The Gap: Why The Walking Dead Might Lose Me

English: Logo from the television program The ...

English: Logo from the television program The Walking Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spoiler Warning: Argh, there be spoilers in these here waters. If ye’re behind on Walking Dead, get ye gone, ye scurvy dogs.

Some of you will recall that last year I wrote a long post about the women on The Walking Dead. Some of you will wonder why I bother to qualify that as “long” when that’s about all I ever do. To that some of you, I say, “Touche.”

I almost stopped watching after all the “Andrea-do-some-laundry” references last season. This season, things got a lot better. The whole team seemed to be working as a cohesive group, Michonne showed up like a BOSS, and I never once saw anyone complaining that Maggie ought to stick to cooking and laundry. Plus, Darryl looked adorable with Baby Ass-Kicker.

But last night (Sunday’s episode), something happened that got my pulse racing from anger and had me yelling at the screen. And now I am so pissed at the writers I might not watch more of this season. Does that sound overly dramatic? Maybe if I hadn’t seen more rape and sexual humiliation than I could already bear this year in films and shows, from the godawful scene in The Hills Have Eyes (which I also blogged about here) to the most disturbing and protracted rape scene I’ve ever had the displeasure of subjecting myself to in The Last House On The Left.

I am over it.

I’m over seeing women draw that straw every time.

Last night, Glenn and Maggie, who are two of my favourite characters on The Walking Dead, were separated and questioned. Merl beat the living shit out of Glenn and then sicced a walker on him. Glenn, duct taped to a chair managed to fight off the walker and kill him with the remnants of the chair he bashed against a wall.

And Maggie? The Governor made her strip in front of him. Bent her over the table. Humiliated her.

And of course, of course, the writers made sure it was Maggie who gave up the prison.

Because no man as strong as Glenn would have. After all, he’s suddenly the show’s resident badass. And she’s a weak, humiliated woman who the Governor fondled and almost raped.

Because writers in Hollywood wouldn’t dream of reversing those roles, it seems. Someone prove me wrong. Someone show me examples, and show me more than one. Show me that there are writers and directors out there who believe women are more than just an empty vessel to be stripped down and violated to push their men into heroism.

Even Joss has failed me there. Buffy‘s attempted rape, her near-violation at the hands of Spike was used to make Spike into a champion.

And I’m over it.

I’m so over it that I am regretting even touching on the subject in my current book, and seething-glad my new WIP goes nowhere near it.

Why couldn’t it have been Maggie getting beaten up? That might sound awful, but in this case, the beating was a catalyst for strength, a symbol of endurance. Not something that would break a character. Taking a beating and coming out stronger — that’s something that’s almost always reserved for men.

If women take a beating, it beats them down. Just look at Carol in season one.

I am so tired, tired, tired to the point of exhaustion at seeing this played out over and over again.

Women are more than that. We are more than that. There is more to us than victimhood, more to us than sexual humiliation.

To the credit of Chris Hardwick, the first thing he said on the subject implied that he felt the same. He said he started thinking, “No, no, no, don’t go there, don’t do that to her” and in passing let it slip that he felt betrayed by the writers. For that I feel like I’m not alone in thinking that the trope of violating strong women to make strong men stronger isn’t just sickening to me.

I feel betrayed by the writers.

Maybe that’s how things would be in an apocalypse. Hell, rape and sexual assault affect one in three women on the planet now, so why not after an apocalypse drowns the world’s public morals in a cesspool of violence?

I’ll tell you why not.

Scenes like that have enormous power. It’s affecting me as I write even now. And the rape scene in Buffy still triggers me after almost ten years. When writers portray things this way, with such a slicing clean dichotomy of What Happens to Men and What Happens to Women, it tells the public that this is how things are. This is how women are treated. This is how to break them.

Violation. Humiliation.

Notice that Glenn’s ordeal made him stronger. Notice that Maggie’s broke her.

When writers portray things like that, they are subconsciously sending a message that women are weaker. They are sending a message that this is Just The Way Things Are. They are buttressing the status quo and eons of rape culture. Because I don’t think it ever occurred to them to flip the roles in those scenes — allow Maggie to be the one to fight off a walker with a chair she was tied to. Or have the male be the one to give away the information. Or, heaven forbid, no one gets sexually humiliated or broken.

It shows they don’t believe it could happen any other way.

And for that, I have to mourn the fact that we have a long, long way to go.

Writers, please stop failing women. You build culture. Build it better. If you depict stronger women, if you stop resorting to sexual violence as a way to shock an audience or “develop” your female characters — you will start ridding the world of some of its most damaging imagery.

And if I see Michonne go through what Maggie did at the hands of the Governor, this show will be over for me.


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on November 28, 2012, in television reviews, The Walking Dead and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I agree with you on 99% of the article. I think that Maggie gave up the prison because there was a gun pointed at Glenn not because of the earlier stuff. I don’t believe she was beaten or weakened. She wanted to save Glen. Just my opinion.

    • I agree in part. But the methods the Governor used to figure out that she would respond to his threats against Glenn were abominable — and the way they wrote it, Glenn wouldn’t have done the same if he threatened Maggie, which is an inherent display of writers making the male characters “stronger” in that the divulging of sensitive information is always considered a weakness. The way Glenn bucked up and moved closer to the gun shows that he would die before giving up the prison. I’m all for her protecting him, but I’m seriously unhappy with that episode.

      Thanks for the comment and for following my blog!

  2. I see what you’re saying. Maggie was basically turned into another “Eve in the Garden” giving into the snake. I like how she stayed strong though and was like “Do what you’re gonna do.” IMO, it wasn’t the rape that “broke” her, as you put it, but the idea of Glenn being murdered. The only thing I can say in defense of the writers is, from what my friend said, in the graphic novels, she actually WAS raped, so it looks like they actually wrote that part out.

    Some movies I have seen where I have seen the men in the rape victim role would be Pulp Fiction and The Exterminator. In the Dragon Tattoos movies, the protag is raped, but her revenge is anything but “broken.” I don’t know if these movies fit your qualifications of movies where the roles are reversed though.

    • I’ve only seen one male rape, and it was in American History X.

      In the comics, it’s Michonne (arguably THE strongest female character in the story) who gets brutalised by the Governor. And that is still on the table to happen. If it doesn, I’m done with this show.

      I agree to an extent that it wasn’t the assault that broke Maggie, but it was the assault that showed the Governor how to get her to comply. She was fighting against him re: stripping, etc. until he threatened Glenn, then she said her “Do what you’re gonna do and go to hell” line. So in my mind, sexual violence was still used to the end of showing her “weakness” — Glenn’s safety. Whereas he was shown as getting stronger throughout his ordeal.

  3. Agreed. My husband and I were screaming at the screen, “Oh C’MON! SERIOUSLY?!? No, no, no!” and “Tell him to bring you Glen’s hand! Screw it! CALL THE BLUFF DAMNIT!”

    I really do wonder what would have happened if she’d have said, “Bring his hand then.” I know that seems cold but that’s what I wanted her to say when the Governor gave her those two choices. Because it was a choice and her decision to take off her shirt was a choice the writers made. I get it; she’s protecting Glen at all costs and, as a wife, I would do whatever I had to to protect my husband BUT! I think Glen would have told her he wouldn’t have wanted her to take off her clothes to save him.

    I will say the only thing that saved that scene for me was Maggie saying, “Do what you’re gonna do.” I did like how that told the Governor that this wasn’t going to turn her into a blubbering mess that told him whatever he wanted, that she would bear this and he was the pathetic man who couldn’t think of anything else to get at her.

    I agree what broke her was the gun in Glen’s face but I also agree that it shouldn’t have. If she was willing to strip for the Governor and let the rape happen to save his hand then she should’ve kept her mouth shut when the gun came out.

    And part of me wonders if Maggie wouldn’t have fought back when the Governor was taking the time to undo his pants. We’ll never know but part of me is glad we’ll never know.

    I too am tired of this tactic.

    • Yeah, she had a big ole chair right there she could have used, and she wasn’t fastened to it. She had a moment where she could have used it to knock the Governor out. In my head, I was thinking, “You have a weapon! USE IT!” But of course the writers couldn’t have her fight back, so they made the choice for her to just take it. I also wished she’d call his bluff. They deigned to give her one line that showed rebellion, and that fact speaks volumes as to whatever underlying attitudes they have about women in this world.

      • Yes! I forgot about that part. When the Gov takes off his holster and starts to walk around the table towards her I was just screaming for her to go for it, to go around the damn table and get the damn gun. THAT was more plausible to me than her just staying there, I mean, she’s one of the women that helps clear the prison for petesake! And him taking off the holster and sauntering over to her… Oh lordy. THAT made me so angry.

  4. I’ve had a big problem with the portrayal of women on this show, particularly Lori last season, but I do think the writers have made an improvement this year.
    I didn’t like that the writers had a woman give up the location, but Maggie only gave up the prison after the Governor put a gun on Glenn. I thought she was really strong when she told the governor to do whatever he was going to do and go to hell.

  5. I’m a man and I agree 100% with you. I’m tired that tv shows, movies, books, etc. shows that the ONLY way to break a woman is rapping her, you can’t kill her, you can’t beat her (ok, I’m not saying that killing or beaten are a good thing), the only solution that ALL men find is rapping the girl. This shows shield themselves saying that this is the way that the world works, so… We ALL men are pigs that only think on rapping women? We don’t have a mother? A sister? A girlfriend? Stop showing this type of scenes on TV, there is a lot of weak minded people that thinks that this things are true, and god forbid if there is a war or something like that in any country the first thing that men will think to do is rape the first woman that they see in their path because we are men and we are superior and TV shows and movies taught us that this is what we have to do.

    When I talk about this my friends think that I’m overreacting, they say “How will you stop watching this awesome show because some girl gets rapped? That thing happens man!”, omg! Are you hearing yourself? So this is a good thing? This is the glorious reality? I see on the news a lot of horrible thing all the day and now I need to be reminded of it on TV shows and movies? World isn’t horrible enough in reality?

    I’m happy to see more people that thinks like me.

    P.D. Excuse my english, I’m not english speaker.

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