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Jon Eig

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GCB: Glee's Constant Bitches

Posted: 05/16/2012 10:41 am

Plucky and talented Rachel Berry, whose big voice is matched by her big dreams of Broadway stardom, froze in the middle of her big, once-in-a-lifetime audition on a recent episode of Glee. I feel like the producers of the iconic pop culture Fox show wanted me to care. But in the words of Diana in the equally iconic Broadway show A Chorus Line, I felt nothing.

Glee is often considered a triumph of the new, youth-centric, liberal morality; representative of the Hollywood culture that has normalized open homosexual relationships and equality of the sexes. It has made tap-dancing, Broadway-belting kids seem cool, and poor Rachel is its center. She has been much put-upon by the popular crowd yet has often remained kind and caring. I like her, or at least I thought I did. So why should I feel nothing? Maybe it is because, in several important ways, Rachel is a very unpleasant person. Her chief characteristics are her insufferable selfishness and her unblinking sense of entitlement. And then something hit me. This is standard operating procedure for female characters on Glee. I think there is an assumption by the producers that female characters cannot be interesting if they are not mean and/or selfish.

Notice, I am not saying the females make for bad characters. Indeed, they are more entertaining than their male counterparts. After all, we all know that good people make for boring characters, and vice versa. Sue Sylvester, Quinn Fabray, and Santana Lopez are all strong characters. Sue adds extreme cruelty, bordering on sadism, to Rachel's selfishness and entitlement. She is insulting, degrading, and dangerous, and in one episode, turned into the actual Grinch who attempted to steal Christmas. Her joy at causing others to feel pain is matched only by one of her cheerleaders, Santana, a true sadist who delights in cutting others down, even if she ends up hurting herself. And fellow cheerleader Quinn, the prettiest, smartest and most popular girl in school, devoted a good part of one season to destroying an innocent woman in order to reclaim the baby she gave up for adoption.

Now consider the men. Finn Hudson and Will Schuester are both supremely nice guys. They want what's best for everyone. When they slip up and show human arrogance or greed, they quickly remedy the situation and make appropriate apologies. Kurt, as talented and tormented as Rachel, lives through jibes and actual threats, yet remains considerate and caring. His boyfriend Blaine, is perfect. But instead of turning snarky and jaded, as the perfect Quinn does, Blaine is constantly supportive and friendly to everyone. Even the somewhat edgier Puck, who sleeps with anything he can and has a bit of a mean streak, is also a team player who helps others more often than he hurts them. He is the one who fights against Quinn when she tries to steal the baby. Sam, Mike, Artie, and even new characters like Rory and Joe; they are all sweet, nice guys.

Go further down the character list. Will's ex-wife Terri, a first season regular, manipulated Will with a fake pregnancy. This season's Sugar Motta feels her daddy's money entitles her to be a star, tone-deafness notwithstanding. Brand-new Roz Washington is almost mean enough to bring a tear to Sue's eye. Of course, there are nice, decent females on Glee. There's Emma. There's Brittany. There's Tina. There's Coach Bieste. These women genuinely seem to care about others, or at least don't set out to cause harm for fun or profit. But does it strike anyone else as odd that Emma is clinically neurotic, Brittany is infantile, Tina is a virtual non-entity on the show, and Coach Bieste is supremely man-like? Is it possible to be a normal decent female on Glee and not have some qualifier? Thank God for Mercedes, the one normal balance between selfish and kind, arrogant and unsure. The one normal female teen. The outlier.

Of course, in order for drama to succeed, you need some bad guys, characters who oppose what the good guys want to achieve. And of course, Glee has some male bad guys. But notice this: the worst of the male characters on Glee are temporary players. Dave Karofsky threatens to kill Kurt. Sebastian Smythe nearly blinds Blaine. Jesse St. James toys with Rachel and nearly ruins the glee club. The football team as a whole is sadistic. None of these characters sticks around very long. They are self-contained. They do their damage and are dispatched. These actions are never given to major, continuing males.

And don't even get me started on Kurt's father Burt, everyman mechanic, defender of all human dignity, counter to Sue, Congressman. Or Rachel's gay fathers, Leroy and Hiram, forever friendly, warm and welcoming, playing show tunes and pouring wine to boot. They are quite the contrast to Santana's beloved grandmother Alma, who turns cold and banishes Santana from her home when Santana comes out as a lesbian.

In the world of Glee, many, perhaps most, women are manipulative, selfish, and just plain mean, while men are kind and supportive. Why? Women on the show are the most driven and passionate, while the men are mostly directionless. And it seems to be a cultural axiom that driven women are seen in far more negative terms than their male counterparts. Sue would no doubt argue that as a woman, she has to be far tougher than Will in order to be taken seriously. It may also be a question of drama. Please remember, I am talking about these characters as people, which they are not. As dramatic characters, the women rule Glee. I would much rather watch a scene with Sue, Santana, and Rachel than a scene with Will, Finn, and Blaine. Maybe it's a sign of triumph that the producers are giving the juicy roles to the women. Then again, maybe it's misogyny, dressed up as a Broadway show. Eye of the beholder I suppose.

 
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