Tuesday, May 25, 2010

WTF Sewing Moment on Glee

Let me start by saying that I loved tonight's episode of Glee so hard. Jeff was working late, and he arrived home at the end of the episode to find me sobbing on the couch trying to explain why Lady Gaga's "Pokerface" performed as a ballad by Lea Michele and Idina Menzel had me positively weeping. So many other good moments too: Finn sticking up for Kurt while dressed in a red latex gown, Puck singing "Beth" (oh, the waterworks!), and the girls and Kurt (and Santana!) killing it on "Bad Romance." Oh, Glee! After many weeks of being embarrassed that I like you, you came back strong tonight. But there is one little moment that we need to discuss.

So, Rachel walked into rehearsal all Gaga-fied, but her get-up was lame. It basically involved stuffed animals stuck haphazardly onto her dress. For the record, I personally didn't think it was so bad. She was working it with the red pumps. And also, it facilitated Kurt's awesome line, "We have a jumper!" when a stuffed froggy fell off. Anyway, her excuse for the supposed lameness? "My dads don't sew."

But it got worse. Rachel went to find her bio mom (played by Idina Menzel), while wearing a huge cape that was way more of a mistake that the Gaga outfit, and once again gave the sob story about her dads' lack of sewing ability, and then whined: "I really need a mom right now." Did anyone else find this a tad troubling?

On one hand, it does gel with my childhood experience. Not the two dads part, but the having a mom who sews part. I was theatrically inclined myself, and my poor mother was sweet enough to make dozens of costumes. (Or was it hundreds, Mom? Bye Bye Birdie? The King and I? Oy!) But on the other hand, I sometimes feel that Glee gave Rachel two dads as a kind of punchline. After all, we've never met them and this is a show where many of the other character's parents have supporting roles. And then to add insult to injury, they kind of throw the dads under the bus just because they can't sew. (Just like a man to not be able to sew! God!)

Sure, maybe Rachel needed a mom right then. But because she needed someone to sew for her? Humph. Way to really cement that gender role! Especially in the midst of a show that had a really nice storyline about combatting stereotypes and homophobia.

Now, people tell me I overthink things a lot, and this could potentially be one of those moments. I'm not really terribly outraged by it. And there was a sweet moment when Rachel came into a subsequent rehearsal wearing a killer outfit, and then proclaimed proudly, "My mom made it for me." But the earlier dialogue was definitely a WTF moment for me in an otherwise awesome and emotional episode.

And also: it was about sewing. And I know you guys like to talk about that sometimes.


  1. Most of my ex-boyfriends knew how to sew. A couple even had a sewing machine or used mine once or twice. Not that they ever whipped up a shirt or anything very interesting. They could sew a seam back together though, or hem pants.
    Meanwhile, I have ONE girl friend who knows how. Most girls I know don't even hem their own pants. Some can't even sew on a button. Honestly, I don't know a single guy who would admit to NOT being able to sew on a button.

    Never watched Glee, but I agree that comment was silly.

  2. While not directly related to your gender question, I was disturbed with the idea that anyone could sew an outfit that complicated in an hour or so. That idea seems commonplace in television shows and movies. Poof! Intensely-constructed, time-consuming sewing projects just appear magically.

  3. Well, maybe a mom is nice have too, but a tailor uncle would suffice for the costume-making!

  4. "Glee" is perhaps the first show I ever loved and hated at exactly the same time. I love it for the campy musical numbers, the ridiculously talented cast, the extremely quotable one-liners ("Did you know that dolphins are just gay sharks?").

    However, I absolutely can not stand "Glee" for its desperate need to reinforce stereotypes -- and not just about mothers and sewing. All kinds of gender roles and stereotypes are aggressively enforced on the show, and in a really shallow and clich├ęd way.

    But I just can't stop watching the damn show. Their "Bad Romance" performance was SOLID GOLD.

  5. Yea well...just because you have a mother doesn't mean she really knows how to sew. Mine for instance.

  6. It seemed like a disconnect to me as well. Yes, they are men and statistically less likely to know how to sew, even being gay men. However, considering how involved and supportive they have been with Rachel's singing aspirations, it seems like at some point they would have had to make her costumes for something, necessitating some basic sewing skills.

    However, I can dig how making the gay dads fabulous seamstresses might also be kind of trite and stereotypical, so it's sort of a more liberating choice to make the gay dads clueless about sewing. And, of course, it gave Rachel a reason to go ask her mom for help.

    But then we had Kurt's dad's awesome speech in defense of his gay son, so am happy to let the non-sewing gay dads slide in trade for that.

  7. I've been bothered by the absence of the dads too, and the "My Dads can't sew" line really bugged me. Also when Rachel talked about the glass of water while she's sad thing-- And how now she's all mixed up and can't tell if she's sad or thirsty. I just feel like the dads are a punch line. So many other parents on the show have at least had cameos.

    Way back in the beginning when Rachel mentioned that she had two Dads, it was treated like it was no big deal. I thought the show seemed like a good opportunity to show that her dads were just her parents, and the fact that they happened to be two men wasn't a factor, but that hasn't really happened. Kinda disappointing.

    But then again, they could have gone with the "gay men are all theatrical and artsy and of course they know how to sew." Which would also have been stereotyping!

  8. I don't think it was that silly. I have two friends who grew up in single dad house holds. They always had issues at choir concerts and plays because there dads couldn't sew. Often one of the other girls moms would help them though.

  9. I have to admit, I have yet to watch an episode of Glee, but all your posts about the style and such have got me curious. ;) (Even though... *coughcough* I must admit I rather hate musical things--of the full length film or tv sort! rofl.)

    On the topic of dads who can't sew... I have to agree with the other commenters who pointed out that having gay men be handy in the sewing department would have been terribly predictable/stereotypical. (Thinking about it... most of my gay male friends/acquaintances throughout my life have been artsy, but not necessarily talented or knowledgeable in the area of sewing.) Even though the fact that her mom sews is somewhat cliche, at least the script writers decided to throw viewers for a bit of a non-stereotypical loop by characterizing the dads as less the usual, media-driven picture of a gay male (over the top, fashionista, etc.).

    Just my $0.02.;)

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

  10. Never take anything on TV that serious..it's just entertainment..just enjoy it ;-) You can relax and just enjoy the music and the costumes without getting caught up in the symbolism.

  11. Now... I've never watched Glee. Maybe I'll start next season. But... I have a confession to make. I've been sewing for 20 years and I never made a buttonhole until my Dad died three years ago and it was because he did all mine and my mom's buttonholes. Heck, until five years ago, I never even threaded my own sewing machine--my dad did that, too!

    Mom taught all my brothers at least how to mend things and sew on buttons. Not that they actually do it--they give the stuff to me because they say I'm better at it!

    OTOH, my sister-in-law can't sew on a button, and my sister has delusions of sewing grandeur. She's bought all the stuff, claims to be able to sew, but has only ever made one thing in her life and that was with my mom standing over her shoulder.

    It's not a matter of gender; it's a matter of what you're taught at home. My sister-in-law's mother didn't sew, so my sister-in-law doesn't sew. My mom did some and taught me, but my sisters weren't all that interested, though they and my brothers can mend things.

    Me, well, I took to sewing. I'm feeling nostalgic this week because I've returned to not only my sewing roots but probably the sewing roots of generations of women--doll clothes. My niece's birthday is next week and I'm giving her clothes to go with the dolly my grandmother bought her.

  12. I didn't take the comment the same way you did I think. I love Glee for busting stereotypes and I found the Dads comment to be another component of that. I think gay fathers who could sew would be more of a stereotype than the comment was, sewing being viewed as a typically feminine role.
    I agree I would like to see more of Rachel's fathers in the story line but I'm sure it is a tricky line to walk, as evidenced by the comment we're discussing. I'm sure when the writers do bring them in, it's going to be fantastic!

    ~Kelli @ Smidgens

  13. Oh my gosh, SUCH a good point about potentially stereotyping Rachel's dads if they did sew her costumes. I suppose what really bothered me was the implication that mom = someone who can sew. Like you magically get sewing skills once you give birth.

  14. I am not a fan of the "Glee," I endured one show of Ryan Murphy disappointing me after season 2, I will not go there again. Not to mention, for as much as I love musical theatre, I really dislike the way the kids on "Glee" sing.

    I think the stereotype cuts both ways, but knowing Murphy's writing, chances are he just didn't really care and wanted to use it as a plot device. Not sure if that makes it better or worse...

    For what it is worth, my mom still does my hemming, but she can't use a machine to save her life. My father sort of mends things like a drunk blind man. So I guess they sort of reinforce the stereo type.

  15. I'm with you, Gertie. I found the gender stereotyping to be jarring, especially as someone whose mother doesn't sew. She learnt in school but doesn't remember anything. When I asked her about interfacing when I was learning she said, 'I don't think they had that back then'.

    Everyone has good points about the potential stereotyping of gay dads who are amazing at sewing, but if the dads were able to sew just not spectacularly well this could have been pretty easily avoided.

  16. Amen! Right as she said, "My dads don't sew" I died a little bit inside. I know the story line needed to go on about her needing a mom, but they had SUCH an awesome opportunity there. And hello, how did Kurt get his awesome costume?!!!! He doesn't have a mom either.

  17. both my husband and i are getting a little tired in general of TV decpiting men as beer swilling, grill happy, engine obsessed, inept DOLTS.

    it's not terribly pleasing to watch Madison Avenue and Hollywood attempt to identify men by the lowest common denominator of all stereotypes, instead of portraying men on these shows as something to aspire to, and be proud of.

    Just as with women, then are a million different permutations of men. It's insulting to our intelligence in general to depict men, and boys, as automatons whose only skills seem to be based in absolute oblivion.

    i don't watch Glee. I don't watch TV that much anymore in general. it's kind of a special night kind of thing. Write to the creators and the networks. They need to hear all of you.


  18. I've grown up with a dad who sews and a mum who can sew but doesn't choose to (she gets my dad or me to do alterations instead!) so it's never been a big deal to me. More often than not, most people don't sew anymore anyway, regardless of gender.
    Although, having said that, the thing that has always bugged me is in single sex schools they do reinforce the stereotype girls cook/sew and boys don't, by not having food/textile lessons available in boys schools. In my experience that is (I went to an all-girls and my brother goes to an all-boys) and it may vary elsewhere in the country/world, so feel free to disagree with me.
    Hmm, anyway, that is perhaps not wholly relevant to the glee point, but it's always seemed a tad problematic to me.

  19. I like the thoughts of folks on here. I'm with Kelli, tho. If the dads were gay AND sewed, that would have been a little over the top. Also, the writers needed Rachel to go back to her mom to reconnect, so why not over the need for a fabulous Gaga costume?

    I'm really hoping we'll get to "meet" Rachel's dads, tho. Casting would be a HOOT.

    Also, just wanted to add a little "Woo Hoo!" for Curt's dad. His speech to Finn was amazing.

  20. I agree with most of the posters above. Sewing is quickly becoming an antiquated art. Most people (male or female) right now don't know how to sew and are very reliant on mass market throwaway fashion, which makes me sad.

  21. Ha, I had the exact same WTF moment when I saw it, and actually thought to myself "I wonder if Gertie will bring it up on her blog?" Guides honour I did.

    I will also confess that one of my firts, knee-jerk reaction thoughts was "her dads are gay, can't they sew?" But if the message was to break down stereotypes it was pretty conflicted by suggesting that mom/woman = ability to sew.

    I was, like Amanda, annoyed with the constant projection by TV/movies that sewing something elaborate happens instantaeously. I really think this may have a hand in why the craft continues to be generally undervalued in our culture. It's made to seem overly simplistic and that cheezes me off.

    That said, I just can't get enough of Glee. I came late to the party courtesy of a cross-continental flight in April and ended up buying the first season because I didn't want to wait for the discs to come back to the video rental store. And while I'm not terribly familiar with the whole Lady Gaga thing, I really enjoyed her as this week's theme.

  22. I didn't feel odd about either biological parent/ability to sew. I was frustrated (as others have mentioned) about the seeming ability to construct a well-fitted strapless dress with all of those extra details nearly instantaneously.

    Hello? it would take an hour just to buy the fabric, for crying out loud! I mean, they supposedly live in Lima, Ohio!

    Now, it would have been more authentic (and more realistic) if Rachel had reported that her mom found her the dress in the costume closet.

  23. I'll start off by saying how much I love your blog. It's been an enormous source of inspiration as I sew on my own projects. As far as the Glee episode goes, I've yet to see it (iTunes will soon resolve this minor detail! Hehe) but the logic behind Rachel's line DOES seem a bit redundant. I don't think the ability to sew is contingent on sex - most of my girlfriends can't sew, and when I expressed an interest in sewing my own mother tried to dissuade me b/c it wasn't as prestigious as, say, medicine (though her mom, my grandmother, was a seamstress).

  24. Gertie, I wanted to come back to this and comment again because it bothered me all night (yes, I'm anal like that) that I left out the second half of the stereotype, namely that the mother could sew.
    Once again, I didn't take this as a stereotyped comment on women. I assumed Shelby would need to know how to sew in order to design the costumes for Vocal Adrenaline.
    Ok, got that off my chest, I can now quit thinking about it and singing Gaga all day. Phew!

  25. Wow Gertie! I thought the exact same thing!!! She needs a mom TO SEW?! Seriously?

    Glee has more and more rubbed me the wrong way. The morality messages coupled with the hit-over-your-head messages about acceptance, love, etc are really quite annoying. And then they go and make some comment about how Rachel needs a mom to sew a costume. Way to be hypocritical. I guess I keep watching because I LOVE Sue and I keep hoping the show will get better....

  26. I admit the gay Dads not being able to sew went completely over my head, I didn't know that was a stereotype. What bugged me was Rachael walks in saying, "we stayed up all night coming up with a costume that represents my missed childhood" (or something to that effect) in my mind that meant her Dads cared about her enough to staple beanie babies to her outfit in an attempt to help her make her statement. When she gets her Mom to help her make the outfit it is a rockin' outfit but it doesn't say ANYTHING, it doesn't make a statement. That bugged me.

  27. I haven't seen the episode yet (I fancy Glee, but don't even have french TV), but what surprises me till now is rather the fact Rachel always mentions her dads at plural. When it's an equivalent for 'my parents', that's really OK to me, but when it comes to their skills, It makes them sound like Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.
    Most of the commenters mentioned people of both genders, able to sew or not. Why would both her fathers be unable to sew as if the fact they're of the same gender would make them identical on every other point, including personnal skills? But, yes, making them both able to sew would have been just as silly...
    Btw, if Kurt doesn't have a mother, does it mean he sewed his costume himself, or did his Dad sew it for him? I'd love to know!

  28. Actually the moment that got me (and took be out of the story) was that she goes to this woman she just meet and asks her to sew her costume.

    One: Is that what you should do when your BRAND new relationship is on shaky legs? Two: How in the earth did Shelby do that outfit in one night...it wasn't simple. HUGE Three: Didn't she just give away that her glee club was also doing something on Lady GaGa even though they just got caught spying. There was no logic to that seen, she could have at least said my mom bought me something?

  29. I feel the whole thing makes sense. If, in fact, Rachel's mom is the director of Vocal Adrenaline, which she is, she would have an entire costume shop at her disposal. I was in theater a lot in high school and I know that to make a costume look fantastic (as Rachel's did) you don't necessarily need to be able to sew. If you have pieces that work together (like a dress that can be re-purposed), cardboard, tape, glue and scissors you can make a fabulous costume in just a few hours...I had quite a few costumes with glitter glue instead of beads, taped hems, and safety pinned waists that looked incredible on and amazing on stage.

  30. so...i just discovered your blog, and it's great (sewing, feminism, retro clothes - it's such a winning combination). hi.

    glee is also a guilty pleasure of mine (and i may need to make quin's entire outfit for the gaga episode. and carry some sort of lethal-looking star with me everywhere) but they've let me down so many times where feminism is concerned...for example, remember the madonna episode, where at the end finn is all respectful and 'you can make your own choices about who you date' to rachel...and then spoils it completely by telling jessie he 'won't make any moves on his girl'? yes. for a mainstream show that markets itself as pc, it really fails on the feminism.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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