Monday, November 21, 2011

Dear AMC's The Walking Dead...Stop It

Seriously--knock it off. Whatever it is you are trying to do with the gender situation in season two, cut it out. It's not working, and it's pretty offensive.

(Spoilers to follow)

The main crew
Let me back up. So, my friend Danee has been working on a piece about the feminism of AMC's The Walking Dead, mostly season 1. It was really fun watching it with her while considering this perspective, and getting to see the finished piece she came up with. Overall, it gave me a perspective about season one that was mixed.

Basically, the feeling I got was that the characters were struggling to figure out how gender would play out in their new world--one which is very different from our current culture, but is composed of people who were members of our society, and therefore bring with them all the notions of patriarchy that each of us carry on a daily basis. Tasks like defending the group from "walkers," hunting, and leading were left primarily to men, while women took on traditionally feminine roles like cooking, childcare, and foraging. However, as Danee detailed in her piece, there were challenges to the traditional gender structure. It was interesting, complex, and worth analysis.

(Side note: Danee, if you have an electronic version of your article any time soon, I'd like to link to it here.)

Then came Season 2. I honestly feel like the writers this season showed up to work the first day and said, "FUCK IT, let's make all the women somewhat foolish/childish/needy and the men strong leaders. DONE."

I will give you a few examples:

1) Andrea shoots Daryl-- You see, in the episode "Chupacabra," Daryl had ventured into the woods to look for a lost girl on his own. He is significantly injured and comes trudging back to the camp looking a bit like a walker. From a distance, Andrea spies him with her rifle scope and decides to take a shot. Protecting the group might sound like a smart, progressive thing for a female character to do and it would be IF: a) everyone hadn't already been taught a million times that gunshots are dangerous as they attract walkers. b) there wasn't a group of men already approaching Daryl with hand weapons who had CLEARLY stopped short staring at what was happening and figuring out it was him. Wouldn't she wonder why they weren't attacking? But no, she acts foolishly and impulsively and shoots Daryl. But don't worry guys! She's such a mess up that she doesn't even fully strike her target, she only grazes his head. Daryl will be just fine despite tha crazee womern! Now I know some people will argue that the character of Andrea is actually getting stronger simply because she's been wielding a gun more--but let me put it like this, you can put a gun a woman's hands and that does not make a strong character. The summation of her actions make or do not make a strong character. Besides, keep reading and tell me that the gender situation in this season isn't grim.
Andrea learning to shoot from Shane

2) Carol's incessant crying/helplessness--Carol is the mother of the missing girl, Sophia. Sophia's disappearance has been a major plot point this season (which, frankly, is getting old. She's been gone too long. Get over it, move on.) That aside, instead of doing anything about it and helping to look for her, Carol is just pretty much crying and wringing her hands constantly. And blaming Sophia's disappearance on Rick, the group's leader. I get that Carol is an abuse survivor which comes with a multitude of emotional scars. However, when they killed off her abusive husband, Ed, mid first season, it looked like they were creating a turning point for her. When the camp is attacked and Ed is bitten, the survivors have to smash the heads of the dead/bitten people so that they don't reawaken as walkers. Carol takes on the task of smashing Ed's brains out and strikes his corpse over and over again out of pain and anger. At that moment, I thought I might be able to expect something interesting. Carol would no longer be constrained by Ed. What would she have to say and what could she do without him watching her every move? The answer is apparently simple: not a whole lot. Sure, it would be horrifically traumatic to lose your daughter in the woods any time, let alone during a zombie apocalypse. But a strong female character would DO something about it. Not sit around lamenting and running up to the search team episode after episode saying things like, "Any sign?"

3) Maggie's mixed signals--Because so many of the original crew from season one has become zombie food or decided to blow themselves up at the CDC, the writers had to introduce a whole new group of characters, and they did so by having the main crew stumble upon a farm house, owned by Hershel. Hershel's farm and family provide the crew with many things they needed: medical supplies, food, water, clothing, horses, and most importantly, safety. The farm group also serve as an important plot device: potential new love stories. One such story emerges between Glenn, from the original crew, and Maggie, Hershel's daughter. Maggie was a beacon of hope for me for a moment. Could it be? A bad ass chick who rides in on a horse, chops walkers, and leads others to safety? But of course, Maggie's characterization couldn't keep up the hopes I had. In her relationship with Glenn she falls into the stereotype of the woman who sends mixed signals and doesn't know what she wants. I really don't expect any female character to be perfect. I can accept that Maggie is overly emotional in interactions with various characters and that she has to be rescued in one excursion into town with Glenn--but can't she at least stay clear headed and decisive about their relationship?

4) Men are in charge of everything significant--Everything around the camp that matters is in the hands of one of the male characters. Rick and Hershel are the leaders of their respective groups. When it becomes clear that Hershel doesn't want the farm group and the main crew to become too entwined with one another, he tells Rick to get "his people" in order. This interaction clears up any doubt for us at the audience: men are running the show. All real challenges to authority come from other men. Even when Maggie challenges authority, she doesn't do so on her own behalf. Rather, she questions why Glenn isn't more powerful amongst the core group. Plus, everything that needs to be learned comes from men. Need to learn to shoot? Shane's here for that! Need to learn to hunt or track? Daryl's your man. Learning mechanics? Talk to Dale. Need medical care? Hershel's here! Women are, again and again, positioned as assistants and learners while men are the gatekeepers of all "important" knowledge.

5) Lori's Plan B/Abortion Pill stuff--In the most recent episode, "Secrets" Lori didn't know the difference between Plan B and the abortion pill. This is what really was my inspiration to write this whole thing and the straw that broke the metaphorical camel's back. However, my issues with Lori runs much deeper than this. Lori, much like Carol but to a lesser degree, is constantly inactive. She is someone who had risen to become a female leader in her own right, but when push comes to shove she instantly defers to the judgement of various men like her husband Rick or her former lover, Shane. For example, when decisions must be made about her son Carl, she lets Rick make the final call.

However, the worst moment definitely was last night, when Lori was not only stupid, but delivered a dangerous message. You see, we've known Lori is pregnant for a few episodes, and had a positive pregnancy test, which means she's at least a few weeks along. So in a panic, she asks Glenn to bring her something from town. When Glenn and Maggie return, we finally learn what it was Lori needed as Maggie throws packages that are clearly marked with "the morning after pill" and says, "Here are your abortion pills!" Um, what? Ok, Maggie might not understand what they are, but it becomes pretty clear that at least a total of 4 characters on the show don't know the difference too--and Lori's the worst. Glenn asks her, "Will these even work?" to which she says, "I don't know." But later, in privacy, instead of reading the damn package to get the answer Lori ingests a HANDFUL of Plan B (but don't worry guys, she pukes it up later. Baby saved. Huzzah!)


Seriously? I mean, REALLY? This scene only serves to further misconceptions about EC, which for the last damn time, is NOT THE SAME AS THE ABORTION PILL. And make no mistake, this whole medicine mix up adds literally nothing to the story. They could have just as easily had Lori actually request abortions pills, be given abortion pills, take abortion pills, puke abortion pills, and it would have had the same affect on the story, but without furthering the myth that the morning after pill ends an existing pregnancy. Basically, the writers are either really lazy, want Lori to look like an utter moron, or are revealing their own pathetic ignorance about emergency contraception.


Look, I don't expect gender situations to be perfect, but they could at least be a little more nuanced than how season two is shaping up. In a show like The Walking Dead, they have a unique opportunity to reimagine the world, and to reimagine it in a way which is not actually less gender progressive than the world in which I currently operate. I mean, come on. I don't ask a lot. Anything would be better than this!

Disclaimer: My comments are limited solely to the AMC Walking Dead version, as I know nothing about the comics except that they're not much like the show.


  1. Thank you!! I was talking to my dad about this just before I saw your article. It's really a shame too, because I used to love this show.

  2. Wow it is pretty obvious that you never-ever read the comic book which got Kirkland the show otherwise you would have noticed that the show follows the comic book really well. The show is extremely popular and therefore doesn't need to be fixed! If you really want to want to watch a show about a post-apocalyptic world written from a feminist perspective I suggest that you either create your own comic/novel series or produce one yourself. If you don't like the aspects of the show don't watch it. If you have a jones for a post-apocalyptic show with strong female characters check out the BBC's 'Survivors.'

    1. I actually agree with A. Lynn and I have read the comics. I think in a situation where the world is taken over by zombies, it is just simply unrealistic that ANYONE would survive by simply washing clothes and cooking food. In a post-apocalyptic world, EVERYONE should be able to fend for themselves, not just the men. Period. If you can't kill a zombie, you can't protect yourself, then you will die. The end. The fact that the female characters sit around and cry about how terrible the world has become, wait for the men to come around and save their asses and make decisions for them; that is just unrealistic and flat out stupid. I'm really excited for Season 3's character Michone to really take a turn though if they do it right. Anywho, I know that this show is targeted to the male audience, but I am a woman, an avid zombie lover, and I disagree with the "liberties" the writers have taken with the female characters. It is just unrealistic.

  3. There's nothing "obvious" about that observation--it's right there in black and white. I said I haven't read them. All I know is everyone who has is always talking about how the show has taken liberties w/ characters/story lines.

    And *if only* I was able to produce something post-apocalyptic for the world to see. Unfortunately, time and time again the stuff that gets the money is the same old crap over and over. Just because it follows the comics doesn't make this whole thing stereotypical and sexist tripe.

  4. I too am annoyed w/ Lori and Andrea... I am sick of Lori's entire character being based around her eyes bugging out. I honestly think all of the needless melodrama about a damn pregnancy is just stupid. It's like really, do you have to work so hard to create this drama when your characters are living in the zombie apocalypse?? Really?! Oh yeah, but in most episodes they seem to forget about the zombies.. that's true. Lame. Andrea is just annoying. It's like they are pandering directly to the female audience who wants a cool female character on this show. But it just comes off as ridiculous. Whenever someone has to state their character's attributes or growth for the season (ie "not a victim"), you know something is wrong. Bah, I will still watch it though... just for the last five minutes of each episode when something actually happens.

  5. I found your post after watching Ep 10 of season 2. I completely agree with everything you say. The exchange between Andrea and Lori in this episode was just absurd, where Lori scolds Andrea for not doing things like laundry and cooking, and for choosing to instead take on a more "traditionally" male role, like protecting the group. Lori even says at one point something like 'the men can protect us just fine without you'. I've never read the comics, and have enjoyed the show, but whether this gender dynamic was present in the original story or added in by the screenwriters, it's very, very sad to see.

  6. In the run-up to the premier of season 3 this weekend, I watched the last few episodes from season 2 and I had totally forgotten how much this gender BS had annoyed me! The pregnancy storyline was more than just irresponsible misinformation and two women's lack of knowledge. The ONE TIME Lori is shown as being actually quite rational and sensible in wanting to end the pregnancy (most people I think would agree that choosing to have a baby in a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE might be a tad less than ideal), is the ONE TIME Rick (understandably) allows his emotions to overcome common sense, and rather than just let this apparent paradox play out, they start hammering home the the vile message that it's ok for Rick's emotions to steamroller Lori's common sense, because he is MORALLY RIGHT. So not only does the female bow to the male's will, but she is a horrible person for daring to use her common sense.

    I hope season 3 at least attempts to redeem itself.

  7. Agreed! I was just about to blog about the subject and decided to read what people have said so far. Strong female characters, same old gender roles. I have high hopes for Michonne (thoughts on her being the sole female character alive that is not white?) as she has continued to reject forces to change that. Andrea jumped at the first opportunity for some "normality" (read: back to the traditional societal structure and roles) with the Governor and the town, forfeiting her alliance with Michonne.

    I have yet to see this month's new episode. Time to catch up.


  8. This is literally everything I think about these episodes so far, and you were able to put everything together so eloquently. I REALLY appreciate this entry. It makes me feel very validated in all of my discomfort.

  9. I can agree with some things, but others I think are just too far of a stretch to agree with. Like the learning to shoot; Rick and Shane don't teach it because they're men, they teach it because they are/were cops, know what they're doing and are the right ones for the job. After seeing how well Andrea does, she's taken out (same day I believe) on a run because she's an asset. Daryl's a tracker and hunter because he's had to do it for survival his entire life, because his home life was total crap. That's just the skill set he's be given and not by voluntary or pleasant circumstances. Hershel's in charge of the farm because it's his farm. His wife is dead and aside from Beth and Maggie, the rest of the people are visitors; his house, his rules. And yes I can agree that Rick is the leader in the group from Atlanta, but no one else stepped up either, and honestly he's the only one out of the group, male or female that seems to have what it takes to be a leader. I'm not saying it's because he's a man, it's because that's how his original character was written. I can agree however that Carol shouldn't be sitting around doing nothing. I absolutely agree that she should have been out helping to find her little girl, but I don't know how people in that situation actually react, having never been there myself. As for Maggie begin an indecisive person, not knowing what she wants, if you watch the show as it goes on, Rick's not exactly sticking with his decisions either, he flip flops back and forth quite a bit. I'm not saying that anyone is wrong or right, just voicing an opinion on the matter. I'm female and really don't have any problems with the way it's been playing out so far.

    1. But did they have to have the roles that Rick, Shane, and Daryl play all be written to be men? Couldn't a past cop have been a woman? Those are all choices they've made.

      FWIW, I wrote an update about the show w/ more current info on the women involved


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