Back in the first season of Glee, oh so many moons ago, there was quite a bit of talk about whether or not the show fell into sexist territory on occasion. If you’re thinking, “I never heard anything about that,” clearly you weren’t looking in the right places. People who complained that Glee had a not-so-admirable opinion on girls and women were kind of right. Terri and Quinn were both lying about their pregnancies (or lack of pregnancy, in Terri’s case) and were uncaring “shrews” towards Will and Finn, respectively. Emma and Rachel were both “the other woman” in two separate already-established relationships. Sue was the evil villain of the show. There was nary an admirable female character in sight, whereas Will, Kurt, and Finn (and Artie, to a certain extent) were (and still are) portrayed as saintly.
I personally didn’t think it was that big of a deal, back in the first season. I’ll admit, I was a bit distracted by all the flashy musical numbers and the “we can do it!” feel-good attitude. The show was a little dose of sunshine every week, and for that, I was willing to overlook some of the more serious problems it has. Most shows have issues with continuity, character consistency and development, tone, pacing, etc., at some point. Granted, Glee has those problems in spades, but the problems I’m talking about are more social. Is the show racist at times? Is it sexist? Is it ableist? I think a lot of shows are, but those shows don’t package themselves as repurposed after-school specials, complete with morals and a lesson. The theme of the show is, “Appreciate the things that make us different.” Dare to stand out, to go against the “norm.” That’s why the show gets a lot of attention on that front.
So the question is, why does a show that preaches acceptance and tolerance persist in being intolerant, or at the very least, ignorant of people who are different? These past two episodes have kind of shook my inner-feminist awake and said, “Neener neener, I’m not playing nice.” Here’s a brief list of what I take issue with.
1. Sluts, prudes, and nothing in-between.
Glee never portrays girls’ sexuality in a positive light. I thought they might, back in the first season (I think it was the second episode?), when Rachel pays a visit to the Celibacy Club and says, “You know, girls like sex too.” I thought, finally, a girl on television who isn’t a “whore” and isn’t a “prude.” She’s just normal (not that there’s anything wrong with being a so-called “prude,” but in TV land, some character would have a problem with it eventually). But no, come this season and Finn’s complaining that Rachel won’t let him get any. In last week’s episode, “Never Been Kissed,” he said something to Sam, like, “Figures we’d date the only girls in school who won’t put out.” First off, really? Rachel and Quinn are the ONLY TWO GIRLS IN SCHOOL who won’t put out? Seriously, Finn?! And why would Rachel or Quinn WANT to put out? So they could be labeled as “sluts,” like Brittany and Santana?
There’s no middle ground. The girls are either uptight and won’t give their poor, poor boyfriends any sex, or they’re too promiscuous – girls who gain a reputation as “whores,” and can get no real respect from boys or their fellow girls. Let me assert, there is nothing wrong with having sex, or not having sex. It’s the show that portrays them in these ways: it’s healthy for boys to want sex, and for girls to not give it to them. It’s not healthy for girls to want sex. For all the promise I saw in this show, I was proven wrong. I thought they’d have female characters who weren’t defined by their sexuality in some way, and while most of the girls on this show are multi-faceted (sexuality or lack of sexuality is NOT Rachel’s defining characteristic, for example), there are still some confusing, negative messages being sent out here.
NOTE: The subtitle on this first entry to my list is a bit misleading. There IS something “in-between.” There’s the girl no one wants to imagine in a romantic situation at all, i.e. Mercedes. Everyone knows that curvy girls can’t get love, duh. Clearly that’d be gross.
2. Gay guys, cool! Gay girls, ew.
I appreciate, for the most part, the way the show handles Kurt’s character. He’s the heart of the show, the emotional nougaty center. I know that Ryan Murphy, as a gay man himself, probably invests a lot of concern, energy, and time into making sure that Kurt, as a character, is well-rounded and a positive example for other gay teens. I think he does a good job, for the most part. I know some people say that Kurt seems too “stereotypically” gay, but I’d say that he’s been developing past that. As we get to know him better, he’s become perhaps the most well-rounded character on the show, outside of Rachel, maybe. However, we don’t see the same respect being paid to the show’s other non-straight characters, Santana and Brittany. At this point, it’s pretty much undeniable that those two are at least bisexual, and not just “for show.” When Ryan Murphy was initially asked about those two, and their relationship and where their storyline was going, he replied, “We’re not that kind of show.” What kind of show is that? The kind of show that’s okay with gay guys AND not-exactly-straight girls? The kind of show that’s logical and all-encompassing in the tolerance it preaches? Not that kind of show? Okay.
But apparently that’s no longer an issue, as we saw in “Duets,” when we learned that Brittany and Santana sometimes make-out without a boy present. It seemed, for a fleeting second, that their relationship might be played for something more than laughs. Santana doesn’t want to take the next step in their relationship – singing a duet of “Come to My Window,” of course – and she doesn’t want Brittany thinking there’s anything serious going on between them. Brittany’s upset and uses Artie to get back at Santana. Santana then ruins the relationship Artie and Brittany have going on by basically alerting Artie to the fact that Brittany sleeps around (and how did he not know that one? The show can’t stop reminding us).
How can we not read some hurt and jealousy in Santana and Brittany’s actions? I want to think that this is going somewhere, and that there will actually be some positive, not-just-for-titillation girl loving fo’ real happening on primetime television for once. But “Never Been Kissed” makes me think maybe we’re jumping the gun here. All traces of discord in Brittany and Santana’s relationship are gone. Puck’s back and Santana is all too willing to jump back on the Noah Puckerman Express (because you know that’s what he calls his penis). Meanwhile, Artie, who was not too pleased with Brittany at the end of “Duets,” suddenly regrets ending things with her, and Brittany seems to be more than receptive to his advances (or, rather, she’s the one making the advances). Then Puck tries to ditch Artie so he can take both Brittany and Santana back to his place.
So I guess we’re back at square one, and I doubt the issue will ever be brought up again, because that’s how Glee rolls. And in the meantime, Kurt’s problems will be treated with all the respect and seriousness in the world, which it deserves. But still… don’t expect the same respect and seriousness for our two bi-curious Cheerios.
3. Shut up, Rachel, you harpy shrew!
Okay, I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I was happy to be delusional about the “Glee hates girls” argument was because of Rachel. I thought she was an awesome character, one who took time to analyze herself and why people don’t like her, but someone who is ultimately unrepentant about who they are. But it soon became clear that NO ONE AGREED WITH ME. And yes, I get where the dissenting opinions come from. She was cocky, thought all the solos should go to her, was a diva, etc. But I saw her as a character that was growing, and learning who she was, and in the meantime, she was confident in her talents and her appearance. But all the complaints about her seemed to manifest themselves in less screen time for her, which is also fine because this is an ensemble show and everything.
However, so far this season she’s been reduced to “Shut up Rachel, you’re annoying and no one likes you and your sweater’s ugly.”
Besides that nice moment where she reached out to Kurt because they both knew what it was like to be teased and bullied, she’s had very little character development or positive, serious screen time this season. That’s sad to me. Rachel is ultimately a positive role model for girls, I think (or at least I would’ve seen her as one if this show came out during my preteen and teen years), and by reducing her to an annoying presence or a punchline isn’t sending a good message. I feel like the message it is sending is that Rachel has too many opinions and has too much self-confidence, so she’s annoying and we should punish her for it. That’s not cool, dude.
4. I want to be single, I don’t need a man… LOL, JK.
I was so stoked that Quinn appeared to be dedicated to her plan of not dealing with boys after the pregnancy fiasco. I thought, “Yay! A girl who knows she doesn’t need a boyfriend to be happy or popular!” But no. Along came Sam (and what happened with the rumors that he’d be Kurt’s boyfriend? Did Quinn really need a guy that bad that they had to – well, supposedly – change their plan for the character to give her that guy?). Now they’re dating. Which, if it was an interesting storyline, maybe it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But it’s not. It’s basically just a rehash of every other Quinn/insert-male-character-here story, except maybe a little creepier because they looks like siblings. Quinn wants popularity out of the relationship, she dates a football player who is also in glee, the guy wants to go farther with her than she wants to go with him, he complains about blue balls to anyone who will listen… this is how it is with Sam, this is how it was with Puck, and this is how it was with Finn. So what is so exciting about yet another story just like that? What would’ve been way more interesting would be if Quinn didn’t need a guy. But, no. Girls can’t be single AND be happy! That’s preposterous. Which brings us to our next point.
5. Men are like medicine. They cure what ails you.
During tonight’s episode, “The Substitute,” we finally got a story for Mercedes, the most forgotten character on the show. But it was less than satisfactory. Mercedes is upset about two things in this episode: the fact that Kurt isn’t paying attention to her or spending time with her because he’s busy with Blaine, and the fact that Sue’s taken over the school and gotten rid of tater tots in the cafeteria. Now, would any rational person think that those two concerns were related? No. But on Glee, it’s totally feasible! Kurt basically tells Mercedes, “You’re upset about my new friendship and so you’re eating your feelings. Also, you use me as a substitute for a boyfriend instead of getting a real one.” This isn’t a blog post about overweight issues, though, so I’ll begrudgingly ignore that first part (“LOL, all fat girls eat their emotions because how can you be fat and happy?”). Kurt is completely ignoring the fact that Mercedes is actually hurting because he’s dumping her all the time. They were obviously best friends before (it’s one of the only stories the show is consistent about, so how could we forget?), and now he’s being callous. Why wouldn’t she be upset? But instead of addressing the issue head-on, he fixes her up with a guy. At first she resists the idea, but then decides maybe if she had a boyfriend, she wouldn’t be clinging to Kurt or eating tons of tater tots. Which is rational, right? Suuuuuure.