Please check your privilege here. If you’re not sure what that means – and it’s highly misunderstood and gets a bad press that I don’t think is entirely warranted – it can be summed up as follows:
Elvis checked his privilege before it was cool.
So, it’s That Post You’ve All Been Dreading! I’d been wondering where the end of my tether was and guess what? I found it! On SpoilerTV, of all places:
Here we have eight upcoming guest spots in S4, four women and four men. At first glance, this looks reasonable, but on closer inspection it becomes obvious that there’s no gender parity here. Two of the female roles are ‘wife’ and one is ‘daughter’ (in fairness, the role of Hewitt does appear to be ‘complete idiot’). In contrast, only one of the male roles mentions a personal life, and that’s only because he’s shagging his attractive, flirtatious boss. On top of that, the specified age range of the female characters skews younger:
Female: 18-20s (x2), 30s, 30s-40s.
Male: 20s, 20s-30s, 30s-40s, 40s-50s.
So we already have an imbalance in terms of roles and ages. It gets worse, though. Have a look at how these characters are described:
Female description words
humble yet hip
Male description words
vacuous and yet charismatic
Firstly, can we please have an indefinite moratorium on the word ‘spunky’? It’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl ‘strength’ word – the kind of strength women are allowed to have and still be sexy (because that is the most important thing, right?). ‘Spunky’ is as forceful as women are allowed to be without being seen as ball-breakers, and therefore undesirable. It’s a restriction, not a compliment. Would anyone call Michelle Obama ‘spunky’? (Not to her face, I imagine). And quite apart from that, over here ‘spunk’ is slang for ‘semen’, so to say someone is ‘spunky’ is… probably not the effect they were going for. Although with this show, it’s hard to know for sure.
Secondly, ‘manipulative’ and ‘controlling’? God forbid a woman should just be intelligent (instead of ‘sharp-minded’ – she couldn’t be ‘smart’ like the man? ‘Shrewd’ and ‘calculating’ like the man?) and capable. No, if she’s in a position of power, she must have tricked her way into it! “There, there, poor man who is only an assistant. It isn’t because she’s better than you. It’s because she’s a bitch”. GTFO.
Thirdly, I could go on for ages about the difference between these two sets of words – I won’t because it’s so self-evident as to not be worth the effort (although if someone can tell me what on Earth ‘humble yet hip’ is supposed to mean, that would be greatly appreciated) – but what really strikes me about these lists – about these characters – is that they’re boring. That’s the problem with gender stereotypes, they’ve been so overdone that they don’t seem fresh at all. A manipulative woman? They’ve already done that. A kidnapped daughter? Er… they’ve already done that as well. ‘Wife’ characters? Up to their ears in them (and not in a good way). Male characters who are violent criminals or ruthless businessmen? Puh-leaze. The only character here who looks even vaguely interesting is Hewitt, and even that’s only if he’s not as stupid as he sounds.
Why not a shady businesswoman? A quiet, good-natured, sheltered boy who is kidnapped and must be saved by his kick-ass law enforcement mother? Look what happens when we genderswap these characters:
Christopher is an attractive, sharp-minded, spunky and flirtatious man who works at Maxwell Home Design in Honolulu. He also has a manipulative and controlling side, and he is very adept at manipulating women to do what he wants.
Anthony is a quiet, good-natured, and sheltered young man who is on a trip to Hawaii for the first time. When Anthony is suddenly kidnapped during the trip, his mother Renee is able to get the support of McGarrett to help rescue her son.
Ken is a pretty, sensual, and playful man who is married to a wealthy businesswoman named Laura.
Simon is a humble yet hip, caring, and strongly loyal man who is happily married and lives in Honolulu.
Alyssa is a smart, professional-looking, quirky, and yet secretive woman who works at Maxwell Home Design. Alyssa is the loyal personal assistant to the cute and spunky Christopher, with whom she is having an ongoing affair. Alyssa dreams of one day sweeping him off his feet and marrying him.
Henrietta is a snide, vacuous, and yet charismatic rich kid who has an expensive cocaine habit. She has the outward demeanor of a typical laid-back surfer, but there is a slimy quality to her.
Fiona is an intimidating, sinister, and violent professional criminal who Danny and McGarrett capture after they shoot her in the leg.
Leah is a shrewd, calculating, and brazen operations manager for a company called Reliant Aerospace and Defense in Honolulu. She is pushy and a bit shady. She believes that the ends justify the means, and she is willing to break the law if it helps her company.
So, the description of a man as ‘pretty, sensual and playful’ is a little vomworthy, isn’t it? Although it pales in comparison with describing a man as ‘spunky’ *shudder*. I tried making it a same-sex relationship but it didn’t help, if anything it made it worse. He actually sounds like a Ken doll (and naming him Ken wasn’t even intentional!). Simon’s a bit dull, which just goes to show that doormats are yawn-inducing no matter what gender they are. Also, Alyssa comes across as a swooning romance novel heroine (not a good thing) and Christopher sounds like a total douche. In fact, he sounds like Christian Grey (also not a good thing).
Epiphany: oh my GOD!! That’s what they’ve done! They genderswapped Fifty Shades of Grey!! ALL THE NO IN EXISTENCE!!
*breathes into a paper bag*
All the other characters, though, have FAR more potential. The only one who sounds familiar is Fiona, who is pretty much Hillary Chaver from the Season 2 finale (miss you, Hillary!) and really, she could come back anytime. If she weren’t dead, that is. Sigh.
Ah, you say, but these are minor, one-off characters, you can’t judge the show just on this! What about the series regulars and recurring characters? OK – let’s see what we can look forward to in Season 4, shall we?
Characters who exist in their own right:
Characters who exist only as love interests or family members:
Characters who are in China (and no, prefilmed scenes don’t count):
We spent the second half of Season 3 tiptoeing around this subject, but now I’m just going to come straight out and say it: this is not good enough. It’s not as if women are a minority group, we make up fifty-two percent of the world’s population – yeah, if this planet were a company, we would OWN it – so what is the problem here? Writing decent female characters is not hard. Person of Interest, a show made by the same network, manages it just fine so what is it that H50 is having such trouble with? Why could the SWAT team character not be a woman instead of a carbon copy – in gender and ethnicity – of a character the show already has? (Fun fact: seventy-five percent of recurring female characters on this show are white, compared with only thirty percent of male characters. And yes, all of these characters are straight. Show evidently thinks intersectionality can go fuck itself). Instead of McGarrett’s aunt, why not McGarrett’s uncle? (Actually, I know the answer to that one: in H50-land, McGarrett’s uncle would have turned up or at least been mentioned before now. Aunts, however, are irrelevant). Hell, the daughter can stay as a daughter, just make the Ranger her mother instead of her father (preferably played by Simone Kessell because I still miss Wash something fierce). It’s not hard.
The sad thing is, I’m not even sure this is intentional. We say ‘Show hates women’ but I think it’s rather that Show isn’t very interested in women as people so the interesting characters are written as males with a few token stereotypical females thrown in. Maybe it’s just that writing female characters is out of Show’s comfort zone these days and they can’t be bothered anymore (which would explain why the three decent secondary female characters the show had – Governor Jameson, Laura Hills and Jenna Kaye – were killed off in the space of half a season). Or – and this is truly worrying – they genuinely think they are writing good female characters, when what they are actually writing is intelligent women who turn into Surrendered Wives the moment they leave work. Rachel is an economist (per 1.15) but all we see her as is Stan’s wife or Danny’s ex-wife, so presumably she gave up her career to be a mother and now follows wherever her husband’s career leads. Kono put her (abusive criminal) boyfriend ahead of her career to the point where she is no longer able do her job. Cath’s been putting her boyfriend ahead of her career for three years (laughable retconning aside – and it’s a moot point now since she is apparently giving up her amazing Navy job to work for her ex-boyfriend’s security firm. Bye-bye respect-commanding uniform, it’s going to be skinny jeans-a-go-go from here on in). Lori left because her feelings for her boss got in the way of her professionalism. Malia waited with her engagement ring on a chain around her neck (“don’t make a pass at me, I’m keeping myself available for someone else”) for Chin to decide he wanted her again, and then ended up thoroughly fridge-stuffed. Leilani waited for Chin to decide he was ready. Gabby gave up a huge career opportunity (“I don’t know WHAT I was thinking, putting my career ahead of my boyfriend!”) for someone she hasn’t seen in nine months and hadn’t even known a year before that.
Is this the kind of woman sexists fantasise about now that they know the Fifties housewife is no more? Women who can earn their own money and take care of themselves, but still do what they’re told by their men? This is their idea of a modern woman?
It’s easy to say ‘oh come on, this is only a TV show’ but of course TV shows don’t exist in a vacuum and the portrayal of women in popular culture is a huge problem. The lack of decent female characters in film and TV – to the point where we celebrate the few films and shows that have them, and when did you last hear anyone say “oh, I love that show, it has such great male characters”? – is part of a blanket lack of respect for women that also includes street harassment, workplace discrimination, victim-blaming, rape apology, and Miley Cyrus being slut-shamed in the media while the married-and-old-enough-to-be-her-father rape fantasist grinding against her tailbone gets off scot-free. Or Kristen Stewart being slut-shamed in the media while her married-and-old-enough-to-be-her-father boss who was every bit as unfaithful as she was gets off scot-free. You only need to spend five minutes on everydaysexism.com to see the effect it has on male behaviour. TV shows might be the thin end of the wedge, but it’s still the same wedge.
I am really hoping that this will improve over the season because my love for this show does not extend to tolerating sexist bullshit on this kind of scale. I don’t want to watch a show that I don’t respect, and I can’t respect a show that doesn’t respect me. And I know I’m not the only person who feels this way.
So please, Show, for God’s sake. Tuck that back in.