Well, Mercedes, in answer to your question…

20 Apr

Today I was watching one of my favorite shows, Glee, with some of my favorite feminist peeps (as per usual on a Tuesday). I am fully aware of the issues many feminists and activists have with the show, and bitch magazine has done a great job of complementing my fanatic consumption of all things Glee with their fierce feminist criticism, and I am ever so grateful for this.

This post is not going to be all too long, I don’t think, because I just want to comment really quickly on a clip from tonight. Too bad I can’t find it online yet. The basic gist of it is (and I don’t think this is too much of a spoiler if you didn’t see tonight’s episode, but in case you’re worried, wait until you watch it) that Mercedes and Rachel are in a car talking about solos, divas, and R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

I’m going to have to ad-lib a bit, but the conversation basically the scene from Glee went like this:

Mercedes: Why don’t I get as many solos as you do?

Rachel: Blah blah blah its about how much you want it blah blah blah you have to demand respect blah.

I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what Rachel said here, because my commentary with my friends was happening over her little speech about how she wants to be in the spotlight more than anything else in the world as an explanation of why she gets more solos than Mercedes.

Here is what happened in my living room:

Mercedes: Why don’t I get as many solos as you do?

Me: Institutionalized racism

Aimee: Fatphobia

Alex: I love you guys

[Insert high five of feminist critical analysis here]

This is the thing. I realize that Glee is “just a show” and that the characters exist within a fictional universe where the realities of our culture don’t necessarily have to exist. However. The people who are writing the show are living in our society, writing about life in high school in our society, and pandering to entertainment executives and a consumer population deeply embedded and implicated in our society. The characters of Glee, like us, sit at the crossroads of many social institutions and structures, constructions of identity and subjectivities. This is why I had to cut Rachel off. (Well, as much as I could without muting Glee, because that would be blasphemous.)

Mercedes does not get as many solos as Rachel because she is a) a woman who is b) black and c) fat and not ashamed (and yes, I am including the episode where she experiments with dieting and experiences body insecurity because all of our experiences with our bodies are nuanced and full of shades of gray). Unlike Lauren Zizes (or just “Zizes,” as she is known on the show), who has been allowed to have a sexuality and a relationship with a popular, attractive football player, Mercedes has also not had any romantic entanglements beyond a crush on Kurt, her gay friend, and a fleeting conversation with a  random guy who only appears in one or two episodes after Kurt suggests she pursue him (she responds, at first, and for good reason, “Is it just because he’s black?”). I would suggest that part of this is because Zizes was already posited as a deviant female character in one of the first episodes (as the female wrestler who broke gender boundaries at McKinley High), and performs a deviant form of feminine sexuality (forward, confident, aggressive, body positive). Zizes is also white, and her identity as fat has been central to her character development.

Mercedes is supposed to exist outside of her size (now that she’s no longer trying to be a Cheerio) and outside of her race (except for passing comments like Kurt’s “I’m gay, she’s black, we make culture.”), so those cannot be reasons she doesn’t receive the same opportunities for solos as Rachel (thin, neurotic, Jewish). But, if we’re looking at Glee through a feminist lens that demands a position at the intersections, we have to call that out.

Rachel’s suggestion that Mercedes just doesn’t want it enough, or has too many other interests in her life other than the “spotlight,” puts the blame on Mercedes instead of a Glee club that reflects certain racist and sizeist aspects of patriarchal culture. I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of arguments about minorities’ ability to gain employment, succeed in school, and escape the “cycle of poverty” and the welfare system. If only these populations would try harder, and really want it, they, too could occupy the place in society they desire. These arguments not only deny but render invisible considerations of race, class, and other factors in access and opportunity in our society. There are structural mechanisms of oppression that allow certain people, more reflective of the hegemonic masculine ideal, access to opportunities (or solos) while keeping others, quite literally Othered, in their hierarchical place.

Phew.

By the way, I still love Glee. Have you seen this new Warblers CD?!

Love and Solidarity,

G

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