Pegging in Two Acts

Abbi is Ready

Abbi is Ready

In what must be a record for televised depictions of non-vanilla sex acts in a single season, two of my favorite shows, Broad City and Louie, both explored pegging recently. Pegging, for those who don’t know, is (rather inelegantly) described by Wikipedia as;

“…a sexual practice in which a woman performs anal sex on a man by penetrating the man’s anus with a strap-on dildo… The neologism “pegging” was popularized when it became the winning entry in a contest in Dan Savage’s “Savage Love” sex advice column, held after an observation was made that there was no common name for the act.”

Okay, that was pretty bland. Broad City, can you do better?

Excellent! Now, where was I…

Pegging is perhaps the ultimate form of genderplay because it’s one of the few (if only) sex acts in which a man having sex with a woman gets to experience penetration from her perspective (and vice versa). So as you can probably imagine, the act can be polarizing. What some see as the ultimate form of feminization, others see as an exceptionally liberating act that has the power to make “men more compassionate, appreciative and playful.”

Hollywood has been weighing in on this debate for years and its position on pegging has been pretty clear; it’s an emasculating, painful and humiliating act for men to endure (some examples of this perspective include: HBO’s Arliss, Entourage and the German film One Way). Which brings us back to Broad City and Louie. Did either of these great comedies depict the act any differently than the Hollywood norm? Well lets see… of these two shows, one took the somewhat more typical approach while the other came at the topic from a completely different umm… angle.

Let’s start with Broad City, which aired it’s pegging episode first. It all begins when main character Abbi, who has been interested in her neighbor Jeremy since the beginning of the series, finally finds herself in bed with him.

Things are going along swimmingly until Abbi asks Jeremy if he’d like to “switch” and “mix it up a little bit,” which Jeremy responds to by excitedly whipping out an expensive dildo and harness. This leads to the mother of all awkward moments as they discover that “switch” and “mix it up a little bit” means different things to different people. To Jeremy, Abbi’s question meant; “would you like to switch and mix up the gender roles a little bit?” Abbi may well have meant that, but for her switching gender roles meant simply Abbi on top. For Jeremy on the other hand, it meant Abbi and a custom fitted dildo all up in his butt.

Here’s what stands out the most to me about this scene:

1. The key moment of miscommunication notwithstanding, there’s a fair amount of communication going on during their hook up (which makes me as sex and consent educator happy).

2. From the beginning of the show, Jeremy has been depicted as a manly man. Then the pegging occurs and Jeremy’s masculinity is left firmly intact. Abbi does not emasculate him and he seems pretty happy after the pegging is done… No shame, no pain, no feminization.

It’s important to note that Jeremy is what many would consider a “lumbersexual.” That is, the kind of man who has a beard, wears flannel and is good with his hands, yet still pays attention to things like art, craft beer and style. He’s more new-school-hipster-masculinity than your old-school, Don Draper masculine stereotype. Jeremy is manly AND sensitive, as evidenced by the interactions between him and Abbi before they begin hooking up (sadly for Abbi, Jeremy turns out to be a bit of a snobby douche). So, can we attribute his sensitivity to pegging? Did pegging make Jeremy more compassionate, appreciative and playful? Hell I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what I do know… this scene is the first I can name (outside of porn) in which pegging is depicted as non-threatening and pleasurable act for men.

Now let’s compare Jeremy’s pegging experience with Louie’s.

The pegging Louie (Louis C.K. playing himself) endures is in every way the complete opposite of what we saw in Broad City. It also appears at first glance to follow standard depictions of pegging as emasculating, painful and humiliating, just as we’ve always seen. However, watch it a bit more closely and you’ll notice Louie’s use of the act is meant to depict something much deeper and far different than the typical; “lets watch this poor man get emasculated then laugh at him… what a joke… he sucks.”

To really understand what’s going on with Louie’s pegging scene, a quick recap of the full episode is needed to give context. The episode begins with Louie’s brother, Bobby, being a fuck-up and eventually confiding in Louie that he feels like less than a man because he’s broke, single and has “shriveled testicles full of dead sperm.” Shortly after the brother’s lament, we cut to the next morning and watch Louie getting beat up on the street by a woman. Later, his daughters see his bruises, laugh at him and make fun of him for “getting beat up by a girl.” Louie then goes to Pam, his “it’s complicated” and asks her to conceal his bruises with makeup. Pam gets turned on as she applies the makeup and offers to have mind-blowing sex with Louie if he lets her really do him up, lipstick and all. This leads to some genderplay and eventually this:

It’s tempting to look at this episode and see an MRA’s (Men’s Rights Advocate‘s) worst nightmare come true; a grim vision of emasculation in a world ruled by women. A world where men are regularly beaten-up by random women, ridiculed, and even raped. But anyone who’s familiar with Louis C.K.’s comedy will realize that the episode is far more likely to be an exploration of the treatment women endure at the hands of men (remember this is the same comedian that built a routine around the statement “there is no greater threat to women than men”).

I would argue that Louie isn’t being emasculated as much as he’s engaging in an episode’s worth of genderplay (albeit sad genderplay); the episode begins with Bobby, his brother, expressing jealousy that Louie is fertile and has a family while he doesn’t. Later, Louie is physically assaulted on the street by a member of the opposite sex, blamed for what happened, ridiculed, coerced into sex, raped and then coldly dumped while being treated like a child.

Viewers of Louie may also be aware that any given moment or scene in the show isn’t always meant to be taken literally. Consider the logistics of the pegging/rape for example. It’s highly unlikely that Pam has a penis Louie didn’t know about (since they have been sleeping together for a bit). It’s also highly unlikely that Pam would be able strap up and ready a dildo without Louie noticing. Yet Pam is able to quickly and suddenly flip Louie over and penetrate him in a way that would be physically impossible otherwise. My point is, the pegging/rape is more symbolic than literal. It’s a representation of just how powerless Louie was throughout the episode and it served as a near culmination of Louie’s day as a woman. A day that began and ended with violence.

In its own depressing way, this episode was about Louie learning to become more compassionate and appreciative, at least of the horrible experiences some women endure. It doesn’t happen through pleasure, but instead through pain and humiliation. And in the episode’s final scene, Bobby, his brother, the least empathetic of the two and the only man Louie talks to in the episode, laughs uncontrollably when Louie tells him about the physical violence he endured.

In the end, both scenes are pretty outstanding, but for very different reasons. In Broad City the often feared and reviled act of pegging is normalized and we see a man able to partake and enjoy it, all without losing his masculinity. And in Louie we’re given a scene that at first glance appears to be the same old fear inducing vision of emasculation. Yet, when we look closer we see not fearmongering but rather an attempt to gain compassion and understanding.

As feminists have always said, “the personal is political.” Well, pegging is one of those private activites so loaded with gender politics that it’s great to have it out of the shadows and into public discourse. Thankfully these two great shows have come along and whether they meant to or not, changed the tone of the discussion in a positive way. Twice in one season to boot! If you haven’t been watching Broad City or Louie then I suggest you give them a shot, becuase this is just one of many gender related topics they’ve taken on and I’m excited to see what they conquer next.  

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