Monday, February 16, 2015

No Wonder I Have Internalized Misogyny


So they recently put five seasons of M*A*S*H on Netflix. I was extremely excited at first, as it was one of my favorite shows growing up. My parents used to watch it all the time, and it grew on me. It was old enough to be pretty clean, as far as my parents were concerned, and with enough goofy humor for a kid to enjoy.

I must have seen just about every episode.

Watching it now, as an adult and a top-notch humorless feminist out to ruin everything for everybody, I'm a little horrified that my parents let me watch it. Or that they watched it without a critical word for it.

M*A*S*H first aired in 1972, so no, I'm not surprised that it's full of sexism. Or that it's slathered in 100 gallons of white savior complex. The show addresses racism quite a bit, being set in South Korea during the Korean War. The main protagonist, Captain Hawkeye Pierce (yes, a white character nicknamed after a Mohican), demonstrates himself to be anti-racist, though of course not above racist jokes and stereotyping. There are many episodes where he messes with racists, up to and including ruining their military careers, and goes out of his way to help North Koreans who have been wounded when they're labeled as "the enemy" and other characters don't want to operate on them or whatever.

There are also episodes where Hawkeye and his friends bump up against South Korean customs and the misogyny within the culture. I've already gone through one episode where he rescues a South Korean woman from her family, which wants to sell her off as a slave again after Hawkeye wins her in a poker game with the intention of immediately freeing her. Hawkeye "teaches" her to be independent and think for herself and so on, and she refuses to go back to her family to be sold and ultimately joins a Catholic convent. Okay.

This reeks of white savior complex, especially since Hawkeye treats the women on the compound horribly. He's a clear misogynist and frequently sexually assaults women. All of this, of course, is brushed off as him being a "ladies' man." He's not the only character to do so, of course, and voyeurism is commonly used as a joke throughout the series.

What I found most disturbing was in the first season. I haven't seen much of it after the first few episodes, though I've yet to go through all of what's on Netflix. There are multiple scenes in which Hawkeye is straight up wrestling with a nurse, attempting to hold her down or make her kiss him. And it's not playful. The look on Hawkeye's face can only be described as violent. He's not smiling, rather grimacing as he's trying his hardest to force himself on the nurse. He looks like he would if he was having a genuine fight, like he was trying to hold down a belligerent patient in the middle of the operating room..

It's completely fucked up. These are scenes of sexual assault, and I viewed them as a child. It's hard to say how young I was when I might have first seen this shit, but I never heard a peep from my parents on it. This was all passed off as normal. Most of the time, when the nurse manages to slip away, Hawkeye will then make a face or a funny pose and the laugh track sounds. In one episode, a nurse says that she wears her wedding ring to "cut down on wrestling matches."

Basically, in the Korean War and during the 70's when the show was being filmed, women were frequently dealing with sexual assault and what looks like attempted rape, and it was brushed off as a normal, everyday nuisance, like fighting with a broken drawer.

This is the shit that was normal for my parents' generation. So normal that it never occurred to them to sit me down and explain that any man who would do something like that to a woman is a criminal, and nobody is allowed to lay a hand on me without my consent.

Yet I so often have to deal with bros who try to tell me that sexism is over. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahaha no. Serious, dangerous sexism was taught to me and my generation. Millennials grew up with parents who watched this kind of thing. This is why sexual assault is still such a problem, and why so many are so resistant to the idea of affirmative consent.

This is why I had to come to terms with the fact that there's a strong link between sex and violence in my mind. Why setting boundaries is so hard for me. And it's going to take so many more generations to undo the damage. Sexual assault is still used as a joke to this day. And I'm not even talking about rape jokes.

There were a lot of ways in which M*A*S*H was ahead of its time, and many reasons why you could call it a great show. Yet it's still stuffed so full of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Let's think about that.


Lkeke said...

I watched this show as a teen. I don't remember the episode you're describing but I do remember not liking Hawkeye very much sometimes because of the way he behaves towards the nurses and I do remember that line from the nurse about wearing her wedding ring.

I remember feeling a great deal of impatience about Houlihans constant efforts to catch a man. I found that part of the show exceptionally annoying and any episode that focused on her, I tried to make an effort to skip.

But the one that stands out the loudest in my memory, is the one where the Asian nurse (she may have been of Korean heritage. I'm not sure, but she was American though), called out Hawkeye on his treatment of her. . Hawkeye was supposed to have a date or something with her and She chastised him for never exchanging more than ten words with her, the entire time she worked in the camp. She called him out on his fat prejudice, because she believed he only spoke to White women, who he found sexually attractive and she wasn't anything like those women. That episode had a profound effect on me and my thinking about femininity and sexuality.

I do remember being very angry that he decided to give her some kind of pity dance or something at the end as if that would solve the problem between them.

Lkeke said...

Oddly enough, it wasn't so much the fat prejudice that really touched me. It was this idea, that the only time a woman is considered worthy of a mans time or attention, is if he's physically attracted to her. Since I'm a real stickler for courtesy, I think it was the idea that as long as someone isn't physically attractive to them, they can be as rude as they want.

I think I was only about fourteen when I saw that episode and it was a thought that had never occurred to me before but sometimes explained why some guys would be nice to me but not other girls nearby and nice to other girls, yet completely ignore me, even if I was standing right there. That used to always piss me off and watching that episode made me understand why I was mad.