A big chunk of The Simpsons’ worldview is its feminist mindset. Usually, this is expressed through Lisa righteously battling sexism, and occasionally Marge battling sexism with a righteous Lisa egging her on; this episode, the first to explicitly explore the concept, is closer to something like “Homer’s Phobia”, where Homer learns not to be sexist.
The plot’s pretty simple – at a stag party, Homer dances with an exotic dancer (it’s almost cute how archaic that is – these days, they’d happily call her a stripper), and Bart happens to walk in and photograph him. The photo gets passed around the schoolyard, then leaks to the adult world, until Marge sees it and kicks Homer out.
Eventually, Homer warily comes home, and Marge explains to him that what bothers her more than Homer dancing with her was the fact that Homer was teaching his son that women are objects. To fix this, Homer takes his son to see the woman he danced with (as always Homer’s sense of duty backfires, because this means dragging his ten year old son around to strip clubs), and when he finds her, he asks her about her thoughts and feelings. Homer ends up caught up in the stage show.
He’s recognised by everyone as the “swinging cat” from the photo, and is pulled into the stage show as everyone celebrates him. Homer is delighted until he sees Bart cheering him on too, and stops the show to give everyone a speech on feminism. All the men start thinking about their wives, daughters, and mothers, and Marge, who inexplicably showed up, reconciles with Homer (shades of the ending of “Homer’s Odyssey” here).
You’re now about to get a man’s thoughts on how well men wrote about men learning about feminism, so prepare yourself emotionally for that.
So, this was a story about feminism starring men. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad idea – I’m bisexual, and I love the episode “Homer’s Phobia”, both because it’s a good story and because if you’re going to write a story about how homophobia is wrong from the perspective of a straight character, having them being a genuine homophobe who earns their not-being-homophobic through a journey is the way to do it. I even think having Homer go on this journey because he doesn’t want his son to be sexist (instead of for his daughter, or for women in general) works.
Where I think it falls down is that neither we nor the characters really see why you don’t, you know, treat women like objects. Like a lot of poorer well-meaning “don’t be bigoted” stories, we don’t really see the perspective of the people you’re not supposed to be bigoted to, aside from Marge who seems to be acting on general principle. The only people who suffer from sexism towards women at the start of the episode are two men, and despite his parents’ worries, Bart doesn’t seem to have been affected at all – if he’d started acting sexist, it’d be easier to believe Marge’s worries.
(When we do properly meet Princess Kashmir, she’s indifferent towards Homer’s attempts to engage her, which is hilarious but also undermines the point a bit)
Again, you can directly compare this with “Homer’s Phobia” – we get to know John and how he sees the world, which makes it hurt a little when Homer turns on him later; there’s no such journey here, so the emotions don’t hit as strongly. I think this is a situation where the traditional plotting of the classic era would have helped the rhetorical points hit harder.
Chalkboard Gag: “I will not call my teacher “hot cakes””
Couch Gag: Repeat of “Homer’s Odyssey”
This episode was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Rich Moore. Barney’s apartment is based on the apartment Moore and a few other Simpsons animators shared in college.
There’s another meta joke – Apu asks if he’s seen Homer before on TV, and Homer irritably says “Sorry buddy, you’ve got me confused with Fred Flintstone.”
The opening act already shows us how Homer is trapped in his foibles. He weighs himself, is shocked to discover he weighs 239 pounds, and resolves to start exercising. Bart orders a spy camera through the mail, we jump forward six months, and Homer weighs himself, is shocked to discover he weighs 239 pounds, and resolves to start exercising. By comparison, Eugene Risk goes from being Homer’s assistant drunkenly hitting on someone to Homer’s supervisor getting married.
There’s a weird little runner where Mr Burns is impressed by Homer’s sexual prowess.
First appearances: Carl Carlson (voiced by Harry Shearer), Princess Kashmir
Biggest laugh: Homer, staying with Barney, sadly points out which of the lights is his house, and Barney rings up Marge to tell her she left her porch light on.