M*A*S*H: Hey, Look Me Over

I saw another really interesting M*A*S*H episode that tied in perfectly to our recent discussions about a guy who wrote to inform us we’ve got it all wrong: women are more picky about men’s appearances than men are about women’s. In “Hey, Look Me Over“, Hawkeye is complaining about his inability to get a date with any of the nurses.

kellye2

The problem is, the person he’s complaining to is one of the nurses. In fact, she’s the one nurse who’d be perfectly happy to go on a date with him, despite watching his sad attempts to seduce all the others with tired lines. Kellye actually thinks it’s cute. But she’s a short, plump, Chinese-Hawaiian woman and the nurses Hawkeye hits on are white, tall, slim and traditionally cute. There’s a scene in which he asks what she thinks of a new come-on line he’s just made up. “It would work on me,” she says with a smile. “Thanks, that’s great, I’ll try it,” he says, and leaves. Rather than look forlorn, she stares at his retreating form like he’s so crazy she just can’t fathom what she sees in him.

Later, she finishes a task for him so he can go dancing. When she catches up with him at the officer’s club he’s still striking out with all the nurses. She gets up the nerve to ask him to dance, and they do – for thirty very fun seconds. Then the fast music switches to slow and all the dancing couples snuggle close. Hawkeye avoids eye contact with Kellye, stuffs his hands in his pockets and offers to buy her a drink. She’s hurt, but they sit down and start talking. Or rather, she starts talking. He starts scouting the room for nurses to hit on while not listening to her.

Hawkeye is oblivious to her interest. Because she doesn’t attract him, she doesn’t exist. Well, maybe as a colleague or buddy, but not as a potential date. Like many guys, Hawkeye imagines only he knows the sting of rejection because only he does the asking. What he doesn’t understand is that one of the great male privileges is the freedom to reject potential dates by simply not asking. He doesn’t have to worry about how to let a nice person down gently or be firm enough to get rid of someone who’s not nice. When he’s surrounded by unattractive women, he can reject them all cleanly and guiltlessly by simply ignoring them and/or treating them like asexual buddies. This is why Hawkeye’s complaints – and those of our commenter – are so ironic: as awful as it is to ask and be told “no”, it’s equally painful to just not be asked at all.

Kellye handles the situation beautifully. She confronts Hawkeye the next morning for treating her so differently from how he treats the other nurses. He apologizes and says it’s just that he never saw her “that way.” Fair enough, but she points out the reason he doesn’t see her that way is because she’s “not five-foot-nine and slinky with long blond hair with a perfect little nose that would fit in a bottle cap.” She goes on to describe in detail how terrific her personality is, and the things she’s achieved and what an interesting range of hobbies she has. He’s never gotten to know any of that because he was so busy avoiding her “like Typhoid Mary” and making damn sure he didn’t have to dance with his arms around her. Houlihan interrupts before they can resolve the argument.

A while later, Hawkeye walks in unnoticed on Kellye comforting a soldier as he dies. Seeing her compassion, he realizes she’s right: he didn’t just avoid dating her. He avoided getting to know her. We’re never told precisely why, but I think it’s because he sensed she might be interested in him and rather than become friends and risk an awkward rejection, he prefers to throw the whole potential friendship out to avoid potential discomfort. A gutless way of handling things (one I’ve been guilty of myself).

kelleye3That evening, he shows up at her tent in a tux with flowers and an apology – only to find Kellye’s spending the night with a visiting lieutenant who wasn’t blind to her attractions. The episode ends on another evening, with Hawkeye asking Kellye to dance cheek to cheek on a slow tune.

That’s all she really wanted. She didn’t need Hawkeye’s affections. She didn’t need to avoid rejection. She didn’t need someone to reassure her she’s just as pretty as the other nurses – she knew she was great anyway. Hawkeye had set up a sort of Cold War in which his rejection of her was a constant, daily event, hammered in every time he carefully arranged distance between them. Now the rejection has happened openly, a quick sting gotten out of the way, and they can move past it to mutual appreciation and friendship.

It’s not uncommon for heterosexual men (especially young men, and boys) to imagine themselves the only ones who take risks in relationships when they’re (often still) the only ones who put themselves in a position to hear the word “no.” It’s so easy not to notice the ways women have always done their own version of asking, in the only ways we were allowed – the hinting, the extensive and complicated flirtation rituals, the thankless caretaking, the enduring of activities we don’t enjoy just to be close to someone we find attractive, and in some cases even the support provided after each breakup with the latest more attractive girl who dumped him.

Dating is hell for everybody. Rejection comes in many forms, and as much as hearing “no” hurts, women are in the undesirable position of logically being able to infer “no” almost any time a man fails to ask them out. It may sound ridiculous, but that’s what you get with a cultural system in which one gender effectively shops for partners from the other. A better system would allow those of either gender who like asking to do the asking and those who prefer being asked to sit and wait hopefully. I think a lot of men, if they were honest with themselves, would prefer waiting to be asked. There’s nothing wrong with either role. At the end of the day, maybe the big lesson of the episode is never to miss out on a friendship because you’re even more afraid of rejecting than you are of rejection. And don’t get so busy trying to send out “not interested” vibes that you cause more pain than a simple “no” could ever inflict.

The episode, by the way, was written by story editor Karen Hall and Alan Alda in secret over several months and presented as a surprise to actress Kellye Nakahara, who was with the show from the beginning eleven years before but had never been featured in an episode.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks – this reminded me of how much I enjoyed that episode. And show in general of course. But mostly I like the look on Kellye’s face in the first picture – it sums up so many things : )

    I’m really impressed at how it doesn’t end in a romance but is still a happy ending. Although it’s nice for the invisible (unattractive/poor/put-upon) character to get to be the lead of a romance from time to time, this is a reminder that the story doesn’t have to be a romance for the characters to be fully-rounded, thought-out complicated likeable people.

  2. sbg says

    And it’s genuinely a horrible sensation, to feel invisible.

    This is exactly why I cannot stand “reality” shows like The Bachelor – they only accept women who are conventionally attractive (must look good in a bikini is probably a requirement). It rather sanctions the idea that whole other subsets of women aren’t worthy of even considering, and says two things – that guys are entitled to the tall, slender beauty and that women who aren’t that might as well give up now.

  3. says

    Of course, men who only like the look prescribed to them by their Overlords are very dull creatures. Everyone likes good looks, but some of us are interesting enough to have our own idea of what looks good instead of having to be told by TV.

  4. says

    Of course, men who only like the look prescribed to them by their Overlords are very dull creatures.

    I have more evidence that those Overlords are really the Vespans, btw – the combination of absent nipples, the freaking-out over “camel-toe” (which you’d think would turn guys on, wouldn’t you?) and the depiction of women with Barbie-shaped groins lacking any pelvic cleft let alone natural body hair in the front, all indicate to me the success of the Vespan propagandists preparing the way for their vanguard, and coincidentally making it difficult for human males to breed with actual human females.

    It’s going to be the Invasion of the Wasp-Women, I’m telling you….

  5. sbg says

    Of course, men who only like the look prescribed to them by their Overlords are very dull creatures. Everyone likes good looks, but some of us are interesting enough to have our own idea of what looks good instead of having to be told by TV.

    The Overlords’ logic is probably that the bachelor in question wouldn’t see those women anyway, therefore they do not exist.

  6. says

    I remember when I watched this ep as a kid getting really irritated at Hawkeye for thinking Kellye would be just so eager after that fight to accept his pity-flowers and his guilt.

    Dude missed out. Sucks to be him. Kellye was awesome.

  7. Cath says

    Thank you so much for writing this! I saw that episode, what, 25 years ago or more? And I still remember it well; I could quote you the “five-foot-nine” line verbatim. What a great analysis of this episode and the culture that surrounds it. I hope the commenter who inspired it reads this post and takes it to heart.

  8. dominic says

    Dear Kellye, I enjoied all the M.A.S.H shows, you and loretta swit, were always the only beautiful women on the show that i have seen of course the others where very pretty ? But you and Margaret where always the best and still are very Beautiful . Always

  9. Pocket Nerd says

    (Apologies in advance for the thread necromancy… I’m reading backwards through THL.)

    I think men reject women this way partly because we’re not taught to watch for women showing interest in us. We tell women that their worth as human beings depends on what men think of them, but men are not really taught to pay much attention at all to what women think and feel— except when our immediate self-interest is at stake. For example, a man who conspicuously woos a woman with flowers, food, and flattery is “romantic,” but that’s because he wants an immediate payoff. A man who consistently shows he genuinely values his partner’s opinion is “whipped.” By the time we’re adults, we’ve internalized this habit; sometimes a man doesn’t ignore a woman because he wants to blow her off guilt-free, but because he’s honestly too oblivious and self-focused to stop and consider what she thinks about him.

    There was one woman from my awkward, self-conscious high school years who, in retrospect, I think was interested in me. We were friends, and if you’d asked me what I thought of her appearance, I would have said she was very cute. But it never occurred to me that she, or any other woman, might be waiting for me to make a first move. (And I was far too insecure to presume anybody would want a date with me anyway.) She was a neat person, and looking back, I wish I’d been smart enough to ask her out.

    I’d like to think today I’m smart enough, and aware enough of others, not to make this mistake again. But even my present SO (whom I adore) was fairly unsubtle about expressing her interest in me. Would I have noticed her if she hadn’t made an effort to tell me of her interest? I sure hope so; I would hate to have missed out on knowing her.

  10. Amy McCabe says

    There are two things I made a early conscious decision on at a fairly young age.

    1. I will not have sex before I’m ready, nor be ashamed of it.

    2. I will not hesitate to bluntly ask a man out on a date.

    I have never regretted either decision. You know, it hurts, but it is so much easier to ask a man out and be accepted or reject, gender roles be damned. And I have been rejected. And it hurt. And it was so much better than not asking. It allowed me to move on with my life.

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