Why 'Seinfeld' Character Elaine Benes Is A Champion Of Feminism & Sex-Positivity — VIDEOS
This week, Hulu officially made the entire series of Seinfeld available for streaming, a move that not only sparked the interest of seasoned television series marathoners looking for a challenge, but also those who may have forgotten just how revolutionary it actually was for pop culture. The series officially wrapped in 1998, and while history mostly remembers it for catchphrases and its keen ability to spin stories out of simple social observations, the series is inarguably most important for featuring one of the most revolutionary characters on television: Seinfeld 's Elaine Benes is a champion of sex-positivity, and inarguably paved the way for the women of Sex and the City, Girls, and Broad City.
Of course, many have recognized just how important Elaine was as a feminist icon. Last summer, in anticipation of Seinfeld's 25th anniversary, Indiewire 's Jessica Gentile wrote how Elaine is still unrivaled in terms of being a definitely feminist and sex-positive character. "The show's lone female protagonist, Elaine was just as much a master of her domain as any of the guys," Gentile wrote, "Elaine's outspoken opinions not only worked to destigmatize female sexual autonomy, but went so far as to celebrate it." And, as Dodai Stewart put it in a piece for Jezebel, "Seinfeld's Elaine had just as much sex as the guys on the show — maybe more — and was neither labeled a slut nor thought of as a some aberration of the norm. She was just a modern woman. A woman who dates men, and has sex with them."
Now that Seinfeld is available to stream on Hulu, there is no excuse not to marathon it and appreciate just how revoultionary Elaine Benes was and still is. Here is how, in the dark days pre-Sex and the City, Elaine was the woman on television who celebrated sex without slut-shaming, and presented a positive image of women to viewers that proved not only do women have sexual needs, but they can exercise and express them as they themselves see fit.
1. She Participated In "The Contest"
Vulture ranked this episode as the best one in the series, and with good reason: the hilarious masturbation plot it featured is still unparalleled. Here's what went down: After George's mom walks in on him masturbating, he, Jerry, Kramer, and Elaine make a bet to find out who can go the longest without pleasuring themselves. When Elaine joins in the bet, though, the men insist that it is harder for men to go without masturbating than it is for women, and demand Elaine bet $150 rather than $100. This, of course, isn't true — women can have stronger sex drives than men. It's a point that's ultimately proven when Elaine is the second person to be knocked out of the contest, after she meets John F. Kennedy Jr. at the gym. Yup, the female sexual appetite can even bigger than the male sexual appetite, so through your tired clichés out the window.
2. She Calls Out Men If They're Bad in Bed
Elaine has yada yada'd sex with absolutely no shame. A big portion of sex-positivity is increasing awareness in regards to both male AND female pleasure — the latter of which is hardly talked about on television. Sex means a variety of different things to different women, so it's vital to talk about it.
3. She Calls Out Guys For Not Reciprocating
In this episode, which Dame Magazine points out is one of the first sitcom plots "revolving around cunnilingus," Elaine dates a jazz saxophonist who "actually, um, doesn't really like to do 'everything.'" Her boyfriend saves it for his instrument, something that Elaine shouldn't be and is not about. A hilarious premise, AND a clever way to bring up a taboo subject — sex-positivity is all about breaking down taboos.
4. She's Honest About Faking It
In the episode "The Mango," Jerry's irritated to learn that Elaine faked her orgasm while they were dating, and begs her for another shot, "to save the friendship." Elaine lets him try, but she is not amused. This episode is very progressive for the '90s in the method it both showcased a "friends-with-benefits" scenario and included a female getting to criticize a man's ability to please her.
5. She Coined the Phrase "Spongeworthy"
"This has it all: female-centric birth control, sexual agency, and a killer catch phrase—“spongeworthy," Dame Magazine wrote of this Season 7 episode, "The Sponge." When Elaine's birth control method of choice, the Today Sponge, is taken off the shelfs, she is forced to budget her supply — so, when a guy isn't worth it, she didn't "waste a sponge on them." This episode flipped the convention of men judging women as potential sexual partners on its head, with Elaine exercising the control in this equation.
6. She's Honest About Not Wanting Children
In the episode "The Soul Mate," Elaine falls for a guy because, like her, he doesn't want to have kids. Elaine shows us that it's totally OK to forgo motherhood if that is your wish — sex-positivity means respecting choices, and Elaine's choice not to pursue motherhood is powerful.
Image: Sony Pictures Television