I have been enjoying the series America In Primetime on SBS for the past few weeks, but since watching it, something has stuck in my “craw” (ew).
It’s not just the deficit of female writers depicted. We get it, the patriarchy, whatever. They did a whole episode on the feminist movement as played out in American sitcoms. We’re getting there (I guess).
But then there was the whole televisual glorification of the slacker. The apathetic individuals who make an art out of doing nothing. Judd Apatow, Jerry Seinfeld, Beavis and Butt-Head, Judd Apatow. All definitely, repeatedly, male. And I thought, where are the woman slackers?
Women in primetime sitcoms are rarely slack. Even when we (our fictionalised television versions) get equal rights at work, sexual liberty, capri pants et cetera, we can’t use these newfound freedoms to spread out on the couch and eat a tub of yoghurt. Mary Tyler Moore is carving out a career, Lucy is busily fleeing Ricky, and Liz Lemon is trying to “have it all”. Sookie Stackhouse is fighting vampires, then fighting for vampires, then fighting werewolves AND vampires, all while holding down a waitressing job at Merlotte’s. Not one of these characters is wearing a Metallica t-shirt and saying “huh-huh” a lot. Not one female Butt-head!
Our only female slacker role model in American sitcom-land is Elaine Benes. Ah, Elaine. Hanging out with Jerry, George and Kramer, talking about nothing. The same thing, year in, year out. As far as I can tell, she was never too concerned with climbing the career ladder (wasn’t she kind of a butler for a while?) and she floated in and out of relationships (classic quote to on-again-off-again boyfriend Putty: “That’s it. We’re broken up for the rest of today”).
But Elaine was a slacker in a show that abounds with slackers; she is easily eclipsed by George Costanza. Easily. Even at her least ambitious, Elaine cannot compete with George’s effortless lack of effort.
The slacker is celebrated in plenty of primetime shows – The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Cheers (I mean, Norm and Cliff, come on, get out of the bar once in a while) – but he is dominantly male. Female characters are either satellites around the male characters (Marge flusters around Homer, cleaning up his messes) or they are only given independent status if they are hyper-driven, alpha-females with no time to be slobs.
I say, hey, Patriarchy, stop boxing me in. Quit hemming in my horizons. People always talk about the glass ceiling, well, what about the glass floor? Underneath my feet is a scungy basement filled with Seth Rogens and young Keanu Reeveses, enjoying a life of unabashed apathy, never questioning their right to play video games all day and eat Doritos. I can see this life: I can almost taste the cheese-flavoured dust on my fingers. But I can’t break through this floor. Society keeps urging me ever upwards, demanding ever more ambition and hard work; exhorting that I prove my gender made the right decision to agitate for the vote and equal rights. I must prove this by excelling at all aspects of my life. But what if I don’t want to be a doctor? Or a working mum? Or even working?
What if I want to be a slacker?
Equal rights, baby.