While most of what I had to say about last night’s episode of Glee remains firmly centered around “Smooth Criminal,” which was just as creepy in context as out of it, I did want to briefly mention how intensely focused the whole episode really was on gendered types of violence and gendered responses to that violence, with most of it being in the realm of the feminine, despite most of the players being men.
The slushie meant for Kurt that Blaine steps in front of contains rock salt, which heats when it comes into contact with water and ice. This implies strongly that Sebastian’s initial goal was for Kurt to experience chemical burns, and it certainly evokes a type of violence generally directed at women by men and that the media tells us transpires because those women do not obey the wishes of those men.
This is violence about damaging the one asset these women are believed to have (appeal to men) and publicly shaming them through the lasting mark of that violence, and in Glee, it hardly represents the first time that Sebastian objects to Kurt both on the basis of the charms he holds for Blaine and for the degree to which he is not straight-acting.
That Blaine’s eyesight is then damaged when he engages in a traditionally masculine act (I’m sorry, Glee is broad, and I have to use a lot of normative gender expectations to take it apart) of protecting a lover, then serves to recode Blaine as the feminine, thanks to the long history of, as an anonymous user pointed out to me on Tumblr, blindness and blinding being used as a metaphor for impotence.
From there, we witness the strongly implied violence of “Smooth Criminal” in which both Santana and Sebastian are using sexuality in their duel, but in which only one of them, Sebastian, is able to successfully imply the perpetration of acts of sexual violence through that performance.
When Sebastian slushies Santana at the end of that number, the same form of violence against women by men seen in “Bad” is again evoked, but he doesn’t even bother with the rock salt this time; Santana isn’t worth the trouble, perhaps because her lesbianism in Sebastian’s eyes already renders her of little use to men, even, or perhaps particularly, to a predatory gay one.
Responses to this violence from the New Directions team is also highly gendered. Multiple people on multiple occasions talk about how the police won’t be interested in, or believe, what was done to Blaine. This includes, most notably, Schue’s attempt to minimize it in a kids-will-be-kids way and move on, and Kurt’s privately furious catharsis which later gives way to a brave-faced comment on rising above, largely because that seems to be the only weapon he has.
Meanwhile, Santana, we later find out, wasn’t actually trying to fight Sebastian on his own terms of overt sexual aggression, so much as she was both literally and metaphorically taking one for the team in order to get him to confess on tape. A woman fights a man by appearing to yield; it gets her close enough to do real damage.
This constant metaphor of rape and response to it in the episode is even underscored by small, seemingly throwaway lines, like Brittany saying, “I don’t know how,” when told to lock the door to the choir room. This is further highlighted by the contrast of Artie, who has been constantly used to explicitly define what masculinity is and isn’t this season, blowing up at Schue for his lip-service sympathy.
But outside of the near explicit implications of Sebastian’s actions, most of the episode’s masculine violence is metaphorical and unrealized from the dancing-fighting of “Bad” to Artie’s fantasy sequence.
Lima, OH is a world where people only dream about conventional forms of power and nearly everyone must accept violation. By bringing back the slushies, Glee‘s original iconic bullying instrument, in this form, Glee tells us that all of this bullying has been serious (and sexual) business all along, and that the worst thing anyone can be in this place is feminine and feminized; the problem, however, is that nearly everyone is. There are almost no men, and remarkably few honorable ones, here; the brutality of WMHS and of Lima don’t allow there to be.
Which is really why the ridiculousness of Quinn getting into Yale feels so good. She’s the character most explicitly punished for the feminine on Glee, and so she’s the first one victoriously out. Kurt, the character next most explicitly punished for the feminine, also has his huge NYADA finalist victory moment in this episode, in a way that, unlike Rachel’s victory letter, is untainted.
Glee has always been a story about a terrible place in which to be a girl, or gay, or disabled, or different in any way. That makes people angry often, largely because the show doesn’t tell us bullying is bad, but merely shows us it is awful and exists largely without correction. But as the adult world encroaches as the stakes get bigger, at least 3.11 reminds us that the powers that be know the only way up is out.
Finally, on an almost, but not entirely, tangential note, I just want to point you to the faerie trinkets that are currently adorning Kurt’s locker. Rae Votta, who also writes stuff about Glee and other pop-culture interests, pointed them out to me last night, and I haven’t stopped thinking about them since. They seem to be references queer, magical, and feminine, as if they are the small tokens by which Kurt, who seems to always be in exile from something (a dead mother, his straight friends, his horrible high school, his gay fantasy land, a still faintly out of reach New York City), always remembers who, and what, he is.