Here are some things I learned before I had my coffee on Monday morning: Boyhood won best drama at the Golden Globes; the Boko Haram death toll continues to rise; and Allison Williams' dad, TV news anchor Brian Williams, watched an actor pretend to perform anilingus on his daughter while viewing the season premiere of Girls. One of these things, you may notice, is not like the other; by which I mean, the story about Brian Williams' views on his daughter's fake rimjob got way, way, way more press than the other two stories. From the feverish, obsessive way that people were discussing it, you'd think that that fake rimjob had hosted the Golden Globes itself, possibly while wearing a really unflattering dress.
There's always a lot of think pieces going around about the sex and nudity on Girls , and whether the actresses or their respective very famous parents should feel ashamed about it. But this particular scene — featuring, I'll admit, a sex act very rarely depicted on TV or on actresses who have played Peter Pan within the past month — seemed to be primarily discussed, as usual, in the context of Williams' father's level-headed reaction. Here's Brian William's take on the faux rimjob, as reported by Vulture:
"She’s always been an actress. For us, watching her is the family occupation and everybody has to remember it’s acting, no animals were harmed during the filming, and ideally nobody gets hurt."
Now, here are the headlines that that brief, supportive quote hath wrought: "Brian Williams Watched Daughter Allison Williams in Raunchy Girls Sex Scene: Gross Details," in Us Weekly (a piece that very maturely opens with "My eyes, my eyes!") ; "Allison Williams and Her Dad Talk About That Time Her Butt Was Eaten on 'Girls,'" in Complex; "Brian Williams Watched Allison's Racy Sex Scene on 'Girls'," in the New York Post. Despite the relatively demure headline on Vulture — "The Girls Cast and Brian Williams Discuss the Premiere's Shocking Sex Scene" — the posts's url includes the address "girls-sex-scene-marnie-butt-rimjob.html."
Yes, the rarity of anilingus on TV is part of the shock expressed in these stories, as is the fact that Williams was so practical and matter-of-fact about preparing for the scene — almost as if (gasp!) preparing to pretend to do things was her job or something. But the real shock factor played up in all of these headlines (and even in an interview with fellow Girls actress Jemima Kirke, who expressed horror at Williams' father watching the scene in her own interview) is that Williams' dad publicly supports his daughter's decision to appear in a sexually explicit scene.
The obsession with the elder Williams' opinion of his daughter's work smacks of patriarchal thinking, ("he allowed her to do that?"), as well as some creepy prurient thinking ("oooh, he allowed her to do that"). But for many of us, this fascination is about more than that: it is also about envy.
Considering that no one demanded to know why Brian supported his daughter's decision to appear in the obviously terrible idea Peter Pan Live! — and that Allison Williams has been asked to defend her out-there sex scenes many times before (remember her doll sex with Booth Jonathan?)— the intense coverage of Williams' take on his daughter's fake ass play seems a little strange. Of course, the elder Williams has been asked to defend Allison's sex scenes on the show before: in a 2012 interview with AdWeek's TVNewser blog, Brian Williams described his experience of watching Girls as "kvelling, pride," and called watching his daughter's deft handling of erotic scenes an "unmitigated joy."
So why the kerfuffle over the butt stuff now? The obsession with the elder Williams' opinion of his daughter's work smacks of patriarchal thinking, ("he allowed her to do that?"), as well as some creepy prurient thinking ("oooh, he allowed her to do that"). But for many of us, this fascination is about more than that: it is also about envy.
We don't have Allison Williams' money or fame or shiny, shiny hair, sure — but more importantly, almost none of us have dads that would be totally cool with us simulating erotic acts on TV in the name of art. We want the Williams family to pay, in shame and negative press, because we're jealous.
I know that I am. I consider myself close with my father — we didn't see too much of each other when I was a kid, but we bonded ferociously as adults, and have worked hard to develop a mature, caring relationship where we can respectfully discuss everything from our clashing political views to my struggles with depression. He knows that I've had sex, and has spent time with the man who has sex with me.
Writing explicitly about sex has led me to basically exclude my father from my entire writing career. I've begged him to not read my articles, and to never google me. I have no idea if he actually listens — but he's never acknowledged seeing my work online. My writing never comes up at dinner or in a phone call. As far as our relationship goes, I might as well not have a job at all.
But I can't bring myself to tell him that I write about sex. I'm too afraid of his reaction — too scared that it would destroy this relationship we've worked so hard and so carefully to build, scared he'd react the way that the world seems to think Brian Williams should have. I'm afraid that, if he read or even knew about my sex writing, my father would decide he didn't like the real me.
I like writing about sex. I think it's fun and important, and it's helped me build a life for myself that makes me happy beyond my wildest dreams. But writing explicitly about sex has led me to basically exclude my father from my entire writing career. I've begged him to not read my articles, and to never google me. I have no idea if he actually listens — but he's never acknowledged seeing my work online. My writing never comes up at dinner or in a phone call. As far as our relationship goes, I might as well not have a job at all.
My father is a man who loves me beyond measure and would happily die for me — but because we live in a world that thinks that women who create sexually explicit art are gross, damaged, contemptible people, I'm afraid. My dad is also pretty politically conservative, which makes me even more afraid — if he thinks the Affordable Care Act is a horrible idea, how could he think that his daughter writing about vaginal orgasms on the Internet is a good one?
But parents can surprise you. My father has been so kind and understandings about my distinctly liberal personal choices through the years — my desire to cohabit instead of marry, my desire to not have kids — that he might actually be Brian Williams-level supportive of the stuff I've written. He might be kvelling, too, if I'd let him. But it feels like a risk that I just can't take. I've deprived us both of the chance to experience familial pride in my work because I'm scared that it might be the end our relationship as I know it.
There's a quote — variously attributed to Philip Roth and others — that claims that to truly write an honest book, "you've got to write as if your parents are dead." But how great would it be if being honest in art didn't create the possibility of chaos in our family lives? What if we could just feel the exultant pride?
And that's why right now, I want to throw Brian Williams a ticker-tape parade through the middle of Times Square. We don't need our parents to sign off on every decision we make in our adult lives, to support every choice we make — I think we can handle some parental disappointment with our adult lives from time to time. But my god, wouldn't it be great to make sexual art and have your only worry be about how it would be perceived by the public, not how it would be perceived by the people who made you? You know, the people who made you by having sex?
I know that parental expectations differ on a family-to-family basis — what might invoke familial pride in one house might get you kicked out of another — but we can all help move the world a tiny step in that direction by not reading all the coverage of how "pervy" it is that Brian Williams approves of his daughter's sex scenes. We can not giggle and gossip about it, or if we do, we can at least admit to ourselves that it's probably based in our own envy and fear. We can start a new conversation about how Brian Williams is Father of the Year — someone who supports his kids in their dreams, no matter what they may be or how "off-putting" others might find them.
It wouldn't be much, but it would be a start. And maybe it would finally give me the confidence to look my dad in the eye, and tell him exactly what it is that I do all day.
Images: Giphy (2)