root for him even though you know he’s done so many terrible things. [It’s the same] with Kendall – obviously most young girls aren’t committing vehicular manslaughter, but we see him grappling with that, and as a teenage girl, everything you do wrong feels like the weight of the world.” While it’s clear that the young people making these jokes are aware that the emotional vulnerability of fictional male characters does not absolve them of their wrongdoings, it’s difficult not to think about how we coddle men who have caused harm in the real world, especially to women. From Johnny Depp, Chris Brown and Tory Lanez, we are quicker to advocate for these men and acknowledge their flaws than to believe the women they’ve abused and belittled.
I don’t want to write off these depictions of masculinity as something inherently bad because male celebrities are often babied by their fans. The representation of masculinity is changing in the media and that is important to recognise and discuss. Just because men are not socialised to show the full spectrum of their emotions does not mean they do not feel it all, and shows like The Bear and Succession represent this.
In Andrea Long Chu’s genre-defying book Females, she writes that “everyone is female, especially those who do not identify as one”. Long Chu defines “femaleness” not as a biological identifier but as a “universal existential condition” that everyone suffers from. To be female is to live in self-abnegation, enacting the desires of others at the expense of your own. It is generally understood that women are socialised to put the desires of others before their own, but we see fictional male characters on screen suffer this same fate too. They do not act in isolation but for the desire, love and admiration of others. While it may seem absurd to refer to 40-something-year-old men as ‘teenage girls’, if everyone is female according to Long Chu’s logic, is it so unreasonable to claim that everyone is a teenage girl? Especially all the 40-something-year-old men listed above?