TV / Women and Gender

‘The Walking Dead’ and Gender: Why I’m Skeptical the Addition of Badass Michonne Will Change the TV Series’ Retro Sexism

Originally published at Bitch Flicks.

Warning: if you haven’t seen Seasons 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead, there are spoilers ahead.

Have you ever dated someone because of their potential rather than what she/he/ze brings to the table? Or is that just me?? Well, that’s how I feel about AMC’s The Walking Dead.

While I like the show, I keep watching the zombie apocalypse, based on the comic books, because I keep hoping and expecting it to become great – especially when it comes to the female characters and the show’s sexist portrayal of gender roles.

The conservative characters continually depict retro gender norms. The men talk about protecting the women. The women cook and clean while the men go off and hunt or protect the camp or farm. Yes, Andrea is the exception to the rule. She shoots and kills zombies and patrols the perimeter.  But the women take a backseat to the men. They let the men debate, argue, decide.

I criticized Game of Thrones, a show I adore, for its misogyny. But at least it contains strong, intelligent and powerful female characters. Where the hell are they on The Walking Dead???

Which is why I’m so excited about the introduction of Michonne.

In Season 2’s record-breaking finale, Andrea (Laurie Holden) is rescued by a katana-wielding, hooded woman holding two chained, jawless, armless zombies. It was probably the best introduction I’ve ever witnessed. Ever. And that mystery woman would be Michonne. Not only am I delighted to see another female character. But the show so desperately needs another badass woman.

For those who haven’t read the comics (like me), Michonne, who will be played by Danai Gurira (who’s simply amazing in The Visitor and Treme) seems to be a strong, powerful, complex character. She’s clever since she has the two incapacitated walkers in order to seek out the living. She appears to be a fierce and fearless survivor. But what’s even more exciting is that she’s a woman of color.

Yet I’m skeptical as the show hasn’t done a great job portraying gender so far.

Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) does whatever Rick (Andrew Lincoln), her husband and leader of the group, says, blindly and unquestioningly standing by him. Carol (Melissa McBride), who’s keeping it together pretty well considering she’s lost her daughter and her husband, still clings to men, first her abusive husband Ed and now Daryl (Norman Reedus), who tell her what to do. The writers squandered the opportunity to explore a domestic violence survivor rather than making her a caricature. When we first meet Maggie (Lauren Cohan), she’s riding in on a horse, bashing a Walker (aka zombie) with a baseball bat. She started off so fierce, spunky and sexually assertive. It’s just unfortunate she’s unraveling, a hysterical mess who seems to cling to her BF Glenn (Steven Yeun) for protection.

The two bright spots are Andrea and *Jacqui. Andrea is one of my favorite characters. A tough survivor, she’s one of the best shots and guards the camp. She did try to commit suicide, despondent after her sister died. But she’s become determined to live. She’s smart, questions the status quo, and has become more assertive, unafraid to voice her opinion. Jacqui was outspoken and seemed to possess a quiet inner strength. While I wish she’d fought harder to survive, she chooses to end her life, dying peacefully at the end of Season 1. Even though Andrea and Jacqui are the only ones, I’m glad SOMEBODY questions the ridiculous gender nonsense.

In the very first episode in Season 1, there’s a flashback depicting Rick and Shane joking about gender differences. When Rick confides that he’s having marital problems, he tells Shane that Lori accused him of “not caring about his family in front of” their son Carl. And then Rick (who I actually like a lot) says:

“The difference between men and women? I would never say something that cruel to her.”

Wow, so we’re treated to gender essentialism and a lovely tidbit that women are cruel, heartless shrews all in the first episode. This is definitely an omen of things to come.

In “Tell It To the Frogs,” Andrea, Amy, Carol, Jacqui wash laundry in a lake. As the women work, they see the men splashing around enjoying themselves. *Jacqui, one of the only women with any common sense and a spark of strength, asks:

 “I’m really beginning to question the division of labor around here. Can someone explain to me how the women ended up doing all the Hattie McDaniel work?”

YES!! Love this! How about maybe they rotate chores. Or what if (radical idea here) some of the men wanted to cook or clean? The women proceed to bond over missing their washing machines and vibrators. But then the frivolity is cut short by Carol’s abusive husband Ed who threatens the women and then slaps Carol.

While the women try to defend her, Shane steps in and starts beating the shit out of him, getting out all his aggression and frustration about Lori spurning him. So even though Shane warns Ed that he better not ever lay a hand on Carol or Sophia, he’s not acting out of nobility or the belief that men shouldn’t abuse women. Not surprising as this is the same douchebag who later tries to rape Lori and then brushes it off when she confronts him about it.

Talking about women in post-apocalyptic genres, Balancing Jane asserts that while strong women exist, it’s the men who rescue them and allow them their strength:

“[The Walking Dead goes out of its] way to demonstrate that those women had to first be saved by a righteous man. In order for women to become competent and determined, a man had to first stand up and make a space for them. Until a man appeared as savior, the women were doomed to be physically overpowered and sexually exploited.”

Men continually deny women power and autonomy. Dale takes Andrea’s gun away from her (“What Lies Ahead”) like she’s a child, backed up by rapist Shane. So a grown-ass woman shouldn’t have a gun but Carl, an ELEVEN-year-old can carry one! Oh but the little woman can’t be trusted. Ugh. Dale also comments on Andrea and Maggie’s sex lives. Speaking of Carl and guns…Lori voices her opposition for her son shooting yet no one listens to her concerns. When Lori discovers she’s pregnant, Glenn scolds her for not taking her vitamins as if she doesn’t know how to care for herself. Gee thanks, Glenn, it’s not like she’s never been pregnant before.

And then of course there’s the infamous abortion/emergency contraception storyline in “Secrets.” After Lori discovers she’s pregnant, she asks Glenn to obtain medication from the pharmacy for her to terminate her pregnancy (which she admits she’s not sure if it will work). But EC is contraception, doesn’t terminate an existing pregnancy and must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex or failed contraception. RU-486, which does terminate an existing pregnancy, has to be procured from a doctor, not a pharmacy.

Jezebel, Slate, ACLU and many others wrote about this episode and the myths it perpetuates. Of course showrunner Glenn Mazzara brushed off the criticism saying the writers took “artistic creative license” and he “hopes people aren’t turning to the fictional world of The Walking Dead for medical advice.” Well of course people shouldn’t be. But the media influences people’s perceptions, including medicine and abortion. There’s so much misinformation swirling around abortion and contraception. And it’s this misinformation that anti-choicers use to their advantage.

If ever there was a time for a show to depict a pregnant character having an abortion…yeah, I think a zombie apocalypse would be it. But it’s strange that this abortion/contraception arc occurs in the same episode where people are debating the zombies in the barn and what constitutes life.

But it’s the reaction of those around Lori that most disturbs me. Rick screams at Lori for even thinking about terminating the pregnancy. After Maggie and Glenn return from the pharmacy (granted, they’ve just been attacked by zombies), Maggie chucks the pills at Lori saying, “Here’s your abortion pills!” So not only does Lori not turn to another woman for help (turning to Glenn instead), but Maggie yells at her for her reproductive choice. As Bitch Magazine blogger Katherine Don writes:

“When reproductive choices are navigated by a stereotyped character and manhandled by scriptwriters who don’t recognize a woman’s ability to weight options and make decisions, the woman is robbed of her individuality, humanity and dignity.”

 Beyond their “individuality, humanity and dignity,” the women are also robbed of their voice. In “Judge, Jury, Executioner,” the group congregate in the farmhouse to discuss the fate of captured Randall. While Dale vehemently opposes the decision to execute him, he’s the only one he speaks up. Eventually, Andrea, who was a civil rights lawyer before pre-walkers, voices her opinion that Dale’s right. Lori, who opposes the death penalty, says nothing, almost always blindly agreeing with Rick. But the worst comes when Carol says she wants no part of the decision and wants them to decide it for her. Excuse me?? You want to forget all about making the hard decisions and just sit back, letting others decide for you??

I’m so fucking tired of the writers silencing the women.

The show’s treatment of race and heteronormativity isn’t a whole lot better. Why does the one black man (what happened to Morgan and his son from Season 1??) have to be silent for most episodes and have a ridiculous name like T-Dog? Where are the LGBTQ characters? What does it say about a show where the most interesting and complex character is a racist?? Yep, sad to say but Daryl’s my favorite. Why do we have to keep hearing racist Asian jokes? Why did Jacqui, the one black woman on the show, have to kill herself??

We see female empowerment continually stripped away. Lori seems to be the worst perpetrator of gender stereotypes and reinforcing hyper-masculinity. Glenn tells Maggie that he was distracted shooting at the bar because all he could think about was her. When Maggie confesses this in “18 Miles Out,” Lori in her infinite wisdom tells her that she should let “the men do their man-work” and that it’s women’s jobs to support the men. Oh yeah, she also says, “Tell him to man up.” Gee thanks, Lori. Swell advice. So men aren’t allowed to be emotional or sentimental. Only women.

Later, Lori, on another anti-feminist tirade (!!!), scolds Andrea for burdening the other women by not cooking and cleaning. Lori says Andrea should leave the other work for the men, like a good little woman, don’t ya know. What. The. Fuck. When Andrea says that she contributes to the group by offering protection and keeping watch (which she does), Lori blurts out,

“You sit up on that RV working on your tan with a shotgun in your lap.”

 I’m sorry, did the zombipocalypse also signal a rip in the fabric of time where The Walking Dead characters now live in fucking 1955?! So Lori, women shouldn’t be “playing” with guns or hunting for food or protecting the camp. Nope. Women are only good for domestic duties like cooking, cleaning and child-rearing. Leave the tough stuff to the men. Silly me for forgetting. Thank god Andrea told Lori and her bullshit off. Maybe Lori’s just jealous of Andrea’s skills since Lori can’t drive a car without flipping it into a ditch.

While blaming it on Lori’s “irrational behavior” due to her pregnancy and “going through a lot of stuff” (um, aren’t they all?), writer and The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman ultimately defends this exchange and the show’s depiction of traditional gender roles:

 “Lori is really just aggravated over a lot of things and she’s lashing out. She was serious and she wants Andrea to pull her weight; certain people are stuck with certain tasks and to a certain extent people are retreating back into traditional gender roles because of how this survival-crazy world seems to work.”

So I’m really supposed to believe that when the zombie shit hits the fan, we’re all going to take a time warp? And why the fuck is it a woman, the wife of the leader of the group, who keeps spouting sexist bullshit?!

The horror genre often makes commentaries on humanity vs. brutality. Yet Kirkman clearly doesn’t care about making a social commentary on gender. And to a point that’s fine – not everything must possess some deep message. But there’s no reason the opposite couldn’t be true – an apocalypse spurring egalitarian rather than “traditional” gender roles.

All of the survivors have endured unspeakable horrors, witnessing the slaughter of their loved ones. People react differently to tragedy, some will come unhinged while others grow stronger. And wielding a gun isn’t necessarily synonymous with strength. But why must we constantly see a rearticulation of sexist gender stereotypes? Do people actually think this sexism is justified because they erroneously think we live in a post-feminist society?? When it comes to genres like horror, fantasy and scif-fi, writers can imagine any world they wish. Why imagine a sexist one? Why is everyone on the show struggling to maintain white male patriarchy??

We haven’t witnessed a fierce woman in any leadership role yet. With the arrival of Michonne, I’m finally truly excited about The Walking Dead. I’m hopeful that the writers can still turn things around. With Michonne and Lauren Cohan who plays Maggie promoted to series regular, some speculate “Season 3 is shaping up to be a big one for the ladies.” But I’m still skeptical. Michonne has a lot to do to erase the stench of sexist bullshit contaminating the show.

——

UPDATE 11/13/12: A reader informed me that Jacqui, not Andrea, questioned the gender-delegated roles with the Hattie McDaniel comment.

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27 thoughts on “‘The Walking Dead’ and Gender: Why I’m Skeptical the Addition of Badass Michonne Will Change the TV Series’ Retro Sexism

  1. Wow! I had never thought about all this before. This was a really nice thought provoking analysis on gender roles in media. I have read the comics and Michonne is rally bad-ass so I too am excited to see her join the gang.

  2. “And why the fuck is it a woman, the wife of the leader of the group, who keeps spouting sexist bullshit?!”

    I agree, it is aggravating, but make no mistake, rank and gender do not equal enlightenment. Look at the sexist bullshit that has come from conservative female politicians, our teachers, mothers…. In other sci-fi, look at The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood–women often play an active role in keeping other women down. And not just in fiction.

    I think this is a sad yet often accurate portrayal of reality–an example of the “crabs in a bucket” phenomenon, where when someone tries to pull themselves up, the rest try to pull her down to their level for whatever reasons. Maybe seeing what Andrea is capable of throws too much uncomfortable light on what is possible yet unaccomplished by Lori, so keeping Andrea “in her place” takes the pressure off of Lori to feel like she has to do more to contribute. Clean laundry and other creature comforts are certainly important to people, especially in this time, but if they are truly that important, there should be more regular job rotation, as you said above.

    I do find some saving grace in the show, in that the sexist tirade was voiced by Lori, who I think many fans are beyond fed up with. By not coming from a more credible character, it highlighted how ridiculous the notions were. I think they were also making a point about how homemakers (in this case, campmakers) can sometimes put undue pressure on themselves to excel at minutiae and tedia that are ultimately unnoticed or unappreciated–I’ve never heard anyone on the show comment on how much they enjoyed their clean clothes or minty tea, after all. Sometimes it’s not even other women keeping us down–in Lori’s case, she’s keeping herself down.

  3. Hey, come a Zombie Apocalypse, I’d be happy to make Daryl a sammich and clean the camp site, in exchange for him saving my ass from rotting walking corpses trying to eat me alive. Why is this not sexist? 1. I am 5’3. 2. Weak as anything. 3. Overly emotional and sentimental (I went 7 years without any meat ‘case of how sad it made me, now eating seafood and chicken leaves me guilty as anything, how am I gonna kill a “person”.) 4. I’d be frozen in fear at a monster trying to eat me and 5. It’s fair trade imo.

  4. Jacqui, not Andrea, was the one who said, “I’m really beginning to question the division of labor around here. Can someone explain to me how the women ended up doing all the Hattie McDaniel work?”

  5. I absolutely love this show, and after reading your critique, I now better understand why. I (feeling quite guilty for this of course) find myself at times during an episode, wishing this would ACTUALLY happen, and now, I better understand why- because the world would be SUCH a much better place if we were in 1955, the world would be such a much better place minus the feminazi brainwashing that has completely ENGULFED
    Our “modern” society, EVEN with the Zombie apocalypse, et al. And to the author of this blog: Should we actually enter this post-apocalyptic society, and should some unbelievable stroke of bad luck befall me, my family and my clan that you should end up on our team, I know I would quickly turn from my Rick-like-self to a total Shane, and you would have an “accident”, allowing me the opportunity to escape the angry hordes of geeks. Just my 2 cents.

  6. After 24 hours since posting, I noticed that my comment has yet to post. I’m wondering if this is simply an oversight by the moderator, or (as I believe) in typical feminist lock and stock, a mysogynistic, chauvinistic opinion is disregarded and the voice of man silenced. Is this accurate?

    • You’re right, I do disregard misogynistic, chauvinistic comments. But that doesn’t mean I don’t publish comments I disagree with…obviously because I published yours. People need to see that bullshit sexism is sadly alive and well. I hadn’t had a chance to approve comments for a couple days…but way to jump to conclusions that you were being “silenced.”

      “Feminazi”…that oh so lovely term. That’s right because gender equality is exactly like genocide. Oh and thanks for threatening me with a hypothetical “accident.” That just made me all warm and fuzzy inside.

      • Actually, in a way your comparison of feminazi’s and genocide is fairly accurate: Hitler wanted to create a perfect race by elimating all others and “holding down” the opposition. Feminists are trying to create the perfect woman by elimaniting what they perceive as a stereotypes (because SAHMs aren’t “real” women), while “holding down” anything patriarchal. And just like Hitler, the feminist movement has made many advancements in their movement, but fail to accomplish their ultimate goal: gender equallity.
        Question: If we follow your ideals to its extreme, ultimate end, should the world stop referring to you as a woman and start referring to you as a woperson? Wopeople?

  7. Feminism does not seek to hold down anyone, Damien. It is the pursuit of equality for ALL–yes, men too. As you can see, even your chauvinistic comments were not “held down” on this blog. While feminists do try to stop the spread of certain legislation and hate speech, for example (although note that this is very different from holding down actual people), can you seriously give an example of any group that has no opposition in this world, or does not put up a fight against it? Then ask yourself why other groups aren’t compared to Nazis in this way. Equating feminism with Nazism is not apt, and reeks a bit of mysogyny. If you feel downtrodden and marginalized (seeing yourself as a victim), I feel sympathy for you, and I urge you to avail yourself of some help.

  8. Damien – The word “man” never truly was a sex-marked noun meaning “male human being.” It was around AD 1000, according to Wikipedia that the word “man” started to refer to “male human”. Oh, that’s around the same time that the Bible was written! What a coincidence! (sarcasm)

    The Old English wifman meant “female human” (werman meant “male human”. Man or mann had a gender-neutral meaning of “human”, corresponding to Modern English “one” or “someone”. However in around AD 1000 “man” started to be used more to refer to “male human”, and in the late 1200s began to inevitably displace and eradicate the original word “werman”).[1]

  9. Pingback: My new obsession with… The Walking Dead « ShoutOut! JMU

  10. Many of your points are well made. But more than a few are really out of context. Before I address them I should point out that I do plainly understand that even a fictional TV program can promote negative attitudes toward a certain demographic. As a black person I’m constantly looking for a male lead in TV shows, or even a black character that has something more meaningful to say than being there to obviously fill the quota. Unfortunately, more often than not, I’m usually pretty disappointed, the walking dead is only marginally different in this regard thus far.

    However, calling it out on being misogynistic isn’t really very accurate, at least not within a reasonable margin of error. I agree that Rick’s assessment of his restraint at exposing his son to the adults arguments being ‘the difference between men and women’ is wildly inappropriate, but this is more a commentary on the imperfect nature of PEOPLE rather than the misogynistic nature of the guy or men in general. After all, upon hearing Rick was dead, Lori then started sleeping with Shane, which she clearly didn’t have to. Remember the scene where they make love in the woods? She removes her necklace, which I think has her wedding ring on it, before she engages in coitus with Shane. Should that be viewed as typical misandry; shedding the memory of one male partner for another and using him to keep her safe? No, it’s human behaviour, which varies from person to person, that’s all.
    When Rick returns she, naturally, feels guilt ridden and returns to him, shunning Shane completely. Again, is this cold-hearted misandry; always looking to seek out the alpha male? No, it’s just human behaviour!

    About her blindly obeying Rick.. That also isn’t consistently true. she calls him on almost every decision he makes that she feels could put their family unit in jeopardy. When Shane wants to go back for Daryl’s brother, she begs him not to at first, but, realising his stubborn nature, gives in. This isn’t weakness on her part, it’s simply Rick being stubborn in trying to do ‘what’s right’.
    Lori, who is now dead, is a fairly selfless character, sometimes irritating, sometimes irrational, just like people are. I don’t see how she isn’t a strong character, especially with the final decision she makes before her character dies.

    Michonne, regardless of her colour, is another strong female character, I’ve read some of the graphic novel involving her and there is lots more to come from her if they stick even loosely to the original narrative. Now, she is essentially a counterpart to Rick, maybe even more-so, in both ingenuity and adaptability. Look at how Andrea looks up to her and doesn’t argue when told that Michonne’s instincts have ‘kept them alive’. They still downplay her character at times, with race issues possibly coming into play and dictating that she takes more of a back seat in terms of leadership once they enter the ‘Village’. However, she clearly has more than enough of a presence, even with quite truncated screen-time, to dismiss most of the claims you’re making about the shows misogynist leanings, surely?

    On the topic of Andrea being denied a gun.. She had just tried to kill herself, and only relented because Dale chose to stay with her and she didn’t want his blood on her hands. She didn’t get a gun because she was essentially on ‘suicide watch’. So her not having a weapon was nothing to do with her sex as you can clearly tell when, later in that same episode, Lori gives her GUN to Andrea…

    On the abortion topic.. I’m just speechless. (Well, not really because I’ve got a damn-lot to say on that) I think that sometimes ‘Feminism’ is really just another word some women use to promote their own personal agenda on not having to take responsibility for their decisions and being ‘selfish’ on the same level as they perceive men to be. Really, you even cite a source called ‘Jezebel’.. Jezebel as the name of a Feminist site? is that some kind of slight against Christians toward the empowerment of the slutty character from the Bible of the same name? It all feels so contrived.. But I digress.
    Why the hell should Lori abort her child? I mean Really.. Why? Because a ‘modern woman’ would do it? That’s laughable… Does the thought of new human life amongst such horror not act as a strengthening factor at all, including the mother? Of course it does, and that is why, amongst other reasons, Lori keeps her child. Promoting abortion in that way would have been entirely inappropriate, irresponsible and a little ridiculous to be honest. Conversely, if Lori had gone through with the abortion, would feminists be up in arms about TWD’s message to all new mothers to take the easy way out when under extreme stress? Lori’s last message to her son is essentially ‘Don’t do things because they’re easy, if it feel wrong, don’t do it’. This is a poignant and immensely wise piece of advice, and illustrates exactly why she kept the child.

    But okay, sure, seen from a harshly pragmatic viewpoint, a baby is essentially a beacon for flesh eating zombies, what with the constant crying and the need for regular nourishment and extra care, but did the thought not occur to you that life MUST go on? For every baby born in that hellish world, thousands are dying. If anything, the fact that Lori has the hypothetical ‘balls’ to keep her child is nothing less than miraculous and should be applauded, not seen as yet another ploy to ‘oppress’ women!
    However, if I had been Maggie in the latest episode.. I may have chosen to save Lori rather than the baby if I could, (as she is a strong adult, actively contributing to the survival of the group) she could have another one after all, as heartless as it sounds…

    I agree that the one black guy in the group has literally the silliest name I’ve heard (although his real moniker isn’t actually much better) and was given little to no backstory or character development. This weeks episode was one of the few where he had anything meaningful to say (on the subject of introducing the two remaining convicts to the group) and it figured that they’d kill him off so thereafter.. Does the precise way he died offend you.. I mean, he was bitten and Carol was in perfect health after all, maybe she should have battled the walkers whilst ‘TDog’ got to safety so they could try and save him like they did with Hershel? Or was his ill-fated ‘macho’ attempt to save her just another brutish, misogynist example at the haplessness of women?

    To assume that we wouldn’t revert to ‘traditional’ values in terms of nuclear family hierarchy, and instead would blossom into some egalitarian society in the face of a devastating viral epidemic, is just nonsensical. Think about the last 10,000 largely brutal years of human history, have they been in any way egalitarian? Hells no. Why? Because the physically strong (usually men) are typically the ones either doing the protecting, or causing harm to others. A woman fighting a man in that type of clime would get killed more often than not. And of men in that same scenario, the strongest usually wins out.

    Brutality is what, sadly, has most often swayed the course of history. For instance in Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding on a group of children stranded on a desert island, the slightly overweight character cruelly dubbed ‘piggy’ get’s killed because of his lack of physical ability, regardless of his intellect, loyalty and warm-heartedness. Another character, ‘Peter’ dies because of his ‘spiritual essence’, even though he may have actually been physically quite able. The brutality shown here (by an arguably quite a racist author) to anything not amounting to physical strength is still a sadly undeniable fact of life for humans.
    So When ‘the shit hits the fan’, we naturally revert to roles that easily compliment our physical attributes, not necessarily our mental ones, to avoid being killed, that’s right, survival taken precedence over pride.

    Humans favor the strong in these apocalyptic scenario’s, whether they ‘like’ the person or not. We favour someone who is either large, powerful or assertive. If a woman is that, then she is the leader, but usually only in the absence of a man with those same qualities. Why? Because he will usually be more NATURALLY adept at the physical attributes (powerful, physically imposing) than the woman. These are hard facts to swallow, I know, but it doesn’t make them any less true, and I think, in this context, for a Feminist to assume the apocalyptic sun-lit sky will be pink when it is and always has been, blue, is just silly.

    But really consider this, here’s the setting, there’s a zombie apocalypse, you’re in a small group of men and women and you initially have no guns, just implements to defend or attack. Who’s naturally more adept at fighting to protect the group? Men. This isn’t even a lame affirmation of male ‘superiority’, it’s more an anthropological truth. Males are (typically) physically larger than their female counterparts, have denser muscles, thicker skin and larger organs. All this culminates in a natural disposition toward physical action, and this is not some cosmic misogynist agenda, (unless God is real, male, and really does think like that) this is a fact of life. Really, Kirkman shouldn’t even bother to pander to Feminist/PC motivated accusations. He should just be blunt and straight in saying, “This is simply the mot likely outcome if/when our current society falls apart.” – Because it most probably IS what happens.

    I’m not saying that there will no no strong women obviously, I’m simply saying they’ll very likely be in contest with men who (typically, but not always) have the physiological edge on them. Please don’t take this as misogyny, it’s not. I have an impartial eye, and I do agree with some of what you’re saying; I could go on about how eurocentricity has given white males/females a sense of authority over others of differing phenotypical expressions in almost all TV series’ for example, but I’ll refrain from doing that… Just about.

    When you say you’re ‘finally truly excited’ about the Walking Dead I’m confused.. What motivated you to watch it in the first place, and why have you been watching it thus far if it irks you so? Was it the knowledge that there would be an explosive heroine you could relate to that first drew to to the series? Or was it the sensational subject matter? At an educated guess, I’d say it was the latter… Stop me if I’m wrong…

    In any case, although I’ll definitely concede that some elements of the show are undeniably sexist, such as the continued objectification of women, but there is also an element of realism in those pitiful instances. Merl calling Andrea a ‘dyke’ just because she doesn’t find him attractive is at once extremely misogynistic but also very believable when you asses Merl’s character portrayal.

    HOWEVER, if it’s the ‘stench of bullshit’ you’re looking to avoid, you should probably start with your own largely erroneous claims.. No I jest; while I wouldn’t go so far as to say your article is ‘bullshit’ it still is definitely emanating the faint miasma of un-righteous indignation…

    p.s. I’ve written a hell of a lot.. Can you tell I’m a fan? Got carried away. Sorry!

  11. I agree with your comments wholeheartedly! I’ve just watched seasons 1 and 2 and I think it’s very good but the sexism is so blatant! I think it may come from the comics which seem a bit right wing. I don’t know why Hershel keeps stupidly saying ‘listen to Rick. He’s the boss’ all the time. It makes me want to punch him! Very good blog by the way!

  12. I was just talking to my friend who got me on to the show about this yesterday. I’m only mid-season two so I haven’t seen it all yet, but I’ve been really struggling with the gender representations.
    I really agree with your article, although I also have a slightly different take.
    Say we accept that this group of people in the post-apocalyptic world take on quite traditional gender roles. Why does that mean that they needed to represenet all the women as caricatures? Why are none of the female characters given depth and made interesting except for Andrea? – and she is the only one acting like a ‘man’. So say a woman does do washing and mind children, is her experience of the apocalypse completely irrelevant? The men who aren’t all fighty fighty (Dale, Glen, etc) get a lot more character building than any of the women except Andrea.
    I think the Carol – Daryl interaction would be more interesting if they made Carol a person, not just a caricature of ‘grieving mother’.
    I think the Shane-Rick-Lorie triangle would be more interesting if they gave Lorie a personality.
    What could have been an exploration of the human condition is just an exploration of the male condition and it is lazy script-writing which makes the interactions with the male characters less interesting as well thus making the whole show less interesting.
    The woman are less physically strong and therefore more vulnerable – that is interesting and why can’t that be explored in terms of how it makes the women feel and how it affects how they act? Some of the women have children. Why isn’t the issue of motherhood in a zombie apocalypse explored with any depth (and the example of Lorie’s ‘I can’t bring a child into this world’ is so poorly done and trite that it just makes her seem annnoying).
    In this show, women are only interesting if they are acting like a man or are having men fight over them. I think it makes the whole show less interesting. I don’t need all women in shows to be as powerful as men but I would like them to be interesting complex characters, even if they are traditional, even if they are vulnerable. Game of Thrones, while constructing a brutally sexist world, pulled this off wonderfully which, in my opinion, helped make it a far superior show.

    I still watch it because the male characters are interesting and I love Daryl, I just thing it would be a richer experience if the women were turned into people. I’m looking forward to Michonne and hoping that some of the women get a bit more meat in the script and get to grow a bit.

  13. If I hear the words Strong Female Character again, I might shoot myself. I’ll let someone smarter than me explain the male-gendered nature of why.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/magazine/a-plague-of-strong-female-characters.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

    “Strong women characters” are a canard. They refer to the old-fashioned “strong, silent type,” a type that tolerates very little blubbering, dithering, neuroticism, anxiety, melancholy or any other character flaw or weakness that makes a character unpredictable and human.

    The absurdity of the strong-female-character expectation becomes apparent if you reverse it: Not only does calling for “strong male characters” sound ridiculous and kind of reactionary, but who really wants to watch them? They sound boring. In fact, traditional “strong male characters” have been almost entirely abandoned in favor of male characters who are blubbery, dithering, neurotic, anxious, melancholic or otherwise “weak,” because this weakness is precisely what makes characters interesting, relatable and funny.


    “Strength,” in the parlance, is the 21st-century equivalent of “virtue.” And what we think of as “virtuous,” or culturally sanctioned, socially acceptable behavior now, in women as in men, is the ability to play down qualities that have been traditionally considered feminine and play up the qualities that have traditionally been considered masculine. “Strong female characters,” in other words, are often just female characters with the gendered behavior taken out. This makes me think that the problem is not that there aren’t enough “strong” female characters in the movies — it’s that there aren’t enough realistically weak ones. You know what’s better than a prostitute with a machine gun for a leg or a propulsion engineer with a sideline in avionics whose maternal instincts and belief in herself allow her to take apart an airborne plane and discover a terrorist plot despite being gaslighted by the flight crew? A girl who reminds you of you.”

    I like Lori and Carol the most out of women; the two most traditionally female characters who don’t mind participating in female-gendered work. Why is Andrea’s ability and desire to shoot (a societally male-gendered trait) more valued than Lori or Carol’s contributions to the group?. FYI: I thought both Lori and Andrea were out of line in their argument.
    This is faux-feminism at its finest. Strong Female Character, pssh. Strong Female Character who behaves in a male-gendered manner, you mean. The degradation of societally female-gendered activities and roles is a shame and typical of second-wave feminism.

  14. I just started watching this show, and while I do like it because I love a good zombie flick, the sexism has been somewhat bothering me. Granted I’m only in season 2, but I keep waiting and waiting for the women to grab some weapons and defend themselves instead of screaming and hiding behind Ranger Rick (see what I did there?) and the other oh-so manly men! While I personally do have a lot of “feminine” traits, I know that should a zombie apocalypse happen, the very last thing I would ever do would be to sit around cooking and cleaning (I despise both) while letting the men take charge. Screw that. I’m grabbing the nearest gun and going out to hunt me some zombies, sorry, “walkers.” I think the writers of this show really don’t understand women all that well, because anyone who thinks this is how it would actually be in real life is just plain delusional and kind of a misogynist.

  15. A very interesting article indeed and, I must admit, you’re right – although you don’t see the “whole picture”. Modern society is partially, if not totally, contradictionary to the imprint of “human animals” (men more than woman), which naturally doesn’t know anything about the value of life, peaceful co-existance or gender equality. Of course, I won’t denie the necessity of these values putting into practise, but it’s just not what we are ulimately made for. (and I don’t mean in a religious way, but in a darwinistic) A couple of thousand years ago, the human ancestors lived in small tribes and there, as every other animals, ultimate goals was “survive and reproduce”. Killing of members of other tribes (even children) or raping woman was commonplace, if not to say “normal”. Again, I don’t think this is a good thing in itself but that’s how it naturally worked and that’s what our society evolved from. The world of The Walking Dead is somehow set back to these tribal lifestyle, and even though the characters have the knowledge of the achievements of modern society (which our ancestors didn’t have), there is just no need to keep most of them up anymore. Facing life-and-death situations every day, the human brain is set back to the bio-survival circuit (in case you’re familiar with Timothy Leary’s Eight Circuit model of consciousness) or to it’s original “survive and reproduce” purpose. This also becomes clear when Rick and the others kill other humans or denie them access to their group, when a “modernly imprinted” human would say that the remaining humans should stick together. It’s all about the survival of ones own clan/family/genes, especially for Rick and Lori. Feminism, gender equality or even “moral” has no place in such a world. Actually, Shane was the first one to adapt to this new situation, getting rid of modern societies morals and thinking “practical” and even Rick become somewhat like this in Season 3. Therefore, from a “modern womans” point of view, you are totally right about The Walking Dead being “sexistic”, however, from a post-apocalyptic point of view, this just doesn’t matter. (it’s similar with Game of Thrones: this show plays in a medieval society. dealing with feministic values would seem a little strange, although characters like Cersei Lannister, Kat Stark – even though I have to admit I hate them both -, Aria Stark, Danaerys Targaryan, Shae and Brienne are quite strong women and outnumber weak women such as Sansa Stark or Alayaya (one of Littlefingers prostitutes) )

    And one or two more things about feminism: As a German (you might have noticed a couple of grammar or spelling mistakes ;-) ) I unfortunately experience a very ugly kind of feminism every day. You might have heared about Alice Schwarzer, who undeniably has done a lot for womens rights around the 80s. However, due to her claim to be the only authority on feminism today, her men-hating attitude is rooted deeply in todays German society. Sexism against men is commonplace (because it isn’t acknowledged as such), as is discrimination in family and health politics. (fathers need to go to court to even claim a shared custody if the mother is against it) It has even gone so far that new mens rights associations have been founded, although they are widely laughed or frowned upon. From my experience, todays feminism does more damage to gender equality than is does any good, due to its “we against you”/”men are our enemies” attitude, which leads men to react or fight back, unfortunately with the same weapons, which further opens the gender gap. (fortunately, more and more young women adapt a more progressive feminism and contradict the konservative feminism from the likes of Alice Schwarzer) When it comes to gender equality, it rarely is about “men against women”, its mainly about “men AND women against politics”. But “divide et impera”, right? Men and women need to stop seeing everything through their male or female tunnel view and nned to accept that there is discrimination and disadvantage on BOTH sides (and it really doesn’t matter who has more “advantages” or who is “more” discriminated against!) as well as that their own gender has advantages the other one doesn’t have. One can claim his/her own rights without shortening the rights of others!

    • WOW. You are my biggest pet peeve.

      I am so sick of idiots who confuse THEORY with FACT. You have not got a clue what humans did thousands or millions of years ago. All you have are THEORIES by men who are influenced by their own prejudices.

      It is complete bullcrap that it was normal to rape women in the past. Where did you come up with that stupidity? The evidence is to the contrary. The smaller and more intimate the society the less rape. Did you know that prostitution is not the oldest profession (another male myth). Prostitution only appears in cultures where the natural economic independence and social power of women is denied through the construction of a capitalist (ie unnatural society controlled by males).

      Even today, less “developed” societies tend to be more egalitarian and have a more dominant role for women. I have seen first hand how a woman will attack a son-in-law with a machete for disrespecting her daughter. In these “primitive” societies men respect women. There are even societies where women do not associate with men except under specific circumstances such as consensual sex or men being directed to do chores by the women.

      There is no evidence that women and men even lived together in prehistoric times.

      For your information, upon first contact with socities in the americas and africa eurpoean men were appalled to discover that not only did women do as they pleased, but that they also had social dominance over men, hunted, fished, slept with whomever they pleased, and ran tribes/communities. I can give you some of the sources to this REAL information so you can get your facts straight.

      Also note that records of human culture within historic times are tainted by the perceptions and prejudices of the persons who recorded these written histories….ie it is a male, european version of life which does not depict the views of women. In addition, the ethnographic information collected only depicts what the interviewer asks or wants to know. Men didn’t know what women thought or did in the past (historic or prehistoric) or think to spell it out for the idiots of the future. And Eurpoean men did not bother to ask or convey in their records of encounters with past “primitive” people what the women thought or did as they did not ask. And they certainly did not willingly see what they did not want to believe.

      Your ideas are myths and theories not based in fact.

      Every female of every species protects herself and her young.

      There is no SPECIES on this PLANET where the female NEEDS or DEPENDS ON the male. NONE. Females work WITH a male life partner – with both sexes protecting the group and the young (penquin, fox, etc) – or they go it alone with no male partner and will even kill males to protect themselves and their young (bears, lionesses, etc).

      I highly doubt humans are an exception to these natural rules – females don’t need males and they can protect themselves and their own.

      TWD does not respect the natural order.

      • What utter nonsense!! So Flo has “theories”, but YOU have the FACTS on what happened thousands, or even millions of years ago?!? And where did you get these “facts” from? Where you there? Are you getting them from the European white males who you JUST finished dragging through the mud, the ones, you yourself stated did not know, or bother to ask for input from the women of those times? Or are you getting your, um hum, “facts” from some like-minded feminist, who have the same distorted view of the world as you do, and so you were easily persuaded to believe their accounts of what happened? Here’s a fun fact for you:A history of man.

        “it was commonplace and taught for a man to be the main provider”. Since the dawn of our species up until about the mid 20th century, putting food on the table required hard, often dangerous manual labor-based work. Since the females carry and nurse our young, simple mathematical division of labor calls for women to be the caregivers and men to be the providers/protectors. Males evolved to be larger, stronger and more aggressive to handle the challenges of fighting off enemies, killing predators, hunting for food and doing back breaking farm work and creating a safe space for the females and children of our species to thrive. As men made the world safer and more comfortable for our families, we invented machines like vacuum cleaners, washing machines, etc. to make women’s work easier and free up more of their time. With the advent of technology and the industrial age, entire new industries and careers not involving back breaking manual labor became available and the possibility of women being able to do work outside the home that generated substantial income became a reality. And so women began moving into the work force. But for prior few hundred thousand years, men were the only thing standing between you and the stomach of a predator or you and our children starving. Women weren’t “taught” that men were the main providers. We just did the job because we were the only ones that could. You’re welcome…

      • Actually anthropological and paleonathropological researchers (not “feminist “researchers””) think that the sharper division of labor and the creation of a nuclear family (instead of a hippie/bonobo-esque way of living) probably started with agriculture (it’s weaker among hunter-gatherers, among which women sometimes hunt along with men, the same animals).

        That *doesn’t* mean that:

        – men and women have no average disparity in physical built

        – a post-apocalyptic scenario would result in a sexually-egalitarian environment where women are just as commonly at the top of social hierarchies or otherwise independent according to anyone’s ideals of independence

        – traditional sexual divisions of labor are a conspiracy/coup d’etat of myn to allow them to oppress womyn.

  16. Yeah. I watched episode 1 and I honestly thought that conversation they were having in the flashback in the car had to be a joke… :/ Apparently that was not meant satirically. Sigh. Back to watching Supernatural for me. Yes, it also doesn’t have very many women in it, but at least the dudes don’t sit around discussing how “if every pair of boobs would turn off the lights, we wouldn’t have global warming”… <.<

  17. (I’m French, and my english isn’t as good as I wish it were, so please excuse my mistakes). Thanks for this post, since I began to watch the series I have thought there was much sexism in it. I did’nt recall all the scenes you refer to, but I think one of the most enlightening quotes is the one where Rick tells eleven-year-old Carl to stay in the prison, because the others (Carol, Beth, who are grown-ups) need a MAN to protect them. Unfortunately, I can’t recall in which episode it took place (probably season 3), but I think that’s a pretty good exemple about how sexism can turn to complete and obvious absurdity.
    Michonne’s arrival hasn’t changed many things in the show. I don’t think the writers are even aware of it. Maybe the worst isn’t Lori’s monologues about what women should or shouldn’t do, but the fact that almost none of the female characters is actually interesting. Carol and Beth are completely useless ; Maggie has turned to a submissive woman, listening to the orders Glenn gives her. Michonne doesn’t appear much in most episodes, and she is a perfect western cliché of the tribal woman of color : she almost never talks, she moves like a panther, and never uses guns but a saber, which is a more primitive, less technically advanced weapon. As I see it, it’s some kind of “soft racism”. As for Andrea, she’s still a good shot, a woman who can defend herself on her own, but she has become totally blind towards the Governor, just because she’s in love, or at least very attracted to him. That’s the cliché of women whose judgement can’t be trusted because they are led by their feelings and not by their reason.

  18. Michone or whatever her name is is the worst possible character in the Walking Dead. She just sucks the entertainment out of every scene. If I watch her scenes, I tend to fall asleep. Also, women always take the backseat in real life. In every group I’ve been in, the smartest woman is always 8th or 9th in a group. So, you can’t blame Walking Dead for depicting real life.

  19. Hey, I know this is a bit late in the day, but I just started watching Walking Dead TV Series, Seasons 1 & 2, after really enjoying the games. I wouldn’t consider myself to be particularly gender conscious, but by halfway through season 2 I found myself looking around the room and asking everyone else “doesn’t this all seem very sexist to you?” As a result, I had to take a look online to see whether anyone else felt the same way, so I’m glad I found your post. The sexism didn’t even make me angry, because it was just so obvious – I more felt it made the show very, very boring as I could see what was coming next so clearly.

    The event which actually shocked me into looking online, the last straw, was when Andrea finally got her gun back and accidentally shot Daryl.

    At first, I found myself screaming at the TV “why have you taken her gun anyway? It isn’t yours to take! And why don’t you trust her to make decisions that are right for her, even if she feels suicidal? You barely even know this lady, yet you feel qualified to treat her like a child.”

    Then, after the male characters had made a big scene of taking the guns away from the women, and making a point that it wasn’t appropriate for Andrea to have a weapon, her first action with it is a complete disaster.

    She decides to ignore the men’s advice not to shoot at the distant figure (which in and of itself was an unrealistically stupid call to make – even if it was a walker, it would have taken about 5minutes to reach her, and she knew one of her party was out scouting. Much better to have let it come closer first before making any kind of judgement on whether to kill it or not, and it’s insulting to suggest she wouldn’t know that) and in doing to hits Daryl.

    This means that her first act of defiance is getting a gun, the second is disobeying an order from the men of the group not to shoot, and the result is that one of their party are nearly killed. What adds insult to injury, is that she didn’t even hit him! Not only is she incapable of making reasoned decisions, but she’s also a poor shot. The moral that Andrea is neither mentally equipped nor skilled enough to own a weapon is clear.

    It doesn’t take a katana-wielding black woman to improve this show, or rather, it doesn’t take anything this heavy handed. It isn’t even a case of including more gender equality to make the show more progressive. It would actually make the show far more interesting and realistic if the characters were richer, and made decisions beyond very tired stereotypes.

    I’m hoping that as I enter series 3, and the characters are forced to adapt to new situations bought about by the epidemic, then they will develop into more interesting people. Perhaps for now this new world is too fresh for them to completely throw off the shackles of gender and racial stereotypes.

  20. “Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) does whatever Rick (Andrew Lincoln), her husband and leader of the group, says, blindly and unquestioningly standing by him. Carol (Melissa McBride), who’s keeping it together pretty well considering she’s lost her daughter and her husband, still clings to men, first her abusive husband Ed and now Daryl (Norman Reedus), who tell her what to do.”

    And fictional characters absolutely shouldn’t have traits such as these. They should always represent my preferred ideals, not be like real people, who only deserve my pity and condescension, for not being all that I think they should be. They all should be named Mary Sue.

    Ideally, this whole series would last only one season, that ends after a womyn scientist solves the zombie problem at the same time that makes myn completely unnecessary for reproduction, and for society in general. A double happy ending, the end of the two major threats to womynkind at the same time.

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