23 July 2009

Posts about Nothing: Elaine Benes; The Double-Standard of Seinfeld Sexuality


It's been a bit of long time between my reported, "All-Out" Seinfeld posts, but there's still plenty about this sitcom we need to discuss. As guaranteed, I wanted to begin these "Posts about Nothing" by spiraling inwards from the outer members of the Fab Four, eventually resulting in an exhaustive study of Jerry himself. So, for the past few weeks I have been watching ep after ep with a keen eye towards Elaine and Sexuality. Now, it's clear that sex is huge in this show, every character has a huge amount of sex every episode, but there are a few moments that highlight Elaine more explicitly than the others, the reason being, namely, the status of her gender.

Let's start with a stray comment that Kramer makes in "The Pool Guy" (S7;E8). He says to her, she is "...a man's woman, you hate other women and they hate you." To this Elaine readily agrees. There is some evidence that Elaine has no girlfriends, and does not get along well with her own sex (Sue Ellen Mischke in "The Caddy" [S7;E12], her co-worker Sam in "The Summer of George" [S8;E22], co-worker Peggy in "The Apology" [S9;E9]). There are furthermore many examples of other characters seeing Elaine as promiscuous or at least highly sexual in nature, although every male in the show is definitely getting laid on a consistent basis. In addition, there are many instances throughout the show where Elaine's sexual feminine nature is on display. Let's get crackin'!

Firstly, the blatant scenarios. Nearly every other male character who listens finds themselves instantly heavily sexually attracted to Elaine upon hearing her dirty tape-recorded message in "The Tape" (S3;E8). As the only female positing around a group of boys, Elaine has the ability to dangle her sensuality for display on occasions like this for either her or her friend's amusement. Her most sexually confident streaks come in this episode as well as "The Mango" (S5,E1) in which her reveal to Jerry that she faked orgasm with him tears down his perceived masculinity and sexual prowess.

Her breasts are also heavily seen as objects of desire in a multitude of episodes, however, this comes as either to her advantage or disadvantage depending on circumstance. In "The Shoes" (S4;E16) her ample cleavage serves to show NBC President Russell Dalrymple how boobs can invade almost any man's line of sight, thus exonerating George from oggling his 15-year old daughter. Yes, I'm aware this shouldn't really be excusable, but hey, it's TV, baby. Likewise, her tats are on full display in "The Gum" (S7;E10), although on accident, through which she attracts the unwanted attention of her ex, Lloyd Braun. These are some great scenes in TV history, but nonetheless serve to use Elaine's gifts as a sexual object. The inverse does occur, however, in "The Pilot, Part 1" (S4;E23) in which Elaine is denied employment at Monk's (seemingly) because of her small breasts.

Now, I don't want to really seem extremely Pro-Feminist or anything, just at face value here, Elaine as a highly sexual character is highlighted many many times, which only works in the show because she is a woman. Much like how Kramer's "goofy" exploits work because his character is understood as eccentric, Elaine's sexual exploits work because she is a woman. Let's move on.

In any TV show, all the central characters have a set of base characteristics. Working from these basics, writers and actors can craft believable characters, hopefully without seeming too one-dimensional. For instance, one of George's base characteristics is that he is really cheap. If George were to suddenly pay an exuberant price on a pair of pants or something, this would seem out of character (at least, if he didn't have anything else to gain from it). Jerry is neat, Kramer is doofy, etc, but one of Elaine's base characteristics is that she has a lot of sex with a lot of different dudes.

In "The Package" (S8;E5), Elaine makes a comment about doctor's appointments that she is "easy." Jerry responds, "Why because you dress casual and sleep with a lot of guys?" This is one of many instances of other characters observing Elaine as a very loose woman. After her cleavage episode in "The Gum," Kramer notes to Lloyd Braun about her promiscuity. Her very casual talk about her diaphragm and expectation that Jerry's girlfriend, Marla shared the same experiences in "The Virgin" (S4;E10) gives some insight into her own sexual life as well as the sexual expectations she has of others. Her numerous exploits are again covered in "The Sponge" (S7;E9) in which she buys massive amounts of contraceptive, which is commented on by the Pharmacist in "The Finale, Part 2" (S9;E24) saying, "Sponges. I don't mean the kind you clean your tub with. They're for sex. Said she needed a whole case of them." The crowd makes disgusted moans, obviously embarrassing Elaine, thinking she is a sexual deviant.

There are a handful of other instances in the series that demonstrate how much sex Elaine is getting, but I'd like to highlight just two more subtle instances here. In "The Couch," (S6;E5) Elaine is adamantly Pro-Choice, to the extent of breaking up with her seemingly perfect, yet Anti-Abortion boyfriend. This indicates Elaine's feelings on if, for instance, she ever ran out of sponges. Also, in "the Abstinence" (S8;E9), Elaine goes without sex with her boyfriend in order to attempt to increase his intelligence, however, this serves to decrease Elaine's. This indicates the frequency of Elaine's promiscuity in that regularly she should be getting enough sex to keep her brain functional, being one of the smartest in the series. She even goes so far as to proposition Jerry for sex in this episode, her desperation grows so intensely.

As I'm reading through this, I realise that the only point I'm really trying to make here is that Julia Louis-Dreyfus mid-90s is real, real hot. Also, even though all the characters are constantly screwing, Elaine seems to get more than her fair share of derogation and objectification. Her character does not seem that phased, however, and seems to consistently not concern herself with her own shortcomings, or even considers her promiscuity to be a shortcoming. I'm not sure if I do, to be honest, now that I'm thinking about it here. It's tough. Sex is fun. Too much sex is slutty and negative for women, but a great accomplishment for men. I'm glad I could re-hash this old debate. Gotta love the Sein.

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