As someone who has witnessed her mother being choked by her father, using that action as a metaphor for intimate partner violence on Glee is sick.
Not only that, but in desperately trying and dismally failing to, for some reason, raise awareness of domestic violence (actually, I’ve decided I hate that phrase, so I’m taking to using the more all-encompassing “intimate partner violence”), Glee has gone back to its old ways by being especially misogynistic and racist.
The intimate partner violence storyline opens with Santana observing Coach Beiste’s black eye and remarking that “it looks like Mr. Beiste went all Chris Brown on Mrs. Beiste… [Did] Cooter put the smackdown on [her] ’cause [she] wouldn’t let him be on top?” Troublingly, women of colour Mercedes and Tina, and LGBTQ woman Brittany, all snicker. I wonder if the writers were aware (oh wait, this is Glee: of course they weren’t!) that African American women are 35% more likely to experience intimate partner violence than white women, 60% of Korean women have been beaten by their partners, and violence in same-sex relationships is gravely underreported and misunderstood.
Enter Cheerios co-coach and “black Sue”, Roz Washington, who overhears Santana’s bad taste musings. She tells the girls that “violence against women” and “men hitting women” is never okay, buying into the perception that women are the only victims in intimate partner violence. Granted, women are the overwhelming victims, but that’s not giving equal opportunity to non-heterosexual relationships (for shame, considering the abundance of LGBTQ characters on the show) and the fact that a woman can hit a man. Instead of insinuating that it’s intimate partner violence only that we should be concerned about, how about violence against women in general? Including rape.
Anyway, I’m sure the writers wanted Roz to mean well, but her racial and sexist slurs directed at Mercedes (“Lil Oprah”), Tina (“Asian Horror Story”), Sugar (“Rojo Caliente”) and Santana (“Salsa Caliente”) undermine this.
In a following scene, Sue coins the aforementioned nickname, “Black Sue”, for Roz, telling her that “ivory poachers could make a fortune selling your enormous white teeth on the black market”, and refers to Coach Beiste as John Goodman, perhaps insinuating that Beiste’s masculinity should have prevented her from being a victim. This way of thinking seems to be adopted by Santana, too, when she says she doesn’t think Coach Beiste actually got hit because she’s “a wall”. What if the roles were reversed and Beiste had hit Cooter, who is considerably smaller than Shannon?
The racial stereotyping continues when Roz admonishes the girls for their joke. As Autostraddle points out, Glee gave the “‘my aunt got beat up by her man’” monologue to the one black woman on the show,” claiming it took her five years to escape the relationship. It took my mum nigh on thirty to get out.
Shannon initially denies her husband hit her, but uses her experience to inspire the girls, who—up until this point— have never really had anything to do with the Coach, to sing a song about empowering women to leave abusive relationships. According to Sue,
“The American songbook is chock full of songs making light about men hitting women.”
Chris Brown, anyone?
Beiste is so moved by the girls’—who, again, she’s had nothing to do with up to now—apathetic show of indifference to intimate partner violence, that she confesses to them—jeopardising her reputation at the school (remember what happened the last time she got too close to McKinley students?)—that she was actually the victim of intimate partner violence, and that they effectively “saved her life”, because she forgot to do the dishes all weekend. Yes, perpetrators of intimate partner violence can be set off by the slightest thing, and we all know that beating the person you love isn’t the means of someone who’s mentally balanced, but dishes?! Glee, really?! If you’re going to make one of your characters, perhaps the most underutilised, exploited and maligned of them all, the victim of a serious issue like intimate partner violence that will never be addressed again, can you at least make it for a reason less trivial than dishes?!
Two realistic things to come out of the storyline, though: that Shannon stays with Cooter and gives him a second chance, and lies about it to Sue and the girls. And finally, that Beiste fears that if she leaves him, “no one else will ever love me”. Painfully sad, true to actual victims of intimate partner violence who are made to feel worthless and unlovable by their abuser, and ties in with a past storyline on the show!
Related: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Never Been Kissed” Episode.
My Thoughts on Chris Brown.
Elsewhere: [Women of Colour Network] Domestic Violence Facts & Stats Collection.
[Autostraddle] Glee Recap: Choke-a-Joke.
Image via Putlocker.