Misogyny & Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing,” Episode 1.13, “Take Out the Trash Day”

In case you’ve forgotten, I do, in fact, love this show. It has become a ritual now that when my dad visits, we stay up late watching and eating ice cream. Sometimes, it’s ice cream I made, like the brown-sugar-bourbon ice cream I made him last time.

But loving and criticizing are not mutually exclusive activities! 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.
  13. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! – A display of homophobia

And a ! for every piece of evidence that Toby and C.J. are FwB, and a TNFTS for every time the boys are Too Noble For This Shit.

Last time on “The West Wing”: evil-looking dudes had records of Leo McGarry in a rehab facility, even though that shit is supposed to be confidential; C.J. made out with Danny; Leo made a public statement about his addiction.

It’s Take Out the Trash Day! C.J. is in the press room, telling the press that, weather permitting, they’ll be in the Rose Garden, and “weather permitting” means “not actually precipitating.” The reporters are unhappy because it’s going to be cold but the president ain’t trying to hear that, or so he told C.J. He is a hardy New Englander, gosh darn it! C.J. goes on to say that there will be 15 bill-signing souvenir pens, and Danny wants to know how, since Josiah Bartlet only has 13 letters. But he’ll use separate pens for dotting the i and crossing the ts. C.J. calls Danny “freak-boy” for asking, because that’s how you show affection in an Aaron Sorkin teleplay.

C.J. goes on to announce that the parents of Lowell Lydell will be at the signing, and, as Mandy begins to hover ominously, a reporter expresses surprise. Apparently there’s a rumor that the Lydells don’t support the president, even though the president is signing a hate-crimes bill, and Lowell Lydell was beaten and killed for being gay back in episode 10. Got to give them points for continuity here. C.J. dismisses the rumors of non-support, even when another reporter seconds it. C.J. promises that the Lydells are coming and will be available to the press. Mandy, in I guess the control room?, looks chagrinned.

We move to the control room, or whatever that room is, as C.J. gets off the podium. She and Mandy pedeconference through the C.J. area while Mandy says she wishes C.J. hadn’t promised the press the Lydells. Mandy is feeling uncomfortable because Jonathan Lydell, the father, “doesn’t say much.” C.J. thinks that’s a ridiculous concern. I think it’s a ridiculous concern to be bringing up after the briefing rather than before, and I have to imagine that Mandy knows when C.J.’s briefings are, but never mind, the Bechdel test is being passed! C.J. and Mandy are talking about their job! Well, they’re talking about a man, Jonathan Lydell, but still! Right? -10

Then C.J. talks to Carol, thanking her for the bit about dotting the i and crossing the ts, which is also a Bechdel pass (but the rules that I made up are, only one point for or against in any given episode) and then immediately chastises her for misspelling “Senator.” Sadly I have to give a -5 for that one because while a female underling is experiencing her boss being rude to her, that boss is also female. Oh, C.J.

Josh comes in to C.J.’s office and C.J. correctly assumes that whatever he’s coming in for, it’s going to involve her staying late. “I’m a woman in her prime, Josh,” she says, which is interesting, because at no point do any of the men who work here ever object to staying late because it’s putting a crimp in their love life. Even the one who’s getting divorced as a result of it. In fact, Leo even used Sam’s love life to make a point about how sometimes you gotta work late, and Sam never objected, even when he discovered that it was all a ruse. 2. Josh does not care about C.J.’s love life, but cares about everyone else’s – he wants C.J. to read a report about how abstinence-only ed doesn’t work. The White House is trying to pass a bill to get more teachers on the ground, but some in Congress want to stipulate to that bill that the sex ed classes in the schools that benefit be abstinence-only. It’s one of those situations on this show where it becomes easy to forget that this aired a decade and a half ago. C.J. complains that she would have no trouble passing an abstinence-only class, which, still a 2, but also, hah. Josh leaves on, “By the way, pages 27-33? A couple things every girl should know.” And he smirks. And I am simultaneously offended and amused, as I so often am when it comes to this show. But it gets another 2. I know it’s a stretch, but I don’t care. I’d be happy to debate this point in the comments.

Credits. Rob Lowe for real does not age.

Danny comes in to C.J.’s office and asks what she’s up to. He’s excited by the answer (reading a report on sex ed) because everyone who works here is thirteen. He wants to get dinner with her and insists they have to go on a date sometime; C.J. can’t just keep grabbing him and kissing him. Really, Danny? The first four months of my relationship with my husband consisted of me grabbing him and kissing him. It works out sometimes, is my point.

But Danny didn’t come to C.J.’s office to flirt. He came to ask her about an advance man for the vice president taking a Navy helicopter to Pebble Beach to play golf. When I first saw this episode, I did not understand what any of those words meant. I mean, I understood what they all meant individually, but strung together in a sentence, they did not make any sense to me. They make sense to C.J., though, who is shocked and dismayed and a little annoyed that Danny won’t give up his source, which of course he won’t. Then Danny claims that he has a pilot who sat around for “four hours” while the advance man “hit every sand trap in Carmel.” I am not terribly familiar with golf, but wouldn’t 18 holes take at least four hours to play even if you were really good at it?

PS. As a teenager, I was mortified when my dad took up golf. He didn’t take it up too seriously, just as a thing he had to do sometimes with his clients, but I still made fun of him mercilessly. But then he said, “Look, golf is a walk in a lovely park with your friends. Sometimes, yes, you have to swing a metal stick in the direction of the ball. But it’s that swinging of the metal stick that allows you to stay in that park all day.” So now, even though I don’t play or anything, I do get why people like it.

Oh, then C.J. grabs Danny and kisses him. I think she’s probably a very good kisser.

In the Josh section, Donna calls to Josh and then asks the person carrying food – who may or may not be Sam’s assistant whose name may or may not be Carol? – if Josh’s burger is burnt, because that’s the way he likes it. Yet another reason for me to not like Josh.

Josh comes by and asks if it’s burnt and then beckons Donna to follow him, leaving her to carry the food, which she points out. This is a sort of feature of liberal misogyny that I find interesting. “Look, I’m not going to be chivalrous and gentlemanly to you because feminism, right? You ladies don’t want that, right? Haha.” And then it’s the one example of “equality” they’re willing to actually, you know, perform. I might decide to give this a number; I know it shows up in Sorkin’s stuff a lot.

Donna wants to play exposition fairy by asking, “What’s Take Out the Trash Day?” 9. Josh explains that, if there are stories they don’t particularly want the press dwelling on, they dump them all on Friday. All at once, because if they’ve got x column inches to fill, they’ve got to divide that x by whatever number of items are being dropped; Friday because no one reads the paper on Saturday. Then Josh sends Donna to deliver C.J.’s salad.

Sam comes in to Toby’s office. Everyone’s office seems awfully dark, today, by the way, even C.J.’s, and she was reading a report on paper, so one might think she needed light. Sam is upset because some town in Alabama wants to get rid of all laws except the Ten Commandments. Toby doesn’t so much care and asks Sam what he actually wants. It turns out the Georgetown student newspaper wants to get Sam’s comment on a professor spouting stuff that right-wingers seem to think doesn’t make them sound blatantly racist – welfare, single moms, etc. They want Sam’s comment because Zoey Bartlet is taking the class. Sam is concerned that this might become a thing. Sam promises to talk to Zoey but doesn’t leave the room and Toby is annoyed until Leo calls them into his office. Leo also doesn’t care that much the town in Alabama that’s got Sam so steamed.

Josh is already in Leo’s (very dark) office, eating. Leo says this sex-ed report could not come at a worse time, since they want that teacher bill passed. Then there are some sentences exchanged about the thing with Leo and all the things these boys are too noble for. TNFTS!

A bunch of assistants are clustered around Margaret’s desk. The woman who may or may not be Carol is arguing with Donna about someone who knew something either “for sure” or “in her heart.” No, wait a second. C.J.’s assistant is Carol. And there’s the one played by Martin Sheen’s daughter, who may or may not be Bonnie. No, wait, I think the black girl who is sometimes near Toby is Bonnie. She’s not there. Whatever, Mrs. Landingham comes in and asks what they’re doing. Gossiping. As girls do. 4. Mrs. Landingham chastises them and leaves, at which point Donna and Not-Carol continue arguing. Josh comes out of Leo’s office and says, “Well. Here’s a group of federal employees.” Yeah, Josh. You were a federal employee when you were telling Dan about how C.J. likes goldfish. Or the times you were talking about Sam and his call girl. 5.

Donna peals off and asks if she can talk to Josh and Sam. In Sam’s office, Donna brings up the vice president’s advance man, whose name, improbably enough, is Chad Magrudian. I do love Aaron Sorkin character names. Especially tertiary characters. Apparently old Chad used to work for them, and was in the habit of using his “advance” trips to go have a good time then, too. Anyway, Donna brings it up because they know who leaked the story.

C.J. is reading on her couch with a blanket on her feet. She finally turns on the light behind her when Toby comes in to talk about Chad Magrudian, who, I swear, they only talk about because they want to keep saying that name. When Toby asks how C.J. heard about it and C.J. reveals that Danny gave it to her, Toby says, “As long as it’s not the other way around,” and then quickly insists it was a joke. 5, Toby. And 2. For real, dude. Saying it was a joke doesn’t really make it less rude. Also Toby tells her about Zoey. Aw, it’s really tense in here. Probably because their FwB arrangement is on hold while C.J. works out her shit with Danny.

For real, though, I can’t think of another reason for this scene to be there. Definitely bolsters my theory. !

Josh, Sam, and Toby are on the couches in the Oval. Josh is telling Toby that the leaker is one Karen Larsen. She worked on the Veep’s campaign and later in his publicity office, then was moved when the Veep’s aides thought she was getting a crush on Hoynes. 2. Toby instructs Sam to have a talk with her when he gets back from the Hill.

Leo and the president pedeconference through that outdoor hallway on their way into the office. They’re talking about bananas. Mrs. Landingham mistakes their talk of trade and bananas for the president wanting to eat a banana and orders an assistant to go get the president a banana, over his protests. Because men, they talk about important things like trade agreements, whereas women, they just want to feed and fuss over you, all annoying and shit. 4. Also 5 for the president rudely saying to Mrs. Landingham, “I’m done talking to you now.” Although, full confession, that’s sometimes how I end phone calls with my husband. But that’s because he’s really bad at taking hints. Hints like, “Okay, well, I’ll see you when we get home,” and “I can’t talk right now,” and “Seriously, I need to hang up the phone this very moment.”

In the Oval, Leo and the president continue to talk bananas while the senior staff minus C.J. wait for them to be finished. The president wants to talk to Toby about appointments to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that are being held up. Toby’s got a meeting and he’s all set for it, thanks. He was raised on Sesame Street and Julia Child and Brideshead Revisited. C.J., who has come in, laughs at Toby for having watched cooking shows. 4, C.J. Come on now. You don’t have to be one of the boys. Then Toby defends himself by saying, “I watched Julia Child,” which is a lot like guys who scoff at chick flicks but make allowances for When Harry Met Sally.

C.J. is being asked about the Lydells. Leo and the president think the father might be ashamed that his son was gay, even though said son is dead, which flabbergasts C.J., which, no. No, it doesn’t. 9. Because first of all, it’s actually C.J.’s job – and Mandy’s – to be attuned to these nuances, and usually, she is. And second of all, Leo and the president’s supposition that a person who “sells dental supplies in the Twin Cities” could not possibly be enlightened I don’t think rang necessarily true even back in the Dark Ages when this aired. Or maybe I’m forgetting exactly how far we’ve come.

C.J. also wants to talk about the sex ed report but the president hasn’t looked at it yet. Toby and C.J. leave and the president asks Josh and Sam to talk to him in the hall. He wants them to act to preempt a hearing to save Leo from the mud-dragging. Nothing that is offered as a deal should be rejected without talking to the pres! TNFTS!

The president goes back in to the Oval to ask Leo why he’s meeting with a Simon Blye. The president rejects Leo’s assertion that Simon is a good friend and is offended that Leo is not exclusively seeking counsel from within the West Wing. He advises Leo not to be so trusting. Leo agrees and urges the president to read the sex ed report.

C.J. approaches Danny and asks if they’re off the record. After some banter about whether they’re on the record or not which is only a very little bit charming and only because Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield are really pretty good at this. C.J. asks Danny if he thinks it’s possible that a man could be embarrassed about his son’s gayness even after that son has been murdered. Another 9, then. Danny says that it is, in fact, possible. I think making C.J. so astounded by what seems to be common perception is shitty, but I also think that the common perception is a little bit old-fashioned, even for 2000. It’s not that I think that it’s impossible that a father in 2000 might feel that way; it’s that I don’t think it’s as easy and obvious an assumption as the president and Leo and Danny are making it sound.

Danny wants to know about Chad Magrudian, and C.J. promises him the story, and Danny says, “So you’re dumping it with Friday’s trash?” Further evidence that the idea that Donna wouldn’t know is a little absurd and insulting. C.J. points out that it is, in fact, trash. Then there’s a moment where it seems like they’re going to kiss, even though she said they’re not going to kiss anymore, and then she tells him to go and he points out that this is his office and wasn’t there recently a scene where Danny had to tell C.J. that the room they were in was her office, like, why does C.J. need this kind of shit pointed out to her? It’s because girls are dumb, that’s why. Especially when they’re in lurve. 2.

Leo and Sam are on the Hill with Bruno and two other guys. This is not a legal proceeding, Bruno assures them, even though people in Congress want a legal proceeding, so, in order to avoid a legal proceeding, why don’t Sam and Josh tell him what’s up?

Margaret ushers Simon Blye into Leo’s office and it’s a total HITG! After two seconds of pleasantries, Simon offers to talk about Leo’s problems, and then I realize we’re doing a flipping back and forth thing between Josh talking to Bruno and Leo talking to Simon and I love this kind of thing as an audience member, but as a recapper, Jedediah Horatio Christiansen, is it irritating.

So Sam and Josh start telling Bruno about how Lillienfield announced that one in three White House staffers was on drugs, so Toby asked them to investigate-but-not-investigate what was going on. Then Claypool – the evil-looking guy from the previouslys, I think – subpoenaed the records of this not-at-all-an-investigation. Bruno has those depositions and wants to talk about them.

Back with Simon and Leo, Simon believes they won’t succeed in holding off a hearing and it’s all going to be awful. Simon thinks Leo should resign. But Leo tells Simon that the president is TNFTS! Leo correctly guesses that Simon’s got an Op-Ed in the next day’s Post that will say Leo should resign, and not so much because he cares about his country, but more because he wants to up his Q rating. (Leo doesn’t say Q rating. I am saying it.) Then Leo dings Simon for lobbying for an oil company, which, I’m not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China, and also, Leo, I don’t think he can feel the sting of that comment through the layers of Benjamins. Although he claims to be insulted. And Leo doesn’t care and kicks him out of his office. Almost literally. Then Leo mutters, “Oh, God,” as the lights go down.

Back with Leo and Sam, we learn that Bruno will hold off on a hearing if they keep the lid on this sex ed report until after the midterms. Josh gets on his TNFTS horse and Bruno takes him down a notch. He calls them teenagers and it’s adorable. “I’d like to hold hearings into the two of you being stupid. But I don’t have that kind of time.” I want him to be on my dream spin-off with that retiring Supreme Court justice.

Toby is arguing with some people about PBS. They think it’s subsidizing television for rich people. Toby thinks it’s not. C.J. is with him but Carol comes by to call her out because the Lydells are here. C.J. asks Carol to get Mandy out of the Oval. So Carol and C.J. talked about Mandy. Very clear Bechdel test passing. But, as I said, Bechdel tests are pass/fail. This episode has already passed. No further points will be awarded.

The president is talking to Mandy about the sex ed report while Mandy takes notes. Other than the president being adorably grandpa-ish (“I’m not going to say that word.”), I’m not sure what the point of this is. But Mrs. Landingham comes in to get Mandy out to see C.J. and the Lydells.

Mrs. Landingham asks the president if he’d like to share with her what’s in the report, and he declines, because he’d rather not be in therapy for the rest of his life. I’m pretty sure this attitude is sexist so 5 but also it’s terribly childish.

Mandy and C.J. come in to meet the Lydells, who are in some beautiful room. As predicted, Mr. Lydell says very little until C.J. very uncomfortably asks if he’s embarrassed by his son’s sexuality and do they support the president? Mr. Lydell says they do not, over his wife’s objections. It’s not the hate crimes bill; he doesn’t care one way or another. But he’s pretty damn insulted that he’s being asked if he’s embarrassed by his gay son, when this president is taking such a “weak-ass position on gay rights.” You go, Mr. Lydell. He wants to know where the president is on gays in the military, same-sex marriage, gay adoption, etc. And I listen to this list and feel really good about how far we’ve come. Gays in the military? Check. Same-sex marriage? It’s coming. In about a month, right? Less? I don’t know where we are on gay adoption but maybe it’s next.

C.J. and Mandy step out. C.J. wants to let them talk to reporters and say whatever they’re going to say. Mandy is like, no fucking way, remember what our actual job is here? C.J. goes in to tell them they have to go home.

Toby is still with the PBS people. One of them calls Fozzie Bear Fuzzy Bear and Toby is incensed. Toby says, “At at time when the public is rightly concerned about sex and violence on TV, this administration is going to protect The Muppets! We’re going to protect Wall Street Week, we’re going to protect Live from Lincoln Center, and by God, we’re going to protect Julia Child!” I agree with the sentiment and Toby continues to be adorable but I’m not really sure what we’re doing here.

C.J. knocks on the door and Toby gets up to go talk to her. He tells her that Josh and Sam cut a deal on the Hill and there isn’t going to be a hearing. She’s happy because she doesn’t know what the deal is yet. “I gotta get back in there; this is too much fun,” Toby says and I love him so hard.

Cathy! Cathy is Sam’s assistant’s name. Cathy has been called in to Sam’s office so he can bellyache about the town in Alabama that wants to have the Ten Commandments be the only laws. Cathy is not super-excited to play. She says, “She’s here.” The “she” is Karen Larsen, better known to me as Paris Gellar. You know, she also had an arc on “Scandal” and looked exactly like a young Elizabeth Shue. Anyway, Sam invites her in and then accuses her of being the leak on the advance man. Then he reveals that he doesn’t care about the advance man, he’s looking for the leak on Leo. Which Karen did. She starts to say, “Mr. Claypool is a family friend,” but Sam calls for Cathy and instructs Cathy to take Karen to her office and stand there while she empties her desk. “Security’s gonna throw you out of the building in fifteen minutes,” he jaw-clenches at her, and then leaves the office. I’m sure my panties are supposed to be melting from the self-righteous anger of Sam right now, but I just kind of see a White House senior staff member threatening a kid. Who did something really bad, true. But a kid, nonetheless.

The president comes to Mrs. Landingham’s desk. “You’re not going to believe this but I think I’d actually like a banana,” he says to her. “I’m afraid not, sir, no,” she returns. He was snippy before and now he will not be getting one. You go, Mrs. Landingham. -5. I particularly like where he starts to argue and she, in her very even voice, is like, “Yeah, no. C.J.’s waiting for you.” Like, I’m sticking to my guns, not angry, changing the subject. It’s the kind of parenting I try to do.

C.J. wants to ask about the sex ed report and the president says they’re going to stick it in the drawer because it’s incendiary and it’s not going to go down well at PTA meetings. I think I should join a PTA. Or something. Because honest to God, I want my kid to get a fact-based, useful education, on all subjects, including sex ed. (The question did sort of come up, btw, the where do babies come from question, and I’ll admit, I didn’t get into it. But what I said was, “That’s a pretty long story, and I’ll tell it to you if you want to, but I’m not sure you have the attention to listen to it right now. Do you want me to tell you?” And she said, “Maybe later” and went back to her television show.) Anyway, C.J. protests, and the president yells at her, and it’s finally revealed that it’s the deal Josh and Sam made. C.J. says she understands but she is clearly pissed. Actually, I would describe her as disappointed.

C.J. is now sitting in a darkened back stairwell when Danny finds her. She almost leaks the Lydells but Danny won’t take it. Not from her, because he wants to make out with her more. Which is why it’s a bad idea for a press secretary and a reporter to date, on both their ends, but whatevs. He promises that if there’s a story, he’ll find it, but she says they won’t, because they’ve gotten very good at this. How good? He knows about the Friday trash dump. He knows the Lydells were supposed to be at the bill signing and now they’re not. How hard does he have to try to call them up and ask why?

Margaret announces Karen Larsen to Leo. She comes in with her box of office stuff and a suspicious expression. He says he wanted to meet her and have her meet him and asks if she’d like to talk for a minute. She doesn’t seem to, particularly, but she does put her stuff down. He asks her what she thought when she read in his personnel file that he had been treated for a drug and alcohol addiction. She won’t answer at first, but he says, hey, I’ve already fired you, what do you have to lose? So she says her father drank a lot. So did Leo’s. It’s a nice moment because it’s easy for young people to forget that old people were once children themselves and have, like, fathers and stuff. Anyway, Leo goes on to say that his father died as the result of his drinking. Well, he committed suicide, but while he was very drunk. “Is that why you drank and took drugs?” she asks. No, he says, he drank and took drugs because he’s an addict. She asks how he got cured and he says it doesn’t work that way. She doesn’t really understand the nature of addiction and Leo says it’s okay; hardly anyone does. He asks again what went through her head when she saw his personnel file, and she says she thought about all the important decisions he has to make. He says that what she did caused a lot of problems, “but I’m not sure it wasn’t a little bit brave.” TNFTS! He gives her her job back. Sadly, dear readers, this does not mean we will see more of Liza Weil in this show.

We watch from overhead Leo watching C.J. on his TV throwing out stuff with the trash.

I am 100% in favor of watching Toby yell at straw men about Julia Child, but this episode felt a bit flabby and unfocused. A bit like they were taking the trash out of the writing room.

Total Misogyny Points: 13

While the total count is low, I feel C.J. making fun of Toby for watching Julia Child is a sort of classic in the “This is what liberal misogyny looks like” field.

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