Feminism and Veronica Mars

I recently re-watched Veronica Mars, and happened to mention that I was doing so to Anna, and she said something along the lines of “all I learned from Veronica Mars was feminists who fake rapes.” Which, to be fair, cuts at a very serious problem I have with the show: The depiction of feminists and feminism.

It’s odd, because in a lot of ways, Veronica Mars is a really feminist television series. It’s not just a grownup Nancy Drew, it’s a show with a very strong and creative female character, and it’s a show which plays with some interesting ideas and boundaries. I think that a lot of feminists like it, and some may recommend it as a feminist series. There’s a lot to recommend it as a feminist show, like Mac, the lady nerd character who defies lady nerd stereotypes. And the assortment of male characters who actually respect and value women, even when they are in positions of authority.

There’s a lot to like here from a feminist perspective, in other words.

Except for the section of the third season with the feminists. The only self-identified “feminists” we see in the show are members of Lilith House, headed up by (of course), an Uppity Black Woman. Why, exactly, the show chose to portray feminists and feminism in such a bizarre way is really quite beyond me. It goes beyond a false step and well into the realm of the surreal.

Here’s what the “feminists” on Veronica Mars do:

  • Stage fake rapes.
  • Rape a fraternity boy to send a “message.”
  • Run around egging university property.
  • Assemble a float, complete with booty dancing, to celebrate the shutdown of the fraternities, shouting silly slogans, in a scene which is obviously intended to frame the “feminists” as ludicrous.
  • Insist that people who didn’t commit a crime should “pay” because it’s more important to get “justice” than to stop and try and make sure that the right person has been apprehended.

Sure, they do some good things. Probably the best one is passing out coasters which can be used to check for traces of drugs which are commonly used to render women defenseless so that sleazy assholes can rape them. But, as a general rule, the show frames feminists as laughable and pathetic, and very much positions Veronica against them. She’s not one of those silly feminists, she’s just doing her own thing. She hasn’t benefited from feminism, she’s her own woman!

It’s kind of weird to see a television show which I think of as feminist in a lot of ways totally trashing feminism. Feminism is handled like a big joke, and college feminists in the show are treated as pathetic and laughable people who have to resort to cheap tricks and the violation of other people to accomplish their goals. Because, of course, feminism has such ridiculous and inappropriate goals that one must resort to extreme measures to promote them, since otherwise no one would take them seriously.

This is a pretty classic thing for television. Feminists and feminism are rarely depicted in a positive way, and even “feminist” producers say ridiculous things like “I don’t really think that feminism needs to exist.” Feminists are humourless, sexless, boring, and aggressively militant on television. They are one dimensional and without complexity. They are hypocritical and hyper-PC (I say this like it’s a bad thing) and they are often lesbian and, of course, “ugly” in some way (they shave their heads or wear loose fitting clothing, for example). They are all man-haters and they are completely unreasonable.

Which, you know, I think says a lot about people who work in the film and television industry. Characterizations on the screen are very much expressions of the beliefs of the creators behind them, even if creators don’t always admit it or explicitly state it. Perceptions and beliefs of the creators are woven into the expression of every television show because they have to be, by nature.

And it seems like the team on Veronica Mars had some decidedly odd ideas about feminism and feminists, since they went with the full-bore straw feminist and never showed counterexamples. This isn’t a case of a show being subversive. Veronica Mars did not use the straw feminist ironically or cleverly in some sort of commentary on people who think this way about feminism. It went with this depiction of feminism as the only one, and it carried the implications that this is what feminism is, a bunch of women who run around being out of control and trampling on everyone.

I’m not quite sure why the creators think this way about feminism, and why these attitudes seem highly prevalent in Hollywood, but I think this also speaks to something about women in Hollywood. To get ahead, many women in Hollywood must specifically divorce themselves from feminism so that they cannot be lumped in with the straw feminist stereotype. For women, Hollywood is very much a tooth and nail place in which one must fight to attain or keep a position.

And feminism, a movement which could theoretically support and promote women in Hollywood, is something which women have to avoid, for the most part. Some men in Hollywood may identify as “feminist” (it’s often not borne out in their work) or as allies to feminism, but women themselves cannot. Or they are labeled shrill feminists, stuck on the fringe, and ignored.

What would happen if more women in Hollywood identified as out feminists? What would happen in general if there was a push to respect women in Hollywood? And to promote the idea that, you know, things like equal pay for women are not actually all that unreasonable? What would happen if we saw a depiction of feminism that was positive, and complex, and was very much integrated into a television series, instead of being stuck in there as a throwaway item, a character we see once and never again?

1 Comment on Feminism and Veronica Mars

  1. (spoilers for s1 & 2 below)

    I haven’t seen season 3 yet (I’m doing my first watch as it goes up on thewb.com, and I think S3 has just been posted) so I don’t know specifics about that storyline, although I have heard enough about it to not be particularly keen on watching it.

    It does sound to me like an inherent problem that I’ve had with what I’ve seen of VM so far. The show tries to create gray morality by having people you sympathize with be VILLAINS HURTING THEMSELVES/PEOPLE LIKE THEM, to the extent that unless it’s a specifically a class issue (on which the show is often pretty decent), Veronica and the viewer end up on the side of the privileged. The victim of the botched election gives in to the 09ers for personal gain! The blackmailer of gay students is a controlling lesbian forcing her girlfriend out of the closet! The Latino gangbanger with a heart of gold ends up becoming a murderer! Beaver murders victims of sexual abuse because he’s a victim of sexual abuse, and is a rapist himself to boot! It stops being surprising or interesting very quickly, and starts being not even victim-blaming but victim-villinizing. So I’m not surprised at the portrayal of feminism at all.

    False rape accusations in fiction have a special place in my heart, and that place is one of the deepest, blackest loathing. Because the hero always, always, says “don’t you realize that you make Real Victims (TM) that much less likely to be believed?” No, Show, every time you act like false rape accusations are a thing which is likely to occur, you make real victims less likely to be believed.

    I am not sure if that’s a result of creativity fatigue on the part of the writers, or if it’s a direct reaction to the way the show would be received, as a specifically feminist show, and the team went out of their way to be blatantly offensive on these storylines to avoid being pigeonholed. I mean, they obviously did think clearly about having a heroine as opposed to a hero, and worked hard to show a positive, healthy father-daughter relationship, but I worry that in reaction to that they thought “how do we keep guy viewers invested and sympathetic? BY TRASHING FEMINISM, OBVS.”

    hy these attitudes seem highly prevalent in Hollywood

    It’s very much of personal benefit to male writers and producers – sexist storylines are easier to write because they buy into already written cultural scripts, and they’re easier to market and get more marketable ratings; moreover, making half the population unable or unwilling to fight for their rights in the work place makes the few jobs available go a lot furhter among the men.

Comments are closed.