A couple of weeks ago, on this thread, I mentioned that men are constantly portrayed as competing for women in a way that makes the woman essentially irrelevant. We use game metaphors to describe the system, but the winner and loser–the agents of participation–are always just the men. The women, I said, are the ball, the object you score with.
How I Met Your Mother decided to construct an entire episode (“The Belt”) around proving this point for me, throwing in the additional jaw-droppingly double-standard driven repetition of the idea that women are competitive bitches.
Barney and Ted have a long-standing competition as to who will successfully have a threesome first (two women, of course). They literally have a belt to give the winner–one of those super-tacky, wrestling championship style things. When Ted meets two women in a bar, he’s at first not sure which one he should go for. He keeps sneaking off to make phone calls to evaluate his strategy–note that he never gives a damn about the personalities of either of the women. One is just as good as the other, as long as making a move on the first doesn’t kill his chances of “scoring”.
Then the possibility of a threesome starts to appear, and the phone calls and consultations with his friends ramp up. Now it’s definitely a statement of manliness, and the relevant parties are Ted and Barney, but no one ever criticizes the men for it, or even refers to it using the word ‘competitive’. Everything, down to the belt, is played in a completely ‘boys will be boys’ kind of way.
The word “competitive” is reserved for the two former sorority sisters Ted is flirting with, and used in a sort of eye-rolling “this is going to get in my way” kind of manner. Additional methods of emphasizing that women constantly compete with each other, especially over men, and that when they do it, they look silly and irrational:
- Lily got into a hair-pulling tug-of-war with another woman over a pair of boots. The scene was some sort of designer clearance sale, and the place was packed with hyena-like women with feral looks in their eyes, just desperate to get their hands on these boots.
- Robin went out on a first date with a guy she ended up really liking, and the waitress schemes to steal the guy out from under her (this involved an exceptionally obnoxious bit about not having shaved her legs before this date, but then realizing she should have, having the waitress–who calls her “Sasquatch”–buy her a razor at the drugstore, and finally the painfully embarrassing attempt to shave her legs in the sink at the public washroom using butter as shaving cream)
- Lily, who is mainly being ‘one of the boys’ during the whole threesome discussion, gets to be the one to remind us (again, repeatedly) that women who do these things are “sluts”.
So let’s recap: Our hero is first competing with himself to gain the standard notch-in-the-headboard, and needs game strategy to do it. Then he’s aiming for the major coup of a threesome, and he and his male friend even have a literal championship belt to mark the occasion. The game is with his male buddy, the women don’t matter. Oh, but it’s women who are competitive, and when they do it, it’s not fun. They’ll scratch each other’s eyes out for hot boots, they’ll call each other names and leave them unconscious and bleeding on the bathroom floor (yes, literally). And they’ll lower themselves and look like idiots while they do it, but the men? Oh, when they’re doing it, it’s manly, suave and sexy.