Broad City dildo episode: Abbi straps one on.

Broad City’s Really Great, Really Smart Dildo Episode

Broad City’s Really Great, Really Smart Dildo Episode

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Feb. 4 2015 11:00 PM

There Was a Dildo on Broad City

Abbi wore it.

Broad City
Bob Balaban and Abbi Jacobson.

Photo courtesy Ali Goldstein/Comedy Central

Wednesday night’s Broad City continued the show’s exploration of sexual role reversals with a rare televised pegging. (That would be the term Dan Savage coined, in 2001, to mean “a woman fucking a man in the ass with a strap-on dildo.”) Here’s how it went down: At long last, Abbi has scored a date with her dreamy neighbor, Jeremy, and she finds herself intoxicated by his musky persona. They spend the evening sipping his homebrewed cider beer, discussing his travels with his terminally ill dog, gazing at his woodwork, and finally, engaging in passionate sex. When Abbi asks if he wants to “maybe switch,” she means she’s ready to move on from missionary; he assumes that she’s interested in strapping on a dildo and pegging him in the ass with it, and eagerly presents her with a neon-green phallus bound to a leather harness.

Amanda Hess Amanda Hess

Amanda Hess is a David Carr fellow at the New York Times. Follow her on Twitter.

Pegging in pop culture is typically presented as emasculating and painful for the man (Entourage, Arlissthe 2006 thriller One Way), but Broad City reframes the sexual practice as empowering for the woman: When Abbi calls bestie Ilana for advice, Ilana performs a celebratory dance, announces it a “dream come true,” and celebrates the prospect of Abbi penetrating Jeremy’s “hairy, adorable little butthole” and “plowing it like a queen.” Emboldened, Abbi straps on the dildo, and triumphs. In a blissful morning-after scene, Jeremy kisses Abbi goodbye before he departs for his volunteer gig teaching woodworking to underprivileged children. She swoons. (The scene reminded me of a feature I wrote for Playboy a couple of years ago about guys who are into butt stuff; one man told me that he views the experience of being penetrated as a kind of masculine badge of honor because “you can talk about being tough and fearless and open and sensitive, but nothing puts that to the test like allowing—and enjoying—foreign objects in the out door.”) Later, when Ilana’s family finds out about the incident, the show gets servicey: Ilana’s parents wonder aloud whether pegging is a gay thing, and her brother replies: “No. How would I put a dildo on top of my dick? Both gay and straight men enjoy prostate stimulation.”

Part of Broad City’s brilliance is that it’s rarely content to simply reverse gender roles, and so Abbi’s pegging experience soon twists from a triumph to a fail. With Jeremy gone, Abbi sticks the dildo in his dishwasher to clean it, and accidentally warps the plastic. She heads to a sex shop, replaces it with a similar model, and excitedly plugs it into the harness upon his return—at which point he haughtily informs her that his was no regular porn store dildo, but rather a high-end, custom-molded one that’s specially made to fit his anus. He balks at her suggestion that he’s fastidious about his things (he has a special wall cubby for his kimonos); she bristles when he calls her “childish” for assuming he’d let any old dildo into his ass. When she storms out of his apartment, harness still strapped to her pelvis, she gets her cheap, green penis stuck in his door. The problem isn’t that he likes a dick in his butt—it’s that, ultimately, he’s kind of a dick about it.

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It’s turns like that one that make Broad City succeed both in its comedy and its commentary: The show is a world where traditional gender expectations no longer rule, but it doesn’t pretend that feminism solves everything, or even that its female overlords are morally righteous.

The episode mirrored a provocative plotline in television’s other great gender-conscious comedy, Transparent. In an early episode of that show, the twentysomething tomboy Ali pursues a flirtation with Dale, a transgender man who’s working as a T.A. of a women’s studies course she sits in on. They go out, engage in a theatrical display of heteronormativity. (She wears a frilly red dress and calls him “daddy”; he drives her around in a pick-up truck and shaves her pubic hair.) Then, lacking a penis of his own, Dale buys a big, sparkly red dildo to penetrate Ali with, and things get so heated that they head into a public bathroom to try it out—at which point Dale gets flustered and frustrated trying to free the dildo from its plastic packaging, and it slips out of his hands and onto the grimy floor. He lunges for it and starts washing it in the sink, but her passion has subsided. There’s a similar lesson here: The problem isn’t that Ali is uncomfortable with Dale’s anatomy, but that he’s exhibiting the universally unsexy trait of trying too hard. Both shows manage to normalize a stigmatized sexual experience while making the brave choice to humanize it—trans guys and guys who are into pegging can totally be sexy, but that doesn’t mean they always are.

The shows have another gendered obsession in common: Both Jeremy and Dale rock a “lumbersexual” aesthetic, meaning that they are bearded city-dwellers who wear Paul Bunyan flannel, own olde-tyme shaving sets or leather-tanning kits, and appoint their homes with rustic accessories. In her fascinating Atlantic treatise on the rise of the lumbersexual in America’s hipster centers, Willa Brown describes the look as a kind of cultural backlash to a time when masculinity is perceived to be “in crisis.” As traditionally male professions decline and women gain earning power, men react by adopting the images of cowboys and lumberjacks, who represent “everything the effete, over-civilized, urban white man [is] not.”

Brown concludes that “what middle-class urbanites are playing at is not the ‘true’ workingman of the woods,” and while there is an element of unintentional irony to the style, I think that the obvious playfulness of the idea is also a part of its appeal. Look closer, and there are feminine shades built into the lumbersexual lifestyle: Brewing beer and woodworking feel more like crafting than manual labor; cultivating a handsome beard requires an attention to grooming, not neglect; fastidiously curating any look represents an aesthetic self-awareness that’s typically associated with women. Perhaps the women of Transparent and Broad City lust after lumbersexuals—Ali even fantasizes about Dale living in a log cabin with a vintage television, when he actually resides in a drab bachelor pad—because their partners’ masculine accessories make them feel feminine in contrast, but the whole act is superficial enough that it doesn’t come along with a deeper, more toxic masculine personality. When Jeremy gets condescending, and Dale gets too sexually aggressive, Abbi and Ali’s crushes on them diminish. And there’s no dildo big enough to compensate for that.