Elaine Benes: A Feminist, or Just One of the Boys? A Sociological Critique of Women in a Men’s World
As the first paragraph of Sarah Worth’s excerpt in Seinfeld and Sociology suggests, television and television characters shape the world in which we choose to live: how, why, and when to do things (27). I often find myself comparing the relationships and troubles of me and my friends to the comforting levels of morality and generosity of Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe and ask myself: “Why is everything so easy for them?” Because it’s television. I’ll discuss later what Worth had to say about Friends, but for now, it’s about the structure of Seinfeld’s motivations and intentions with Elaine Benes as a central character for the show.
As for the modes of discourse that most of this paper will cover, narration, exposition, and persuasion are the three elements Worth illustrates in her argument. While the running theme or argument for the essay and for the book is that Seinfeld is a show about nothing, Worth considers the many aspects about Elaine’s social and psychological behavior and attitude towards men, her friends, dating, and work based on feminism or a lack thereof.
Worth has some interesting and valid insights when placing Elaine under the feminist spectrum. From this essay as well as several episodes, some of which are mentioned, Elaine is not the average television-sitcom woman, and Worth gives great examples to support her reasoning. Worth states: “Maternal ethics…claims that there is no essential connection between being a “mother” (someone who does maternal work) and being a woman...Elaine has none of this maternal instinct. Elaine wants nothing to do with motherhood.” This is the essential piece of the argument that determines her position, if you will, and her relationship among Jerry, George, and Kramer. I agree with this argument in the sense that not only is Elaine’s personality too rough and tough, but also her environment and daily interactions with three male friends prevent her from an alternative life and choices. While she’s tough and assertive, she’s able to adapt and situate her life around others.
The feminist argument for Elaine will render weak in this analysis because her ‘just-one-of-the-boys’ qualities do not allow her to express that side. However, the only concept that fits feminine features for Elaine, one that Worth also points out, is Elaine had broken up with a guy because he didn’t agree with a woman’s decision to have an abortion, (33), and while feminism and abortion are two completely different topics, it also illustrates a small change in character development and motivation. Despite Elaine not wanting anything to do with motherhood, it’s clear that she still poses opinions about issues related to it, possibly contradicting her views on motherhood.
Worth provides a plethora of lifestyle changes and examples that steer her away from feminism road. These changes compare the idea between her character based on behaviors and attitudes. Her job, relationships, and friends shape her view and personality on the show, with exposition and persuasion being the key elements for this argument, except for one. Before trying to understand who Elaine is and what her role is on the show based on if she’s a feminist or not, Worth gives a small backstory to what others may define as a feminist: “Liberal feminism is derived from the notion of liberty, that is, the right of each individual to behave as she or he wishes. Liberal feminists also strive to ensure women and men equal treatment under law, equal advantage under legislation and taxation, and equal opportunity for self-determination” (28). While the definition is clear cut and explains the necessary ‘qualifications’, if you will, to identify as one, I’m not so sure this information is needed, since the author, and I after reading it, didn’t settle on feminism. Perhaps the only reason this information is provided is for evidence, rather than exposition. Yes, it explains, but for the reader to question any distinctions, the reader uses this bit of ‘sociocultural information’ for reference.
However, exposition and persuasion are illustrated through Elaine’s personal life: dating, work, friendships, and relationships. Without referencing many of the episodes for support for Worth’s point or argument, the argument couldn’t suffice. Each episode mentioned not only helps the reader to understand what Worth is saying, but to also understand a shift in character development throughout the show, which is one way the reader can determine any sudden change. The occurring use of subjective description, even some objective description, especially between Elaine and her relationships with several men, help Worth come to realize that Elaine is just one of the boys: “She [Elaine] claims once to have broken up with a guy because he didn’t offer her pie. (Note: Offer is in italics because Worth suggests that her dates must always owe her something). She broke up with someone else because his bathroom wasn’t clean (33). From these examples, Worth uses references from the show suggest that Elaine has a bad temper and/or she has no patience.
As far as exposition, this essay only works well by itself within the text, Seinfeld and Philosophy, because there are other chapters that already explain the concept of the show, including the characters, such as The Characters, aka “The New York Four”, therefore Worth doesn’t provide any information about Elaine. However, if the essay were published on its own, more information will be needed. The reader would need to know who Elaine is as well the mention of Seinfeld and the mentioned episodes.
Narration doesn’t play much a role for the specific argument. Rather than a heavy narrative, the essay is filled with a couple of little anecdotes, but nothing to consuming. The most narration in the whole essay is the first full paragraph on the first page when Worth provides the definition for feminism. That’s the only bit of relative information that will help the reader understand Elaine’s feminism or lack thereof.
Other than that, the essay features a lot more persuasion. One element is the comparison between two television shows and its characters. When Worth compares Seinfeld to Friends and Elaine to Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe, her point is relevant to that of Elaine’s lifestyle: “None of these women have stable careers…All three are of course, attractive, vain, and model thin” (37). I’ve watched Friends more than Seinfeld, and I can tell you that neither of these women are feminists; perhaps they have few feminist beliefs, especially Phoebe, with her hippy-lifestyle behaviors, but not strong enough for recognition. Also, this comparison is a perfect way to leave audiences satisfied: Elaine is not a feminist. After all, she doesn’t have very many female friends, and whenever she does interact with other women, it’s clear that she’s not comfortable. It’s not the same relationship with Jerry, George, and Kramer. Instead, she mocks women who do not necessarily share the same cultural background. For instance, a woman claims to have “lost her fiancé”, her baby, and Elaine comments: “Maybe the dingo ate your baby,” which shows little to no regard for other people’s emotions. She’s a jokester at inappropriate times, which eliminates her femininity.
To wrap up the structure of the essay as well as Worth’s argument, Elaine is one of the guys, the details are structured to illustrate persuasion and exposition. The various details about Elaine’s dating ethics, friendships, and relationships validate Elaine’s intentions based on personality. There are even some instances where Elaine is smoking a cigar. She’s aggressive, tough, and speaks what’s on her mind. Her character is a different approach to the various television women. While Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe don’t have steady jobs, they are a bit more feminine than Elaine. I don’t know if that makes for a better television show, but they are certainly more well-rounded.