Of Condoms and Cheesecakes: Female Discourse and Sexual Agency in The Golden Girls

Curator's Note

The clip shown here occurs during The Golden Girls episode entitled “Valentine’s Day,” in which the women, ostensibly dumped by their dates, reminisce about past Valentine’s Days. Here we see them ultimately embarrassed in their decision by an insensitive store clerk, as well as Blanche’s proud ownership of their active, responsible sexuality. This moment, situated in the midst of the women’s fond reminiscences with one another about their previous sexual escapades, highlights the subversive female sexuality and powerfully affective female bonding that form the ideological core of this proudly female-centered and feminist series. In her groundbreaking book Backlash, Susan Faludi argues that the elderly women of The Golden Girls occupy nonthreatening roles in the all-female space of the home. From her viewpoint, the series does not really work against the dominant backlash ethos since the home, and the women’s status as widows, serve as a means of containing them and their potential empowerment. I would argue, however, that rather than a site of containment or disavowal of feminism, the home—especially the kitchen—creates a speech community enabling strong and affective bonding between the four women and that this bonding allows them to attain agency through the sharing of their experiences of sexuality. Blanche’s proud declaration that the friends remain unashamed of their sexual activity enunciates a sense of pride in and unashamed possession of their sexuality that underscores their rebellion against the traditional patriarchal norms that attempt to prevent elderly women from expressing, still less enjoying, their bodies, especially in the public sphere. Furthermore, the framing of this incident within the women’s intimate conversations with one another—which are filled with genuine warmth and love— underscores the fact that the relationships between and among each of the them is ultimately more significant to the narrative thrust of each episode, and the series as a whole, than those with the men in their lives. As a postfeminist media ethos continues to proclaim that women can gain empowerment and agency through an insistent emphasis on the individual, sex, and consumerism, The Golden Girls provides an alternative vision of what female agency through sexuality can look like. Rather than rigorously focusing on the competition among and between women for the attention of men (though that does infrequently occur), these women consistently rely upon their relationships with one another over and above their relationships with men.


I've always loved this scene. Thinking back to Monday's post on female archetypes, it's interesting that Blanche is the one who makes the announcement, rather than Dorothy. The subject (sex) is obviously more in Blanche's purview, but it is so often Dorothy who gives voice to the staunch, socially-conscious opinions. I'm also interested in the last paragraph of your post. It's true that their sexuality rarely gets in the way of their friendship (though on occasion, as you point out), and that they find a way to accommodate active sexual and romantic lives with profound familial, female relationships. But how then do you read the series finale (not thinking about The Golden Palace)? Is it inevitable in every story of women together that the story will conclude with a man whisking one of them away? Admittedly, I'm raising the question without taking a moment to think through other television examples, but I'm curious to hear what you think.

I've often wrestled with the politics of that last episode in particular, as it seems, at first blush, to tame Dorothy and to finally rehabilitate her spinster persona. However, I think the final scene of that episode reveals something more complex, as it focuses, not on Dorothy's relationship with Uncle Lucas, but instead with the extraordinary bond she has shared with these women for the last seven years. She says, "You'll always be my sisters. Always." That line, to me, is a distillation of this series' particular espousal of feminism. Even at the very end, it is the relationship shared among the four women that is given narrative and affective emphasis, rather than the strictly heterosexual one.

What a great post and clip! This is Blanche at her best because although I agree completely that the series supports sisterhood, sometimes this is a lesson Blanche has to learn. I think it is a function of the sitcom formula, where there is a disruption in the friendship, then all is resolved at the end. As I mentioned previously, Blanche does pit herself against the others because she believes she is so much more beautiful than the others. The other thing I might say is Dorothy marrying at the end of the series challenges the cautionary tale about feminism that heterosexual feminist women end up alone and miserable, but I also realize this happily-ever-after narrative is very conventional and there are lots of other ways to create a full life and alternative family, which is what these series do in their totality. But back to Blanche...to say that their decision to buy condoms is "morally and socially responsible" might get lots of push back today. Does anyone know if a Focus on the Family-type group boycotted the episode or series?

We had a good laugh re-watching this clip. :) This scene brings to mind one of our favorite things about The Golden Girls: the way in which the show empowers women to seek out their own desires, whether it be the food they eat (cheesecake!), the men they love, or the ways in which they choose to express themselves.

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