Tuesday, May 16, 2006


TV eats the brain or, the staying power of the word, "whore"

TV EATS THE BRAIN. Having said that, I am ready to admit my darkest secret: I am addicted to Grey's Anatomy. So what do they do for the season finale, but give us a two-hour show on a Monday night?!? There goes my brain... especially because, given my addictive personality, I can't actually turn OFF the TV, once it's on. I try, but I am powerless before its might. So, at 11:30, after a half hour spent with the unappealing women of (the watered down) Sex & the City, I found myself watching the first few minutes of Will & Grace. Then I remembered I could be watching the Leno monologue and turned the channel just in time.

However, I saw enough of W&G to witness this scene: Grace's new boyfriend drops by and meets Will briefly. As he's leaving, Grace gives him a huge smooch in the doorway -- it goes on for awhile. She is clearly into it. When the guy leaves, Grace turns to Will and says, "Oh, why do I always do that?" And Will, eyebrow raised, asks, "What? Act like a great big whore?" Canned laughter... "Move too fast," says Grace.

OK, we all know the issues about pace early in a relationship. But why, after all this time, is a woman who shows her sexual interest called a Great Big Whore? In Grey's Anatomy, Derrick/ McDreamy (the smarmy Patrick Dempsey) calls Meredith the W word, when he's the one who slept with her without even telling her he was married. (OK, so it's a soap opera. We knew that. But please remember, before you judge me, or call me a Great Big TV Whore, that I'm the one who admitted to my addiction at the start of this post...)

All this by way of asking, why the persistence of the word, "whore" to describe a sexual woman? I thought all these 20-something women were completely out there with their sexuality, it was all cool, they're taking pole-dancing classes as a way to stay in shape, they write erotica in their spare time -- I thought it was OK now for women to be into sex.

How naive was I? Sexual women must still be incredibly threatening to the culture as a whole, if the messages continue to come at us at such a rapid-fire clip, even on the so-called progressive shows like Grey's Anatomy and W&G. (I'm not even going to comment on hip hop culture here; that's a topic for another time.) Women must still be controlled with humiliations and put-downs. It's the old story. Nothing has really changed.

As an antidote, rent the sweet film, Saving Face, directed by Alice Wu. Women get to enjoy sex with other women, with younger men. There are repercussions within a highly conformist community, but the women are not blamed for their love and their passions. They are celebrated. Except for the couple of moments of bad indy rock on the soundtrack, it's a lovely film.

Wow, she finds time to be addicted to TV and to blog too! I'm impressed. But don't let you addiction leave you to draw too many conclusions about the world from shows like W&G. If in the real world young women are taking pole dancing lessons and you have taken it to mean that society has allowed women to be into sex (which I guess you could say, or you might also say that it's sexuality defined in a very male-centric way, since pole dances are the tools of strippers who entertain men, and therefore not really so much progress) then feel heartened by what's happening in reality and not by what's not happening in TV land. TV land has always lagged behind real life when it comes to cultural milestones. Which are such darn messy, one step forward two steps back kind of things (e.g. pole dancing as progress, or not).
Here's the moment when I get to be slightly huffy: for clarification, I'm not addicted to TV, I'm addicted to Grey's Anatomy... (of course, once the TV's on, it's very hard for me to turn it off).

OK, that's off my chest. Now - Anonymous makes several important points: Is women's new-found sexuality of their own creation, or is it more about (again) pleasing men? As Catherine McKinnon once said in a lecture I attended 25 years ago, how will we know if women are by nature more caring and relational until men get their feet off our necks? (She had just finished reciting the staggering statistics on sexual and domestic violence.) And so here: how can women experience their own sexual selves when male-created images of women's sexuality are so prevalent, are everywhere, saturate our senses thousands of times per day?

(Before anyone jumps down my throat about McKinnon, I don't agree with her 1980s approach to censoring porn.)

As to whether TV follows the culture or vice versa, we can debate it endlessly. But GLAAD did publicize a study by the University of Minnesota (I'll find the link) demonstrating that watching positive portrayals of gays and lesbians on TV reduces homophobia. So it's not irrelevant. But we sure have a long way to go in both realms.
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