Friday, March 24, 2017

Grimm Women and Power

Image result for women of grimm

Grimm has now been running for six seasons and like any show that has been running for that length we can see some disturbing patterns developing - patterns beyond the standard Oh Hell No which we have been calling out for a long time.

One of those patterns that has clearly developed is how women are treated on Grimm - especially women with power.

Or not - because for much of the early seasons of Grimm we simply didn’t have strong women. Nick lived in a very male world and the only women who really dinged the radar were Adalind (a villain) and Juliette (ignorant and so uninvolved in the story). It was a recurring issue for far too long in Grimm before Rosalie was finally introduced alongside the eventual semi-inclusion of Kelly and Truble to add some occasional female power

But the “occasional” here is relevant. Kelly and Truble were both reduced to guest roles, not allowed to cast too great a shadow on the men of the plot - and Kelly was eventually killed off. To add to the insult of this, there was no real come back of this. Juliette - or Eve - was even accepted back by the gang despite this murder: bad enough this awesome, strong female character was so poorly used but to the have her death so casually handwaved?

Truble didn’t die - but my they put her on the bus with regularity. I wonder sometimes if there’s one writer they keep in a cupboard who eventually breaks out, yelling “no more damsels!” and then we get 3 episodes of Truble before they’re restrained

Rosalie is better - but even then there’s some gender coding in deciding that she would be the physically weaker, more cunning, Fuchsbau to Monroe’s dangerous Blutbaden. Rosalie is definitely one of the more powerful characters on this show in terms of intelligence and cunning but it would have been interesting to see her be cunning and intelligent - and dangerous.

But that brings us to the dangerous women of this show who have actually managed to hang around. Adalind and Juliette/Eve

Every thinking writer knows that simply setting up a woman to become a damsel in need of continual saving is not a marker of good writing anymore. Women are demanding more nuanced characterisation and less female victimhood. Grimm’s way of meeting these demands is to create powerful female characters; however, it comes with the caveat that strength equals  evil which, while moving aside from position women as eternal victims, reifies a sexist trope that a strong woman cannot possibly be good and is inherently dangerous to men. It’s a way of disciplining women into submission by the simple virtue of strength/power being equated to evil and a lack of attractiveness. Yes, we see you Grimm.

Adalind was introduced in the very first episode as an antagonist.  It became clear very quickly that Adalind was not someone to be played with.  Over the years, Adalind, whose hatred of Grimms was absolutely epic, made no secret of her desire to rain down misery upon Nick’s life. As a Hexenbiest, one of the more powerful Wesen, Adalind absolutely had the chops to back up any threat that she made and when her power couldn’t directly cause a problem the spells in her arsenal absolutely could, as evidenced by her poisoning of Juliette.

It’s telling that despite Adalind’s animosity towards Nick a lot of her spells actually directly attacked Juliette, thereby hurting Nick by proxy. Adalind, for example, used a cat to put Juliette into a coma and she also crafted a spell to give Juliette the hots for Renard (also, who needs a spell for that?). This, of course, furthered the narrative around Juliette as damsel in distress for the majority of this series, even as it affirmed Adalind’s oh so evil persona. Adalind’s final bad act ended up in rape by deception which resulted in the pregnancy redemption. The Adalind at the end of this series is the exact opposite of the Adalind who we met in the beginning. Gee what could have induced such a drastic change?

All of these tropes are really emphasised when we look at Nick, Adalind and Juliette because it really brings home which women are allowed to be powerful.

For much of the series, Adalind was, as we say above, a villain. A foe for Nick and Juliette from the beginning - and a powerful one. At the same time Juliette was in the dark, weak, vulnerable constantly ignorant of the world Nick was in. Even as Juliette became more aware, it was as a victim: either directly as she was captured and needed rescue or later when she was targeted by Adalind’s magic

Juliette was helpless. Juliette was a victim. Juliette was a damsel as we mentioned above. And while she was a damsel, Nick loved her dearly.

And then she became a Hexenbiest, she began the path towards becoming Eve and becoming powerful, especially as she was an uber Hexenbiest. At which point, Juliette starts becoming evil (don’t tell me this is a consequence of Hexenbiestiness, neither Renard nor current day Adalind are evil because of their Hexenbiestiness, that’s a red herring). She transforms from Nick’s damsel to Nick’s foe - their romance falls apart as Juliette does ever more unforgivable things; like the death of Kelly, Nick’s mother. Juliette moves from love interest to villain as she becomes powerful

Now look at Adalind’s arc: a woman also guilty of unforgivable acts, including raping Nick. While depowering her seems to be a recurring theme with Adalind, after a prolonged period of kidnap, imprisonment, damseling, fear and depowerment  (much of this linked to her pregnancies) Adalind becomes Nick’s love interest. Vulnerable, desperate for help and shelter, she moves in with Nick: remember when she was a high powered lawyer? Remember when she was rich and powerful both societally and magically? All that is gone… and that’s when Nick falls in love. Nick likes his women helpless and desperate. In most recent episodes you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Adalind is a Hexenbiest at all

And now when it looks like the love triangle is beginning to reform? We see Juliette beginning to doubt her power, Juliette has been weakened, possibly by the Holy Stick - she is becoming less Eve and her awesome power is fading and lo she dings Nick’s radar again. Leaving aside the fact that for some reason, there are only two women in all of Portland that Nick can be in a relationship with, said relationship must be predicated on vulnerability as he cast aside any hurt he may feel for the harm done to him. And “Lo a Woman Needs Saving” seems to be his great battle cry.

Juliette’s epic speech in Where the Wild Things Were was meant to bring closure to Nick’s desire to save her and to declare their romantic relationship officially dead. Here’s the thing, that relationship should have been so dead already that a necromancer would sooner have plucked their eyes than attempted the impossible. The writers had to have Nick and Juliette have this conversation for the simple reason that they have dedicated themselves to the narrative that female vulnerability equals a romantic opportunity. To be clear, Juliette, burned down the Grimm trailer and she killed Kelly, there should been nothing about those actions which should have made her remotely redeemable to Nick.  

Even Juliette sees her actions as unforgivable, hence her identifying now as Eve in order to separate herself from her former bad acts. What is disturbing, however, is that moving forward for Eve means giving up any chance for happiness because for some reason on Grimm, a woman cannot be both happy and powerful. This bifurcation between happiness and power is unnecessary and is only normalised in this world because of Grimm marrying female power to evil or, in its mildest form, a lonely sort of self sufficiency.  Eve’s speech isn’t cathartic because it finally brings closure to a relationship we all should have been singing “swing low sweet chariot” for some time ago but for what it confirms about the writers’ commitment to portraying gender through an extremely limited lens.