Monday, January 26, 2009

House: The Penis Knows Best

Natalie writes under mzbitca at What A crazy Random Happenstance.  She teachers college classes within Prison and runs a Rehab home for women with drug addictions.  Her writing is based on critiquing popular culture from a feminist perspective.

I have been watching House since the second season. As a rule I enjoy the show, although it does have very problematic elements.  Much of House’s commentary is sexist, racist, and basically every other offensive thing in the book but I feel that they balance that well with making sure that House is not someone you should want to be.  A person may admire his sarcasm but the writers are pretty good about throwing in episodes that remind the viewers just how messed up and miserable House is and that he is not some tragic hero but rather a brilliant man who cannot deal with his life so he attempts to justify his outlook in his interactions with others. 

Season 5 is the first season where House’s new team is all assembled and it’s back to business as usual of solving weird medical cases.  The new tag-alongs with their own emotional baggage are Kutner (an Indian-American who was raised by foster parents and has a reckless streak), Taub (plastic surgeon who has cheated on a wife who buys him expensive cars) and Hadley (a female who identifies as bisexual and has been diagnosised with Huntington’s Disease).  Hadley’s story has been the focus of most of this season in relation to her coming to grips with her disease and what it means for her future. 

We find out about Hadley’s sexuality after Foreman recognizes it when she is against placing people in stereotypical boxes.  Foreman’s reasoning was that “people who don’t like boxes” feel that way because they don’t fit in any of the boxes.  Of course, my question is why the fuck does there have to be a box to begin with, but that’s a whole other post.  Hadley’s sexuality is not truly touched on until she has trouble dealing with her Huntington’s diagnosis.  She goes on a reckless spree that involves doing drugs and taking random women home with her.  This is discovered when one of her one-night stands gets sick and House is in charge of her case.  She is criticized for her behavior but the last scene of the episode shows her, with ominous music playing, once again kissing and being sexually involved with a woman.  The fact that her taking home random women is considered part of her downward spiral sends a very clear message about what type of relationships are “correct”. Clearly one-night stands with women mean you’re losing control, but two season’s ago, when Cameron was blatantly using Chase for sex it was cute and empowering of her (and of course they end up together cause that’s how these things work).

If there were any doubts about which sex it is healthier for Hadley to be attracted to the next step in her journey nips them in the bud.  The Penis (otherwise known as Foreman, another doctor) quickly comes to the rescue to place the confused woman in her place.  He forces her into a study that involves experimental treatment for Huntington’s and also gets her to make peace with her memories and feelings about her mom.  He gets rewarded with a kiss and Hadley gets rewarded with the music of approval as the episode ends. 

The biggest issue with this whole plot development is just how much of who Hadley is and how she develops is based on a man and how he manipulates her.  She made the choice not to disclose her sexuality in the workplace but the straight male had no problem with declaring that she was bisexual.  Forget about her agency to choose how and to who her sexuality should become known, all that we need is a smart man to figure everyone out.  When she goes on her “self-destruct” mission it is Foreman who partly comes to the rescue.  He offers her placement in a drug treatment study and admonishes her on giving up.  When he feels she is not participating in the study to his liking he breaks into her home and checks up on her medication.  When she is having trouble dealing with a more advanced patient who brings back painful memories of her mother he forces her to deal with the situation.  Finally, when the fact that she has a terminal disease makes her less willing to be in a relationship, he arranges for her to “see” how well one patient is doing on the treatment. When she calls him on this he denies it until she believes him and finally asks him out on a date.  The most recent episode ends with Foreman discovering, after he pumped her up about how well the drugs are working, that she is actually on the placebo.  He gazes at her stunned and saddened while she happily does a crossword puzzle. 

If the writers are looking to send a message I hope it involves Foreman learning a lesson for thinking he knows best in every situation. Hadley did have to deal with her Huntington’s and she did need to deal with her memories of her mother but he forced her hand in many ways and may possibly do more damage.  The man does not always know best and the mentality that they know what’s right for women can cause horrible pain.  I would rather see a woman self-destruct or not deal with her problems than have one be “rescued” by a man consistently.  We are not puppets or lower beings who need a stronger more mature hand guiding us.  Hadley is a human beings dealing with a life threatening illness and Foreman assumed that he knew what she was going through and what she needed and manipulated her into feeling and behaving the way he things best.  He has just recently learned that his manipulations have a fatal flaw in that he was dealing with somebody else’s life.


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