“First Time”: The Real Problem with Sex on “Glee”

by: Raechel T

I want to talk about thatGlee” episode that everyone is talking about.  But not for the same reasons.

Most people buzzing about the November 8th episode titled “First Time” are doing so because it implied that Rachel and Finn and Kurt and Blaine, two of the show’s main couples, lost their virginities. Some responses have lauded the show for its progressive approach to gay teenage sex—we actually get to see a fair amount of on-screen physical intimacy between Kurt and Blaine, albeit fully clothed – and others, like the Parents Television Source, were horrified.  After the episode, PTS stated, “Fox knows the show inherently attracts kids, celebrating teen sex constitutes gross recklessness.”  [1]

It probably comes as no surprise that I disagree that celebrating teenage sex is “gross recklessness.” As a sex-positive queer, I think making sure young people see representations of teenage sex is necessary. And although there were some overly moralistic “only have sex if you’re in love” kind of moments, I would still argue that the episode was groundbreaking, and that showing bedroom moments between two young men was a truly powerful and important television moment.

But there was gross recklessness being committed in other ways: the acceptance of sexual violence.

When Rachel freaks out about losing her virginity to Finn, she calls all the Glee Club ladies together to have a meeting to help her make a decision.  In the following order, each character shares their experience or gives their advice: Santana and Quinn—the former who was cast as a slut in season on, and a closeted lesbian in season two, and the latter who gave birth to a baby at the end of season one—both tell her it’s a bad idea.  Brittany, the “dumb bisexual blonde” (what, didn’t you know that people who enjoy having sex with multiple genders must be dumb or crazy?) reports that her first time was at cheerleading camp: “He just climbed into my tent. Alien invasion.” And Tina gives a long, dreamy speech about her first time being perfect since her boyfriend Mike is her first love. End scene.

Wait. Did Brittany really just say, in passing, that she got raped at cheerleading camp? Did she really just casually use the language of “alien invasion,” evoking the brutal reality of foreign, unwelcome objects shattering and destroying women’s bodies, hearts and minds? Was that really written as a throw-away punchline that we’re supposed to giggle at and forget about when Tina starts talking?

Yeah. That just happened.

Using Brittany, a notorious airhead, to deliver that line perpetuates assumptions about female victims of sexual violence. We weren’t paying attention. We should have known better. We shouldn’t have had that extra drink. We shouldn’t have slept in a tent that unzipped so easily. In the rape culture in which we live, accountability shifts from the perpetrator of sexual violence to the victim. And in the rape culture in which we live, riots are started to defend rapists like we saw last week at Penn State, and jokes about rape become acceptable, almost unnoticeable, comic relief.

Later in the episode, Blaine pressures Kurt to have sex with him in the back of a car by aggressively pulling him on top of him, even though Kurt repeatedly says “no” and continues to fight even when Kurt literally struggles to get away. When he finally lets go of Kurt’s scared body, he walks away in a fit, blaming Kurt for not being “spontaneous.” Here, Glee seems to promote the notion that should always be available for sex, whether they’re comfortable with it or not. Arguably, Blaine was supposed to be seen as kind of an asshole in that scene, but the fact that it passes without a more serious consideration of what it meant for Blaine to be physically aggressive in his quest to have sex is a real problem.

Although I have some issues with Eve Ensler, I was deeply moved by her mini-manifesto against rape culture that she released in the midst of the Penn State scandal. She writes:

I am over people not understanding that rape is not a joke and I am over being told I don’t have a sense of humor, and women don’t have a sense of humor, when most women I know (and I know a lot) are really fucking funny. We just don’t think that uninvited penises up our anus, or our vagina is a laugh riot. [2]

When 1 of every 6 women is the victim of rape or attempted rape [3], we cannot afford for our media to make jokes and diminish the seriousness of it. Ensler continues,

I am over the passivity of good men. Where the hell are you? You live with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get nurtured and mothered and eternally supported by us, so why aren’t you standing with us? Why aren’t you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and humiliation of us?

I pose that question to Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Glee,” who does important work for queer youth, but who fails miserably at being an ally in the fight to end sexual violence.

I hope someday we can live in a world where the Parents Television Source is more outraged by casual rape jokes than by consensual sex.

Raechel T is a PhD Candidate in Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include: critical media studies, queer studies, rhetoric, critical pedagogy, and the labor movement. She’s a long-time labor activist and a full-time cat lady. You can read more of Raechel’s thoughts atrebelgrrlacademy.wordpress.com, and you can follow her adventures with vegan food and healthy living at rebelgrrlkitchen.wordpress.com.

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2 responses to ““First Time”: The Real Problem with Sex on “Glee”

  1. Pingback: “First Time”: The Real Problem with Sex on Glee « .rebel grrrl academy: revolution in the shoproom, the classroom, the streets & the hips.·

  2. This post was absolutely brilliant. I am embarrassed to admit that I did indeed giggle at Britney’s line and thought nothing of it again until reading your views on it here. I think this all really needed to be said, and more people (myself included) need to be more aware of the insensitive language used in our society in the name of “humor.” Keep it up, fight the good fight, and thank you.

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