Larry David is a feminist. There I said it. I know, I know, that jerk? Allow me to explain.
Yes he is arrogant and frequently offensive, but somewhere amid the solipsism and general buffoonery there is a man who treats women’s bodies and issues with a level of maturity, respect and a rather refreshing matter-of-factness rarely seen on television.
Women’s bodies, and the stuff they do, are usually portrayed on television as either sexy or yucky. It is pretty simple. Breasts, hot! Periods, not! Sex with a vagina? Super. The word vagina? Super gross. But for Larry, this isn’t the case. (For the record, I am referring to Larry David the main character of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” not real-life Larry David, assuming there is a difference.)
Take, for example, the first episode of the current season, during which he instructs a young woman on how to insert a tampon. When a Girl Scout who had come to his house to sell cookies, informs him that she has just got her first period he is not only happy to provide her with a tampon, but reads her the instructions through the door. He says the word “vagina,” yes vagina! and even uses his armpit to simulate how inserting a tampon might work, and never once acts the tiniest bit repulsed.
Compare this to the euphemism-filled TV commercials for sanitary products that tend to discuss anything but actual menstruation. Last year Kotex dared to use the word “vagina” in an ad, and three networks rejected it. Turns out that the David house is one of the only places on television where periods are nothing to be ashamed of or grossed out by.
Next up, boobs. Sure, Larry likes them as much as the next guy. But unlike the next guy, Larry is able to put the brakes on his “sexy” or “not sexy” meter and think in more practical terms about breasts when needed. For instance, when Cheryl complains about their housekeeper not wearing a bra in episode 3 of Season 5, Larry doesn’t seem to mind – and these obviously unsupported breasts are a little too low on the torso to be considered “hot” by Hollywood standards. Nevertheless, Larry takes it upon himself to purchase the housekeeper a bra and through the process he does his darnedest to try to understand what it is like to actually have a pair. Breasts example #2. In the second episode of the current season, Larry attends a burlesque show in which his friend Richard Lewis’s new girlfriend is performing. While the rest of his friends are entranced by her well-endowed bosom, Larry can’t help but notice that she has a small, potentially cancerous mole under one of her breasts. This was Larry’s takeaway.
In other instances when most men could only think Sex! Sex! Sex!, Larry is able to resist the temptation of highly objectified women. Take the time Larry goes to the Playboy Mansion in season 5. When he walks in, all the topless bunnies go running. Does Larry care? Naahhh. He is more interested in comparing smoking jackets with Hugh Hefner. Larry gets caught watching porn in season 1. Did he put it on to get aroused? Nope. He just happened to know the guy in it. The girl-on-girl scene seems to do nothing for him.
In one very funny episode Larry hires a prostitute so he can take the carpool lane to the Dodger game. Prostitutes are generally not the most respected members of our society. Yet Larry treats the African-American hooker he picked up downtown as his equal. He asks her about business just as if she was running a car wash or donut shop, and values her advice on marijuana. which he is seeking out because he thinks it will help his father with his glaucoma. Never once does Larry speak down to or belittle this woman, whose socioeconomic status is far down the totem pole from his own.
Larry’s unlikely feminism may very well be rooted in his obtuseness instead of compassion or awareness. (As Rachel Shukert at Tablet points out, he is not neurotic in the overly contemplative sense.) His openness and lack of judgment seem to stem more from a come-as-you-are libertarian social perspective rather than a high-minded progressive one. Nevertheless, he says vagina, cares about properly fitted undergarments, and is fairly indifferent to the implanted and thonged women in Hugh Hefner’s swimming pool.
Yes, Larry is a jerk to women sometimes, but it is in the exact same way he is a jerk to men. And yes, Larry didn’t treat either of his wives particularly well, but they both leave him, which is really a point for Larry David the person.
And I would be remiss to not give another point to Larry David the person for creating the character of Elaine Benes who is the most casually feminist character to ever grace the small screen. Elaine’s gender did not limit her in any way on Seinfeld. Her assertiveness and selfishness was never characterized as unfeminine, and the fact that she was single never caused her stress or shame. Really, David deserves a spot in the feminist hall of fame for Elaine alone. All the bra shopping and vagina talk are really just bonus points.
Watch David proclaim his feminism in this video from 2008 in which he says “I am a feminist, although I do like to wear a lot of make-up.”