So, last night on American Idol, in between multiple ads for next week's trimphant return of Glee: Totes pushing all the boundaries, we are really edgy you guys I swear, Randy, Simon, Ellen, and NotPaula managed to spend a good minute and a half mentioning Glee in the damn show.
Bob's theory is that they get paid extra every time they mention it. My thought on this was that they must be getting at least 1k every time they mention it, because they wouldn't shut up with the name.
Which brings me to the point that if you say Glee enough times, everything ceases to have meaning, and you get sucked into a giant black hole.
Kind of like watching the series, for me, except my black hole is disappointed expectations and a high amount of disability/race/gender/GLBT fail. I do like the music, though - so I "watch" the show by listening while I play on the computer with the door open, and come out for the musical numbers.
There are lots of criticisms to make about Glee, and it's actually been pretty well written about,here, here, here, oh, and even visually, here.
The one I want to talk about is the one that actually links in to me (natch), and the legacy of white women's feminism. The path of American feminism has been largely created by white straight middle class women (somewhat like me), and there is actually now (well, its been known for ages in other circles) a poster child for this kind of feminist. The kind of feminist who sees the "struggle" purely in terms of Her vs. Men, and refuses to see who she may be stomping on or ignoring, and who cries when called on it to manipulate her way out of responsibility and put herself center-stage again. She won't see that her demands for parity exclude other oppressed people, thinks injustices against her are the worst evah, and refuses to acknowledge her white privilege, or considers it cancelled out by the fact that she's female.
(Intersectionality is not a simple "addition/subtraction" problem; one thing does not cancel out another. This is complicated, and should be explored by more people. It will help make sense of an awful lot of things going on in the US today.)
"What does all this have to do with Glee?" I hear you ask. Well, Rachel is a classic White-Centered Feminist(WCF). And I can't stand her for that reason. She's all about how much of an underdog she is, but when it comes to thinking of other people, well, her dreams are more important than anyone else, right? Even if it means that no-one else, ever, gets a chance at her limelight. For instance, in episode 9, Wheels (which is a whole load of previously linked disability fail), Kurt and Rachel compete for a chance at singing the solo Defying Gravity. Rachel, when she is told that Kurt is to have the solo, throws a fit, and even though she's had every solo in the show so far, acts like this is her one chance, and it's being taken away from her.
This is white feminism in a nutshell. A fucking nutshell. It never occurs to Rachel that maybe she's had a lot of opportunities so far (and has already taken a solo away from Tina), and could maybe afford to be generous. That is not the way of the WCF; all things must come to her, and if they don't, no matter who they go to, she has been cheated, and it is the worst injustice evaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh (insert weeping here). She cannot think about the chances anyone else may (but probably don't) get, because she cannot see beyond her own nose. As long as she's in the spotlight, then everything is fair. So, Asian women, gay men, black women, people with disabilities - move over. Let the WCF get all that's hers, and then maybe - maybe - she'll think about what you need.
But for now, y'all need to applaud the advances of white feminism, and if you have the nerve to point out that maybe white women are failing to think about anyone else, well, then you're just being mean.
Rachel is oblivious to the hypocrisy in her stance, and I really can't decide how much of her character is deliberate on the part of the writers, and how much is their own unconscious bias. Is she supposed to be sympathetic? Well, in the traditional sense of plot layout, she always gets what she wants, and the others always welcome her, so she's being played like she's a good person, but her actions belie the responses of the rest of the cast. Worse, the writers throw over the other characters, making them give in to her selfish wish to always have the spotlight - Tina gives up on her solo - or something else ensures that she gets the song, like Kurt deliberately throws his audition to save his father bad feelings (and it's a horrible cop-out on the part of the writers), even though the sheer brilliance of a young gay man singing Defying Gravity gave me goosebumps - "too long I've been afraid of/ losing love I guess I've lost"?
Goosebumps, I tell you.
The song has so little meaning when Rachel sings it, but the writers give it to her anyway? Pretty edgy, writers, pretty fucking edgy.
(Is there a sarcasm font for this thing?)
It is natural, as a white woman, to start in feminism without an idea of intersectionality. The question of race is so terrifying to most white people that they talk of feminism (scary enough in itself to the status quo) as if it is completely unconnected to any other fight against oppression, and it takes some self-education to consider well, if I'm white and I'm having these issues with getting equality, how much harder is it for a black woman, or a black lesbian woman, who has to deal with institutional racism and maybe homophobia besides?, and a certain amount of empathy to get why this is really fucking important for all equality. The concept of White Privilege, hell, any privilege, is something we have to make a conscious effort to educate ourselves about, because it is, by virtue of that same privilege, invisible to those that exercise it*. I feel that feminism is a part of the greater effort to make the world better for everyone - not a world where The Patriarchy is turned upside down and into The Matriarchy, but a world where the Kyriarchy is subverted, and oppression is no longer seen as a legitimate tool for governing.
There is no perfect feminism; we're all different in our approaches, and everyone starts with their own experience. But Rachel, and in the wider sense, the series Glee itself, is only taking the first, tiniest baby step. In a Kyriarchy, I guess that can be seen as "subversive" and "edgy", but from where I'm standing, it hardly subverts the paradigm at all. Which, if it was Two and a Half Men or How I met Your Mother, neither of which claim to subvert the status quo in the least, I would be expecting. But Glee claims to push the boundaries, and I can say that the whole get over it! accusation doesn't even begin to apply here, since they promised me subversive and gender/race/orientation/disability positive, and all I see is the same old stereotypes I see elsewhere.
The thing is, I am really tired of seeing it everywhere. I hoped that Glee would be different, and that I could see some characters I could relate to, even if they didn't look like me. Perhaps especially then; I don't need a character to have white skin, be female, be upper-middle class, or speak English as a first language to be able to empathize with them, or I'd never have liked I Am Legend so much. But I do need a character to be something more than a single poorly thought-out one-dimensional stereotype, especially when I have been promised so much more.
Rachel is not me, and should not be any of us. But as long as she's portrayed positively, then WCFs can feel good, knowing that they've helped someone today.
The Male Privilege Checklist
*The term "privilege" can be misleading for those first coming into contact with it - it is not the extras in life, but the things we can't get rid of even if we try, like the colour of our skin, our gender, the socio-economic class we're raised as part of. The expectations and assumptions that come with being born white, upper middle class, and female, for instance *cough*, have meant that I can charm my way out of a traffic ticket, no-one automatically assumes I'm shoplifting when I go into a store, and it was expected that I would go to college and do well in life. Here's a more comprehensive list of the various privileges we do and do not have - it's worth reading the ones you don't have to get a feel for the ones you do.
The White Privilege Checklist
The Straight Privilege Checklist
The Non-Trans* Privilege Checklist
The Able-Bodied Privilege Checklist
The Non-Fat Privilege Checklist
The Class Privilege Checklist
And We can't be equal while..., a response to the idea that "we don't need feminism, women are already equal".
(h/t to Alas, a Blog and Geek Feminism Wiki.)