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Cross Post: In Praise of Difficult Women

Features
by Dorothy Snarker
July 18, 2013 2:15 PM
6 Comments
  • |
Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black

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.

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Dorothy Snarker writes for her blog Dorothy Surrenders and also for After Ellen. You can follow her on Twitter.

Republished with permission.

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6 Comments

  • Michael H. | July 19, 2013 9:42 PMReply

    oops, I mean to say that there needs to be a shift were women "aren't objectified sex objects". My bad.

  • Michael H. | July 19, 2013 9:40 PMReply

    I definitely agree wit you, that there needs to be a shift in power. Taking away from the stereotypical white male role in media, and giving this power to all sorts of women roles. To break the gender identity roles of our hegemonic patriarchal society, we definitely need a shift to were women are objectified sex object, but their own character with a deep and rich background. Whether the acting female be the antihero as you talk about, or just an extremely well written and thought out character, there needs to be more women involved in media.

    The comment that there cannot be a successful female anti-hero baffled me to be honest. When I read that, the first thing that came to my head was the movie "Kill Bill". While the female role in the film was the main character, and she went seeking her revenge, she turned out to be one of my favorite "anti-hero" in film to this day. I say that she is the anti-hero because she does not do things that a hero does. She does not kill to benefit or protect for society, she kills because she is on the road for revenge. Even one of netflix's shows "Orange is the New Black" shows a female in prison, and it shows a lot of female anti-heroes. All of which has well written backgrounds.

  • mimi holligher | July 19, 2013 1:15 PMReply

    YES YES YES! In Praise Of Difficult Women. I would add Detective Sarah Linden from The Killing. The thing that is still tricky is that the Difficult Men that are the Tonys, the Don, the etc etc is that the male creators themselves are considered difficult -- and therein lies their brilliance whereas the idea of a difficult but genius female writer is yet to be praised. Or perhaps encouraged. As a tv writer I know for a fact that female showrunners are in short supply and being difficult in any way, no matter how stunning your writing is, will be held against you. As for the person who thinks TV is about rating, blablablah, you definitely don't know anything about the incredible cultural impact television has on the culture. Orange is the New Black is one the BEST SHOWS on television. EVER. Can't wait to see more complex anti-heroine heroines. The movies are waay behind. TV is where it's at.

  • Audrey Ewell | July 18, 2013 6:06 PMReply

    I totally agree with all this, except that I find The Fall to murky in several ways. 1) The female protagonist is actually just fulfilling the Don Draper role (ie, succeeding by men's rules in a male prototype) and 2) the show butters its bread by creating excitement around the sexualized victimization and murders of attractive women. I actually think they're selling us a traditional show with traditional patriarchal values, but with a pink smokescreen in front. I love Orphan Black though and haven't yet seen OitNB (the awful title has kept me away).

  • Abigail Tarttelin | July 18, 2013 3:50 PMReply

    SO looking forward to catching these shows! Thanks Melissa & Dorothy!

  • a;ofanm | July 18, 2013 2:49 PMReply

    TV should never be considered part of a change in society. Leave that to singular artists and filmmakers who can make a piece of work without a board room meeting. TV allows itself to be changed image-wise only due to popularity in cultural viewpoints. TV is a dumb robot that caters to ratings. These new shows are not brought about by a desire to change the climate of TV, it's all just there to provoke you into watching their "current" show that are like those other really popular shows that have to do with anti heroes. Film caught up with the difficult woman thing about 80 years back.

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