“What kind of feminist am I? I can’t picture a woman driving a car!” Normalize women casually calling themselves feminists in TV shows!
One of the issues with this line, spoken by Jen, one of the main characters, might be how this could encourage viewers to think “Oh she’s a feminist, no wonder she’s crazy”. (I wrote that in the voice of a certain anti-feminist Sagittarius I know, or knew rather).
This article will actually disprove that claim.
For starters, no one in the show attributes the “mental instability” of the women in Dead to Me to the fact that they are feminists. In fact, this was the only time the word “feminist” was uttered; the good-humoured joke was taken with supportive laughter on the part of the other woman and of the man who were in the car with Jen when she spoke those words.
Because though only Jen says it explicitly, it is clearly implied that all the women in the show, or at least most, are feminists and this is one of the reasons why I love this show.
Dead to Me portrays the power dynamic between men and women in society in a way I have yet to see another show do.
It shows real-life issues such as the police commissioner being covertly racist and misogynist in a “oh but I was just joking”-type way. These issues that are almost never spoken about in society, much less included in movies and TV shows.
Furthermore, every character gets more and more developed and multi-dimensional as the episodes go by.
At first glance, the women appear to be different versions of the “crazy” stereotype: Jen has uncontrollable anger issues, Judy is a stalker, Detective Parez is… well, she’s a female cop, Karen (of course her name is Karen) is the annoying neighbour, etc.
Then, Jen says something very important, and that sets the tone for the show: “Men call women nuts and crazy way too often just to undermine us.”
It is at this point that the show really starts showing every woman’s true personality. None of them are crazy. In fact, they are driven crazy, as Jen later explains to her oldest son in a parenting moment to teach him about respect towards women.
It soon becomes clear that all of these women are actually extremely empowered, and, in a way, it almost seems as though the gender roles are actually reversed in this show, but not quite.
It just shows reality in a different light. It shows men at their most vulnerable and women at their most powerful, ending with – no spoilers – a huge F you to the patriarchy.
This show, though its nature is extremely ridiculous, and though the women are sometimes caricatured in a way that almost discredits everything I just argued, remains a breath of fresh air compared to most shows on Netflix that literally paint women as objects.
This show can be contrasted to Arrested Development, for example, which portrays every single woman as a unidimensional plot device – I’m not exaggerating. Name one woman in Arrested Development that doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of moving the plot forward!
The sister literally shows up to visit her father in prison wearing a shirt with the word “SLUT” written on the front because she WANTS to get harassed. The receptionist exists just to keep the family’s secrets. The mother exists just to raise the children, as the main character actually tells her, need I go on?
Ultimately, Dead to Me portrays women in both their weakest and their strongest moments, making it a feminist masterpiece. Yes, it does mock women at times, but in a very self-conscious way, as the opening quote of this article brilliantly proves.
However, most importantly, it portrays women in a very real way: as people with flaws and strengths, but whose flaws will always be pointed out first, as per the patriarchal agenda.
By Sophie Dufresne