I’m a little late on writing about the last episode of Gossip Girl — and perhaps you’ll all laugh at me for admitting that I watch Gossip Girl in the first place — but some folks are arguing that my favorite guilty pleasure has morphed into an example of retro morality and slut-shaming (and apparently not all of them think that’s a bad thing).
Warning: This post contains spoilers.
The last episode of GG did contain its fair share of slut-shaming — Blair’s fall from grace in particular is illustrative. It’s also interesting, as others have pointed out, that during the two pregnancy scares abortion isn’t mentioned once. Rufus panics about his son being a teen father; Serena even tells Blair that she needs to take a pregnancy test to find out if her and Chuck “are having a baby.” The only thing that so much as hints at abortion is when Dan tells Serena he loves her and that he’ll support her in whatever she decides to do.
Birth control also isn’t exactly applauded. When Blair and Serena have their requisite fight-of-the-episode, Blair’s most stinging insult is something along the lines of, “Well not all of us have been on the pill since we were 15.” She also brings up Serena’s bad reputation, which apparently comes from sleeping with whoever she wants. And when Serena and Dan have sex, birth control isn’t discussed. Rufus reminds his son to be careful, but that’s about it. There’s discussion about the preparation for sex, with Serena talking to Blair about whether or not her and Dan should talk about it before they do it — but the conclusion Serena draws is that talking about it is unromantic. And then when Dan and his whole family think Serena is pregnant, no one asks about birth control. Chuck the rapist, however, tells Serena that he used a condom when he had sex with Blair.
On its face, Gossip Girl is pretty bad when it comes to sex. But I don’t think that’s the whole story.
The abortion issue is obviously problematic and, to me, the least realistic aspect of the show. With leading characters who are heading off to places like Yale and Brown, in a place where reputation is everything, abortion would at least be discussed, if not assumed. But I suspect that the non-treatment of abortion in the show is more a function of network conservatism than anything else, and GG certainly wouldn’t be the first melodrama to eschew reality in favor of not alienating advertisers. So, it sucks, but that explains that.
The slut-shaming, though, is an interesting tool. The two sluttiest characters are Serena and Chuck, although Serena’s promiscuity is only talked about (not seen) and Chuck’s various attempts at sexual assault are used to make the viewer despise him. The attacks on Blair for being “a pregnant little hypocrite” come across as cruel and disproportionate; Chuck’s comment to her that she’s like one of his dad’s Arabian stallions (“ridden hard and put away wet”) is absolutely foul; and Nate’s anger at her for doing the exact same thing he did (sleeping with the best friend) also comes across as a little hypocritical. The message doesn’t seem to be, “girls who have sex are awful.” It’s more like, “These people who are attacking girls who have sex are awful.” That said, the show certainly does drive home the point that the “wrong” kind of sexual activity — i.e., sex outside of a Very Serious Relationship — has social consequences. Unfortunately for a lot of young women, that’s true. What I got out of the show, though, wasn’t disapproval of the sex — it was disgust at high school politics where everyone is a hypocrite and shaming young women for having sex is just one more way to keep them in line. While the writers are certainly sympathetic to most of the main characters, they aren’t quite so kind of the lifestyle and social class they’re critiquing. The “sex will ruin your reputation” bit struck me more as a swipe at the social rules and a criticism of the cruel desire to see the perfect mean girl get taken down. Because it doesn’t work in making us dislike Blair — it makes us feel for her. Same whenever Serena’s past is brought up — and interestingly, she never apologizes for it, even as she emphasizes that she’s changed. Dan, the ultimate Good Guy, never brings it up and doesn’t really seem too concerned with it — the one one exception of being nervous to lose his virginity to a girl who might think he sucked in bed. But that was about his shit, not hers. The sexually judgmental, on the other hand — Chuck, Blair’s former girl crew — are all villains.
Is the morality a little retro? Sure. But the show strikes me as more of a critique of the hypocrisy of that morality, not an affirmation of it.
…and I can’t believe I just spent that much time writing about Gossip Girl. Anyway. Do any of you watch it? It’s certainly not a feminist show by any stretch, but what do you think?
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