Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Praise of Difficult Women

Fuck off, Don Draper, Walter White, Tony Soprano, et al. The age of the male antihero is over. Sure, you’ve had a good run. And, fuck, look at all those shiny, shiny Emmys. But I’m sick of praising all these Difficult Men. You’re “damaged” and “complex” and “tough” and “violent” and “immoral” and yadda yadda. But your time has come and now it’s our time. Welcome to age of Difficult Women.

Granted, there have always been Difficult Women on TV and in pop culture. But they’re usually the nagging voice to be suffered through by Difficult Men. But not anymore. Now they get their own shows and change to shine. And it’s glorious, just fucking glorious.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how there will never be successful female antiheroes in the media. How there simply can’t be a female Tony Soprano. And, while I agree it’s a different and difficult road women have to travel than men because of – let’s face it – sexism, that doesn’t mean we aren’t around.

There have been others. Nancy Botwin. Patty Hewes. Jackie Peyton. Beatrix Kiddo. Lisbeth Salander. And now we have three stellar new shows – “Orange Is the New Black,” “Orphan Black” and “The Fall” – all revel in the world of the Difficult Women. These might not be antiheroes in the sense of being hypermasculine men who treat the women in their lives like shit and will resort to any means necessary to succeed up to an including murder. But they are antiheroes in the sense that they aren’t traditionally likable, noble or conciliatory female roles. These are women with full agency – or coming into their own agency by way of a year long-stint in prison – who don’t give a shit about being polite.

Orange’s Piper (a whitebread princess thrown into prison and forced to confront herself and fundamentalist methheads), Orphan’s Sarah (a street kid who is no stranger to the long con who fights against an international clonespiracy with lethal force) and Fall’s Stella (a brilliant detective chasing after a serial killer who has no problem with one-night stands and no interest in making nice) are all antiheroes in their own way. They take the traditional narrative of a female heroine and turn key aspects on their head.

I think one of those key elements of a good female antihero is the pushback. Pushing back against the expected. Against the preconceived notions of what we should be, as heroines. This is more than about physical strength, the easiest way to signify a “strong woman.” This is about allowing women to be fucked up and flawed. Allowing women to exist outside the “chick flick” genre. Allowing women to be their own heroes in unheroic ways. That makes them, in some people’s eyes, difficult. And in my eyes, fucking fantastic.

p.s. I finally figured it out. Taylor Schilling of OITNB looks like Heather Armstrong of Dooce. There, you're welcome.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Talk about gifts. Amazing, amazing characters and stories this Spring/Summer. Love them all (and can't wait for them to come back).

As scenes go, the scene (ep 9 F*cksgiving) between Healy and Piper at the door in SHU is an amazing summation of so much - of the way it sometimes feels (at least to me) in this world: "You DON'T GET ME, EVER!" That dynamic between those two characters throughout the show feels really real and the actors do an amazing job. Especially if you're of a certain generation, you've played that game with some older man, sometimes woman - and I'm not talking sex (although somewhere at the back of it, sex is probably there, right?), I am just talking about playing a certain role to get along, to move forward, to get what you want, to be safe. I'm rambling, but it was really cathartic to hear Piper scream those words at Healy and then very easy to identify with her reaction after she'd done it. And as anti-heroes go, nothing felt better than the power she lets loose walking down those halls back to Alex.
As for the actor playing Healy - sorry I'm not going to IMDB him - that guy is really good - great and equally unlikable in Deadwood but also great there too (I do remember his character's name, which says something, 'Steve.') It takes something to pull off Healy and he does it. More so that Porn Stache, I'd say.
Did I say I love this show? I love them all. Love watching the Clones, Stella Gibson and Piper Chapman (and company) navigate their worlds.

Anonymous said...

Talk about gifts. Amazing, amazing characters and stories this Spring/Summer. Love them all (and can't wait for them to come back).

As scenes go, the scene (ep 9 F*cksgiving) between Healy and Piper at the door in SHU is an amazing summation of so much - of the way it sometimes feels (at least to me) in this world: "You DON'T GET ME, EVER!" That dynamic between those two characters throughout the show feels really real and the actors do an amazing job. Especially if you're of a certain generation, you've played that game with some older man, sometimes woman - and I'm not talking sex (although somewhere at the back of it, sex is probably there, right?), I am just talking about playing a certain role to get along, to move forward, to get what you want, to be safe. I'm rambling, but it was really cathartic to hear Piper scream those words at Healy and then very easy to identify with her reaction after she'd done it. And as anti-heroes go, nothing felt better than the power she lets loose walking down those halls back to Alex.
As for the actor playing Healy - sorry I'm not going to IMDB him - that guy is really good - great and equally unlikable in Deadwood but also great there too (I do remember his character's name, which says something, 'Steve.') It takes something to pull off Healy and he does it. More so that Porn Stache, I'd say.
Did I say I love this show? I love them all. Love watching the Clones, Stella Gibson and Piper Chapman (and company) navigate their worlds.

Kristan Hoffman said...

LOL I had never drawn the Taylor Schilling / Heather Armstrong comparison myself, but you're right! Well, now we know who's playing Heather in the Dooce movie.

(PS: No, sorry, that's not a thing. But it should be!)

Anonymous said...

I would definitely add Linden, the main character in The Killing. Another difficult complex woman.

Anonymous said...

I think she also looks a lot like Katy Perry.

Erin O'Riordan said...

Arguable, Sarah Shahi's 'Person of Interest' character, Sam Shaw, also belongs on this list, although some would say she remains noble in spite of - in addition to? - the fact that she'll dispatch anyone who comes between her and survival. She's like a female Greg House - the lovable sociopath - if House was recruited by the government for black ops and then went wonderfully rogue.

Chrissy said...

Don't forget Olivia Pope from Scandal.

Anonymous said...

DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) from Prime Suspect!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for introducing me (and my friends) to all of these shows. I love them all. Linden from The Killing is kind of an antihero also.