Friday, July 16, 2010

Constructs of Masculinity and Femininity in an Episode of Glee

In Glee, a television show about a group of misfit high school kids brought together by a newfound glee club, masculinity and femininity are displayed in every character.  Kurt Hummel portrays an excellent blend of these two gender roles. The episode “Preggers” shows how he deals with the pressures of conventional societal beliefs and fitting into high school. It portrays the way he feels the need to conceal the person he really is.  Kurt attempts to exude typically masculine and heteronormative traits to hide his true non-normative identity.

Kurt displays masculine traits in order to prove to his father that he is truly a male according to the patriarchal system. When Mr. Hummel walks in on Kurt recreating a Beyonce video with Brittany and Tina, two other members of the Glee club, the three glee kids quickly come up with an excuse for the way Kurt is dressed as to encourage the masculine idea already in his father’s head. They claim he is in an exercise outfit used by the football team that he has recently joined.  The football team represents the competitiveness and aggression that Mr. Hummel expects from his son.  Kurt takes this to the next level when he actually does try out for the football team to continue to please his father’s patriarchal view. 

Patriarchy is the male-dominated societal structure that is present in today’s society.  In patriarchy, things that are defined as masculine, like toughness, are seen as favorable, and feminine traits, like emotion, are seen to be unfavorable.  Since patriarchy has “manhood and masculinity most closely associated with being human” (Johnson 94), Kurt feels as though he must comply with society’s ideas. He is attempting to conform to that belief so he can be what is expected.  

 Additionally, when asked about a girlfriend, Kurt claims that Tina is his significant other to appease the heteronormative assumption his father has made.  He hides his true identity in “the closet” to prevent any disappointment or embarrassment it may bring.  Because society feels that anything other than a heterosexual relationship is inappropriate, Kurt feels the need to let certain members of his community believe he is conforming to the heteronormative society.

Heteronormative is the acceptance that a heterosexual relationship and sexual identity is the standard in society.  Newman argues that, “social institutions and social policies reinforce the belief” (60) that heterosexual is normal.  Because they are considered normal, “heterosexuals are socially privileged” (Newman 61). Kurt seems to act with this ideology, and against what he really feels is his identity to avoid ridicule. 

At the end of the episode, Kurt finally tells his father that he is really gay.  His father admits he had known, but also confesses that it is going to be an adjustment.  The way Mr. Hummel refers to Kurt’s sexual identity as an adjustment suggests that it is not a normal situation for which a parent would cope.  This needed modification agrees with the ideology of a heteronormative society. The way Mr. Hummel addresses his reaction is accepting but unaccustomed to the idea because it would not be an expected situation.  Johnson argues that in a heteronormative society, “patriarchal heterosexuality is ‘natural’ and same-sex attraction is not” (95).  Mr. Hummel’s reaction reinforces this idea. 

In order to continue the masculine charade, Kurt does try out, and make the football team.  During his time on the team, the other players continually use gay slurs with each other.  Although none of them seem to be specifically pointed at Kurt, his blatant disappointment and discomfort is evident in his face.  He does not stand up for the sexual orientation he secretly identifies with because he does not want to be ridiculed. He knows that his fellow players do not consider being gay as masculine.

The slurs used in this episode are primarily focused at characters that do not identify with the group being blemished.  According to Newman, this makes “slurs become more pejorative” (76).  But because they become offensive to those not involved in the group, does not mean they stop being offensive to the ones that are identified with that group.  Kurt was still offended even though the slur was not meant to do so.  He also could not show his offense because that would be letting his peers know that he is gay.  Newman argues that staying in the closet is a way to “avoid interpersonal rejection and social discrimination” (61).  This is displayed in Kurt’s secretive identity, and explains a reason to keep his uniqueness to himself. 

Although he aims to hide his true identity behind masculine traits, Kurt has many characteristics that would be considered feminine.  He loves singing and dancing, which are typically feminine occupations.  He attempts to bring the football team together by teaching them the same Beyonce dance as the beginning of the episode. But because dancing is not considered masculine, the rest of the team makes it difficult for him to complete the task. He has taken up occupations and hobbies that would not typically be considered masculine.  Mary F. Rogers explains activities “widely considered inappropriate for people of a given gender” (96) are called non-normative occupations.  As showed by the resistance of the football team, dancing would be considered a non-normative occupation.  

Additionally, Kurt continually grooms himself and is extremely interested in fashion and being beautiful.  He is always seen in different outfits and looking at himself in the mirror. Kurt is portrayed to be a very feminine man attempting to be masculine. He is shown time after time grooming himself with different skin care products, hairstyles, and make-up. According to the patriarchal view of society, beauty is a feminine trait.

Another feminine trait that Kurt entails is emotions.  He wears his emotions on his sleeves, which is also considered to be a feminine trait.  When his father comes to his first football game, Kurt shows his utter excitement by jumping up and down and waving. A masculine person would be tough, protective, and aggressive.  However, Kurt seems to truly portray the opposite while he is not fully committed to his charade.

Kurt Hummel attempts to hide his many feminine traits and non-normative sexuality behind society’s view of typical masculinity. He has a sense of heteronormativity and the patriarchal view of masculinity.  The pressure of that society and his father pushes this cover.   Kurt displays an excellent blend of the masculine and feminine traits displayed in Glee.

Works Cited

Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple UP, 1997. 91-8. Print.

Newman, David M. “Manufacturing Difference: The Social Construction of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 30-70. Print.

Newman, David M. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality in Language and the Media.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 71-105. Print.

“Preggers.” Glee. Fox. WNYW, New York. 23 Sept. 2009. Television.

Roger, Mary F. “Hetero Barbie?” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2003. 94 – 7. Print.