Slutsky & Bitchin' | Token feminism message of 'Fleabag' and 'Russian Doll' is as woke as a narcoleptic on Ambien

By all accounts, 2019 has been great for show's branding themselves as "feminist", targetting all demographics from 'Fleabag' to 'Mrs Fletcher to 'Dollface'. Join Slutsky and Bitchin', who provide a no-holds-barred weekly feminist take on pop culture and media.


                            Slutsky & Bitchin' |  Token feminism message of 'Fleabag' and 'Russian Doll' is as woke as a narcoleptic on Ambien
'Fleabag' still (Amazon Prime)

Slutsky: It's a new year, Bitchin'. I hope this year measures up to last year's glut of good TV. So many shows that weren't scared to be described as "feminist".

Bitchin': You are easily pleased. Which ones are you talking about?

Slutsky: Well 'Fleabag' to start with. "A dirty, pervy, angry, messed-up woman can make it to the Emmys.” I am quoting Phoebe Waller-Bridge here. I mean all of last decade we had a cottage industry going for flawed but charismatic men on TV. But a woman as a flawed protagonist in a hit, award-winning series? Come on, that's progress, right? 

Bitchin': Yawn. Sure, messy women, angry women, porn-obsessed women, girl squad-obsessed women. They were quite a few shows that branded themselves feminist. 'Mrs Fletcher', 'Dollface' took up that label too. I mean, who wouldn't? Feminism is "trending" after all. 

Slutsky:  And you don't approve? 

Bitchin': It's a question of whose feminism, right? Take 'Fleabag'. Take that moment in the confessional booth. Where she sobs about wanting someone to tell her what to do, of not having to make choices anymore. 

Slutsky: Yes, sure. It puts a spotlight on women who have to be strong, brave and perfect all the time as "strong" women. 

Bitchin': But hello, she is also privileged enough to have the choice to bemoan having choices. And that's a laugh since most women from less privileged backgrounds don't have the luxury to be bad or messy or pervy. Especially women of color, like me. They don't have the wealth or race privileges to cushion them after they have been "bad". And, at the core of it, feminism is about women having a choice -- how is wanting to regress into infantilism a sign of feminism?

Slutsky: Ok, what about Mrs. Fletcher then. Kathryn Hahn was fabulous in that one and it is about the female protagonist finally exercising her choice to fully explore her sexuality when she is middle-aged.

Bitchin': Agreed! My problem with 'Mrs Fletcher' is Brendan. The show tries to explain toxic masculinity among "nice" white frat boys but ends up making excuses for the "porn-inspired" culture. It tries to elicit audience sympathy for Brendan rather than trying to get to the bottom of why teenage boys are violent and disrespectful to women. I don't have a problem with men writing women, but even in the novel, Brendan is someone who has a first-person voice, while Mrs. Fletcher POV is in a third-person. Its a problem Hahn "solved" in the TV series by equalizing both stories for the screen version. But in the end, Tom Perotta wrote a novel and then directed a TV series, purportedly to understand toxic masculinity but he ends up trying to justify it.  

Slutsky *makes a disgusted face*: Yeah, I get you. Ok, so that's a draw. 'Mrs. Fletcher' is a "partly" feminist show. But what about 'Dollface' -- the whole premise is feminist. A woman who is a shadow of her boyfriend gets out of the relationship and cultivates her female friendships instead. #Girlsquad goals, Bitch!

Bitchin': REALLY Slutsky? Feminism in the hashtag age is exactly part of the problem. Everyone wants to brand themselves "feminists", even when they are recycling the most regressive stereotypes about women. Girls going to the bathroom together? Te concept of "Guy's girls", as if a woman or groups of women could never like sports and chicken wings all on their own without male guidance? An older man, younger woman coupling? Women not being friends but "frenemies". I could go on. But what I hated most about the show was how it was about Kat's friends try to structure her life to make her more like themselves, the "ideal" women who brunch and party together. It tried to lay a guide book down on how to "do" feminism because it looked good posting #girlsquad on Instagram. Again, a very privileged POV of women, who have been insulated (anesthetized?) with brunches, wellness retreats and clubbing. They seem quite muddled about feminism as a concept.

Slutsky: So what are you looking forward to in 2020 instead. 

Bitchin': Well, 'Sanditon' for one. Austen was a practical feminist, who I love. And it is based on her last unfinished novel. And in films, it is 'The Assistant' that shows an insider perspective on how workplace abuse unfolds in an office run by a Harvey Weinstein-like character -- it goes into why it took so long to hear what was happening. With his trial coming up, it couldn't be more timely!

Slutsky: Onward to 2020 then!

‘Slutsky & Bitchin’ is a weekly column that will examine the highs and lows of pop culture and media from a feminist POV. The column will be published every Saturday evening from next week.

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