From Skyler White to Dana Brody, female TV characters have been getting some hatred lately. And it’s kind of incomprehensible that so many female characters invite so much violent wrath. In a recent column, IO9’s Rob Bricken addresses the issue and points to three causes for the glacial attack on female characters: the writing, the audience, and the actors. Writers just don’t write women as well as they write males; a typical television role for women involves a one-dimensional life defined solely by her relationship to male characters. Maybe not as much thought goes into casting women, because some actors just don’t provide much insight into the depths of their characters. Finally, audiences are tougher on women. If a woman does something unethical (e.g. Skyler White cheats on Walt), viewers are less likely to forgive her.
While Bricken’s words are spot-on, I can’t help but think that some of the hatred has to do with the way fictional women often operate in dramatic storytelling. The old stereotype that women are better with emotions lends female characters to a sort of tedious form of emotional exposition. Breaking Bad’s Skyler White, Mad Men’s Betty Draper, and Homeland’s Jessica Brody serve as proxies for the viewer; like the audience, their main arc lies in discovering and painstakingly processing the conflict within the male protagonist. And that’s irritating to watch. Viewers find Dana Brody and Skyler White whiney; the more they talk about their feelings, the more they grate on reviewers. The old stereotype that women like to talk about ourselves and our emotions is expressed in these characters in a way that often makes their emotions themselves seem disingenuous.
We want to see the action inspired by a character’s emotional arc because that’s what we ourselves experience; hearing about it is just plain annoying and boring. Mad Men is so successful at creating beloved characters of all genders because the characters rarely sit around and chit-chat about their innermost secrets: we learn about Don or Peggy’s fears and sorrows through watching them sip brandy or have sex. Sally Draper can transmit feelings about her father by cutting her hair, and that’s far more moving and cathartic that Dana’s obvious complaining. Audiences don’t need things explained to us through television wives; we want female characters with complex emotions that trigger realistic actions.
Why do you think people love to hate on women in TV?