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?