In the fifth episode of the second season of The West Wing, Ainsley faces sexism in the workplace, C.J. deals with an angry retiring general, and Sam comes up with an idea for Josh to deal with his shooting. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
Y’all, this show is just so good. I know you don’t need me to tell you this, but it’s so good.
I don’t necessarily envy the position that C.J. was in for this episode. My dad was in the Army, so I spent a good portion of my time growing up surrounded by military men and military culture. There was a very common mantra that I started hearing at a young age, and it basically amounted to, “If you didn’t serve, you don’t know.” It was my dad’s way of deflecting any questions my brother and I had about military service that were uncomfortable or critical. I didn’t really start being anti-war until I was around 14 or 15 and came to understand the extent of the long-lasting injuries my father sustained in Vietnam. Couple that with a markedly aggressive ROTC presence on my campus, and I developed a severe distaste for military recruiting. Then my best friend was shipped off to Afghanistan after having barely completed boot camp, and I was terrified. Would I turn on the news one day and see his face among the dead for that broadcast?
But anyway, that’s not the point. IT’S NOT. I have a weird relationship with the military in this country because of my experiences with them. (Including the Army and Marines stalking me for TWO YEARS because I scored well on my ASVAB. Is it common in the U.S. that you can’t graduate high school unless you take the ASVAB? Because upon thinking about it, that sounds like bullshit.) However, I always remembered the fact that my dad believed you could not truly understand the military unless you served in it. And you know, that’s kind of a good point? It doesn’t absolve anyone of anything, obviously, but I could never understand why my mild-mannered and stoic father was so in love with the Army and his time spent in a foreign country, witnessing terrible things and being sprayed with Agent Orange, and then later having the military turn their back on him when he started to die because of complications of injuries from the Vietnam War. Not once would he ever badmouth the Army, and it confused me! I didn’t understand it! And that was an important learning moment for me, to realize that I never would understand this. There’s nothing wrong with that, either! So when General Barry made a reference to the fact that President Bartlet had never served, he suddenly made so much sense. Honestly! I didn’t agree with what Barry was saying, but I understood his ire. He was furious that a President who had never served was responsible for (what he perceived as) negative developments in the military.
For what it’s worth, I thought C.J. held her own quite well, though I was uncomfortable with her essentially blackmailing Gen. Barry just to get him to comply. However, I’ve got a lot of respect for Bartlet deciding to let Barry say what he wants, reasoning that he’s earned it. Bravo, Bartlet. That’s very mature of you.
THEY ARE SUCH A CUTE COUPLE, AND THEY ARE SUCH CUTIES IN THIS EPISODE. I’m really stoked that Sorkin and company are showing us an older couple who are sexually attracted and active with one another, because that’s such a common misconception. I love that this episode centers so much around President Bartlet carving out time to have sex with his wife! HE LEAVES A BUNCH OF KIDS IN THE OVAL OFFICE SO HE CAN HAVE SEX WITH ABIGAIL. Bless his heart. Oh my god, and Charlie has SO MUCH FUN WITH THIS. It’s fitting, then, that Abigail finds a way to use Bartlet’s gaffe about Nellie Bly to solve his issues with the Saturday morning radio address. Poor Donna, I swear. I WOULD HAVE LAUGHED AT YOUR JOKE. I WOULD HAVE.
Lord, I hadn’t even considered the fact that Josh had some legal recourse against his shooters, but there it is. Amidst trying to deal with insurance problems (BLAH WHY ARE INSURANCE COMPANIES SO AWFUL DAMN YOU CAPITALISM), Sam realizes that they can use Josh to go after the Ku Klux Klan. Really go after them. It’s an interesting scenario because Josh really does have a case against them. But Josh considers this carefully, aware of the fact that he is in a position of power, aware of how personal this is, and aware that this will potentially distract the White House staff away from other important and necessary matters.
In the end, despite how appealing it might have sounded, Josh turns Sam down. And I really love his reasoning here: He doesn’t want to essentially slip in the driveway of the KKK. Suing them might have some sort of impact on the organization, but is that enough? Will that have lasting change? Will it help Josh deal with the shooting? No, probably not. So now I’m curious: Will the team find a way to tackle this on a policy or legislative level in the future? I’m guessing they will, and this episode was merely introducing that idea.
I would be perfectly fine if Ainsley joined the main cast of characters at this point. For someone who I wholly disagree with, I am ceaselessly intrigued by her. I think many other shows would have taken this character in a different direction, choosing to make her more like Ann Coulter than the Elle Woods incarnation we see her. (For real, I’m getting some real LEGALLY blonde vibes here, despite that I know this came out almost a year before that film.) What we see here is a depiction of misogyny in a systemic way. This is not just a single instance of one person being sexist, and that’s why it’s so disturbing. It’s pervasive. It’s a collection of microaggressions and a few egregious moments of people treating Ainsley derisively because she’s a woman.
And that’s the distinction that needs to be made here. I won’t speak to the experience of misogyny since I’m a dude, but I can see how this can help explain oppressive frameworks. A lot of times, I hear people who are part of the majority group say that they’ve experienced said oppression, too, that they were definitely made fun of that one time in 8th grade for being white, for example. Which sucks! It does, and being bullied for any reason is awful. But what we see here in “And It’s Surely to Their Credit” is how pervasive this treatment is. Ainsley is not picked on just once during her day. Tribbey is absolutely vile to her when he meets her for the first time; then he’s dismissive of her in her office; then Joyce and Brookline are absolute fucking assholes who think that Ainsley doesn’t know what she’s doing; then Sam is brutal to her in the hallways; and then, the cherry on top of the shit sundae is right before her. Notice that Joyce and Brookline go straight for one of the most misogynistic slurs in the book. It’s intentional, a purposeful way of shaming Ainsely because she’s a woman. It is the collection of these things which represents sexism. And we’ve only seen three days in this woman’s life. I’m sure most of the women who post here can attest to the fact that a day does not go by without an experience like this. That is why this is an -ism. It’s systemic.
So I’m happy that this ends on such a happy note. I’m pleased that Sam fired Joyce and Brookline for their disgusting behavior. And I’m ecstatic that the team has welcomed Ainsley into their fold with open arms. I JUST WANT MORE OF HER ALL THE TIME.
Bless this show.
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