The Good, The Bad And The Slutty: The State Of Sexually Aggressive Women On Television
To be clear, slut is not a term I use in regards to other woman. It just isn’t. Nor is “slutty.” The only reason that term is at all interesting or applicable here is the way in which sexually aggressive behavior is being portrayed and categorized on television. In the past, in both sitcoms and dramas, we’ve seen the TV trope of “The Slut.” Not empowered or at all admired, these women were known for tight clothing, promiscuous behavior and generally played for laughs or, ultimately, existed to be punished. But in this day and age, that kind of portrayal of women is (and should be) taboo and the word “slut” used only by backwards Tea Partiers and ignorant Twitterati. That being said, the trope of the sexually aggressive woman hasn’t gone away, it’s just changed. For the most part. And, to reiterate, I make no judgment or criticism of the way in which any actual woman lives her life. It’s hers to live, not mine. It should also be said that the following discussion and images are, in my opinion, safe for work, but your (or your boss’s) opinion may vary. You’ve been warned.
Jane Kerkovich-Williams — “Happy Endings”: The most sexually rapacious and aggressive character on this show is Eliza Coupe’s Jane. There’s zero slut-shaming going on here. Jane and her husband are consistently portrayed as partners. Jane is educated, successful and likable. As the Penny character pointed out this season, Brad and Jane are different from the sexually neutered married couples you see on TV.
Tammy II — “Parks and Recreation”: Here Tammy’s sexual aggression is destructive. When she manages to sexually ensnare her ex-husband she does so with the intent to ruin him. Mullally is a fantastic comedic performer and there’s an added level of joy in seeing her spark off her real-life husband Nick Offerman. But her mature sexuality is contrasted with Leslie’s more childish lust for Ben (e.g. cute, but young-seeming comments about his bum) and Tammy’s sexuality is never painted in a good light. This being a sitcom, I’m pretty confident creator Michael Schur is not out to make grand, sweeping statements about female sexuality. But what I appreciate most about Tammy is that her sexuality is not the only weapon in her arsenal. She’s smart and cunning. She may be evil, but her manipulations come in many colors and flavors.
Angie — “New Girl”: Olivia Munn’s stripper character has only appeared in two episodes so far this season, but in last night’s episode her sexual aggression was portrayed as equivalent to “fearlessness.” (They said as much several times in case you missed it.) However, I don’t know that having sex in the middle of someone’s holiday party is devoid of rudeness. My feelings about Angie are muddied a bit by my feelings for Munn herself who, until this year, was someone I wrote off as opportunistically sexy. (Which, as a woman, I really hate saying about another woman…see my comment above.) But I’m on record as saying that Munn’s performances in both “The Newsroom” and Magic Mike changed my mind about her. She’s got great comedic timing (see, for example, the bit when the “New Girl” crew was all trying to sidle out of a party unnoticed). Would I rather she not be a stripper? Would I rather her reunion with Nick didn’t involve her gyrating for him? I guess I would. I don’t know what that says. She’s pretty cute here.
But I prefer her here.
Shelley — “American Horror Story”: Shelley’s nymphomania was played for both laughs and histrionics. The suffering of the “slut” is a well-worn horror cliche. And Ryan Murphy is a sucker for a well-worn horror cliche. Just the same, Shelley’s fate is disproportionately horrific compared to all the other characters on the show. What’s that about? I think, often, Murphy gets credit for “American Horror Story” being a send-up of the horror genre (a la Cabin In The Woods). But is it? Or is he just trotting out what we’ve seen for decades, albeit with better performances and higher production values.
Jessa — “Girls”: Jessa started out as one of my favorite characters. While she wasn’t any less of a mess than the other women on the show, her sexual rapaciousness seemed a good thing. It was part of her confidence. By season’s end, confusingly, she was married to Chris O’Dowd’s unappealing yuppie. Yeah, the same guy she lobbed the quote below at. What’s going on with Jessa? What are we meant to think about her marriage? Her sexuality? Her future?
I’m not any sort of authority on sexual aggression, obviously. I blurred out the anatomical word above for fear of offending. And as a liberal, adult woman, the idea of condemning any sexual behavior feels uncomfortable to me. Do what you want when you want where you want. In the words of Jessa (or, more accurately, Lena)…