I started watching The Walking Dead about three weeks ago on Netflix. When I first started, I was obsessed; this show is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to what an actual zombie apocalypse would be like. And I’m not just talking about reality in terms of the flesh-eating monsters that the cast fears. I'm also talking about the characterization of the women on the show and what this tells viewers about how Americans would view women in such a serious situation. The further into the series I watched, the more evident it became that the show's writer's have made a conscience choice to portray men and women in very different ways.
I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining – I love this show. The writers, however, aren’t very imaginative when it comes to developing the female characters. It seems to me that these characters are put in place to build the foundation for the male characters, make women look useless and distracting, and feed into worn-out female stereotypes. For a series based on a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ruled world, they weren’t very creative with the females’ characterization. Here are three things the show's portrayal of women is broadcasting loud and clear.
1. Women never change.
There are only three main female characters in the series, compared to the eight male characters. There are also several recurring characters of importance – including Carol and Sophia Peletier. When I say the writers weren’t creative with these characters, I mean they were really uncreative. If you watch the show, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Women can be many things; we can be bitchy, we can be leaders, we can be victims. However, the women of The Walking Dead emulate those same female stereotypes we’ve been seeing for decades. Let's discuss (and don't read on if you don't want spoilers).
LORI: The wife of Rick Grimes and mother of Carl Grimes, she represents our first common female archetype: The Temptress. Not only does it take her less time to get over her presumably dead husband than it takes for him to recover from a gunshot wound, but she shacks up with his best friend, Shane Walsh. To top it off, when she is reunited with her husband, the writers have her snap on her ex-lover, before even explaining why she’s mad. We’re made to believe she’s simply being a bitch (it’s not until later on in the episode that we find out she’s mad because Shane lied to her about Rick dying). Arguably the most significant main female character, the writers made her no more than someone to divide the men and distract them from the more serious issue at hand: survival. Shane all but forgets about the zombies because he’s so concerned with trying to win Lori back. Last time I checked, this was a zombie apocalypse, not Twilight. Instead of making her entire story about this love triangle, why not make her the badass first lady of the group? One who leads the other women to kill some zombies? I’m guessing that’s too radical because, in the midst of trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, her biggest problem is being fought over by two men.
ANDREA: We know little of Andrea, other than that she’s a former civil rights lawyer and had a younger sister who was killed by zombies in the first season. Andrea gives the men a run for their money, automatically making her our second archetype: The Bitch. Andrea wants nothing to do with the domestic duties Lori has placed on her – she wants to carry a gun, stand guard and kill zombies. She’s one of two women who handle a gun for any significant amount of time. Even when they are being chased off Hershel’s farm, Andrea is sent to rescue the other women, who are weaponless. Even the women resent her strong will. While living on the farm, Lori snaps, “You sit up on that RV working on your tan with a shotgun in your lap,” as if Andrea isn’t watching for zombies. But don’t worry, even someone as strong-minded and bitchy as Andrea needs a man, as seen in her random hookup with Shane.
CAROL: It’s just a matter of time before Carol Peletier dies. She’s our waif in this show. She’s innocent, naïve, passive and kind. She’s victimized by her abusive husband, but instead of standing up for herself in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, she is saved by Shane. After her husband dies, she still doesn’t take charge for herself or her young daughter. She is constantly being protected by Darryl, Andrea and the other men because, you know, women can’t look out for themselves. Probably the worst and most annoying thing happened when they were being chased off Hershel’s farm: Carol, for some ridiculous reason, ended up alone with no weapon. So, what does she pick up? A piece of wood. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact that she started swinging it frantically, clearly having no idea how to protect herself.
2. Women are for cooking, cleaning, and screwing.
The second Glenn met Maggie, I knew they’d hookup. I mean, why else would the writers introduce a young, attractive female character?
The women of The Walking Dead rarely are ever seen with a gun in their hand, even though there seem to be plenty. They’re stuck with the cooking and cleaning. When this issue is confronted in the first season, there’s a simple answer: “The world ended, didn’t you get the memo?” Andrea’s younger sister, Amy, is used by the writers to assert the gender roles of a post-apocalyptic world – the men are the protectors and the women are the protected.
3. Women are irrational.
At one point or another, all the women question if this post-apocalyptic world is worth living in. Andrea is the first to try to commit suicide, after her sister is killed by zombies. When Carl is shot is the beginning of the second season, Lori questions if they shouldn’t just let him die, rather than have him torn apart by walkers. When she finds out she is also pregnant, she tries to abort the baby, but changes her mind at the last minute. Beth, Maggie’s sister, tries to commit suicide, arguing that it’d be better than waiting for the inevitable. Carol seems to be the only woman to stay “calm” in this situation, but that could be mainly because she is protected by all the men. The men, on the other hand, never would do something so cowardly. Not once are any of the men portrayed as weak. When they do cross with men who have committed suicide, they are said to have “opted out” or “pussied out.” The fact that the men constantly have to reassure the women that there is something to live for plays into the outdated theory that women cannot handle stress.
Creating a show based on a post-apocalyptic world gave the writers the liberty to use their imaginations, yet they stuck to the same tired female archetypes. That being said, I think the depiction of women in this show is unfortunately close to what would happen in a zombie apocalypse. I hate to say it, but most men can barely set aside their egos and take orders from women now, why would that change because of a few thousand zombies?