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Representations of women are not so Glee-ful

A promo photo featuring Quinn and Rachel
Glee promo featuring Quinn and Rachel

There’s no doubt that Glee is one of the most popular television shows in recent memory. The style is flashy and engaging, and the musical performances are fun. Glee’s humor is mostly based on playing with exaggerated stereotypes—often to great effect.

But the women in Glee, without exception, are presented poorly. They either are portrayed negatively, or embody misogynist principles as positiveswith no satirical commentary.

(Note: there are some spoilers about the season finale of Glee below—be warned! You can watch the finale at

Let’s take a look at some of the main female characters:

Sue Sylvester
Sue Sylvester

Sue Sylvester: Sue is the sadistic head coach of the school’s cheerleading squad. She will do whatever it takes to win, and has also made it her personal goal to bring down the glee club. Sue uses deception, manipulation, threats, and cheating to gain personal success and to bring down others.

Terri Shuester
Terri Shuester

Terri Shuester: Terri is a manipulative and narcissistic woman who uses guilt to get what she wants from men. When she begins to think—for no apparent reason—that her husband, Will (the glee club director), is leaving her, she fakes a pregnancy in order to ensure his commitment to their relationship.

Quinn Fabray
Quinn Fabray

Quinn Fabray: Quinn is similar to Terri in many ways, most notably in her use of shame. When she gets pregnant, she lies to her boyfriend, Finn, about his paternity, and uses his guilt and sense of responsibility to cover for her infidelity. She also spies on the Glee Club for the cheerleading coach, often passing along damaging information and sabotaging the club.

Emma Pilsbury
Emma Pilsbury

Emma Pillsbury: Emma is neurotic, obsessed with germs and health, and never wants anyone to touch her. She is sweet-natured, but weak willed and barely able to function in normal society. To judge from the finale that aired recently, this makes her the perfect woman for the hero, Will.

Rachel Berry
Rachel Berry

Rachel Berry: Rachel is talented, intelligent, and outspoken about her principles and beliefs. However, these characteristics apparently makes her an unlikeable harpy who is merely tolerated for the talent she brings.

While many of the male characters are also stereotypical in negative ways, the two leading male characters—Will and Finn—are both presented as good, likeable men whom women manipulate and betray.

The season finale was especially frustrating. Due to extenuating circumstances, neither Will nor Finn is able to join the glee club for their performance at sectionals: Finn leaves the club entirely, and Will sends Emma to lead the choir in his place.

When the glee club gets to the competition, they discover that Sue has leaked their song list to their competition. Emma is hopeless as a team leader, and Rachel tries to rally the team, but morale still sags.

The good guys of Glee: Finn and Will
The good guys of Glee: Finn and Will

Will finally convinces Finn to rejoin the team, and he arrives just in time to save the day. Talented Rachel is given the solo to open the show, but it is only Finn’s presence that unites the team and gives them the hope to continue.

At the end of the episode, Will informs Emma that he left his wife the day before, and the couple kisses.

So, in the world of Glee, women are helpless in general, and most attractive when neurotic and obsessed, while men are the ones who must step forward with ideas and leadership.

Glee, like any pop culture phenomenon, has its power in the hearts of the people who watch it. The best way to combat the harmful images of women is to discuss them, and open the eyes of others to the damage that could be done by the show. Glee is already a popular topic in homes and offices across the country—get into the discussion!


7 thoughts on “Representations of women are not so Glee-ful

  1. While I’m not going to argue by any means that the women are generally portrayed in a worse light, the men are no prizes, even Finn and Will. They’re both a bit dense or at least unobservant. They’re both a bit wishy-washy. They’re both easily manipulated. They’re no prizes, that’s for sure. (I speak from experience of being these same traits.) They may not seem to make the guys look quite as neurotic or nasty, but it seems to me like they’re trying to do it to everyone one way or another.

  2. I watched about three episodes but couldn’t get into it because I didn’t find any of the characters (male or female) likable. It’s all just way too OTT.

  3. I disagree with this post’s characterizations of some of the Glee women. Yes, Terri is caricature. However, Quinn & Sue’s character development through the course of the show reveal women who are much more complex than initial appearances indicate. (For example, see the episode where Sue visits her sister.) Quinn’s pregnancy raises conversations about motherhood & fatherhood, responsibility & paternity, expectations of female virginity, and how much the “right to choose” really exists. Rachel’s “make-over” rejected the girl-must-be-sex-symbol lesson from movies like Grease. Mercedes is also a strong woman who is portrayed positively. The finale did not show all of these traits, but watching for the entire season brings out the complexities in gender characterization.

    I thank you for raising my own awareness about sexist portrayals in this show (which, yes, are there!), and I also encourage Glee fans to start positive conversations about the strength of the women on the show and the message of acceptance regardless of social image.

    Keep up the good work!

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