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Golden Sexism

The classic sitcom showcased a timeless argument.

When it's late at night, there's nothing better than cuddling up with your favorite sexy, senior ladies. Who are also known as The Golden Girls. As they fight, date, and eat cheesecake, you can imagine that you will be doing the same thing when you are their age. Hallmark has the marathons at night, and as I was deep into one, an episode struck me the wrong way. "Strange Bedfellows" took me out of my deep sleepy haze and got my brain to thinking: This episode exploited and exposed sexism to the highest degree. 

For those that are not familiar with this episode, let's do a little recap. Dorothy (Bea Arthur), Blanche (Rue McClanahan), and Rose (national treasure Betty White) are supporting a candidate for city council, Gil Kessler (guest star John Stuck). Sophia (Estelle Getty) doesn't like something about this guy and sets about finding out his secret. After a campaign event at their house, Gil leaves something behind. Blanche never wanting to touch a dirty dish, decides to take the papers to Gil. Reporters get pictures of her going into Gil's house and assume that the pair are having an affair. Rose and Dorothy assume that it's true because of Blanche's past, while Gil enjoys a bump in the polls. 

For the most part 80's sitcoms were not controversial and when they did take on controversial topics, they made sure that both sides were presented equally. Golden Girls did this admirably with hot topics such as gay marriage and AIDS. It was surprising to see that they would showcase such blatant sexism without offering a counter point. The episode itself is a fine example of comedy but for a show that prided itself on being on the cutting edge of social issues, it's remarkable that this one fell by the wayside. 

Think about this scenario: A male politician boasts about being inappropriate with a woman who is not his wife, and his poll numbers rise. While the woman in question is shunned by her friends and called a liar and a slut. This isn't Trump and Clinton that we're talking about here, it's Blanche and Gil. After the rumors ramp up that Gil is having an affair with an unidentified woman, who reporters later name as Blanche, heat up, he "confesses" that it's true. Suddenly, he is a contender to take one of the counsel seats. Blanche, on the other hand, has to defend herself. She tells people that she did not sleep with Gil, he isn't her type. But because of her past, even those closest to her believes the man, the lie over her. Just like Clinton's emails were part of her downfall but Trump's comments were brushed off as "locker room talk". Is there a sensitivity issue at play here?

Maybe there is. It does seem odd that with every other viewing of the episode, nothing had struck me as being sexist or off. Another point that needs to be made is that it is hard to believe McClanahan, Arthur, White, or Getty would play out an episode that they deemed to be offensive or putting their gender down in any way. These ladies were (and in the case of White, is still) strong women, who were very vocal about things that they did not like. More power to them, I say. They were on one of the highest rated TV shows and had amassed a certain amount of power by this time and I believe that they would have fought against this as hard as they could against something that was sexist. So why didn't they?

No one can know for sure. Maybe it's supposed to be a satirical take on sexism and how sex is viewed differently for men and for women. If that is the case, then I have to say for a show that was well known to have a bite, this feels like a cheap imitation. First Blanche has always worn her sexuality on her sleeve, and embraced it. In this episode, she runs from it, appalled that people would remember her conquests. That's not satire, it's bad writing. Then Dorothy and Rose believe a one off character, that was never seen again over their friend. In today's TV age, that would have required a larger arc about the friends reuniting after such a betrayal. In this episode BLANCHE apologizes and admits that her boasting ways was probably why her BEST friends didn't believe her. Nope, not buying it. Sorry. The sexism beast strikes again. This is not satire, it's about how women should be ashamed if they sleep with a man who is not their husband or boyfriend. If it's not sexism, why wasn't Gil in as much if not more trouble than Blanche? 

Maybe Susan Harris and Christopher Lloyd, the writers of this episode, thought they were doing something different. They were right of course, it is something different. It's certainly not the best episode of the series, though superior to the backdoor pilot for Empty Nest. You know the one I'm talking about. Maybe in the 80's an episode like this would have gone unnoticed, and certainly not caused any kind of stir. But in this heated, Trump era America, it doesn't resonate as funny. It comes across as a sad truth for the women of the country and world. This episode tells them they should be ashamed of their sexuality, that while the boys can do what they want, the females should remain chaste. And that my friends, is not comforting.