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Of Condoms and Cheesecakes: Female Discourse and Sexual Agency in The Golden Girls

by Ethan Tussey

by Thomas J West III for IN MEDIA RES

The clip shown here occurs during The Golden Girls episode entitled “Valentine’s Day,” in which the women, ostensibly dumped by their dates, reminisce about past Valentine’s Days. Here we see them ultimately embarrassed in their decision by an insensitive store clerk, as well as Blanche’s proud ownership of their active, responsible sexuality. This moment, situated in the midst of the women’s fond reminiscences with one another about their previous sexual escapades, highlights the subversive female sexuality and powerfully affective female bonding that form the ideological core of this proudly female-centered and feminist series. In her groundbreaking book Backlash, Susan Faludi argues that the elderly women of The Golden Girls occupy nonthreatening roles in the all-female space of the home. From her viewpoint, the series does not really work against the dominant backlash ethos since the home, and the women’s status as widows, serve as a means of containing them and their potential empowerment. I would argue, however, that rather than a site of containment or disavowal of feminism, the home—especially the kitchen—creates a speech community enabling strong and affective bonding between the four women and that this bonding allows them to attain agency through the sharing of their experiences of sexuality. Blanche’s proud declaration that the friends remain unashamed of their sexual activity enunciates a sense of pride in and unashamed possession of their sexuality that underscores their rebellion against the traditional patriarchal norms that attempt to prevent elderly women from expressing, still less enjoying, their bodies, especially in the public sphere. Furthermore, the framing of this incident within the women’s intimate conversations with one another—which are filled with genuine warmth and love— underscores the fact that the relationships between and among each of the them is ultimately more significant to the narrative thrust of each episode, and the series as a whole, than those with the men in their lives. As a postfeminist media ethos continues to proclaim that women can gain empowerment and agency through an insistent emphasis on the individual, sex, and consumerism, The Golden Girls provides an alternative vision of what female agency through sexuality can look like. Rather than rigorously focusing on the competition among and between women for the attention of men (though that does infrequently occur), these women consistently rely upon their relationships with one another over and above their relationships with men.

Golden Girls and Sex

A clip from Golden Girls

from Golden Girls (1985)
Creator: Susan Harris
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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