Lesbian “Friends”: Legacy of a Sitcom

 
 

Ross finally comes around when Carol shows up in tears seeking his advice after a fallout with Susan:

ROSS: Carol, what’s the matter? What happened?
CAROL: My parents called this afternoon to say they weren’t coming.
ROSS: Oh my god.
CAROL:
I mean, I knew they were having trouble with this whole thing, but
they’re my parents. They’re supposed to give me away and everything.
ROSS: It’s ok. I’m sorry.
CAROL: And then Susan and I got in this big fight because I said maybe
we should call off the wedding, and she said we weren’t doing it for
them, we were doing it for us, and if I couldn’t see that, then maybe
we should call off the wedding. I don’t know what to do.
ROSS: I uh can’t believe I’m gonna say this, but I think Susan’s right.
CAROL: You do?
ROSS: Look, do you love her? And you don’t have to be too emphatic about this.
CAROL: Of course I do.
ROSS: Well then that’s it. And if George and Adelaide can’t accept
that, then the hell with them. Look, if my parents didn’t want me to
marry you, no way that would have stopped me. Look, this is your
wedding. Do it.
CAROL: You’re right. Of course you’re right.
MONICA: So we’re back on?
CAROL: We’re back on

The audience is invited here to
sympathize and identify with Carol’s hurt at her parents’ rejection,
which is posited as cruel and unjust. Ross’ statement that “if my
parents didn’t want me to marry you, no way that would have stopped me”
also puts Carol and Susan’s relationship on par with heterosexual ones.

As this episode illustrates,
Ross gradually overcomes his initial hostility to Carol and Susan’s
relationship, particularly as his attention shifts from his ex-wife to
Rachel, but he never does come to like Susan. Because Susan is
presented as a likeable person in general, however, a woman whom
everyone but Ross seems to get along with, Ross and Susan’s mutual
dislike is positioned as deriving more from their sense of competition
than from any major personality flaws in either of them.

The fact that Ross ends up
giving Carol away in the wedding ceremony despite his general unease
with his ex-wife’s lesbian relationship and his dislike of Susan,
sending the message that while he might not fully understand Susan and
Carol’s relationship, he will support it because he cares about Carol
and wants her to be happy.

This message is further
reinforced when we see all the friends at the wedding, mingling with
the obviously-lesbian guests and celebrating Carol and Susan’s
relationship.

Carol (Jane Sibbet) and Susan (Jessica Hecht) get married

Carol and Susan are always firmly marked as Lesbians in the series, however. While the heterosexual characters on Friends are not constantly defined by their sexuality, the lesbians cannot escape it.

This is most clearly and
humorously illustrated in Episode 7.16 when Ross asks Rachel what
Carol’s last name is, and she responds “Carol…Lesbian?” but it is
also referenced or subtly implied in little ways throughout the series.

In Episode 2.14, for example,
when Ross is visiting his parents and mentions that Ben is with Carol
and Susan today, Mr. Geller quips, “A woman in my office is a lesbian.”
To the blank stares, he shrugs “I’m just saying.” (Mr. Geller’s non
sequitur also humorously reflects the way straight people so often
respond to the news that someone is gay — by mentioning
someone else they know who is gay.)

Despite generally being limited
the role of The Lesbians on the show, however, the women are
occasionally shown having a life, as when we see Carol preparing the
romantic dinner for her and Susan, and in episode 2.20, where we see
Susan and Carol briefly as they’re dropping off Ben with Ross on their
way to visit a college friend of Susan’s who just became the first
female blacksmith in Colonial Williamsburg.

The show also consistently
reinforces the connection between lesbianism and feminism, as it does
by mentioning that Susan’s friend is the first female blacksmith, and
in Episode 3.4 when Ross freaks out that Carol and Susan are letting
his son is playing with a Barbie doll. Although Rachel backs Carol and
Susan up, saying “Ross, you are so pathetic. Why can’t your son just
play with his doll?” the issue still is raised by The Lesbians, not the
straight woman.

Feminist issues on Friends are frequently raised by The Lesbians, in fact, or somehow associated with them.

There isn’t anything inherently
wrong with this, except that it tends to reinforce the idea that
feminism — or challenging the conventional roles assigned to
women — is primarily the domain of lesbians, not straight
women.

This simultaneously short-changes feminist straight women, and reinforces the stereotype of lesbians as trouble-makers.

Friends
perhaps more than any other show has popularized the fascination many
straight men have with the idea of women having sex with each other.
Rarely did more than one or two episodes go by without one of the male
characters (usually Joey) making sexually suggestive comments about one
of the female characters with another woman.

In Episode
3.06, for example, when Chandler’s then-girlfriend Janice (Meghan
Wheeler) asks the group if any of them have ever hooked up, Joey
replies “Well, there was that one time that Monica and Rachel got
together.” When Rachel and Monica protest, saying “there was no time!”
Joey leers “Okay, but let’s say there was. How might that go?”

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