Friday, July 6, 2012

Women in Teen Wolf - The Menfolk Say it's a Matriarchy

Teen Wolf is far removed from the original Teen Wolf movie starring Michael J Fox.  We have gone from camp to a story involving menacing werewolves, and werewolf hunters.  Since the show is still largely aimed at a young audience, we are subjected to copious amounts of angst and the usual social justice fails.  We have decided to focus on gender this time because after a season a half, the women of Teen Wolf are treated quite differently than the males.

When we were first introduced to Erica she was a young teen suffering from epilepsy.  She was sweet and kind but, because she never knew when she was going to have an attack, Erica was quite removed from her contemporaries. When she meets Derek and is turned into a werewolf everything changes for Erica. Suddenly she is turned into a complete sex vixen who draws the attention of others the minute she walks into the room. Erica suddenly goes from weak and forgettable to powerful and desirable; however, her power is limited because as a beta, she spends most of her time doing Derek’s bidding. Erica has the distinction of being the only female werewolf and most of her power is based in her ability to beguile whereas Derek intimidates and did so from the time he was a beta.

Teen Wolf could reasonably get away with having Erica do Derek’s bidding because she is his beta but the fact that they have turned her into a vapid, jealous, angry person is incredibly sexist. Other than doing Derek’s bidding her only other purpose is to drive a wedge between Allison and Scott. This of course serves the purpose of giving the characterless Allison something to fight for. Erica’s sudden obsession with Scott is never explained.

Then we have Lydia, who is actually very smart, but pretends not to be intelligent in the hopes of keeping Jackson’s interest. In fact, Lydia does not show her intelligence until she is asked to translate ancient Latin after Jackson has left her for greener pastures.  Much of Lydia’s life involves putting on a show in the hopes of either achieving or maintaining the acceptance of others. Though she is supposedly best friends with Allison, Lydia is often left to her own devices to deal with her issues and only draws the attention of the group when she is need of saving. Stiles has had a long obsession with her and see her as a prospect for a girlfriend but beyond being physically attracted to her, he makes no real effort to get to know he as a person. In Abomination, (season 2, episode 4)  Lydia clearly needs to talk but Stiles says he will be right back and leaves her sitting in the car for a night. For all of the ridiculous antics that antis Stiles pulls to get her attention, when she really needs him, he is nowhere to be found.

Of course, no comment on women in Teen Wolf would be complete without looking at Allison. I’d love to say a lot about Allison, but I can’t, because she’s nobody. Allison is Scott’s love interest and under her father and grandfather’s intimidating control. That’s about the entirety of her character - she has no real personality, no real activity in the plot that doesn’t revolve around the men in her life. Even her interactions with her father are now eternally affected by her relationship with Scott. She is a character who cannot even spend time with or communicate with her family without her boyfriend looming large.

And not just her family - her one and only friendship outside of Scott is with Lydia; and even that is coming to revolve around Scott. Her interest in Lydia throughout Venomous (Season 2, Episode 5) was based on the werewolf worry about her being the Kanima. In Frenemy (Season 2, Episode 6), when Lydia finally reaches out to her friend, Allison, for help Allison is indifferent - instead insisting on using Lydia to help her translate the bestiary for, of course, the werewolves. She couldn’t - and hasn’t - spared a single minute for her best friend’s major problems, her best friend’s life or her best friend at all unless it loops back and affects Scott.

Allison is a walking breach of the Bechdel test. She not only cannot have a single conversation or interaction that isn’t about a man, she has no actual existence or purpose beyond the men in her life - especially her boyfriend. She’s a Bella-style hollow space, a place holder marked “girlfriend” not a character in her own right

The Argents in general deserve looking at for one almost comic line: The Argents are a matriarchal society. The boys are raised to be soldiers, but the girls, why Allison, they are raised to be leaders!

And how do we know this? Because the male leaders told us so. Because at no point on the entire show do we see a female Argent make any decisions. Victoria Argent (Mummy Argent) exists just to support Chris Argent (Daddy Argent) and Gerard Argent  (Granddaddy Argent). Kate Argent was, of course, a loose canon, dangerous, murderous sadistic and a general all round monstrous person - which means even if she were a leader she would be more of a cautionary tale against female leadership than anything. But she wasn’t. She was a loose cannon - leaders can’t be loose cannons, they’re leaders. You can’t rebel against your own authority - her brother, Chris Argent was clearly the leader, the one in charge, the one she had to dodge around to pursue her own agenda. None of her actions suggested she was an authority figure - she was a rebel, a loose cannon, uncontrolled - not the one at the top of the heap. Allison? Despite her father’s words, she lives under complete and utter control. Her grandfather intimidates and scares her - as well as placing his hands all over her. Her phone calls are monitored, she is allowed no privacy and no unmonitored time - this is preparing a leader? Most teenagers would be outraged at such treatment

I have heard some excuses for this - Victoria Argent is an Argent by marriage, Kate is dangerous and Allison is too young - so none of the women can lead. Ok, then, where are the women? The Argents have a huge network, we hear they watch all the CCTV, they have enough contacts to force through new teachers in the school - and we repeatedly see large numbers of Argents backing up Chris Argent. All these people - and they’re all men? even though the men are raised as soldiers so, presumably, have a far greater attrition rate? What do they have, an 80% male birth rate? I find this unlikely. If they were going to make a Matriarchal society then why not actually make a Matriarchal society? Instead we’re left with the word of a male leader, in a male dominated institution, assuring us that it’s matriarchal, honest?

All in all, it’s almost impressive how every female character who appears on screen for more than a few seconds is so dogged by such extreme flaws. Someone must have been sat down with a checklist and a bingo card, determined to get them all. This needs so much more, Allison needs a character, Lydia needs someone to pay some attention to her, Erica needs to be something more than a stereotype and evil competition - and the Matriarchal Argents actually need a female leader!