Last week I finished a chapter on the portrayal of high-achieving girls and women on Glee, focusing mostly on Rachel Berry, but also considering Sue, Beiste, Emma, Terri, and Quinn. I wish I had revised it about, oh, six more times. It was a major case of having more that I wanted to say than I had words to say it in. Further, the more I wrote and researched the more complicated the situation seemed. The grossly inconsistent writing on the show didn’t help either. I had always assumed that Glee has a huge team of writers and that’s why the characters, plotlines, and general Gleeverse were so inconsistent. As I did my bibliography, I learned that most episodes I wrote about were written by the same two people. So it really does just boil down to bad writing. (Sorry, guys.)
Anyway, one of the areas of the paper that is still giving me anxiety (too bad I’ve already submitted it, right…) is the relationship between Rachel and Quinn. Really, there’s a whole other paper that could be devoted to Faberry. This Valentine’s Day they were voted fans’ favorite TV couple on E!. Lovely Dianna Agron tweeted the photo at right in response. I was thrilled and intrigued that “Faberry” was so popular among fans. It leaves me with so many questions though.
1. The show has an actual lesbian couple, Brittana (Brittany and Santana), who also have an avid fan base. What is it about the Rachel/Quinn friendship/frenemyship that has captured teen hearts? Is it that, like me, they see that Rachel and Quinn are the most complicated female characters on the show and their conflict and success/failure to support each other represents very real issues in relationships between high-achieving girls? Or, more likely, is it something else entirely that I am overlooking because of my girlhood studies tunnel vision? Does anyone else have a girl crush on Dianna Agron?
2. If we break down the differences between Brittana and Faberry, putting aside the obvious sexual nature of the former and platonic nature of the latter, it becomes clear that Brittana pairs two of the underachieving girls while Faberry pairs the Type-A girls. Also, Santana is the most aggressive girl in the glee club (playing into the whole fiery latina stereotype), but the Faberry relationship is marked by girl-girl aggression more than anything else. There’s a long tradition of portraying high-achieving girls as lonely or as misfits. Once more, I think of Tracy Flick’s monologue at the beginning of Election in which she expresses how lonely it can be at the top or when no one seems to care as much as you do. Rachel is directly linked to Tracy early in the series (i.e. They both sign their names with stars) and one would hope that she and Quinn, who longs so much to be popular because she fears that once her looks go she will have nothing left to offer (</3), could support each other. More often, though, their relationship falls into the patterns of aggression between girls under pressure that have been studied by educators and psychologists alike. For more, check out Queen Bees and Wannabes, Odd Girl Out, or one of the myriad books about female aggression of varying levels of credibility. Further, the aggression is almost exclusively coming from Quinn toward Rachel. Rachel supports Quinn through some pretty tough life events, but Quinn regularly lashes out at Rachel. The situation is more complicated than just the Queen Bee bullying a wannabe, but there is something weird going on with Quinn’s hatred of Rachel (see 3 below). So, here’s my question: Santana is forced to deal with her aggression at multiple points in the series but when Rachel and Quinn hurt each other, it’s almost like we’re supposed to accept that that’s the way things are. The best example is when Quinn slaps Rachel at the prom. Do you remember that? People made Black Swan posters about it. Do you remember Rachel’s response? After they both calm down she says, “I’m supposed to be upset about being slapped in the face, but I happen to appreciate the drama of it.” Why is it that we’re supposed to expect this kind of aggression to such an extent that we’re comfortable joking about it and moving on? (Ahem…Mean Girls…)
3. It super, super bothers me that both of these girls were romantically linked to Finn. To me there is something so strange about this triangle and the way the desire for Finn mediates the friendship and causes the aggression between the two. It seems downright Victorian. (For more read Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England). I think Finn is swell, but he seems like such an underachiever compared to both these girls. He’s not smart. He can’t dance. His football team sucks. He’s got a generous heart and a good voice. That seems about it (Although, Kathleen once wrote an awesome essay about Finn’s ministry to his classmates). But they both want him. They also, however, both want something that the other has. Rachel wants to be pretty and popular like Quinn. Quinn wants to be as fearless in her determination as Rachel is. To each, there is something golden or liberated about the other’s person that they covet, more than they covet Finn. You have to read between the lines to see it, though. To me, that tension is where the meat and motivation comes from. And even though I think I too have graduated from Glee, my wheels are still spinning on the complicated relationship between aggression, envy, desire, and Faberry.
Finally, I leave you with my favorite ever photo of Rachel, from “Theatricality”: