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Jessica Wakeman Headshot

The Slut on Gossip Girl

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Gossip Girl, like all wildly unrealistic prime-time soaps for teens, makes for a fat punching bag. Here's my personal grievance with the show: again... and again... and again... and again... viewers are reminded of what a big slut the lead character Serena is.

The plot line, for those who haven't been watching the show: Blair and Serena used to be best friends. Then Serena slept with Blair's boyfriend, Nate -- and Nate's best friend, Chuck, watched. When Nate confesses to Blair about the cheating, it splits Blair and Serena apart -- but Blair keeps with Nate and Chuck's knowledge of, and complicit secrecy in, the cheating is never brought to light. Nate the cheater is still a dreamboat, who has not been punished not one iota for cheating on Blair. And what happens to Serena?

In the first episode, when, after being caught by her while pretty much date-raping a freshman girl, Chuck screams at Serena, "Slut!"

In the second episode, Serena asks Blair, "How do I make this up to you?" and Blair icily replies, "You don't." Later on in that episode, Chuck tricks Serena and Nate into be discovered by Blair in a hotel room and Serena's confronted by all these kids in a creepy attack squad, where Chuck calls Serena (and Dan's little sister -- though that's an entirely different sub-plot) a slut again. Serena's punished by losing Dan. Blair and Nate? They spoon in bed together, cooing about forgiveness.

In the third episode, which is the latest one, the kids attend a seminar on applying to the Ivy League colleges of their choosing. Blair makes moon-y eyes at her boyfriend, Nate, the whole time but snaps at Serena afterwards, "Brown doesn't offer degrees in 'slut.'"

This show is a textbook case in the sexual double standard: tearing down women for their sexual indiscretions while the indiscretions of males are laughed off, ignored or cheered. One could argue that the plot hinges on this tension: the antagonists who call Serena the nastiest of names are the inwardly ugly ones who viewers are supposed to hate, while we feel sympathy for this girl. Fair enough. But call her a traitor. Call her a backstabber. A betrayer. Even call her a bitch. I'm channeling Tina Fey in Mean Girls when I point out that when it's okay for sexy, rich, enviable teenagers (on a popular show that's on the cover of tons of magazines and TRL and all over Gawker.com) to say it, it's okay for real-life 16-year-old girls and boys to say it. And to that end, is it not okay for Don Imus on the radio to say it, or Isiah Thomas to say it in the Madison Square Garden office, why is it great TV when actresses say it to each other?

I've read most of the books in the Gossip Girl series, so I know I'm about a decade older than a lot of the fans -- which is to say, a lot of them are still in the 9th grade and are going through (or will be going through soon) their first relationship drama. Here's hoping the show's making some kind of deep statement about the double standard that high schoolers are picking up on and it's just going over my literal-minded head. Does society really need another generation inculcated by this crap?

Maybe it's my fault for expecting too much out of a teen soap on the CW channel. Maybe in an upcoming episode, Serena will say to something more evolved to Blair, like, "Hey, I can understand why you're so mad at me. I betrayed our friendship -- but why are you still dating a jerk who cheated on you? That's stupid." Until then, I'm going to find it hard to enjoy this guilty pleasure every week. And somehow lowering one's expectations never seems like the solution to any problem.