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What is there left to say about Elaine Benes, the iconic Seinfeld character brought to life by Julia Louis-Dreyfus? She was smart and sassy, and aside from hanging around with a group of man-children, pretty much had her act together.
In a show revolving around the lives of men, Elaine still managed to raise several important women’s health issues throughout the sitcom’s nine-season run. Here are a few of the most memorable moments.
She’s vocal & passionate about birth control
Elaine never hid the fact that she enjoyed sex. Even if it took her many years before she was able to have an orgasm, she still chose to engage in the act and wasn’t shy about talking about her birth-control methods of choice. Of course, there’s the Today Sponge. As someone entrenched in women’s sexual and reproductive health, I can say, hand on my heart, that I have not heard of anyone using the sponge outside of this episode of Seinfeld. But Elaine — she’s definitely a fan. When she found out from Kramer — inexplicably the messenger of crucial sexual health information — that the sponge was going off the market, she made it her mission to stockpile as many as she could. Given they were a nonrenewable resource, she made sure to assess her gentlemen friends in order to determine whether or not they were “spongeworthy.”
But this isn’t Elaine’s only discussion of contraception. In another episode, she describes how her diaphragm falls out of her bag — repeating the word to great comedic effect and making Jerry’s virgin girlfriend uncomfortable in the process.
While we’re on the subject, Elaine is also not shy about letting her friends know about the importance of female sexual pleasure and orgasms, but that’s a conversation for another day.
She doesn’t want kids, & she’s not afraid to say it
A lot has changed since Seinfeld was on the air, including a wider conversation about women’s decisions to become parents. Before people like Jennifer Aniston were talking about their choice to opt out of motherhood, Elaine was speaking for all of us non-mothers-to-be. When her friend tells her that she’s “gotta have a baaaaaby,” Elaine quickly changes the subject to a piece of whitefish she ordered the other day.
Elaine tells Jerry her friends “act as if having a baby takes some kind of talent.” Jerry immediately jumps to the conclusion that Elaine must want to have a baby, to which she responds, “Why? Because I can?” After meeting her future beau (and Bizarro Jerry), Kevin, Elaine says that having a baby has “been done to death.” She’s not wrong.
She tackles the “women are difficult” stereotype
In another episode, Elaine goes to her doctor because of a rash, sneaks a peek at her medical chart and finds out that she has been labeled “difficult” by her health care providers. The more she asks about it and protests, the worse her chart write-up gets. While this made for an entertaining premise for a sitcom plotline, it’s a very real problem that so many women face, both in and out of the doctor’s office. The minute we open our mouths to express an opinion or even ask a question, we’re labeled as “difficult.” Elaine was ahead of the curve pointing that out.
She gets real about toilet seat germs
When Elaine finds out that she only shares her office bathroom with one other woman and that her colleague still uses toilet seat covers, Elaine gets offended. She likens it to using toilet seat covers if you lived with a roommate. In this case, Elaine even has science on her side: Most healthy people won’t get sick from sitting on an uncovered shared toilet seat.
This episode also touches on slut-shaming; the reason Elaine’s co-worker covers the seat and is afraid of Elaine’s germs is she thinks Elaine enjoys the company of numerous men. This implies that she’s afraid of catching herpes or some sort of STI from the shared toilet seat or the stapler or telephone receiver Elaine rubbed on her (clothed) butt.
Want to hear more about Elaine’s place in women’s health pop culture and happen to live or be in New York City on Wednesday, Sept. 13? Great news — I’m hosting event along with Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, New York Times best-selling author of Seinfeldia when we’ll be doing just that! Elaine Benes Appreciation Night: A Planned Parenthood Benefit will take place at the Spreadhouse Cafe on the Lower East Side at 7:30 p.m. Please book tickets now, as the venue has limited capacity.
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