Monday, November 4, 2013

Masters of Sex Review: "Brave New World" - It's a Man's World

Allison Janney shines on this week's "Masters of Sex"

           The alleged reason for the bill is to enhance patient safety.  But what they really do is create provisions that treat women as though they are not capable of making their own medical decisions.
                                                                                                                                                            Wendy Davis

On June 25th of this year, Texas state senator Wendy Davis launched an eleven hour filibuster in opposition of Senate Bill 5, a bill that would have put stronger restrictions on abortions and the availability of procedures and medications designed to end pregnancies.  One of the themes that kept coming up during the filibuster and its aftermath was the idea of men (the Texas senate is 77% male) thinking that they know what is best for women’s health.  The issue is not one unique to abortion, as the Texas legislature also overturned Governor Perry’s executive order mandating the vaccination of school-aged girls against HPV.  What we saw in “Brave New World” is that patriarchal control of women’s bodies is not a phenomenon unique to the twenty-first century, but that men have for decades (if not centuries) thought they knew best when it comes to women, their sexual behavior, and their bodies.  And for decades (if not centuries) they’ve been dead wrong.

Freud’s idea that there were different types of orgasms, that one was a sign a maturity, and that the failure to have a vaginal orgasm is a sign of arrested development to be cured through therapy is laughable now.  But then, as the adage goes, when your only tool is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.  I guess the same can be said of psychoanalysts.  What’s more remarkable than the idea that Freud thought he was master of the female sexual response, is that nobody thought to test his hypothesis for fifty years.  It’s a recurring theme in Masters of Sex: that part of what makes Masters’s and Johnson’s research so important is that so many people are unwilling to talk about sex.  Freud’s wife even is squeamish when Johnson raises the prospect of testing orgasms to see if there is any actual physiological difference between the two.

The same squeamishness is evident in Masters’s surprise that the elderly are capable, not just of having sex, but of enjoying it as well.  That doctors have been unwilling to research the sex lives of older people is yet another sign that, for all they claim to know about women, most men are still clueless because they don’t want to want to ask questions.  The idea that women have sexual agency is still anathema to many, even today.  It’s a shame that more people don’t watch this show because it offers one the most frank discussion of sex in all of American culture.  I’m not going to say this is a show people could “learn” from, but it certainly could help increase discussion of sensitive topics, which is apparently still necessary since we live in a world where the STD rate among the elderly is skyrocketing because people still don’t want to acknowledge the idea that old people have sex.  Masters of Sex could be a culturally important show, if we’re willing to listen to what it has to say.

And what makes it all the more gripping to watch is just how great everybody involved with the show is.  Last night’s standout was clearly Allison Janney, giving a riveting performance as the Provost’s wife, Margaret.  Her pre-interview with Bill and Virginia, as she lays out the details of her non-existent sex life and the complete lack of pleasure her husband can give her is just brutal to watch.  And her breakdown in the elevator…  I’ve come to accept that the men in this show are pretty much universally awful people, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see the impact of their actions on the women in their lives. 

The same can be said for Libby, who’s left wanting by her husband who is more interested in timing the escapades of their next door neighbors in a Miami hotel than in her.  But this is a show about women’s agency, so it was nice to finally see her stand up and demand to get what she needed, even if what she needed was for Bill to just leave her alone for a while.

The biggest part of the episode was its conclusion, when Virginia begins to reconsider Bill’s request that they participate in the study themselves (and obviously takes her top off and puts his hand on her breast).  That she does so almost immediately in response to his offering her a promotion is a little distasteful, however.  Their relationship has constantly been riding the line between acceptable and unacceptable and there have clearly been indications – as pointed out by Dr. DePaul – that Bill doesn’t exactly think entirely with his brain when it comes to Virginia, but they’ve largely managed to avoid the prospect of a quid pro quo relationship thus far, for which I’m grateful.  It’s tough not to extrapolate where this is all going from my knowledge of the real Masters and Johnson, but I have to try.

A couple of spare thoughts –

Dr. Langham is just being super creepy right now and I’m really hoping his fling with Margaret will let him put Jane in the past. 

Dr. DePaul’s comments about the standardization of the Pap smear and how often it would be used if it detected cancer in men is just another example of how well Masters of Sex can make modern social commentary, considering the same argument has been made about the HPV vaccine.

“My clitoris beat my vagina?  That’s crazy.”

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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