In the mid 2000s came a TV show that tried to build on the success of FRIENDS. With a similar premise, few individuals hung out while going about their seemingly interesting daily lives. Needless to say, How I Met Your Mother had become a dependable source of humour and drama at that time.
In hindsight, there were a lot of things that the show got wrong, from its series finale to overused and offensive tropes like fat shaming and casual sexism. This show certainly aged poorly. But none have aged as badly as the character of Barney Stinson.
For a brief moment in the early 2010s, Barney Stinson had become the social stencil for all men. With us looking at him and his misadventures in awe and inspiration. Now that I look back, a lot of things that we were fed as being just jokes and gags actually were extremely problematic. It’s not easy to say this but I had a lot of unlearning to do after having enjoyed this character for a long, long time.
Here are five lessons from Barney Stinson that men should not learn.No Means Yes?
Barney doesn’t get it. For him every rejection by a woman was turned into an avenue for manipulation. He doesn’t get that no means no. And unfortunately, therein lies the problem. Many young impressionable men bought into this twisted narrative because the character was seemingly funny and likeable.
In an episode where they discussed his origins, HIMYM showed Barney as a sensitive and emotional man who after having his heart broken by the love of his life turns from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. With the single goal of bedding as many women as he could, Barney leaves behind a trail of destruction that is rarely explored in the show. Every woman he interacted with was seen as potential prey. What’s even more disturbing is the stranglehold this belief had on dating culture at large at that point in time.
© CBS/IMDBPlaybook Politics
So instead of meeting women and getting to know each other on an emotional level, Barney likes to deconstruct human beings into categories and gimmicks. While the show may have intended for this to be a potential marketing asset, the ground reality was that it ended up giving men across ages a warped image of what cis-het dating should be like. All these ludicrous tactics in the hopes of attracting a potential partner? Icky.
One of the most endearing aspects of positive masculinity is the camaraderie and honesty male friendships have. However, Barney’s bro code turned all that into a convoluted lump of dumpster fire. Pitched as the ultimate constitution or the bible for young boys and men, it banded us together against women in an us vs them narrative. For boys growing up, we barely knew what accountability in friendships was supposed to be like. The Bro Code only further strayed us from having meaningful male friendships.
Sure Barney Stinson had a traumatic childhood. Even his early adulthood might not have been easy. But the way his character arc was designed left him with a two-dimensional personality, internally bitter at the world, women specifically. Because he felt hollow and lonely, he filled it with a warped sense purpose, one that predetermined him to treat women as objects for sexual fulfilment. And since there were countless young men looking up to him as a role model, they learned the same lessons too.
Characters from popular fiction have a strange way of latching on to public attention. Sometimes these characters develop a cult following. And in a country where sex and relationships are still considered taboo, characters like Barney Stinson inadvertently become an avenue for kids to learn about how adult relationships work. The damage has been done, but at least we can unlearn and grow out of it.