I started watching the first season of this show, Masters of Sex, on Showtime on Demand and needless to say, I’m hooked. Of course, what got me interested were the commercials advertising the taboo and scandal of the first study on how the body responds to sex. But as I watch it, I realize how smart the show is and all the little nuances that speak volumes about sexual and social issues that are, sadly, not only relevant in the 1940′s-1950′s, but in today’s “modern” world.
The most obvious example is female sexuality. The first episode shows Dr. Masters discovering that women fake orgasms, and upon further investigation, he comes to the revelation that sex was more of a chore to women than pleasure, whereas it was pure pleasure for men. He states that his study is important for many in the scientific community, but especially women. One female character, her name escapes me now, says something along the lines of the study being the most important thing to happen to women since the right to vote.
I’d say the second most obvious thing is feminism and sexism. Its obvious that in the mid-late 1940′s women were second class citizens, but the things that the show highlighted are not so farfetched from things that happen today, things that I’ve seen and heard myself. For example, Ginny – she is Dr. Masters’ assistant/partner in his study, and for all intents and purposes, in this show, she is feminism personified. She is a single mother of two, a two-time divorce`, someone who would be classified as a “working girl” in that time, working at the hospital under a doctor and on a study with no medical degree or higher education herself, and not only a healthy sexual appetite, but a self-assurance and confidence in herself as a woman and a sexual being. She creates the contrast in the show, a dark shadowy figure on a pristine, white background. So there you have, Ginny. She is described in the show by one of her ex-husbands as “outside of the norm”, and then again as “pure magic”. Ginny represents all the women who are outliers, who are confident, sexual, hard-working, and independent. Something that should be normal in today’s society, but still, the majority of us Ginnys exist far front he bell curve.
In contrast to Ginny, there are a plethora of characters who blend in nicely with the pristine, white background that is sexism. It is expected that we witness men who PLACE women in the seat of the second class citizen, and there is no shortage of that in Masters of Sex: from Ethan backhanding Ginny for rejecting him, to Dr. Masters having her do his dry cleaning when she is meant to be his partner in his study, always reminding her that no matter who she is, what she does or who she knows, she is still and always will be a woman. The examples are innumerable, but what really gets me, what really stood out to me was the second episode when a female doctor joins rank in the hospital. She is everything you’d expect a female doctor to be in that time: cold, rigid, and trite. A “necessary evil”, I think, seeing as no matter how many PhDs she held or how many surgeries she performed, she’d still be a step or two below the men in her field, even those less-qualified than her, and a total outcast among women. Talk about far from the bell curve. Not only does the hospital place her desk among the desks of the secretaries, another one of those “you’re still a woman” reminders, but the secretaries want nothing to do with her – openly mocking her style or lack thereof. And that’s what we do today, as women. We see women who are, let’s face it, more successful, and rather than praise and/or appreciate their intelligence and strength, we pick at them. “Sure, she may be the first female doctor in this hospital in 1945, but have you seen what she is wearing under her lab coat?!” So, men place(d) women in these positions, no matter how high you climb your vagina will never allow you to take the top spot, and then we, other women, REINFORCE that! And then turn around and complain about what men do to us, we poor victims of the falice, but we fight one another just the same, just with a different weapon. A man can point his finger at us and say “I am the man. I am in charge. I am the breadwinner. I am the head of this household/facility/office/company.” And we, point our fingers at each other and say “Look at her shoes. Has she heard of brushing her hair. She’s a slut. She slept her way to the top. She’ll never get married.” We reinforce. So that a woman who is intelligent, successful, and confident not only battles with the opposite sex, but with her own sex. Rather than support, we demean. Masters of Sex shows it happening in the 1940s and it happens now. Not a damn thing has changed. And we still fight the same battles. Don’t you think something has got to give? Women have tried for decades to overthrow or undermine the patriarchy, and obviously that hasn’t worked. Maybe we should start with ourselves, fight the enemy at home before we throw on our armor and cross the sea to fight the enemy abroad, if you catch my drift. We’d have a bigger army that way.