Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Glee: The "Never Been Kissed" Episode Takes On Anti-Butch Woman and Anti-Femme Boy Bigotry: But Does It Get A Passing Grade?

Photo of Glee's Coach Beiste, played by Dot Jones, is from here
Glee took on a subject I've not seen dealt with on television before because television completely invisibilises or mocks the reality of butch (overtly non-femme) women. It also gets to the heart a case of anti-gay bullying, which I'll discuss a bit later in this post.

Butch women are a reality of life, naturally and socially. "Femme-inity", however, is entirely unnatural and is always political. The femme-inisation of women is through values infused into every dominant social, cultural, religious, and secular institution, aided and abetted by pimps, pornographers, priests, and other preachers of White Het Male Supremacy who demand that women exist to submissively serve and pleasingly sexually service het men.

A new character this season to Glee, played by Dot Jones, is the woman who currently coaches the boys' football team. She is coaching them to success on the field. Unbeknown to her, she is being made fun off in some truly despicable and deeply hurtful ways. I'll explain.

Some of the cast regulars who are het dudes are having trouble--collectively, homosocially--with the fact that the girls they are dating "won't put out". What the girls "won't put out" is their own will and self-regard. Het boys' stereotypical sexist behavior is lived out far too often as normal patriarchal protocol. Het dudes, to varying degrees, think this sort of will and self-regard by girls and women must be thwarted and subverted, usually with coercion or manipulation, or with a knife, a gun, or a group of guys--or combos thereof. Date rape and acquaintance rape are common atrocities that young women and girls endure and sometimes survive--never being the same again. These rapes are endemic, but het men hate it when anyone uses that term (or others like "epidemic" or "systematic" or "routine") to describe what het men do to women and girls that the dudes consider normal and acceptable behavior (when dudes do it to girls and women, that is). "Endemic" makes the practice sound, you know, NOT GOOD. COMMON. CRIMINAL, even.

To determine if something is harmful and endemic in society, as a social-political problem--as something that shouldn't exist--we need only imagine a world in which the exact same thing was done by women callous and strong enough to overpower, or drug, teenage males and males in their early twenties and rape them. If the gross physical violation of het male bodies was accomplished in such a way as to torment, terrorise, and traumatise the males to the point that one in four het males who were attending college was sexually assaulted during their time there, we can rest assured that men's rights activists would be up in arms about it. They'd be marching in the streets. They'd be posting all kinds of pages on Facebook protesting it's occurrence. They'd also likely proclaiming women to be "haters and oppressors" of men for treating men like they were inhuman--beasts to be tamed.

So if it were called "an endemic social problem" or "a serious threat to humanity" if it were done to het men, then it is also "an endemic social problem" when done to females of any age. But men don't see things this way, because they see rape as natural, normal, and inevitable. If they didn't see rape this way, they'd stop each other from committing it. Instead, the promote it and protect their rights and entitlements to do it.

Glee would be accurately accused of promoting date- and acquaintance-rape of girls by het boys, of women by het men, if they showed what many het guys endemically do to girls who "don't put out". This was the term used on the show this evening. The boys are, you know, "frustrated" because the girls "won't put out". So they (I mean the show's writers) concoct this storyline wherein the flamboyantly, "in-your-face" straight guys agree to fantasize about the woman coach, nicknamed "The Beast", if while making out with their female dates or girlfriends they get too aroused. It's their alternative to taking a cold shower. The cold shower would mean they aren't making out, so they apparently prefer this penis-withering technique because it allows them to still make out with girls while drawing up images of "The Beast" when necessary to not reach orgasm and feel all embarrassed. (Yes, this is the society many of us live in. Guys really do behave this way. Or worse.)

Why do they call the football coach The Beast? Because, in our heteropatriarchal society, a woman is either a beauty or the... yeah. You got it. The point of view is always het men's or anyone who supports het men's woman-hating values on the subject. The primary authority to name the standards belongs to het men. And his rules go as follows: butch = lesbian. Lesbians are very bad because they don't need men to be fulfilled. The only kind of lesbian who is not bad, is the lesbian who is not butch, which means, in the het male imagination, she may exist for het men to fantasize about or to rape, in which case she's femme-inised and now "good" for something--rape and het men's fantasies of watching two women "put out" for him. Het male culture is almost too fucked up to believe.

"The Beast" does have another rarely used name on the show: Shannon Beiste (conveniently last-named so it can be pronounced "NOT THE BEAUTY"). Shannon finds out from Will, the good, white, het, non-femme male teacher of the Glee club, that they het dudes are thinking about her this way. Why he felt it necessary to tell her and hurt her is a bit beyond me. He's supposed to be relatively smart in this show. In this case, not so much. He's cruel. And she's deeply hurt.

And then Will feels bad, and he tells two of the het dude Glee singers that they need to stop the practice of misusing her--even privately--in that way. That scene was cool. Het guys rarely get called out on doing anything wrong if what they're doing wrong is "private" or "only in their imagination". What Will notes, accurately, is that just because something is only done in fantasy or in private, it can still be ethically reprehensible, wrong, and socially harmful as well as oppressive. Will has to remind these fools that behaving this way demeans a real human being, an outcast like them because they're in Glee club. Dots need to be connected for these guys to become anything resembling "empathic" because clearly they don't have the humanity to get what's completely fucked up about doing what they're doing--not only to the football coach, but to all women, including to their girlfriends.

Reinforcing the idea that "ugly females are worthless, and pretty females are worth raping" is one that het men carry around privately and present socially. They present it by insulting all women in various ways. Their reinforce it by committing rape against "pretty" girls and "ugly" girls, and any girls and women they want to control and degrade, or punish, or terrorise. And men, generally, want this to happen to all girls and all women so females will be more compliant, fearing what men might do if the girls and women don't do as they wish.

"Won't put out", in the het dude's dick-tionary, means:  the girl or woman won't "pull out my dick and 'let me' stick it in a female orifice". Het dudes have less technical language for some of these phrases. They might, for example, say, "She won't let me 'bone' her." Or, "She won't let me have any fun." Or, "She won't let me have my way with her." Because for het dudes who carry around attitudes like this--attitudes promulgated and promoted in het male pornography, there is, underneath all that female resistance, a belief that what the dudes want to do ought to be done. That if a dude is so very kind as to not just rape her the first time he wants to penetrate her body with his dick, he's going to have to be considered "considerate" if he rapes her on the tenth date, because he had to suffer ever so terribly on dates one through nine. Het dudes have a stupid term for this kind of discomfort--it's called "blue balls".

Blue balls refers to a certain kind of blood-congestion in the testicles. It's what het dudes have told girls they "suffer from" if the girl "won't put out"--it's a form of emotional coercion and gross political manipulation, but, again, het guys consider it okay to pull THAT out, that predatory, perpetrating ploy, because when it comes down to it, it's all about the guy's needs, isn't it? I mean, don't forget, she's there to service him, right? (Wrong.) Any guy that tries to manipulate or coerce a girl or woman by evening mentioning the term "blue balls" should have his balls blown... off.

So Coach Shannon Beiste decides to quit, because she is being so demeaned and mistreated in ugly, ugly ways by the het boys who are generally considered "cute" by girls. When guys behave in truly ugly ways they can be thought of as cute or "hot". When girls behave in ugly ways they are called either the b word or the c word by guys.

Will convinces the guys to sort of woo her back, as he does first by graciously offering her a first kiss. This scene is supposed to be moving. He's being magnanimous, after all. He's "willing" himself to see her as so human, so very human, and also female, that she should be kissed by a hot guy like himself. Because were he just some ugly prick of a guy, him kissing her wouldn't be registered by the viewing audience as "sweet". Will's a great guy--he'll kiss a butch woman and feed her lines that are intended to convince her she's not really butch--she's "beautiful" and this is what is grossly heterosexist about the show--that a woman STILL has to "pretty" (you know, like when she 'smiles'), in order to be "attractive" (to het dudes). This is so very, very messed up that one must assume this show is written only by men and never, ever by anyone who is conscious of the harm and brutality--and ugliness--of heteropatriarchal beauty standards. It's not that I think women writers would necessarily do a better job of it--they'd be fired if they wrote a storyline that cast a butch woman as attractive BECAUSE she's NOT femme-inised, even when smiling.

What the show portrays with some honesty is the real pain girls and women are in who are considered "unattractive" socially by men. I've known women in my life who are not femme-inine, by choice or not. And the contempt shown to them by het dudes and too often also by gay dudes, is palpable and enough to make you sick. Again, it's the guys who are ugly here, not the women.

Another ways guys can be ugly is by being homophobic bullies. A character is focused on within the same show--the main bully of Curt, the only out gay student at the high school. He's white, thin, and sometimes feminine. So he's hated, because femininity is hated, regardless of who displays it. It's hated in various ways if the effeminate person is female. But when the male is feminine, it's hated by shoving Curt repeatedly into a hallway wall of lockers. Curt realises no one at the school is really going to do anything to stop this--they will keep their school a physically and emotionally unsafe space for queer youth. They will remain oblivious to the damage they are doing by not doing anything to stop thugs like this big brute.

What is commonly known by anyone who tracks the lives of anti-gay bullies is that they are all repressing their own homosexual feelings. You can know who is a "homosexual" male in a grade school or high school or college one of two ways: the student is out as gay, or the student bullies gay or feminine males. So, just so ya know, thug-boys, you're outing yourselves every time you call a kid a "f**got".

Curt travels to another school--an all boys private school, which in the U.S. means "expensive". Curt's dad is widowed and working class. They don't have money for anything other than free (public) high school. But while visiting he meets Blaine, who is gay, out, and living in a school environment that has a zero tolerance policy for any form of oppressive bigotry or bullying. Why it is all grade schools and high schools and colleges don't have this policy is because the schools don't really want anything resembling equal treatment of citizens. Parents and school board adminstrators, like the fascistically anti-gay now-resigned school board official Clint McCance, don't want lesbian and gay students to feel safe or be welcomed as equals anywhere. They want them to not be lesbian or gay. And so as long as schools are hostile to lesbians and gay males, they hope they will get their way. If the suicides among lesbian and gay youth continue at high rates, these parents and school administrators might find that their dream comes true.

Curt can barely believe his eyes--an actual high school where being gay isn't stigmatised and seen as a cause for being punished and pummeled. There's some sublte classism in this storyline, which implies that rich kids' parents and their school officials "get it" that homophobia hurts and kills and is just plain wrong, but less rick kids' parents and school officials aren't really capable of getting that message.

But Curt is befriended by Blaine, who keeps texting him to have courage. He wants Curt to call out the bully. Curt does. And when the bully basically runs away into the locker room, Curt follows him to demand to know WTF is going on. Not surprisingly--if you're one of us gay males who are propositioned by former high school bullies--the thug plants a big ol' kiss on Curt's lips. This is a violation of Curt; it is also, tragically, his first kiss. Together Blaine and Curt try and convince the thug that it's normal to be confused about being gay, but the thug isn't quite ready to come out--he certainly knows how mean guys can be.

What this show teaches us is that white guys who are handsome save the day each and every time. They show love, or facsimiles of it, to butch women or to gay boys, and those males' lives are richly transformed so that those who receive that golden whiteboy touch can be healed and transformed into self-respecting, self-loving individuals. Girls and women cannot similarly transform girls and women, on television. In real life, yes. But not ever on television--that power must belong only to statused males: white, thin, handsome, able-bodied, and not at all femme.

photo of "Curt" on Glee, played by Chris Colfer,  is from here
I am eager to see how Curt's relationship with Blaine develops. It's kind of too bad that Blaine has to be a white guy. But given how race and class in the U.S. intertwine in strange and strangulating ways, it might come across as implausible for a very dark-skinned non-white student to be found at a rich private school for boys. And Glee will only go so far in breaking down any stereotype, as was discussed in more detail in *this post* from last week.

This storyline with Kurt would have probably empowered me to take more action against my bullies back in the day. (But I sure as hell hope none of the ugly pricks would've kissed me if I confronted them.) Even with all the stereotyping, I love Glee. I really do. I'm a TV addict from way back when The Partridge Family was on Friday nights. Give me some good pop songs performed well and I'm a happy camper. I'd be a happier camper if programs did away with all stereotypes, but I've learned not to expect any more than I get from corporate pimps who won't promote anything that can't be commodified, stereotyped, and sold.

I remember a Partridge Family episode that actually mentioned "radical feminists" and of course they were portrayed as man-haters, not woman-lovers. Yeah, we've come a long way, baby. Now radical feminists aren't ever mentioned at all.


ptittle said...

Great analysis, Julian!

Do you know of any site that specializes in feminist critiques of tv shows? It's sorely needed and this should be reposted there! (As well as a few other pieces I've seen here and there, far too few, too seldom...)

Julian Real said...

Hey ptittle!

Thanks for the support.

Here are some blogs I've found that deal with pop culture including television.

The Gradient Liar

Feminist Frequency


The Feminist Spectator

Julian Real said...


Crunk Feminist Collective: The Mindy Project

The Feminist Wire: Orange is the New Black

Feminist Film (tumblr) on TV

Ms. Blog: TV