…the problems with Glee? Yes, it’s entertaining (I’m giving it another couple of episodes in the hope that it will settle some of its issues, because I enjoy the singing, the show’s potential, and the school setting), but so far it’s also pretty sexist. Beyond that, very few of the characters are remotely likable (the exceptions for me are the main female character, Rachel Berry; the teacher, Will Schuester, who is so bland and inoffensive that it is hard to have an opinion about him one way or the other; the principal; and cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, at least for the roughly 30% of the time when the incomparable Jane Lynch is spouting hilariously demented lines rather than filling up a feminist stereotype bingo card). It’s like the show’s creator hates the entire cast in addition to hating all women everywhere.

Here are a few of the sexist characters, tropes, and images I noticed in the last couple of episodes:

  • Mr. Schuester’s wife, Terri, is a lazy, whiny, entitled princess who thinks she’s put-upon for having to work part-time at a Sheets-‘n-Things store. She is also stupid, as evidenced by her “hysterical pregnancy.” Oh, the hilarity! In general, she seems to exist to fulfill the belief that your wife really is naggy and evil and out to take all your money, whereas you are a saint with the patience of Job, and furthermore the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence where that cuter younger model whose only apparent personality trait is quirkiness resides. By the way, when I was trying to find this character’s name, I came across a forum link with a discussion thread entitled “Anyone else can’t stand Terri?” Um, I highly doubt you’re supposed to like her. The one glimmer of hope I see for Terri is that she appears to realize at the end of the most recent episode that lying about her pregnancy was wrong, but was so scared she didn’t see another alternative. A true cardboard cutout would have been totally fine with the lie.
  • Which brings me to Terri’s sister, another flat stereotype whose husband is afraid to go to the bathroom without permission, who eggs Terri on to purchase an elaborate McMansion that they can’t afford (side note: their “inadequate” apartment appears to contain a giant clawfoot tub in a beautifully restored bathroom–WTF?), perpetuates the “wives and mothers are lazy spoiled princesses” trope again by admonishing Terri not to give up her “craft room” for a nursery in a mockery of the concept that stressed-out moms should dare have any outlet for themselves, and encourages her to continue lying to her husband about the mistaken pregnancy. This character is like all of the most hateful assumptions about women distilled into one person.
  • Sue is hilarious and in many ways a joy to watch, as Jane Lynch always is. But they also write self-important lines for the character that are intended to show the hilarity and ridiculousness that is feminism–murmuring “offensive” to the phrase “cock of the walk,” lashing out that she doesn’t want to be treated like a second-class citizen because of her gender when gender wasn’t really part of the discussion. This should all be just super for coddling and justifying complacent viewers’ misinformed beliefs about what “feminists are like.” Of course there is a line that reveals Sue to be post-menopausal as well, because it wouldn’t do to portray a character like her as anything other than man-hating, “dried up,” and desexualized (though the show also could have gone with “‘scary’ butch lesbian”).
  • Emma, the school’s guidance counselor, has the potential to be an interesting character, so I will reserve judgment on her for now (though I don’t like the general idea of the tiny, pure, perfect ingenue who often appears on TV and in film and is always just so much more appealing than the ol’ ball and chain), but in a really gross line from last week’s show, she advises Rachel that not having a gag reflex will be a boon to her “later in life.” This line veers just a little too close to “rape is funny” for my comfort–it assumes that oral sex is de facto uncomfortable and unpleasant for women, but something that you are simply required to buck up and do anyway. Ick.
  • Speaking of which, the show’s mean girls belong to an abstinence club where they scheme behind closed doors about how to exert power over boys by denying them sex. This scene, to me, seemed designed to show that women really are controlling, cold bitches who deserve what they get. Later, when the boys and girls were attempting to interact “chastely,” one of the boy characters simulates grinding and yells “c’mon, take it!” in a throwaway line. This is what immediately jumps to mind when the writers think of sex–for women, it’s a mind game, and for men, it’s a push to dominate against a woman’s will? To me, that’s kind of depressing.
  • A wimpy, sexually frustrated male character who appeared to be portrayed as something of a Jewish stereotype was another tiresome addition to this scene. Come to that, the show’s creator appears to be none too fond of men either–a fired choir director is a druggie pedophile who harasses his students, and previews showed a presumably gay choreographer who appears to be played as a fat, bitchy, irrational, pathetic figure of fun in eyeliner. (Note that I obviously don’t think “fat” or any of those other features are negative characteristics, but you can bet this show probably does.)

Finally, the way the show’s ensemble is set up is fairly ridiculous. OK, to be fair, many TV shows contain a white character or couple around which the entire plot revolves, with a supporting group of minority characters who exist mainly to make the cast look “diverse,” but sometimes attempts are made to alter this structure or present it in a more subtle manner. Not on Glee! Nope–you have the patented characters of black girl, gay guy, Asian girl, and disabled guy all literally backing up the white main character and leading man. Furthermore, it would seem that Rachel’s dark hair is meant to symbolize her status as unpopular misfit (in opposition to her blonde head-cheerleader nemesis)–never mind that she is still white, thin, pretty, and otherwise TV-perfect in every way–so the show doesn’t really even break the mold that the golden girl or couple must always be not only white but blond to boot.

The black singer’s personality seems to consist entirely of “loud diva,” and the rest of the characters have not really been given personalities to speak of yet. I suppose they could be playing this structure so blatantly as a means of satirizing the white-lead/minority-supporting-cast structure, but personally, I am not really seeing that.

In any case, this show is on probation for me. Treating the characters like actual human beings deserving of a baseline level of respect would go a long way toward helping the show live up to its own hype, in my opinion.

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