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Dec 17 2005

I Dislike Lucy

I wish I had never heard of patriarchy.

Then I could take the path of least resistance, which, for the 21st century American woman (or any woman, anywhere, anytime), means feminine acquiescence to male authority. It is the job I was trained for from the cradle. If only I could embrace my cultural heritage instead of calling bullshit on it, I might, instead of being reviled as a shrill man-hating nutjob, just luxuriate in a comfortable stupor and let my social conditioning take over. It would be so pleasant to waddle through life imagining, as so many women apparently do, that it is right and natural and fulfilling to be a subhuman punching bag-cum-receptacle for male incontinence whose uterus is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the state. I could tip-tap around in exquisite Jimmy Choo shoes, and write articles for the New York Times about how tough it is to employ a nanny, and take pole-dancing lessons, and let men dominate conversations, and close my eyes and think of England. After I turned 40 and my husband dumped me for a 22-year-old with bigger tits, dieting and shopping and undermining other women would give my life meaning. And I could watch “I Love Lucy” without wanting to puke.

That’s right. One of the worst things about having chosen a career in patriarchy-blaming is that I can no longer stand “I Love Lucy.” Every so often I try, because it’s Lucille Ball for chrissake, the extent of whose awesome genius cannot, I don’t even need to tell you, be overstated. But it only takes about two minutes for me to start fantasizing about Lucy breaking Ricky Ricardo’s eye socket with a bat.

All Western art, both hi and lo–and particularly, it seems, expressions of pop culture–emanates from a rotten inner core of white male privilege, but Lucy’s entire premise pivots on such a flagrant and truly disturbing theme of misogyny that persons under 18 shouldn’t be allowed to watch it without adult patriarchy-blaming supervision. Last night I saw a few scenes from an episode where Ricky threatens Lucy with physical violence for having bought a new hat without his permission. “Take it back,” he yells, “that’s an order!

Yipes! Come on, Lucy, tell him to shove it up his butt! He’s a menacing, domineering asshole! Dump his fucktarded ass and run off to L.A. with Ethel!

But she doesn’t, because it’s 1954 and she is an infantilized submissive with no personal sovereignty–essentially a paid whore–who cannot directly challenge her manly man. When Ethel warns Lucy that “Ricky’s gonna kill” her, you get the uneasy feeling that the motherfucker isn’t above bitch-slappin’ her when she gets too uppity. It’s just too painful to watch. Lucy and Ricky are the Itchy and Scratchy of their generation.

UPDATE: There’s a discussion at Pandagon about this, and whether it is possible to enjoy entertainment when it espouses politics you find personally revolting.

44 comments

3 pings

  1. Gueuze

    It blows my mind how this white male privilege is completely transparent to many white men. They just don’t see it, and instead firmly believe it to be a result of their “merit,” and “hard work.” Just a general comment about the patriarchy.

    I agree with the menacing “Ricky’s gonna kill [Lucy].” And I remember one episode when, due to Ricky & Lucy practicing lines for a play or something, her friend (perhaps it was Ethel?) is led to believe that “that big brute hits her!” And what is the support this victim of domestic violence gets? Her friend urging her to confide about whatever is troubling her (and Lucy is confused). Because while on the show actual domestic violence is supposedly condemned, there is little help out there for women actually suffering violence at the hands of their guardians–er, I mean husbands.

  2. Gueuze

    And when I said, “I agree with the menacing “Ricky’s gonna kill [Lucy],” I of course meant that I agree with Twisty that I, also, was chilled at the expression and the sentiment behind it.

  3. Jodie

    I remember being intensely embarrassed at the I Love Lucy show when I was a small child, mostly because she acted like a small child who was in trouble all the time.

  4. wordgirl

    I was a lifelong I Love Lucy enthusiast. One day, however, the scales fell from my eyes when Ricky SPANKED Lucy. Literally turned her over his knee. It was as if I had never seen this thing before or considered its implications. It made me sick. Did a certain package me its way to you, Twisty? Just wondering…you know…holiday mail and all.

  5. Rick Perlstein

    I recommend repeat viewings of the patriarchy-blaming masterpiece Stage Door, whose effervescent ensemble includes Ms. Lucille Ball.

  6. Twisty

    Wordgirl, I got it yesterday, and it looks delicious. Thank you from the chocolate underbelly of my heart.

    Meanwhile, my chum and houseguest Stingray informs me (I couldn’t stand to watch the end) that the Lucy episode to which I allude above culminates with Ricky spanking her. I’m glad I didn’t see it or I might have gone Elvis and shot the TV.

  7. Twisty

    As it happens, I watched it just a couple of weeks ago. I did love Lucy in that.

  8. Amanda Marcotte

    I heard Bill Maher say once that there was an episode of “Lucy” where she gets a sunburn or something so that Ricky takes pity on her and won’t hit her. I don’t know if that’s true or not, though. I don’t see how even Lucille Ball could make that funny.

  9. Alex

    Generally when I point out shit like this, I’m lambasted for bringing up something so trivial and insignificant. Of course, not long ago there was an hour long special on tv about how men are protrayed as idiots in sitcoms, and the media world was abuzz for weeks thereafter. Apparently it’s okay to problematise the media’s treatment of men, but when women do the same they’re whiny, bitter shrews.

  10. robin

    Ah – The lady is back, a very savory taco is residing on the headline banner, and all’s well with the world..
    Lucy’s baby-faced wife-beater of a husband was the worst part of the show. Lucille Ball was so much better than that.

  11. Amy

    That’s more or less how I’ve always felt about it. When I was still too young to know how to blame the patriarchy, I was embarrassed by “I Love Lucy.” I never understood until I got old enough to realize that I found the show to be humilitating and that what I resented was the same ol’ shit, just packaged in a way that was supposed to be funny.

    And maybe it is funny. But I was never tempted to try to get over my dislike and find out.

  12. Amy

    Long and glorious tradition. “I Love Lucy” is listed, and Elvis, for that matter, is too…”Blue Hawaii.”

    I blame the patriarchy.

  13. Tony Patti

    Since I grew up in the kind of household where my father assumed that Lucy-style behavior was normal and my mother did not, I will always admire and respect my mother for not standing for it.

    She was just reacting to her own upbringing. Her mother wouldn’t stoop so low, either. It’s such a simple world, this fantasy world where women are sneaky kids and men bossy, clueless parents. It makes for the cheap gag and the sleazy laff. But making it become real wasn’t so easy in some households.

    My father found himself another woman who bought into it after my mom divorced him, and my mother never fell for the marriage trap again. Somehow she seemed to understand many basic feminist principles without Twisty to inform her of the pitfalls of the subservient life.

    Part of the reason that I have been able to grasp so many of the most elementary rudiments of feminism myself – rudiments beyond the grasp of far too many people n this world, alas – was because I had the advantage of being brought up by my mother and the matriarchal tenor of my family life.

    Many people, and the culture on the whole, taught me unconsciously to regard the male as the default state of humanity, and being a man myself made it extremely easy to believe. But my mother, bless her soul, never allowed me the luxury of pretending it was really true. I grew up thinking of women as the movers, shakers, decision makers, and intellects of my world, and this core of understanding of women will never be erased by even the most seductive titillation and base flattery offered by the Patriarchy at its most insidious.

  14. Thalia

    I, too, could never stand I Love Lucy (although I love Harpo Marx and I understand he guested once); even when I was a kid it pissed me off, and though I was certainly brought up in a house where the father wielded a particularly stubborn authority (or maybe because of that), I knew it wasn’t right. The part that really pissed me off was that she obviously had way more talent than Ricky. I don’t just mean in real life, either–her character on the show was so much more talented than his, but her ideas always got struck down or dismissed because she was a woman. Very nasty.

    On an unrelated note, how come I’m having trouble reading all the comments? I’m only seeing like two lines of each, with only the occasional long post getting scrolly sidebars. It’s kind of annoying. Granted, I’m on some prehistoric browser (some version of Netscape), but..? help?

  15. TimT

    They screened the I Love Lucy shows on Australian television once. I quite enjoyed them. It always seemed to me that the ‘witch’ comedies – Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie – were more sexist (especially Bewitched; in that show Darren seems to be an absolute a*hole). Jeannie’s more interesting, I think – Jeannie’s a blonde sexbo, obviously, but it always seems to me she plays on the sexbo image just to get her way. The show is basically a game of oneupmanship between Jeannie and ‘Master’ – where the woman always wins.

    Fred Flinstone’s an interesting example: Fred and his mate Barney are the heroes of that show, but at the same time, they’re dumb goof offs. (Not that I’m too fussed about negative portrayals of men in the media – leave that one up to the men’s activism groups to complain about!) The real brains behind the Flinstone and Rubble families are Wilma and Betty.

    OT, but one of the examples of this sort of thing that sticks in my mind is from The Arabian Nights. The book – in its many forms – is a great masterpiece of world literature, and contains (arguably) one of the great ‘empowering’ female characters – Scherezade – who uses guile and cunning to win her place in society.
    But there are also a lot of passages in the Nights where wife beating is described explicitly.
    This describes a medieval Islamic culture, of course; and it’s wrong to judge an entire book from things like that – (hell, if we acted that way, then it would have been the 1960s peace and love generation burning copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey because of the descriptions of war they contain).

    Anyways, I’d be interested in hearing other readers views of all of this.

  16. Twisty

    The idea that women are “the real brains” or “wear the pants” or otherwise use their feminine guile and cunning to sneakily snatch all the power is an ancient and popular myth, played out in cartoony comedies like the Flinstones and Jeanie and used in real life as an argument against feminism.

  17. Twisty

    Alas, I cannot help you, short of ditching the comments plugin, which may or may not happen, depending on the number of complaints, of which yours is the first. Your browser is your businsess, of course, but why not join the Firefox revolution? This blog (and many others) also looks delightful in Safari.

  18. AndiF

    As someone who is old enough to have seen these shows in their natural habitat, I think it’s helpful to consider the juxtaposition of watching shows with ‘good’ women who did what they were told (Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best) and those the ‘bad’ ones who didn’t (I Love Lucy, Honeymooners, My Little Margie). I suspect that many of us girls who watched the first kind of show seeing nice, safe non-entities and the other kind seeing fun, interesting people were already on our way to becoming excellent patriarchy-blamers. It wasn’t the trouble they got into or the male reaction to it that was important to me, it was that they got into trouble in the first place.

  19. wolfa

    What also amazed me about this show is how many people thought Lucy was funny, but not that pretty, really. Humour blinds you to someone’s being attractive? Funny women cannot possibly be pretty?

  20. Buffalo Gal

    Jodie – I never like Lucy, either, but never could quite formulate a reason. Your comment explains it – that vague feeling of discomfort that a grown woman acted like that. And the slapstick was just dumb.

  21. Mildred Morgan

    This is so funny. The essay I wrote to get into business school started out “Even as an easily impressionable child, I didn’t love Lucy.” I also hated the Flintstones and even Happy Days because the Fonz was such a pig. Clearly some women were meant to be patriarchy blamers from a very young age.

  22. Dr. Virago

    AndiF, that’s a really interesting point. I generally find I Love Lucy hard to stomach, but given its original contexts, she *is* a troublemaker, isn’t she? And for all Ricky’s threats, aren’t they pretty empty — isn’t he in many ways impotent? And, of course, in real life, who didn’t know that Lucille was the real power player? Hmmm…Anyway, thanks for complicating the view of this.

  23. Twisty

    The thing is, if it weren’t for the constraints of patriarchy (as personified by Ricky), Lucy wouldn’t have to be a “troublemaker” in the first place. I also don’t see the Ricky character as impotent, since he rules the roost with an iron fist, and usally ends up making Lucy into a jackass.

  24. Dr. Virago

    if it weren’t for the constraints of patriarchy (as personified by Ricky), Lucy wouldn’t have to be a “troublemaker” in the first place

    OK, point taken — especially if you’re not one to go in for the “Lucy-as-subversive” reading (as I’m pretty sure you’re not, and as I generally am not, either). As for the rest of what you’ve said, it’s been too long since I’ve seen an episode, so I’ll take your word for it since you’ve just been watching recently. All I can remember is an image of Ricky seeming constantly frustrated — hence my thinking of him as impotent.

  25. Donna

    And, of course, in real life, who didn’t know that Lucille was the real power player?

    I always thought that was the reason their characters were written that way, to appease his wounded masculine vanity. She was a few years older than him, and always far more successful and famous. Apparently this rankled him in real life and he had numerous affairs to get back at her. But he was always second fiddle.

  26. AndiF

    That view makes sense now but the patriarchy wasn’t on the radar of little girls in the fifties. Anyone who chose not to fit the prevailing image of the good little woman who didn’t worry her pretty little head about things was providing a much needed role model for being an independent person and refusing to accept the constant admonition to “be a lady”.

  27. Joolya

    I actually wrote my SAT II Writing test essay on patriarchical misogyny on TV, using Lucy and Ricky and The Facts of Life as my case studies. There had been an episode of TFoL (circa mid-80s) on TV the night before wherein Jo was working as an apprentice mechanic. There was some asshole guy working with her who was all pissed off b.c Jo was a better mechanic than he was and made him look stupid in front of the boss, and he proceeded to try and make her life hell. Mrs Garett gave her some excellent advice: “Always let the boy win,” said she, “Ask him questions (even if you already know the answer!) to make him feel smart!” Which Jo did, and the guy’s head swelled, and I think eventually he asked her out . . . My point was that we haven’t come so far, really.

  28. Kristen from MA

    jeez, i’ve been thinking this for years. lucille ball was so gifted, but i can’t bear to watch the show. my personal anti-favorite? lucy is pleading with ricky, and he says, ‘no no no!’ and you think she’s asking to be in his show, until you realize that she’s begging for permission to cut her hair in the latest, hot style. ASKING PERMISSION TO CUT HER HAIR? wtf?

    though i know that the patriarchy is still alive and kicking, i’m glad i wasn’t alive in the 50s.

  29. CafeSiren

    Did Lucy ever cook? I mean, I only dimly recall bits & pieces of various episodes, but none of the scenes that sticks out in my mind has Lucy whipping up a mess of vittles. Now, I could be just not remembering that, but if it’s true, then it’s interesting.

    And, if you think about it: if you didn’t have a job, and your husband was the financial support for the household, and you had no kids (not until later in the show, anyway), you’d have plenty of time on your hands — and what better way to fill it than hatching some plan with your girlfriend to do something you really, really wanted to do — independently of your domineering husband?

  30. CafeSiren

    Oh, and if you want to tap the motherlode of TV patriarchy, I’d recommend “The Andy Griffith Show.”

    Though I second the vote for “Bewitched.” In retrospect, doesn’t it make you want to stand up & cheer for mother-in-law Esmerelda: “Dump the jerk! You can do so much better than this suburban housewife crap!”

  31. Sarah

    Horror films. That’s what Lucy and The Honeymooners were to me. What happens to you if you don’t do well in school. . . I have lucyphobia and gleasonphobia, the same way others fear clowns. . .

  32. Ellen

    I happen to be getting ample doses of Lucy and Bewitched these days, as my 11 year-old was introduced by a teacher to some of the old sitcoms and loves them. We’re constantly telling the girls, in child-appropriate language, that Ricky is an ass. The show is pretty bizarre, when viewed through our 2005 lens. Ricky smokes like a chimney, berates and controls Lucy… meanwhile, Lucy and the Mertzes make fun of Ricky’s accent. Now Bewitched, on the other hand – Samantha and her mother are clearly in charge. What I can’t figure out is why Darren is consistently referred to as “handsome” (Dick York Darren, not Dick Sargent Darren).

  33. Marjani

    I must say I find the comments about hating the show during youth and not quite understanding why, pretty much completely in line with my whole experience of patriarchy and church. I’ve never been one for authority mind you but as a child I was particularly reluctant to submit to male authority and christianity…when i realized it was because I’m a feminist it all made sense!

    Note, I’ve never watched I love Lucy and I don’t plan to start now.

  34. Dr Diana

    A student wrote a great paper for me on this topic titled “I Love Lucy, But Only When She Obeys Me.”

  35. DavidByron

    I guess any romantic comedy that gets spoiled at the end when the plot demands that for the sake of all the female audience the male lead has to abjectly apologise to the female lead for doing nothing but trying to win her love for the entire movie while she plays hard to get.

    If I had to pick one particularly sickening example of this it would be Forty days and forty nights. ‘…One man is about to do the unthinkable. No sex. Whatsoever. For… 40 Days and 40 Nights…’

    The end of the film has the male lead, Josh Hartnett, raped by the female “bad guy”. Instead of being understanding as any man would be if his girlfriend was raped, the female lead makes him abjectly apologise for being raped.

    And then he’s forgiven and that’s the romantic end.

    As the user comment on the linked to page says, “Adorably Frisky Sex Comedy That’s Fair to Both Sexes”.

    Yup. When a man’s raped he has to apologise… just like a woman who’s raped would have to do. Nothing like sex equality in the films is there? Oh hang on if a woman was ever raped on film it would be because the entire film was either a horror story or brutal crime film where her rape was held up as an example of horror (not comedy) or else the entire film would be about getting revenge on the rapist and how the rape victim suffers and overcomes the tragic event.

  36. Twisty

    What, if anything, does this “what about the men?” comment have to do with the misogyny in “I Love Lucy”?

  37. DavidByron

    I guess it’s saying your rhetoric is 50 years out of date isn’t it? There’s no patriarchy — only the “matriarchy” nostalgic for their faux victimhood status of yesteryear. These days it’s the male roles who are best described as “an infantilized submissive with no personal sovereignty”. Did Lucy ever get raped and then have to beg forgiveness for it? How rude of me to burst your little bubble.

    I see you’re one of those women (feminists that is) that think sex equality means nothing for men and everything for women (female supremacist / segregationist). No wonder you cannot comprehend what men-as-victim could possibly have to do with a discussion of sexism.

    Alternative answer: I was meant to post it in the Pandagon thread mentioned in your update and it landed here by accident. Sorry.

    More than happy to hang around and disect your little-girl princess victim-me self-pitying blame-the-nearest-man for everthing feminism for you though. I mean if that’s what you are into as the title of this blog suggests?

  38. Becker

    I’m not one to fight Twisty’s battles for her, but as she’s likely asleep I’ll point out that ” little-girl princess victim-me self-pitying blame-the-nearest-man for everthing feminism” is an assessment far off target in regard to this blog, and actually describes a form of feminism that only exists in your own mind.

    Speaking as a guy who was molested as a child by a woman, I can bet I have decent bit of insight when it comes to sexual abuse and gender difference, and brother, when it happens to us it’s a cakewalk in comparison. In fact, there is no comparison, which is why “what about us guys?” comments are, as Twisty above was too kind to point out, lameass.

  39. manxome

    Patriarchy is a system, not a person. Try door number two.

  40. Twisty

    Whereas we are always delighted to to welcome strays from Pandagon, it is my recommendation, DavidByron, that you take a look at the sidebar before posting here again.

  41. belledame222

    “little-girl princess victim”

    bwahahahaha! oy, have YOU got the wrong number.

    You know, every time I come across a man who thinks like that–specifically, the “little princess” bit–I think to myself, there goes another poor soul who only ever wanted to be petted and comforted and told he was sweet and special. everyone coos and makes a fuss over little sis; she’s so PRETTY, she doesn’t have to DO anything, all she ever has to do is CRY and everyones loves her, what about MY feelings, huh, huh, HUH?

    yep, men are victims too. in more ways than one. I sympathize. still doesn’t give one license to be a patronizing asshole, though.

  42. belledame222

    anyway I too was a “Bewitched” fan–even before I really knew what was up, I expect I tweaked at some level that the show was gay gay gay. How many cast members was that now? Agnes Moorehead; dear old Uncle Alfred as played by Paul Lynde. and one of the Dicks was, can’t remember which. Sargent, was it? the taller thinner later guy. I think.

    As for the content–well, look, be fair. Yes, the “women really have the power, just from backseat” meme is old as the hills, but how many shows did you have where that power extended to actually being able to turn hubby into a newt? And if Samantha was too internalized-whatever to make full use of her powers, her mother and evil twin showed no such hesitancies toward “Darwood.”

    (“I Dream of Jeanie” was not at all in the same category, as Jeannie, magically gifted or not, was a ditz, and really wasn’t all that powerful. After all the chick lives in a *bottle* for crissake. and, well, “Master…” Oh, and she has no female allies or friends; they’re all rivals. Oh, I could go on for a whole thesis’ worth, let me tell you).

    and back to the original point: yes “I Love Lucy” was often repulsive, brilliant comic bits like “Vitameatavegamin” and the chocolate factory notwithstanding. Interestingly, according to the wiki article on DA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desi_Arnaz), the show was originally pitched as more reflective of their actual lives, that is, both husband and wife were show-biz successes and were struggling to keep a normal marriage together in spite of (both) their glamourous lives; but “market research indicated that this scenario would not be popular.”

  43. jaye

    I can’t watch I Love Lucy. Even as a child I felt so uncomfortable because the humor was based on her humiliation. Honeymooners was terrifying. I liked Dick Van Dyke more because of Sally but she was alone because she was a smart working woman, right? Very confusing. Mary Tyler Moore’s own show was a miracle. Betty White’s character was wonderful. Older woman who liked sex. I also loved Bob Newhart. He made marriage with no children and seeing a shrink way okay! Bewitched was ridiculous. While I loved Elizabeth Montgomery, how dare that boring little executive-husband tell her not to use her magical power. What a statement from the patriarchy!

    I love this blog!

  44. kate

    Oh my god I fell into heaven! Finally, finally finally no more women whining about how they can’t leave their man because of the house…

    I don’t watch television and strictly controlled it with my kids, usually finding myself having to have them sit through another history lesson on why this or that really doesn’t happen in the real world. Actually it wasn’t so bad, (for them, I like to talk about history) I usually liked to quiz my kids on their impressions of shows like that. So now I have three radical feminists. Job one accomplished. Ironically my son claims that he has the best handle on this feminist thing and can see the patriarchy’s seams a million miles away. And I tried so damn hard to not let the patriarchy spoil his fragile mind! But it creeps in, he sees himself superior and has no problem defending his position. White patriarchy disease.

    I saw an episode of Honeymooners a few years ago for the first time and I had to turn it off. I couldn’t watch one more minute of that fat pig screaming at his wife. I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek (yes I know many like to claim that Star Trek was so far ahead because there was a black women who was like a sexy secretary), the list goes on, well just about everything on tv makes my mind twist up in knots of rage and hatred at such a popular media of patriarchy schoolery.

    I work as a contractor and I love especially to get out in the field and do framing. A 22 oz. framing hammer on a 2x whilst thinking of some moron patriarchal twit I read or hear about really gets the work done fast. We are starting a job later this month and the Alito hearings have gotten me all warmed to do that two story addition frame-up.

  1. FunctionalAmbivalent

    How Lucy Changed the World

    Twisty blames the patriarchy for I Love Lucy, everybody’s all-time favorite TVshow:That’s right. One of the worst things about having chosen a career in patriarchy-blaming is that I can no longer stand “I Love Lucy.” Every so often I try,

  2. Glurp at I Blame The Patriarchy

    [...] Oh by the way, our post on Lucy made the Carnival Of Feminists! I love this Carnival of Feminists. One of the nicer linkoramas. [...]

  3. lotusmedia 2.0 » My votes in the 2005 Koufax Awards

    [...] Best Post blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2005/12/17/i-dislike-lucy [...]

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