In the article “Homophobia in Straight Men” Terry A. Kupers describes how one male inmate was dressed as a woman in order to protect himself. The inmate had been beaten up and raped a number of times by other inmates. He had even been fought over by various prison toughs, but once he began to dress and act like a woman he became the quasi-girlfriend of one prison tough and therefore he was no longer beaten up or fought over (Kupers 500). This clearly brings up the issue of women being viewed as property, but this post will focus on the issues of heterosexism that can be seen here and then discuss how these same issues of heterosexism can be found in “Scrubs.”
This inmates experience reveals that his prison society did not view homosexuality as a normative or even reasonable lifestyle choice. When the inmate dressed and acted like a man he was beaten up, raped, and fought over by various prison toughs, so in order to gain the protection of one prison tough he presented himself as a woman so he could be seen as a “girlfriend”. When one tough saw another trying to rape the inmate he did not think, “Oh, I guess that tough owns that guy.” Instead the toughs would fight over who could have the inmate for sexual use. The inmate could not gain protection as a man because the prisoners did not view two men being together as a relationship so the inmate was up for grabs, but as soon as the inmate dressed as a woman the prisoners acknowledged that he could have the protection of his “boyfriend.” This basically says that two men can not be viewed as being in a relationship, but a man and a woman can be. It might be easy to think that only a bunch of hardened criminals would view the world this way but issues of heterosexism can be found throughout pop culture and “Scrubs” is no exception.
The first, and most obvious, heterosexist issue that can be found in “Scrubs” is the lack of any prominent homosexual characters. All of the recurring characters are straight and their straightness is a large part of who they are. A large part of the show is dedicated to the characters finding or hanging out with a boyfriend/girlfriend of the opposite sex. So “Scrubs” very clearly describes all its main characters as straight.
Another issue in “Scrubs” related to heterosexism is how homosexuality is presented when it does come up in the show. The only character that is mentioned more than once that is gay is Dr. Kelso’s unseen son, Harrison, who Dr. Kelso talks about from time to time. When Harrison is the topic of conversation, Dr. Kelso almost always talks about him like he is a disappointment. One of the few times when Dr. Kelso admits that he loves Harrison he starts the conversation with, “[Harrison] hasn’t come out quite the way I planned…” So even when Dr. Kelso talks about his son in a loving way he includes the fact that he never wanted a gay son. This is not exactly showing homosexuality in a positive light.
“Scrubs” also runs into heterosexist issues in the way that lesbianism is portrayed in a fourth season episode. In this episode Elliot and Molly are sitting in the cafeteria talking and Molly mentions how her thighs hurt. Elliot then offers to massage them with oil. Elliot does not say this in a sexy way, but every man in the cafeteria looks over hopefully when they hear her. Showing quasi-lesbian behavior in this way is problematic because it frames lesbianism as a male sexual fantasy. This reduces lesbianism to something that is used by heterosexual men. Lesbian behavior is no longer presented as a plausible lifestyle choice but rather a taboo used for heterosexual arousal.
Heterosexism in “Scrubs” exists in two forms: the lack of major representation of homosexual characters, and the negative representation homosexuality does get during its limited times of discussion on the show. In this way “Scrubs” is presenting a world where the only realistic and logical relationship type is man and woman.
Kupers, Terry A. Revisioning Men’s Lives: Gender, Intimacy, and Power. The Guilford Press, 1992.