Glee. Marketed as a progressive LGBT positive show, it just…well, isn’t, as the LGBTQI community worked out about three years ago. As @princessjack has documented in this blog, Glee has a fine tradition of slut shaming: Teacher Sue Sylvester posed nude for a magazine way back when but it is used to threaten her reputation now. Aspiring young actress Rachel Berry’s high school mates (one who herself has porn on the internet) fly out to tell her not to do a college play in which she plays an old woman who is topless in one short and non sexual scene. The episode concludes with the boys posing semi nude for a calendar while Rachel agrees not to do the play. Cute and enlightened quotes include “you’re not a porn star- even though your hair and make up make you look like one”.
Fast forward to 29th November and Glee is continuing its tradition. Sue Sylvester is now principal, having framed her predecessor to get the job. Sue is disgusted by twerking and goes on local TV to announce her attempt at a state-wide ban on twerking. She then threatens to fire Schuster, who defends twerking to the school board by describing how previous dances were viewed as disgusting (I would’ve included the can-can and grinding in this, but Schuster does a good job.) So we’ve got a woman who posed nude for Penthouse condemning a sexy dance appropriated by a woman (Miley Cyrus). The man, Schuster, defends it. This encourages girls to slut shame and police each other. But it doesn’t stop there. Why just include a bit of slut shaming when you can have, like, a whole slut shaming themed episode?
Marley wouldn’t consent to sex with Jake in the last episode, so he has sex with a cheerleader who’s name I didn’t catch. She’s portrayed as a bad character who secretly spies on the Glee Club for Sue Sylvester, deliberately steals Jake from Marley and then mocks Marley about it. Marley responds “Jake’s not like that and if he did, he would aim higher than trash like you”. The cheerleader says that Marley is slut shaming her for expressing a woman’s natural sexuality and that slut shaming is “retrogenderist” (among some other made up words) but that she’ll be the bigger person and not report Marley to Principal Sylvester and get her suspended.
This might sound great. But it’s not. If you watch it, it’s obvious that the concept of slut shaming is actually being mocked and denied. Words like “retrogenderist” were put in to overly complicate and make fun of the idea that slut shaming exists or that it’s not a good thing to do. The point that’s being made is that the cheerleader is a slut and deserves to be shamed. The link with ultimate Glee Club nemesis Sue Sylvester further portrays her as a baddie. We all know that slut shaming won’t lead to expulsion (in the Glee world or anywhere) so that line seems especially mocking. In fact, school authorities turned a blind eye to the slut shaming that lead girls like Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons to kill themselves.
This is real virgin whore dichotomy stuff. Marley the good girl virgin vs Cheerleader the whore over who will get Jake. Why does the ‘slut’ have to be the baddie? Sue is also the baddie and she too posed nude; is Glee saying that sluts are evil? It’s been a long tradition in the movies and TV for sexually adventurous women to be the femme fatale and for the less adventurous or repressed woman to be the hero’s girlfriend. It’s also very interesting that Sue and the cheerleader are some kind of ‘slut’ team against our heroes the Glee Club. There aren’t that many bad characters in Glee right now. Why does the bad character have to be set up as a ‘slut’? Set up against the celibate virgin girl?
There’s also a race issue here. Marley is white while Jake, the cheating boyfriend with the bad boy image and a reputation as a “man slut” (quote from previous episode) is biracial. The cheerleader is black. Given that there’s only one other black main character, a trans girl, it’s kind of odd that it’s the black kids who are promiscuous and unethical. There’s a long history of blacks being portrayed as hypersexual. It’s also kinda weird that the black kid is evil, a slut and Sue’s spy and the biracial kid is a “man slut”, a bad boy and a cheater. That’s two out of three black characters. The cheerleader is basically set up to be hated by the audience, because she’s a fairly new character compared to Marley and Jake who she’s hurting. And she is the minion of the Glee Club’s nemesis. There’s no way we can root for her.
The idea that the man (Jake) wants sex while the woman (Marley) is reluctant is not very progressive. It teaches girls that they are the gatekeepers of sex and should be demure. It teaches boys that they have a right to sex and if their partner doesn’t consent, it’s totally fine to cheat. The ethical implications of a spy (the cheerleader) having sex with the enemy she’s spying on (Jake) are vast, yet Jake’s informed consent is not explored.
Admittedly I didn’t watch the rest of the episode. The short-wig-equals-REBEL thing with Rachel Berry and the idea that the worst thing that could happen to a trans girl in high school is get her wig flushed down the toilet had already kind of ruined the episode for me before the denial of the existence of slut shaming. Glee could’ve taught kids about slut shaming. Its relatability, popularity and standard of scripting means that it’s got the potential to get sociopolitical messages across in a couple of seconds. And it chooses to tell teens and preteens that slut shaming should be encouraged and anyone who questions the double standard is a slut. Oh, and that sluts are evil and blacks are probably sluts.