I’m not trying to take up the feminist mantle, not that I’m a woman in denial or that I have an issue with feminism, but feminism and anything that deals with gender issues as a whole seems to have come to mean something I’m not really sure I want to represent me or that I want to align myself with. But zombies.
So basically don’t read this if you watch The Walking Dead or haven’t seen the (11/2/14) episode “Slabtown.”
We found Beth. In a hospital. That is run by a female cop named Dawn that is positioned sort of as a lady Rick if Rick had never let go of being a sheriff whose guiding principle is a terribly misguided give/take. Her “police” forces “rescue” those in danger and return them to the hospital where they receive care and are expected to “pay for” this kindness through work. Freedom through work. Except they don’t let you leave. And it is highly implied a woman’s “work” is forced prostitution (isn’t it always.) When Beth arrives resident/sex slave Joan (of Arc?) has recently gnawed a chunk of her arm off in a suicide attempt, only to have her arm amputated (while conscious) and be returned to predator cop Gorman. I’m sure she would have rather had the opportunity to slave it out in the hospital laundry room folding towels with lone dude Noah, if given the choice.
The most disturbing/dramatic scene of the episode is when Gorman, the fire in his rapey loins stoked by Dawn who has taken Joan from him, and denied him “the right” to defile Beth, steals a lollipop (childhood innocence? the small pleasures of the post-apocalyptic world?) given to her by Noah, sucks on it (ew) then attempts to ram it in Beth’s mouth. The episode is focused on ownership, bodily autonomy (Joan’s forced amputation,) the degree to which you can sacrifice the rights of others under the auspices of the common good, who has the right to decide who has desirable qualities and who does not, and what those qualities are (Dawn argues Beth is weak and only useful as a warm hole to benefit another, while Beth argues that she is strong and capable…)
The whole plot line is a perfect metaphor for (or all out example of) sexual violence and gender discrimination and more generally the struggle for power and meaning and a narrative to live our lives by.
Which created so many great talking points, like:
- This behavior is sanctioned by a woman! A woman in power! What does this say about women in power?
- Dawn is a cop, a job traditionally seen as masculine! Beth is warm, emotional, maternal, beautiful, all feminine qualities! Must women sacrifice their femininity to attain power? Must they always in competition with one another?
- What does this say about how we view police officers and people in power? (The Governor’s henchman assaulted Beth’s sister Maggie in a previous season)
I was stoked to watch Talking Dead and work through some of the complex emotions I was having, and so disappointingly they completely glossed over… everything. I realize the show is lighthearted, but seriously, the entire episode is about sexual slavery. I doubted they would go so far as to say rape, but I figured they would at least dance around it with “assault” or “unwanted touching” or something. Seriously! The whole episode! She was in a military brothel. I was immediately reminded of the WWII joy divisions (thanks teenage love of Joy Division) and the Japanese comfort women and the thousand other examples of forced prostitution for the “benefit” of men in power. It’s not like this is some ~crazy~ scenario dreamed up by a horror writer, there are historical precursors. A lot of them. I thought that would at least get a mention, since they seem to like a good extratextual reference. Nope.
On a lighter note Beth has been great the past couple seasons and I’m glad badass Beth continues (especially since Maggie is such a fucking bitch.) On Talking Dead Ana Gasteyer mentioned she felt Beth represented the triumph of emotion in the post-apocalypse. Rick has been focused on cramming his emotions and his humanity down, while Beth has seemed successful in incorporating them into her new life. With Daryl’s training, she’s become brain and brawn, maternal and warrior-like all at once. I kind of feel like she is positioned against Michonne, who sort of failed as a mother in the “real world,” but was naturally suited to the post-apocalyptic world, and has struggled to regain her connection to other people. Beth was the opposite, a natural caregiver with no street smarts who is now apparently a singing Disney princess angel of death.
Please dear God she needs to stay alive long enough to hook up with Daryl, the sexual tension is slowly killing me through the television.