It started two weeks ago.
Don’t get me wrong – I was sold on Glee from the moment I first heard those acapella strains of Don’t Stop Believin’ in the promo spots for the premiere this Spring. Musical theater + camp aesthetic + high school + Journey = The Key to Jaclyn’s Heart. There was never any doubt that I would love this show.
But I had no idea how much I would love the show’s sexual politics. This is a show – a hit show, no less, picked up for a full season in record time – in which the villain (Quinn) is president of the Chastity Club (motto: "It’s all about the teasing, and not about the pleasing"), and it’s one of the things that makes her lame and annoying. Where the teen heartthrob male lead (Finn), rather than being smooth and sexually in control at all times, has an ongoing problem with premature ejaculation. And in which our awkward, try-hard adolescent heroine (Rachel) announces to the aforementioned Chastity Club, in one of the best moments of network television in the history of ever, "You want to know a dirty little secret that none of them want you to know? Girls want sex just as much as guys do." I had to pause my Tivo so I could cheer out loud.
And that was all just the second episode. It would have been thrilling enough if it were just a one-off theme, but last week we started exploring the impact of abstinence-only ed, when Quinn discovers she’s pregnant, even though she & her boyfriend Finn are both theoretically virgins. When Finn asks how this could be possible, she tells him that a teacher told her that it must have happened when they were making out (clothed) in a hot tub and he accidentally came. And he buys it, because he has no actual sex education to fall back on. (For the record, it’s nearly if not entirely impossible to impregnate a woman by ejaculating into your own bathing suit while you’re both in a hot tub, as chlorine and heat are not friends to sperm).
Turns out she’s lying – she’s pregnant by Finn’s best friend, Puck. And you know why she had sex with him? Because he "got [her] drunk on wine coolers and [she] felt fat that day." Which is exactly what happens when we teach girls that they mustn’t want, pursue or have sex, and therefore refuse to help them develop a healthy sexual identity. When girls feel bad and secretive about wanting sex, they can become vulnerable to emotional manipulation and coercion.
What follows is heartbreaking – both Finn and Quinn are devastated by the news, as they know all-too-well that having a baby when you’re a teenager makes it a lot harder to pursue your dreams and more likely that you’ll live in poverty. And Glee demonstrates all of this – the hypocrisy, the disinformation, and the resulting damage to numerous lives – in a sly shiny addictive package that makes viewers feel smart and included, not lectured.
Of course, Glee has its faults. I don’t blame them for not making Quinn’s character consider abortion – that would be pretty out-of-character for the president of the Celibacy Club. But I do blame them for succumbing to the dangerous trend of not saying the word abortion (here, the phrase "Planned Parenthood" is used instead.) And while the show has been genius on gay issues (this past week’s coming-out-arc for queer Glee-er Kurt was delicious, delicate, different, and devastatingly well-acted by everyone involved, up to and including his dad and the entire football team), I wish I could give it better reviews on race. Sure, the women of color in the Glee club are at least starting to get solos now, but their characters are still little more than underdeveloped sidekicks to the universally-white leads. (Dear show creator Ryan Murphy: this must be rectified, and soon, because I really want to keep loving your mostly-awesome show. Kthnxbi.)
Still, hot on the heels of the deeply virginal High School Musical, it’s awfully refreshing to see a high school musical that’s both realistic and optimistic about teen sexuality. Glee clearly believes that teenagers can make healthy decisions about sex if they’re given the right support and information – and that’s why I, for the most part, believe in Glee.