Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing”, 1.08, “Enemies”

Haven’t done one of these in a while. Be warned, I have a terrible head cold right now. I don’t know how much sense I’m going to make. But watching “The West Wing” is a great sick-day activity, so y’all are along for the ride.

To remind you, I am using these posts to a) recap a much-beloved (by me and in general) TV show, and b) point out the misogyny in it. Because I like to combine my two favorite activities – watching TV I love, and hate-watching! Here’s what we’re looking for:

  1. Physical comedy is used to undercut a female character’s competence.
  2. A female character’s sexual appeal or sexual/romantic relationship with a male character is primary.
  3. A female character displays “feistiness”. “Feistiness” is a frequent shorthand in liberal misogyny for “See? She’s strong and independent and we find that adorable! What’s the problem?”
  4. Femininity or feminine concerns are disparaged, by male or female characters.
  5. Any character is rude to his/her female subordinate with no consequences.
  6. A male character is lauded and glorified in an unlikely way by a female character or characters.
  7. A female character screws up at her job.
  8. Anger (or other emotions/behaviors) coming from a female character is unreasonable or mysterious, either to the audience or to another character.
  9. A female character plays the Exposition Fairy. Note: Having Exposition Fairies is not in and of itself a problem. It’s necessary in most fiction. But in The West Wing, the Fairy is almost always a female character, and is almost always asking a male character for explanation, and would almost always certainly know the information she’s asking for, so that the fact that she’s asking indicates that she’s not that good at her job.
  10. An episode goes by that does not pass the Bechdel test.
  11. Lip service is paid to female power or agency or simply the existence of females in this world without, oh, say, actually casting one or giving one something cool to do.
  12. A male character or characters act(s) as white knight to a female character or characters.

And,

!. When we see evidence that Toby & C.J. are doin’ it. Not misogynist, just entertaining to me personally.

Last time on “The West Wing”: the Veep was rude to C.J., Leo told him not to be because she represents the office of the president, and Hoynes did not feel that the office of the president got to tell him shit; we learn that Leo’s daughter is protesting too much about her thing for Sam and Danny is being full-on aggressive about his thing for C.J. (which, in case you’ve forgotten, is bad because Danny is a reporter and C.J. is press secretary and those two things do not go together); and Leo’s wife, meanwhile, is so over him and has asked him for a divorce.

This time on “The West Wing,” the president is in the Oval office with Josh. They’re talking about Yellowstone National Park. Well, the president is talking. Josh is trying to leave. I really don’t know what’s wrong with these people. In Josh’s position, I would want NOTHING MORE than to listen to Jed Bartlett talk about national parks for hours. But Josh is not having fun. He’s being pretty obvious about it and also calls the president a nerd. Josh has some pretty secure feelings about his job, no?

Also, I did not know that the Everglades have an extensive mangrove forests. And I am interested. And I would totally look at the president’s slides of all fifty-four of the national parks, which he has because he’s visited all of them. Can this be a job? President-tender? For when the president is waxing nerdy and his staff is tired? I bet Obama waxes nerdy a lot.

I mean, the president wants to take the staff on a field trip to Shenandoah and to act as a guide! And Josh thinks this is a bad idea! I want to go to Shenandoah with Jed Bartlett as my guide!

Credits. Boy, I sure do feel patriotic and important.

Leo is having breakfast with his daughter Mallory at his I’m-about-to-be-divorced-but-I’m-still-crazy-rich hotel’s restaurant, where the coffee is $6.50 a cup. Mallory was going to pay for breakfast until she heard that. You guys, I’ve tried to pay for meals for my dad. It never works. My mom sometimes will allow me to get a bill, but that has been a struggle.

Leo is about to interrogate Mallory about her mother when a congressman stops by to congratulate Leo. Mallory correctly guesses that the congratulations is as regards “the banking bill”, which Leo claims will pass but has not yet, so I’m not sure that congratulations are in order.

Mallory wants Leo to just call Jenny (Mallory’s mother, Leo’s almost-ex-wife) if he wants to know how she’s doing. Conversation turns to opera tickets. It’s Leo and Jenny’s subscription night but neither of them wanted the tickets. Leo wants to pick a fight with Mallory and starts complaining that she hasn’t congratulated him on the banking bill – which has not yet passed – with a sufficiently impressed tone. But Mallory’s not having it, so Leo drops the hissy fit and instead gives her the tickets and asks her to walk him back to work.

Over at the White House, C.J. is marveling to Mrs. Landingham that Josh was talking to the president until 2 am about national parks. So I guess Mrs. Landingham couldn’t leave, either? And she didn’t even get to hear the president’s discussion of Yosemite. That’s not nice, Mr. President. It’s so not nice that I’m going to give it a 5.

Also, this is another one of those cases where I can’t tell if this passes the Bechdel test or not. I mean, on the one hand, two named women are talking. On the other hand, they’re talking about men – the president and Josh. On the other hand, the men are not romantically connected to them, so they’re really talking about work. I’ll reserve my judgement for the end of this post.

The president bursts out of the Oval, declaring with much hubris that the banking lobby has been defeated and that the banking bill will pass. But it hasn’t passed yet, Mr. President, so maybe tone it down? C.J. asks about the national parks conversation, which almost starts the president on a discussion of Yellowstone, but then Mrs. Landingham reminds him he has a phone call to gloat on. He reminds C.J. to talk up this bill (that has not passed yet).

Can you tell I’m not a counting-chickens-before-they’ve-hatched type of person? And also that I’ve watched TV before?

People mill about the Roosevelt Room (which I now recognize from the picture of Teddy Roosevelt in the background!!!) and pass folders about. The Veep enters and calls the meeting to order, saying that the president is running a bit behind. It’s a cabinet meeting, and the first in six months. The Veep starts with pleasantries about exchanging ideas and says that their first goals should be finding a way to work with Congress. Then the president walks in and starts glad-handing. He introduces himself to the woman taking minutes, Mildred, and gets her to repeat the thing about first goals so that he can harangue the veep about it. “You don’t think our first goal should be finding a way to best serve the American people?” He’s really quite a dick about the whole thing. Hey, I guess this gets a -5 because the president is being rude to a male subordinate. Although using Mildred in this way is kind of rude, too, so another 5 for you, Mr. President!

In Toby’s office, Toby and Sam agree that their latest speech is a little flat. They argue about whose writing is failing to hit the mark and then Josh comes in. Josh wants to know if they’ve heard anything about the banking bill. He is not as confident as the president was. Toby assures him that everything is fine and that he’s having lunch with Crane, who is presumably a congressperson involved in the bill? Josh leaves, not really reassured, and Toby, more invested in the writing, says to Sam, “Somewhere in this building is our talent.” Oh, Toby. Your talent is always with you.

Danny comes to C.J.’s doorway and C.J. wonders why her staff lets him waltz around. This is treated as a part of adorable banter, but, for real, though, why is the press secretary’s staff letting a reporter meander freely through the press secretary offices of the White House? I’m not sure what number I should put here so I’m going with 2 because the fact that Danny has a crush on C.J. is being placed above the logic of a press secretary’s security for storytelling purposes. And you can tell it’s for storytelling purposes because C.J. points out the illogic, and then they brush it aside. It’s a favorite writerly technique for dealing with an editor’s or fact-checker’s note without actually changing the scene you’ve written.

Anyway, Danny has heard that the president was rude to the veep at the cabinet meeting and also does C.J. want to have dinner. C.J. wants to know where he heard this. Danny wants to press his dinner invitation. He’s getting pretty effing close to a backing-away C.J. here. I’m going to give this another 2. Finally he goes away.

Hoynes is chatting with people I’m taking as reporters, since they’re all sticking their tape recorders in his face. Also, Danny is there. Sans tape recorder. They’re saying something about stocks and the internet. I’m not even sure it’s supposed to make sense.

Danny peels away from the herd with the veep and tries to get information out of him about the cabinet meeting, but the veep is not giving anything up.

C.J. asks Sam if he’s heard anything about the cabinet meeting and he has not. She peels away from him and he greets Mallory. Mallory takes the very long route towards asking him to go to the opera with her that night, but not as a date, because “there will be under no circumstances sex for you at the end of the evening.” Okay, then. I think a 3 is appropriate here. And, look, I married the guy I started hooking up with when I was eighteen. I don’t know how first dates work. But . . . don’t many of them include not having sex at the end and still count as dates? Is she implying that there will be no sex for Sam with her ever? If so, why does she want to go to the Chinese opera with him? Anyway, Sam thinks Chinese opera and no sex sounds like a great night. Mallory says she’ll come get him at 7:30.

TMPTF – 4

C.J. and Sam both sit in front of Leo’s desk, silently, waiting. Neither of them will tell the other what they want to talk to Leo about. Leo comes in and asks what’s up. C.J. tells him that Danny has the info about the cabinet meeting. Leo tells her to deal with it. C.J. says, “You’re a real details man, aren’t you?”

C.J. leaves and Sam tells Leo about Mallory asking him out. Leo is displeased but tells Sam he’s fine. Sam leaves. Leo insists to the air that he’s fine.

The veep is holding forth with another group of people. This time none of them has a tape recorder, although there does seem to be someone with a camera. He’s talking about a rocket. Again, I’m not even sure this is supposed to make sense. A secretary pulls him away and brings him to C.J. C.J. tries to talk to the veep but nothing productive is revealed, other than, the veep is pissed and C.J. is concerned.

Toby comes back from lunch, still convinced the banking bill is in the bag, asking Sam to help him draft a statement. Josh comes by and insists that the banking bill is not, in fact, in the bag. Two people named Broderick and Eaton have attached a land-use rider to the banking bill. They want to strip-mine the Big Sky Federal Reserve, which is apparently most of Montana. Sam thinks that’s fine. Josh thinks it’s not fine, not so much because Montana matters, but because winning does. (By which I mean, having the full victory, unmarred by . . . compromise? Giving in to shitty political tactics?) The three of them head off to make an appointment with the president.

C.J.’s at her podium, talking to the press. A reporter is asking about the attachment of the land-use rider to the banking bill. C.J. is, of course, only hearing about this now. Because the boys of the president’s staff don’t tell her things. 5?C.J. handles it with her usual aplomb and charm.

She walks off the podium and asks Bonnie to find Toby for her. I kind of wish there was a web series or something in which Bonnie, Cathy, and all the other barely-seen assistants could have their own stories.

Danny approaches C.J. and notes that the land-use rider was a shock to her. C.J. points out that this is a restricted area but beyond the banter about the signs that are usually but not currently posted, indicating that this is a restricted area, she does nothing to stop him from pedeconferencing with her. C.J. is not pleased with him and Danny continues to ask her out. 2 to everything going on here. Bonnie tells her Toby is in his office and C.J. heads over there to surprise him.

Leo is reporting the land-use rider to the president. The president is surprised, not in the least because it was Eaton and Broderick, which was basically Josh, Sam, and Toby’s reaction. Toby, who is in the Oval Office, with Sam, Josh, and some other people, says it’s retaliatory. The president wants to know what it’s in retaliation for and Toby says it’s for winning. Oh, boy, 1999 Aaron Sorkin. Believe me when I tell you, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Sam suggests swallowing it and Josh says, “I knew you were going to say that,” which, like, what a genius you are, Josh. He told you he was going to say that two minutes ago. Sam doesn’t want to screw up their banking victory with an argument about a bunch of rocks that are uninhabitable eight months of the year, and Josh says Sam means they can live without the environmental lobby on their side. Josh wants to veto and so does Toby, basically because they are puny White House staffers and this is how they flex their muscles. Sam thinks Montana doesn’t have enough electoral votes to worry about pissing them off and Josh snarks that he knew the day would come when Sam would willingly sell of states for political purposes. Excuse me, but isn’t this, like, the exact opposite of Sam’s usual personality? Isn’t he the least likely member of the staff to ditch principle for politics? No? Okay, then.

Toby wants a few hours to speak to some people. Isn’t that Josh’s actual job? What is going on here?

The president dismisses everyone with a “What’s next?” and we’re taken via b-roll to a D.C. sunset. Leo’s reading on his couch when the president meanders in, having nothing to do because they had most of the night blocked for “that thing” and then it got cancelled. Jed clearly wants company and Leo gives it to him. They discuss Leo’s divorce and his daughter. Jed points out that Mallory does not really see what Leo’s job is. It must be weird to have these discussions about your personal life with someone you have to call “sir”. Anyway, Jed reminds him that he’s next door all night.

Josh is typing when Donna comes by with Mandy. Mandy wants to talk about the banking bill. She’s on Sam’s side. Josh reiterates that this is more about pride than anything else. Mandy is being very 3 and that seems to be the whole point here.

Charlie comes by to let Leo know that some cabinet undersecretary is having a birthday and needs a card/birthday letter tonight. This gives Leo An Idea. He tells Charlie to give it to Sam, which he does. Sam realizes he’s cutting it close to his date but goes to accomplish his task.

Mandy is talking to Toby who is not listening. He’s being pretty rude. 5. Also, Mandy is being 3. I feel sometimes I should just replace 3 with Mandy. Toby tells Mandy he has hatred in his heart. Mandy asks towards whom. Toby says, “You go ahead and pick ’em.” Have I mentioned how hard I ❤ Toby?

C.J. stops by. She was probably hoping he’d be alone. ! Mandy wants to do that silly thing where she tells C.J. to tell Toby things that Toby can perfectly well hear Mandy say to C.J., what with him sitting right there. Because she’s 3! C.J. tries very hard to play along but it’s hard to get past the fact that she does not care.

TMPTF – 10

C.J. follows Mandy out. I guess Toby saying he needed to work was C.J.’s cue that there would be no booty call that day. !

What, you guys? I’m sick, okay. I have to get my fun where I can. (Oh, my God, people, I mean I have a cold. Not that I’m a pervert whose fetish is shipping unrequited TV couples.)

C.J. asks Mandy about her trouble with Danny and Mandy suggests giving him a half-hour with the president. I don’t know why C.J. couldn’t figure this out herself, so 9. Mandy asks for C.J.’s help with the banking bill thing and C.J.’s like, sorry, the boys must be boys on this one. Mandy says they’re idiots. C.J.’s like, yeah, we know.

So does this pass the Bechdel test? Two named female characters talking about work, which just so happens to also be about men? I am still undecided.

The president is looking over Sam’s birthday message and asks him to do another draft. Because he’s in on Leo’s Idea.

Mallory comes by in a totally sex red dress. For someone who’s not on a date . . . I’m going with a 8 here, not for being dressed the way she is, but for saying earlier that this is not a date when it clearly is a date. Irrational women use irrationality to flirt, right? Say no when they mean yes and “Get lost” when they mean, “Take me, I’m yours”?

Anyway, she won’t be on a date in a minute. Sam invites her in to his office.

Danny is typing in the dark. C.J. comes by and says she’s having a hard time believing one of the cabinet secretaries was gossiping with him. He points out that the cabinet secretaries weren’t the only ones in the room. C.J. figures out it’s Mildred and Danny insists that Mildred not be fired because it would be “mean”. Right, big important cabinet secretaries can be expected to be discreet, but female administrative staff? Pfft. Don’t be mean.

C.J. makes the deal with Danny for the president, after he pushily flirts with her and threatens that he’ll write about it if Mildred gets fired.

Mallory is in Sam’s office questioning why Sam would have to do such a lowly task on the night of their date. For some reason she thinks Sam is chickening out. He insists she stay for half an hour while he finishes up.

Toby is in a library-looking room with a portrait of the other Roosevelt. Josh comes in and says he doesn’t think it was Broderick and Eaton; he thinks it was Crane, the dude Toby had lunch with. Toby has already come to that conclusion but apparently the hatred has fled his heart, leaving nothing but apathy. The hatred still burns hot in Josh’s heart, though.

C.J. goes to the Oval and tells the president about his upcoming sit-down with Danny. C.J. also tells the president it was probably Mildred who talked, not the Veep. The president is also in favor of dropping the subject. Because ladies can’t be expected to not talk to reporters, right? Right. 8

Sam is nerdishly (and I mean that as a compliment) finishing his draft of the birthday message. Mallory is exasperated. Sam says he doesn’t care that it’s just a birthday message; he was asked to do this by the president of the United States. Mallory connects the dots and asks Sam if he told Leo they were going out that night.

Leo’s dictating some things to Margaret when Mallory comes in to 3 at Leo. Leo admits readily that he made Sam do the birthday message to show Mallory what it’s like to be romantically involved with someone who works for the White House. Then the president comes in and reveals he’s in on the plan. Jed reads some of Leo’s schedule from that day, to demonstrate how difficult this job is. Mallory 3s at him.

Mallory assures Leo that she’s not blaming him and offers to go see the rest of the opera with her. He does not think Chinese opera is a good way to make anything up to him. And, on the one hand, they’re his tickets. But on the other hand, Jason and I have season tickets to the Marriott Lincolnshire’s theater and sometimes things are included that I’d rather not see. Like, I made him take Zoe to Cats this year. And last year there was some sort of Andrew Lloyd Webber review so we gave those tickets to his parents.

Mallory thinks they should ask Sam and Leo agrees, reluctantly. But, hahaha, Sam would rather stay and perfect the birthday message. Even after Mallory gets Leo to admit that this assignment was bullshit. Because Sam’s enormously nerdy. In a truly, truly lovable way.

Mallory also thinks this is lovable, saying Sam is so exactly like her father. Sam says that’s the nicest thing she’s ever said to him.

Some assistant knocks on the Oval Office door to announce the veep. They have a friendly handshake but that’s the only friendly thing that happens. Turns out, the president hates the veep because the veep made him “beg” him to be his vice-presidential candidate. Jed claims that it weakened him out of the gate, but I notice that he still got elected, so Jed is still being an asshole.

Mandy is hollering at Josh because Josh is still trying to deal with the banking bill. Mandy closes herself in Josh’s office and tells him he’s fighting the wrong fights for the wrong reasons. Josh looks stunned but doesn’t seem to change his mind. He yells at Donna for not having gotten some files he wanted and Donna says the computer system is antiquated. This gives Josh an Idea.

Now Toby is nerdishly trying to help Sam with the birthday message and I swoon a little. Josh comes in to announce that the president can use the Antiquities Act to make Big Sky a national park. OMG, it’s like the thing that the president was talking about in the beginning of the episode was important for the plot or something! It was Chekhov’s Pager all along and I didn’t know!

The president is now telling a very bored Charlie about national parks. I guess president-sitter is Charlie’s actual job.

Josh comes in to give the president his idea. The president loves it. He says to Josh, “You understand it’s a bunch of rocks, right?” Josh says, “I’m sure someone with your encyclopedic knowledge of the ridiculous and dork-like will be able to find a tree ora ferret that the public has a right to visit.” The president wags his finger and says, “More than a right, Josh. It’s a treat.” I truly, truly love this exchange more than I love many things in the world. I know that I must come across in these recaps as a hater of this show but seriously? This right here puts a smile on my face. This whole scene, really, the writing, the acting, the humor and the seriousness – it really means so much to Josh to deliver for the president, and the president knows and appreciates that – it’s just awesome. And I’m sure the lighting and set design and cinematography are good, too, and if I knew anything about that I’d appreciate it.

Josh follows the president out onto the thing I’ve been calling a portico even though I don’t know if that’s right to say, “We talk about enemies more than we used to.” Who’s the “we”, Josh? You are usually leading the discussions on enemies. Didn’t you tell some guy that’s what the president employs you to do?

That’s the episode. Only 16 misogyny points, which isn’t bad. I don’t think I’m going to give them the Bechdel test pass, after all. Not because this episode is light, but because, look, Toby and Sam talk about “work” in their first scene without talking about women. In fact, none of the men have discussions about women as they relate to work at any point in this episode. Male characters can do that on this show; female characters rarely can. Also, in both cases where two named female characters talk to each other about “work,” they’re really talking about the men’s personalities and preferences. Mrs. Landingham and C.J. are talking about the president’s love of talking about national parks, and C.J. and Mandy are talking about Toby and Josh’s stubbornness and pride. So no Bechdel test passing.

See you next time!

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