Rick and Morty is currently one of my favorite TV shows, and for that reason I have been avoiding analyzing its gender politics, especially in “Raising Gazorpazorp”, the episode that tries to address gender. In this episode, Rick and Summer go to a planet where the genders are separated. The males are dumb, violent, sex-crazed beasts, while the women are cultured and sophisticated, but openly sexist against men. Rick and Morty uses the Gazorpians to discuss humanity’s own gender issues, but fails, for the most part, to come to any kind of satisfying conclusion.
Trigger warning for rape and rape culture and spoiler warning for “Raising Gazorpazorp”, “Rick Potion #9”, “Meeseeks and Destroy,” and “Look Who’s Purging Now”.
When teenage Morty asks Rick to buy him a sex robot at a intergalatic pawnshop, he soon discovers that it is able to get pregnant when it gives birth to a half alien and half human baby. Rick wants to just kill it, but the family won’t let him and so Rick sets off to find where the baby comes from to give it potentially more suitable parents. He discovers that the baby comes from the alien planet Gazorpazorp and is about to travel there via his portal gun when Summer asks to come with him as his new sidekick since Morty is busy. Rick protests that he doesn’t work with “chicks”, but Summer is grabbed by one of the Gazorpian males through the portal before Rick can stop her. On Gazorpazorp, Rick treats Summer horribly after the Gazorpian males try to rape her. He blames her for almost being raped and for having to take over the planet now to protect her.
They later discover that the men are being manipulated by a ruling class of female Gazorpians who hate men and believe that Rick is Summer’s slave. The two are eventually sentenced to death by the women when they discover Rick is Summer’s grandpa, but Summer explains to the Gazorpians that they can’t project their own rules and understandings of gender on to them. The episode ends with Rick claiming that he learned nothing about how he treats women and gives Summer a pink spaceship as a gift. Like I said, it’s ultimately not satisfying and doesn’t subvert or analyze the sexist tropes on which the story is based.
The whole episode is filled with gross stereotypes. Gender is discussed in really simple and stereotyped ways on Gazorpazorp. First off, the gender on Gazorpazorp is binary, so there is no representation of trans or nonbinary characters. And while that might be fine for an alien race, if this episode was meant to address gender issues on our planet then it falls short by limiting itself to the gender binary. What the episode instead focuses on is the differences and relationships between men and women. But Gazorpazorp is filled with stereotypes to the extreme. The men are portrayed as just brainless animals who only fight and have sex and do nothing else. They are being controlled by the women, who use sex robots to keep their species going without having to interact with the men. The female Gazorpians hate them and claimed they separated their genders during the “great passive aggression”. The women are also extreme female stereotypes: they are passive aggressive, they have clubs for cuddling instead of stripping, and they all greet each other by saying, “I am here if you need to talk.” But this is at least juxtaposed with Morty’s storyline in the episode.
The other plot in the episode is Morty trying to raise his new half human and half Gazorpian child, whom he names Morty Jr. Morty’s parents, Beth and Jerry, both have different parenting styles they try to teach to Morty. Beth is more cold and logical, saying that you need to ignore the baby when it is crying and not reward its bad behavior. Jerry claims that you need to be affectionate and attentive, but in the process also projects a lot of his own issues onto the baby. Morty declares that both his parents are idiots and decides to raise Morty Jr. his own way, which is largely through watching TV programs. Morty Jr. grows up in a day and it’s quickly realized that he fulfills the Gazorpian masculine stereotype. He wants to destroy his enemies, who he views as everyone but him and his dad, and he wants to just kill people and conquer the world. This upsets the more sensitive Morty who complains that no one will love Morty Jr. if he keeps talking this way, while Morty Jr. complains that all his dad cares about his love and not killing. In this way all the characters here except for Morty Jr. break traditional stereotypes. Beth is cold and unfeeling despite being a woman, while Jerry and Morty are much more sensitive. Placing these two storylines side by side shows how some people think of men and women (Gazorpazorp), and how it actually is (Earth). But that doesn’t fix all the numerous other problems in this episode, especially in regards to Rick and Summer’s storyline.
I’m not objecting to Rick being sexist. The show has established Rick as an unrepentant asshole. Yes, Rick ultimately does care about his family, but he is extremely self-destructive, so even if he values women he’s still not above using sexism to drive them away. Before this episode Rick never had any adventures with Summer—the vast majority of his interactions were with Morty—so this is the first time we see them interact for a long period of time. While Rick could be just trying to push Summer away, I would argue his behavior is still sexist. Rick clearly thinks leaving Summer behind will protect her and treats her in a patronizing way throughout the episode, as though she can’t take care of herself. Rick’s sexism may also come from his belief that women are a distraction, as he essentially tells Summer that life would be more efficient without women. This is clearly Rick’s own way of protecting himself and his constant relationship failures. In the previous episode, “Rick Potion #9”, Rick tells Morty that love is just chemicals in our brain trying to get us to mate. He further tells Morty to rise above this and focus on science. Though Rick is clearly not straight, we have seen that Rick tends to prefer women, so in his mind being able to get rid of women would mean that he wouldn’t ever be in danger of having feelings for them, lessening his chances of getting hurt. Summer does challenge him on his beliefs about women throughout the episode and by the Gazorpian women so it is made clear that Rick is doing something wrong.
What I don’t understand is how Rick perpetuates rape culture. Granted, Rick doesn’t seem to care about rape, which is weird for me to even type, but he doesn’t seem to approve of it either. In the episode “Rick Potion #9”, Rick, at Morty’s request, gives Morty a chemical that he can put on his crush Jessica to make her fall in love with him. The whole thing goes horribly wrong when everyone becomes obsessed with Morty and turns into horrible monsters. Morty blames Rick who gets angry at Morty for pushing the blame on him because it was Morty who wanted the “roofie juice serum” in the first place. So Rick knows that had the serum not gone wrong, he would have been helping Morty rape Jessica. He even realizes that rape is bad, but ultimately doesn’t seem to care. However, in the episode “Meeseeks and Destroy”, Morty is nearly raped by a humanoid jelly bean. When Rick realizes this he takes steps to make Morty feel better and then kills the jelly bean. So while Rick may seem to buy into rape culture or at least has no intention of stopping it, he does care about harm coming to his family. Which is why it is so frustrating then that he blames Summer when she is nearly raped by the Gazorpian men. It seems out of character for Rick, unless he is lashing out at Summer because he is scared about what could have happened to her, but if so, that’s not effectively portrayed.
Ultimately though the show does still recognize that sexism exists. When Rick points out that humans and Gazorpians are different, he claims that on Earth men and women are equal. Summer challenges him by saying that women make less money than men. The Gazorpian women also comment when they return Rick and Summer to Earth that they are sending them back to their weird planet where women are kind of equal but not really. So the show acknowledges that sexism is real, but doesn’t ever address it in a way that is truly constructive.
Rick does seem to learn something of a lesson after this, because despite his griping, Summer is included in Rick’s adventures without protest more often after that episode. Rick and Morty isn’t exactly a show that teaches anyone a lesson, but this episode seems to attempt to address the gender issues in the show without actually addressing them. I think the overall message is to show how things on Earth are better than Gazorpazorp because humans don’t fulfill the Gazorpian stereotypes. However it doesn’t portray this well and relies on other stereotypes like gay men being good at fashion to help show this. I think another reason that the ending is unsatisfying is because of Rick and Morty’s more nihilistic and pessimistic tone. The overall episode seems to postulate that things are better on Earth, but that overall everything still sucks as far as gender dynamics and relationships. And while that is classic Rick and Morty, it still falls short of other episodes like “Look Who’s Purging Now”, which discusses socioeconomic issues and which has a slightly clearer message. Maybe this episode just tried to do too much in one episode and so wasn’t able to address things as effectively as others. I love Rick and Morty, but as a fan of the show, this episode was frustrating. It was still funny, but it seemed to lack the depth that many of the other episodes had, which is disappointing for such a smart and well-done show. In the future, if the show attempts to discuss gender dynamics again, I hope they do it in a far better way.