the robert pattinson of glee
We all know someone needed to do this…
I remember when I first pitched the idea of writing about Glee’s sexism issues.
At the time I suggested it a little bit out of boredom – this blog hadn’t really taken off, it was raining outside, I was getting a little stir-crazy from being so focused on a course in graduate school, and I wanted to take on a long-term project.
So I turned to the blog’s “editor”, if you can call them that, and I told them I wanted to write about Glee’s sexism issues. And they looked at me, hesitated for a second or two – probably weighing up the consequences of what I was asking – and then said “okay”.
Which leads us to now, almost six months later, and I’m sitting here staring at a blank page and approximately 30 Excel documents.
On the one hand, this post is easy to write. Some would argue it’s even pointless to write this post – everyone already knows how sexist this show is. It’s unlikely we’re going to be saying anything new or even groundbreaking. Glee’s sexism has been documented well before this blog was even created.
And yet on the other hand, this post is also incredibly difficult to write. This isn’t like when we discussed Faberry and had free reign as to how to interpret what was in front of us. This isn’t a response to spoilers about a school shooting, or how we would write a Quinntana hook-up.
No, writing about Glee’s sexism is a little harder than that. Sexism doesn’t have a face. It doesn’t always have words, either, and that’s why it’s so complicated to write about. Anyone can claim sexism; proving it, however, is the real challenge.
There were quite a few obstacles, the first one being mainly how we define sexism within the context of the show. Merriam-Webster defines sexism as the following:
- prejudice or discrimination based on sex, especially; discrimination against women
- behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex (gender).
But is that definition enough when it comes to the issues portrayed on the show? If we go by Merriam-Webster’s definition alone, we find ourselves almost immediately restricted in what we can or cannot talk about.
If we go by that definition, too, we cannot talk about the disparity between the relationships. We cannot talk about how frequent a heterosexual couple gets private one-on-one conversations, but a lesbian couple does not. Does that count, on some level, as sexism?
So how we choose to define sexism within the post is one problem. You will notice that at times we will switch to a “stream of consciousness” as we write – we want to include as much as possible, but we have to confess from the beginning we’re still not quite sure how to do that. We’re also prone to be being quite chatty sometimes. Call it a fatal flaw if you must.
We’ve all seen the episodes, but explaining why it is sexist, in ways that would convince an individual beyond a reasonable doubt, is that much harder. One of the questions we’ve forced ourselves to ask as we watched Glee episodes these past six months is “what does that mean, exactly?”
We’ve forced ourselves, over and over again, to ask not only how it is sexist but also why it is sexist. Sometimes it meant finding the exact line of dialogue that proved our thesis. Other times it meant analyzing a performance.
Of course, in our analysis of performances, we sometimes had to be generous with what we considered a solo, duet, or group performance. We drastically simplified the definitions, which go as follows: a solo is when there is one main singer; a duet is when there are two main singers; a group performance is when there are more than two main singers. There are times when we bypass a “New Directions” performance completely, most often because there are too many singers on the track.
But it is not just the intention of a song that we have to analyze. We also have to look at the characters. We have to ask ourselves why they are acting in such a specific manner – is it because the characters are meant to be seen in that manner, or is it because the writers just have an inability to write them in a different manner? In holding the writers accountable for certain actions, does that excuse the characters from being held responsible as well? At what point do we decide the writers are to blame, and not the characters?
As we said before, we didn’t define the scope of sexism within the context of the show because to do so will restrict dialogue. We want to talk about sexism in its entirety; as such, we cannot give it in a scope, because by the very nature of doing so, we will be excluding something else.
We know, too, that we will get the inevitable questions of why we are doing this. We will be asked “but this is just a TV show, why do you even care?” and the answer is somewhat simple: how could we not care about sexism? How could we not care about a show that promotes these types of messages? How can we be expecting to turn a blind eye?
This post is going to be quite lengthy; as such, we decided to divide it into sections to make it easier to read. The sections are entitled as follows: Section 1, which deals with the correlation between an individual’s song selection and their relationship status; Section 2, which addresses Glee’s “White Knight” complex; Section 3, which talks about Glee’s representation of friendships and relationships; Section 4, which talks about Glee’s representation of leaderships within the actual Glee club, and finally Section 5, which includes the links to the Excel document we were working off of.
Section 1: Sing It For Me, Sing It To Me, Sing It About Me
Not too long ago, when the songs for the season four finale “All Or Nothing” were being released, a Glee fan expressed excitement over the fact Rachel Berry was going to sing “To Love You More” by Céline Dion. A disgruntled fan retaliated with “what does it matter? You know it’s just going to be about Finn [Hudson].”
As disgruntled as that fan was, it posed a rather interesting premise for us: does Rachel Berry just sing to, for or about her romantic interest? In order to solve this equation, we decided to look at the songs the Glee Club has done. The categories were defined as followed: solos about or dedicated to their romantic interest; solos done for a competition (e.g. Sectionals, Regionals, Nationals); solos done for a reason other than for their romantic partners or a competition solo; duets with their romantic partner; duets done with a platonic friend; group performances were done as a bonus.
Sometimes we had to take on a rather liberal approach, because the intentions weren’t always clear. An example of this is Rachel Berry’s solo of “Here’s to Us”, which she sang during Regionals in season 3. Technically it was a competition solo, however a conversation between Berry and Quinn Fabray has Fabray asking if Berry was singing to Hudson and Hudson alone. We decided to classify it both as a competition solo and as a song Berry sang for Hudson, even though we are being rather generous with the latter.
Over the course of four seasons, Rachel Berry sang approximately 38 solos. Of those, 15 solos were either sang to or were about her romantic interest, with 5 solos being a competition song, and 18 solos being not about her romantic interest or a signing competition. Here is the link to the Excel document where we laid out Rachel Berry’s performances, should you be so interested.
By contrast, Finn Hudson has sung approximately three solos to his romantic interest, no solos for a competition, and 8 solos that were not dedicated to his romantic interest. You can find the individual analysis for Finn Hudson’s performances here.
It’s tempting to say Rachel Berry is the character that suffers from Glee’s sexism the most. A strong, independent character at the beginning of the show, Berry gradually lost both her voice and her independence as her relationship with Finn Hudson progressed. She seemed to almost serve two purposes: help the Glee Club win competitions by belting out a solo, and make Finn Hudson feel better.
It’s sobering, because in the latter part of season 3 in particular, Berry seemed to primarily serve as means to boost Hudson’s ego. She was there for him, to make him feel better, and her own dreams and ambitions – when she was actually allowed to have them – were forced to take second place.
The saying goes “Numbers don’t lie”, but in this case they might not be telling the whole truth, because we didn’t include every single group performance New Directions has done. However, to the best of our knowledge, the numbers of solos and duets are accurate.
And it’s a bit of a reality check, too when you see the numbers of solos the female members have sung either to their romantic interest, or about their romantic interest, is almost 10 more than the number of solos sung by a male member either to or about his love interest (41 to 33 respectively, found on the “Glee Performances breakdown” in the masterpost document).
Okay, so we know that female characters sing more about their love interest than their male counter-parts. But what does that mean, exactly?
On the one hand, it’s tempting to hand-wave it away and say something along the lines of “so what? Boys probably win in another category”. But it’s actually a little bit more complex than that, because it reinforces Glee’s idea that a female character is actually irrelevant without a (preferably male) love interest.
If you contrast it with solos not about a love interest, and exclude “competition” solos, the numbers are almost even – the female members have a slight edge over the male characters, 74 to 71 female to male solos respectively.
Another interesting factor is when you look at the breakdown of the duets, found again on the “Glee Performances breakdown” in the masterpost. If you look at romantic duets, defined as a duet an individual sings with their love interest/romantic partner, the boys actually have an advantage over the female characters – 62 to 51 duets respectively. By that, we mean that a male character has played a part in 62 duets with their love interest, whereas a female character has played a part in 51 duets.
With regards to “platonic duets”, meaning a duet an individual sings with someone who is not their love interest, the female characters once more have a slight edge over their male counterparts (87 to 76 respectively). Is that a sign of actual friendship? It’s an ambiguous statement at best, and we actually go into it a little deeper when we talk about Glee’s friendships in Section 3 when we talk about the representation of relationships and friendships.
Section 2: White Knight Complex
One of the main problems with Glee is the rampant “White Knight Complex” both the characters and the writers seem subscribed to. It’s not just a female character is almost always in the wrong and either needs saving or “shown the light”, but the one to do so is almost always male.
This section risks being a little all over the place and I do apologize for that, so hopefully, dear reader, you can be patient with me as I walk you through my muddled thoughts.
On the one hand, I want to argue that Glee has some strong female characters. I want to point at the likes of Rachel Berry, or Santana Lopez, or Quinn Fabray, and I want to be able to say “Look how strong they are, look at what they’ve accomplished, look at what they’ve become” with the implication being look at what great role models they are.
And yet, and yet, yet…
And yet there has to be a clause, too, because yes, they are strong female characters, but it is in spite of what they have been through, not because of it, and their growth, their strength, is so often tied to male characters that it is hard to say that they are strong female characters on their own and not that male characters have made them strong.
Let’s start with Rachel Berry, shall we?
In the beginning – at the very core of Glee, we’re talking in the Pilot and the first part of the Front 13, Rachel Berry believed in herself. She had this unshakable belief that her talent alone would carry her out of Lima, Ohio. She would get to New York because her talent was enough to get her there.
“My dreams are bigger than that and they’re bigger than you,” Berry snapped at Finn Hudson in “The Rhodes Not Taken”.
Yes, wonderful! We’ve been so, so vocal about how much we loved Rachel Berry’s ambition – oh. I used the past tense there deliberately, because she was ambitious, at least, she was ambitious on her own. It was only as her relationship with Hudson developed that Berry became less ambitious, that she began questioning herself, that suddenly Berry started to subscribe to the belief ambition could be seen as a negative.
It’s so incredibly frustrating because the old Rachel Berry – there’s a part of me that wants to say the pure Rachel Berry – would never have seen ambition as a negative trait until Hudson started to make her think it was something that was negative. He saw it as a selfish attribute.
It’s actually an interesting philosophical question – at its very core, is ambition not meant to be selfish? We want to push ourselves to be better, but sometimes the very act of doing so – of us wanting to be better – makes others better as well. Shakespeare argued that “ambition should be made of sterner stuff” and maybe he wasn’t wrong.
However, this is a post on Glee’s sexism, not Shakespeare, and I fear I am getting off track.
It’s very difficult to argue that Rachel Berry’s “Without You” solo didn’t reek of sexism for all the wrong reasons. Finn Hudson said, with his girlfriend right next to him and his stepbrother right opposite him, that he had nothing special in his life. Berry found herself singing “Without You” as a way to bring back his self-confidence.
It’s supposed to be touching, but it’s also eye-roll worthy at best, because the lyrics are so contradictory to what Rachel Berry was meant to be seen as. She once was a strong, ambitious individual who could achieve things on her own; now, she finds herself stroking Hudson’s ego and saying she wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything without him.
Excuse me while I choke on my own gag reflex.
Vocally, Rachel Berry is amazing. The song sounds great but the context of the song is so insulting, because it really does imply – quite heavily! – that Rachel Berry only believes she has talent because Finn Hudson believes in her. That without him, she wouldn’t be the person, or performer, that she is.
Put simply, the context implies that Finn Hudson is what makes Rachel Berry special, ignoring the fact that Rachel Berry is special, unique, on her own.
It’s frustrating, too, because the collapse of Rachel Berry’s individuality in season 3 is something her character never really recovered from, be in the latter part of season 3 or in season 4 altogether.
We’re talking about a character who was once so certain in her belief that her talent was enough to make her stand out from others to now constantly needed male approval, or at least validation, for her life choices.
Berry’s dilemma in her song choice for “Sweet Dreams” is another frustrating performance, if only because so much of it heavily implied on Hudson confirming both her choice and her belief in her talent. As Dr She Bloggo pointed out in her recap, there was a disparity in what her character had always believed in and what she wanted. Rachel Berry always knew she could sing. She just wanted someone to sing with her.
So in that sense it’s so frustrating that she had to ask Hudson for advice. The “old” Rachel Berry would have been confident enough to make the decision on her own. She wouldn’t have needed, or asked for, Hudson’s approval. And yet she did.
Oh, Rachel Berry, what has become of you? I can’t seem to let go of talking about you, and I promise I will get back to you.
Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) has a different approach in her character arc, but it is no less interesting. Her character struggled with her sexuality for most of the first two seasons, and it came to a head in season 3’s “Mash Up” and “I Kissed a Girl”, when Hudson decided that the appropriate reason to Lopez bullying him about his weight was to throw her out of the closet – in a school hallway.
On the one hand, honestly, we’ve harped on so much about how much we hate how Glee handled that storyline that it almost feels redundant bringing it up in this post. We’re not going to say anything we haven’t already said before. And does it really even have a place in a post about sexism?
Truth is, it kind of does, if only because of how Glee handled the issue.
Which is to say – they didn’t, not really.
We believe that if Finn Hudson had been held accountable for his actions – if the show had come out and explicitly said “Finn Hudson was wrong”, if he even had a slightest reprimand for his actions – then maybe it wouldn’t fall under sexism. If he had been slapped on the wrist, and it actually stung, this would be a different story, a different post.
But it is not.
Instead, it is a story about how Finn Hudson threw someone out of the closet, showed little to no remorse for it, and was consequentially portrayed as and seen as a hero for doing what is undoubtedly a morally reprehensible act.
Throwing someone out of the closet – against their will, in a public location, or even at all – is completely wrong. It is an act that should be universally condemned, and yet, according to Glee, it is only condemned when the character who is being forced out of the closet is male (Karofsky, “On My Way”). Otherwise, it is a case of a male character doing what is best for the female character.
And then to have Santana Lopez actually thank Finn Hudson – especially after a performance of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – is just atrocious. It says that in some ways, female characters don’t know what they really want – but luckily, male characters do, and at the end of the day, they know, or at least strongly suspect, that a lesbian’s sexuality is “just for fun” – at least, that’s what we’re supposed to interpret by the song choice.
Except that’s not the case.
Being thrown out of the closet is not fun. Not having a say in who sees a regional ad exploiting your sexuality for political gain is not fun. And all this being the result because Hudson was tired of Lopez making fun of him is not right.
So why did Glee play it like it is?
It’s hard not to blame the writer, Matthew Hodgson, for that, and the underlying taints of sexism reappear in most of his episodes. “I Kissed a Girl” implied that Hudson “knew best” for Lopez and decided it was time she accepted her sexuality (just on his terms, apparently…), “Saturday Night Glee-ver” had Rachel Berry confess to Hudson “what if your dreams are bigger than mine?”; “Glee, Actually” completely erased female will, and finally, we have “Shooting Star”.
Regrettably we do not have the post saved, so we cannot link to it, but a lovely individual once posed a rather interesting hypothetical question: was Becky portrayed as the shooter in the school shooting episode because Glee was fundamentally reluctant to portray a (preferably white, straight) male character as “the bad guy”?
It’s definitely something to chew over, and “Villains” in the Masterpost is a list of female villains compared to male villains. In this situation, we describe a “villain” as someone who is either in the way of a romantic pairing with the intent to sabotage them or is in the way of a character’s dream or ambition.
The female-to-male villain ratio stands at 11-6.
Glee is so often prone to making the female character to play the “bad guy”, while the male character “knows best”.
Let’s look over some of the villains, shall we?
Quinn Fabray was portrayed as a “bitch”, a “schizophrenic mess” and a vapid narcissist. What warranted those terms? Being in the way of alleged darling “Finchel”. Since Rachel Berry and Finn Hudson had to be the preferred darling, she had to be the “less attractive” option.
Terri Schuester was seen as a “crazy bitch” (season 1). Her crime? Standing in the way of Will Schuester and Emma Pillsbury.
Sue Sylvester is seen as a tyrant, though she is arguably a better coach and mentor than Schuester is. Irrelevant in Glee’s grand view of the world, though.
Santana Lopez is seen as a “bitch”, a “bully”. Her frequent target tends to be Rachel Berry or Finn Hudson, though Quinn Fabray and Kurt Hummel have also been on the receiving end.
Becky brought a gun to school (“Shooting Star”), because Glee was fundamentally opposed to the shooter being male.
Cassandra July bullied Rachel Berry in class (“The New Rachel”) and slept with Weston (“Glease”) before the writers decided that Weston had to be a worse option than Hudson.
Shelby Corcoran was the director of a rival high school, and used Jesse St James as a way to keep tabs on Rachel Berry and the Glee Club (“Dream On”).
Harmony was talented enough to make Rachel Berry question her talent – good thing Kurt Hummel – and later Finn Hudson – were there to prop up her self-belief!
Holly Holliday was arguably the better Glee Club coach than Will Schuester was, but she was also “crazy” (“The Substitute”, “Sexy”).
Brittany Pierce sold the set list to the rivals (“Sectionals”).
By contrast, we have the boys:
Brody Weston went from being seen as a generally “good” guy who simply wanted Berry to succeed at NYADA (“Britney 2.0). In return he was seen as a “stalker” and found himself being a personal escort (“Feud”, “Guilty Pleasures”).
- Sebastian Smythe was a threat to “Klaine”.
- Carl Powell stood in the way of “Wemma”.
- Nolan was trying to court Blaine Anderson back to Dalton.
- Jesse St James was a threat to Finchel, and loyal to Vocal Adrenaline, a lesser crime than the first.
- Kurt Hummel was texting Chandler, which apparently deserves public shaming more than actually cheating with someone you met on Facebook.
Section 3: Let’s Talk (And You Listen)
Before we start, another disclaimer: we don’t actually enjoy writing about Finchel. We don’t particularly enjoy writing about Finn Hudson, either, but Glee has a tendency of acting like the male character has the only say in a relationship, and so we have to talk about Finchel. It’s no more fun for me writing about it than it is for you having to read about it, but certain things have to be discussed whether we like it or not.
“Rachel and I are tethered,” Finn Hudson said to Quinn Fabray when he broke up with her in Season 2’s “Funeral”, and with those words, my blood pressure sky-rocketed.
“It’s okay,” I said to myself, “it’s okay, it’s okay, people know what a tether is, they will see it for the sexist statement that it is, there’s no way the Finchel fandom will latch on to this, everything will be okay.”
My prayers went unanswered, the Finchel fandom latched on it, and now we get to have a chat about why being tethered to someone isn’t quite the romantic notion Glee would like people to believe it is.
Because nothing is as important as a works cited page, perhaps we should take a look at what Merriam-Webster defines a tether to be. They have the following definition for it:
- something (as a rope or chain) by which an animal is fastened so it can range only within a set radius
- the limit of one’s strength or resources
Therefore, Finchel-vision aside, Glee is basically stating that Hudson considered his relationship to Berry as similar to an animal being tied up, or that it has a statute of limitations regarding strength and/or resources.
Hopefully you can understand why we’re not exactly swooning at either comparison.
On the one hand, it’s actually hard to make a concrete argument that the portrayal of Finchel’s relationship is sexist. But on the other hand it’s also hard to argue it isn’t. Finn Hudson considers Rachel Berry a possession (“Stay away from my future wife!”), even if she’s in a relationship with someone else.
This isn’t anything new. We already talked about how much “stay away from my future wife!” bothers us, because not only were Hudson and Berry broken up at the time, but she was also involved with someone else.
It wasn’t Hudson’s place to defend her honor, in some ways because her honor wasn’t being “violated” – yes, Weston wasn’t being completely honest about his activities, but he had the right to explain his position to Berry on his own terms. Hudson took that line of dialogue away from, less so because he cared about Berry, and more so because Berry was with someone else, and that just couldn’t do.
It was bad enough that Hudson considered Berry a possession, it was even worse that Berry didn’t a say in out this. Later, in “Guilty Pleasures”, she almost swoons in delight at finding out Hudson physically beat up her boyfriend, an odd line of dialogue considering in the same episode Glee condemned Chris Brown’s actions [So violence is okay when Hudson does it for Berry? Okay then…]
And the events of “Feud” and “Guilty Pleasures” aren’t the first time Hudson has ever decided that he simply knew Berry better than she did. This was also displayed in Season 4’s wedding episode, “I Do”, when he decided that he and Berry had “dangerous musical chemistry” (just not according to the charts…), and that they were “endgame”.
Berry was simply expected to swoon and nod appropriately. Hudson, after all, does know her better than she knows herself. He told her as much, just in case anyone would ever doubt that.
The trouble is Glee never actually challenged this premise of “Hudson owns Berry and she should accept that”. If Berry steps “out of line” as she did in Big Brother when she resisted the idea of moving to Los Angeles while Hudson literally cleaned pools, she was called selfish.
Hudson apologists will point that he later conceded he was wrong, and that Hudson was the one who put Rachel Berry on the train in “Goodbye”, and that’s actually part of the problem.
Berry rarely gets a say in her relationship with Hudson, because Glee constantly insists that he knows best in their relationship. She is expected to follow him, because he is a leader, because he is a hero, and because she is female and as such is apparently unable to make her own decisions.
Hudson explicitly used the pretense of marriage to get her on the train to New York. She didn’t have a say in her own future, because Hudson made the decision for her, which both sexist and nauseating. There wasn’t even the pretense of a conversation or dialogue between the two – Hudson put her on the train, and all Berry could do was sob her way through “Roots Before Branches”.
I want to write that their relationship is one-sided and as such an example of sexism, but it’s a little bit more complex than that, as abhorrent as I admit to finding Finchel. It’s one-sided to an extent, but there are still times when Rachel Berry puts her foot down, when she says no, that enough is enough (“The Break-Up”), and I want to hold on to that.
Sometimes, she doesn’t do what Finn Hudson wants her to do. Sometimes she doesn’t come crawling back, or if she does it’s with the message that this is the last time. Or she confesses to no longer crying over him.
Sigh. Rachel Berry, I do love you when you have a backbone, I just wish you would display it a little more when you’re with Finn Hudson. I wish you would say no and mean it, basically, because your tendency to go back on your word is giving me quite the complex.
But if her relationship with Finn Hudson is somewhat flawed, so is the representation of friendships on Glee, and this is something else worth talking about.
One of Glee’s favorite messages is that a male character has learnt (again and again) how to “become a man”. This was made nauseating clear in “Choke”, where if Rachel Berry choked on her audition and Shannon Beiste failed to leave her abusive husband, the male characters of Glee – unsurprisingly minus Kurt Hummel – banded together in a nauseating display of “manhood and bravery” to help Noah Puckerman pass his geography exam.
He still ended up failing the exam, but the message was clear – he was with men, who helped become a man, the opposite of what his deadbeat father was!
When male characters come together in a display of friendship, they make each other stronger. They make each other better, because they bring out Positive Attributes. They become Heroes and Leaders. They show each The Way.
It’s almost impossible to make the same argument for the female characters, whom so often result to sabotage (Marley Rose and Kitty Wilde “The Role You Were Born to Play”), backstabbing (Santana Lopez and Quinn Fabray prior to “I Do”), or general squabbling about love interests (Rachel Berry and Quinn Fabray, sometimes).
Fabray and Berry probably have the most interesting dynamic, as we talked about in their analysis, and in some ways are the closest female pairings the show could actually call a female friendship. They are flawed, yes, but they do believe in the best of each other (most of the time…), and there’s always that unspoken understanding that the other was meant for something greater than just staying in Lima.
Yes, their friendship is interesting, yes, it’s complex, but even their friendship is flawed. Its very roots lie in sabotage and infidelity, which make for a wonderfully tragic tale, but less a healthy relationship.
Subscribing to Glee’s philosophy of friendship regarding female characters is proving to be much harder than I thought it would. “Faberry” are probably the easiest example to talk about and yet we already have talked about them – we wrote almost 13,000 words on them, in fact, so I feel we should talk about something else, instead.
Like how I wish, just once, that female characters can be friends on the show for the sake of just being friends. That there is no competition involved (heyy Rachel Berry and Mercedes Jones), so superiority/inferiority complex (heyyy Tina Cohen-Chang/Rachel Berry), so feuding back and forth over anything from social hierarchy to not going through draws (heyy Rachel Berry and Santana Lopez).
I just wish there could be a case where you would have female characters just being friends because they like each other, not because they want to hurt the other or want something from the other. Friendship at is very core is mean to be unselfish, but Glee is incapable of writing female characters as anything but. They are meant to have solely their own best interests at heart, others pay the consequences of said selfishness.
Part 4: Teach Me (How to Run Glee Club)
Sometimes, when I go back and watch old Glee episodes, I wonder what would have become of the Glee Club if anyone other than Will Schuester was in charge of the show.
One of the main complaints we have with Schuester running the Glee Club is how often male characters get “protected” under his supervision, whereas female characters get thrown under the bus.
Schuester’s protection, and elevation, of Finn Hudson is well documented. If he has a tendency to encourage Hudson being portrayed as a hero, he is also quite quick to condemn female characters. He has blatantly “shamed” Rachel Berry for being selfish in her quest for solos.
If Schuester is also quick to provide guidance to male characters (Puckerman, Hudson, even Evans to an extent), female characters frequently get pushed aside. Quinn Fabray’s descent into post-partum depression at the beginning of season 3 was met with a scolding and ridicule.
He wasn’t “all” bad, and that’s actually why this section is proving to be a little bit more difficult to write than I had originally anticipated. He had his moments. He was there for Quinn Fabray in “Bad Reputation”, when he assured she would get her life back.
It was a quiet moment, just the two of them, but oddly touching as well. Fabray was so completely broken as she described her fall from grace and she just needed someone to reassure her she would be able to part the seas once more; Schuester was there for that. She was not the villain in that instance, she was a teenage girl whose life had fallen apart and just needed someone to believe in her again.
It was one of the few moments where Schuester wasn’t selfish. He wasn’t using a female character for his own ulterior motive, the way it’s so often implied when he calls Rachel Berry “selfish” for wanting a solo, and yet it is her vocal ability that bails them out come competition. I guess she’s only selfish when the stakes don’t involve winning something?
It’s strange, too, because he was oddly protective of Rachel Berry circa Season 1 when there was the ordeal with Shelby Corcoran, and yet there’s a cynical part of me that cannot help but wonder if the true reason Schuester wanted to protect Berry from Corcoran wasn’t to stop Berry from getting hurt but more because he was afraid that if they were to bond, Corcoran would lure Berry away to Vocal Adrenaline.
But if he was there for Fabray in that moment, I can list a handful of moments of when Schuester should have been there for a female student but wasn’t.
Going back to Fabray, her depression at the beginning of season 3 was significant, and yet Schuester simply lashed out at her, calling her selfish and self-centered, and claiming she had always had her own interests at heart. Yes, she had become a pawn in Sylvester’s plot, but we are also talking about a character who has shown remorse and mercy over crimes she hadn’t even committed, so the guilt trip was out of line at best.
And it’ll be impossible to talk about Schuester being out of line and not talk about his treatment of Mercedes Jones in Season 3, too, when she was subjected to a public humiliation as well on the grounds that she was being “lazy”.
It was a little bit of a bizarre storyline if only because while Jones had shown a sense of “entitlement” for lack of a better word (“people will just dance around me”), Jones has also never done something to suggest she simply didn’t care about practicing. Having Jones say the line “I over-slept” for a practice at 4.30 p.m. is puzzling if only because we’ve also never really had any indication that she would skip school altogether. She believes her talent is superior, sure, but not that she is above her high school education.
As we said before, Schuester’s treatment regarding bullying of his students is actually interesting when you take a look at it. He shows no real problem in belittling his female students, frequently calling Berry “selfish” for wanting solos and even expelling Santana Lopez for questioning her alliance to Glee Club, and yet he seems to protect his male students.
Blaine Anderson, for example, was never called “selfish” for having most of the male solos or male leads in group songs. Apparently the Glee Club can harass Rachel Berry, but harassing Finn Hudson is grounds for being sent to the principle of even being expelled.
The latter is actually worth having a quick chat about, even if it’s less a reflection on Schuester and more so a reflection on the school. The final scene of “Mash Up” in Season 3 had Lopez finally snap and slap Hudson for having outed her in the school hallway. At the beginning of “I Kissed a Girl”, Lopez is facing expulsion for having shown violent behavior, which the school had decided was strictly prohibited.
Okay, except that Hudson has displayed violent behavior in the past, when he beat up Noah Puckerman in the choir room (“Sectionals”), so why is beating up a male student not grounds for expulsion? Likewise, why is slapping a student grounds for expulsion, but not outing them against their will? Shouldn’t physical violence be held to the same standards as psychological violence?
Not that it matters, apparently, because no one, absolutely no one, held Hudson accountable for his morally reprehensible act. Schuester didn’t quite praise him in that instance but did later refer to Hudson as a “man” and even went so far as to imply it was Hudson who taught him how to be a man.
Nonetheless, it poses another question – if Schuester isn’t quite the ideal candidate to be in charge of Glee Club, then shouldn’t we have a look at some of the other candidates? By that, we mean let’s have a look at Sue Sylvester and Holly Holliday.
I’m not going to argue that Holliday or Sylvester were perfect leaders in Glee Club, because they were not. Holliday sought to please her students (“The Substitute”) and was prone to “prude shaming” (“Sexy”), Sylvester displayed tyrannical tendencies in the way she ran the Cheerios.
And yet they were also fair, in a way that both impresses me and makes me feel uncomfortable. I know not how to deal with that.
One thing Holliday did incredibly well was put the students at ease. I know from university – less so in graduate school – sometimes when there’s a substitute, there’s a tendency to “test” the limits, see just what you can get away. Holliday didn’t exactly stamp her authority on the Glee Club – they probably got away with more than they would have under Schuester – but they also had fun (“Forget You” performance).
There also wasn’t a sense of entitlement in the Club. The students were genuinely put first, as evidenced by Holliday’s duet with Rachel Berry (“Nowadays Hot Honey Rag” performance).
Rachel Berry just wanted someone to sing with her. Holliday played along with that. Sometimes it’s just about making sure the students feel comfortable.
And sometimes it’s about making students feel uncomfortable. A hockey coach once told his players “get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable” and it’s a philosophy that Sue Sylvester seems to subscribe to.
There are legitimate arguments as to why Sylvester would make a terrible coach/Glee Club leader, and they are not without merit. She did use borderline racist profiling to describe Jones, Chang, and Cohen-Chang in “Throwdown”.
She’s made comments we openly would admit we would rather she didn’t, but she was also driven and ambitious. Good coaches know how to build a competitive squad, and her Cheerios were exactly that – a competitive squad with legitimate ambitions for trophies.
She pushed her athletes because she liked winning. There are arguments she would, at times, push them too far for the sake of winning, of beating what she had done before, but there were also signs she knew where the lines were. She also, more or less, had her athletes best intentions at heart. Well… sometimes.
For all the ways Fabray’s pregnancy was mishandled on the show – the lack of consent being ambiguously addressed – it was also Sylvester who showed the most rational approach. She didn’t dismiss Fabray from the Cheerios as punishment for being pregnant so much as she was protecting Fabray’s health. She knew that a pregnant individual wouldn’t be able to survive the physical stress of being on the Cheerios.
Meanwhile, Schuester decided that Fabray could continue to dance and compete with Glee, to the point that Fabray’s water actually broke just after they finished competing at Regionals (“Journey”). Oh, okay, Glee.
Sylvester wouldn’t have necessarily put time aside to make her students feel welcome. But she would have pushed them, taught them how to win, and there wouldn’t have been an ulterior motive behind it. As a coach, Sylvester liked winning strictly because she liked winning. Schuester liked to win because he wanted to validate his choice of being Glee Club coach. It’s not quite the same thing.
Part 5: Links
Below is the list of individual performance breakdowns, as well as the Master Post.
Artie Abrams – Unique Adams – Blaine Anderson – Shannon Beiste – Rachel Berry – Mike Chang – Tina Cohen-Chang – Sunshine Corazon – Shelby Corcoran – Sam Evans – Quinn Fabray – Joe Hart – Holly Holliday – Finn Hudson – Kurt Hummel – Mercedes Jones – Santana Lopez – Ryder Lynn – Brittany Pierce – Emma Pillsbury – Jake Puckerman – Noah Puckerman – April Rhodes – Marley Rose – Will Schuester – Sebastian Smythe – Jesse St James – Sue Sylvester – Brody Weston – Kitty Wilde – Lauren Zizes.
As we said in the beginning, we doubt what you have just read is anything new. We’re not really saying anything that someone else hasn’t already said. And we know, too, that we will no doubt get the question of why we just wrote 7,000 words just to say “Glee has displayed sexist tendencies”.
So I guess as a conclusion I’m going to say why we just wrote what we did.
We’ve openly said that we like talking about things. We’re game for pretty much discussing anything, as long as it’s within reason. But we know, too, we’re just a blog, that our scope of influence is limited. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to discuss it.
We know Glee isn’t going to change. They are quite flippant about their own sexism, as evidenced by Cohen-Chang’s comment of “#gleehatesgirls”. Maybe they don’t, not really, but female characters are definitely subjected to different standards than male characters.
So again, dear reader, I can imagine you asking “so what?” or saying something along the lines of “Just get to the point already”.
And so our point is this – we know Glee is sexist. We know Glee isn’t going to change, and we know we are just a blog, that Occam’s Razor of Glee is not going to change the way Glee is portraying its actors.
We know all that.
But we also know there is the power of change, and maybe that’s why we just wrote what we did. Because maybe it’s not about us changing Glee, or fixing its sexism issue, but simply raising awareness about it. Maybe it’s something as simple as showing what sexism on a show looks like, and maybe if a reader sees it in a show, then they can see it in real life, be it in the work place or elsewhere.
Maybe it’s not so much as us saying the female characters on Glee deserve better so much as saying women in general deserve better.
Maybe it’s about equality, about fairness, about not being treated as if a woman is inferior to men.
Obviously, we know we’re not going to solve the problem of sexism on a blog about Glee.
But we can open a discussion about things, and maybe, just maybe, that’s a good enough place to start.