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ElectricBoogaloo

Feminism on Revenge

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I didn't realize until after I created character threads for Lydia and Fauxmanda that the quotes I used for them were both kind of misogynistic. Combined with all the recent talk in the media about how anti-feminist the females roles on True Detective were, it made me wonder - are the women on this show written as strong feminists? Or are they written as bitchy stereotypes? I know there can be a fine line between a strong independent woman and a shrill harridan, so what do you think?

I know that people define feminism differently which can be in itself another source of dissent/disagreement in these kinds of discussions so for the record, my blanket definition of feminism is believing that men and women are equal. In that sense, I believe that Emily and Victoria have been shown to be just as smart, determined, and capable as Conrad and the other male characters on Revenge.

But as far as being depicted as positive female role models, ehhhh. Both Victoria and Emily have overcome adversity in their youth and both have achieved some of their goals, which is good in itself, but they have both been shown to be ruthless and cruel, willing to crush those that stand in their way. I hate the double standard that when a man acts that way to achieve his goals, it's seen as a positive thing but when a woman acts that way, it's criticized. So from that point of view, good for them! But as human beings, everyone on this show is pretty terrible. Sammy and Carl are the only ones who haven't done anything terrible!

Edited by ElectricBoogaloo

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I wrote a response to this earlier, but the Internet gods seem to have eaten it.  Let me try again.

For the most part, I disconnect the analyzing part of my brain when I watch nighttime soaps.  I adore them, and have since I was a wee lass who got to stay up late to see the Moldavian wedding on Dynasty.  I usually treat them like catnip - distracting and fascinating while they are on; as opposed to a chew toy - completely engrossing and worth picking apart to its tiniest thread.

That said, I have to say my initial thought lead me to feel that Revenge leans heavily on patriarchal tropes.  First, we have the theme of the daughter willing to give up everything to avenge her father.  Obviously Emily falls under that category, but so too does Nikko, and to a lesser extent Padma (though for her it was saving, not avenging).  The implication of that is that their own lives are not worth living with their own goals, but the debt of honor to the father is stronger than their wishes or needs.  Second, we have the repugnant pregnancy to get the man plot.  File Victoria (for realsies) and Emily (faking it) under that header.  And then we have the women in the workplace issue.  This season has not been so bad - both Margaux and Stevie are shown in positions of power.  Before that, we had Lydia (in flashback) as a secretary, Ashley as a social assistant... and that's pretty much it.  I was always surprised the writers did not go in the direction of Emily getting involved in the Grayson business from the inside (as Daniel's fiancé and then wife), outdoing her husband, and deciding the best revenge she could possibly get would be a takeover of their corporation.

That's my initial impression.  I will have to give the topic more thought.

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On Revenge, Emily is not just the main character, but she's the brains of her own operation, and frequently the brawn as well. Nolan, Aiden, and Jack are her teammates, but they're pretty clearly her subordinates. Her only near-equals are Victoria and Conrad -- another woman and the ultimate representative of the patriarchy. Her father and her teacher may have been important figures to her, but she's demonstrated time and again that she's a more skilled and adaptive revenger than either of them.

A husband-trapping fake pregnancy on its own is an unpleasant trope, but when Emily does it, it's one more chess move that she's making to stay ahead of her opponents -- it's just that because this is a campy nighttime soap, the chess pieces are fake pregnancies, fancy parties, Black AmEx cards, and temporary amnesia, which she uses to the same effect that a less campy, more "straight" protagonist would use gunfights or legal maneuvering. And we cheer every time she draws another Red X through a ruined life -- the campiness and soapiness of the show is a signal that we shouldn't be looking for role models here, just ruthlessly effective antiheros and love-to-hate-them villains.

Revenge is definitely not consistently feminist -- Amanda was a hot mess (though I liked her in spite of it), Charlotte is a cipher, and Victoria goes through long stretches where she's just stamping her feet to no real effect. But as long as the writers don't lose the thread on Emily, I think she at least remains a very strong character.

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Revenge is definitely not consistently feminist -- Amanda was a hot mess (though I liked her in spite of it), Charlotte is a cipher, and Victoria goes through long stretches where she's just stamping her feet to no real effect. But as long as the writers don't lose the thread on Emily, I think she at least remains a very strong character.

 

But do all the women have to be "strong" or competent for a work to be feminist?  Wouldn't a work be just as feminist if it showed the women and men to be equally complex?  Because in terms of complexity, I think Revenge is feminist.  Margaux, Emily, Victoria are more complex than any of the male characters.  Daniel is rarely sympathetic, Jack is a very boring character, and Aiden was first and foremost a love interest for Emily.  Kind of reminds me of Orphan Black where the female characters are for the most part a lot more interesting than the male ones.  Though in Revenge's case, that may be as much for bad writing and acting as the writers' intentions.  

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Both Victoria and Emily have overcome adversity in their youth and both have achieved some of their goals, which is good in itself, but they have both been shown to be ruthless and cruel, willing to crush those that stand in their way. I hate the double standard that when a man acts that way to achieve his goals, it's seen as a positive thing but when a woman acts that way, it's criticized.

Conrad was ruthless and cruel, and he was criticized: he was practically portrayed as the devil himself.  Pascal was depicted in similar fashion: ruthless.  Same with Daniel, once he embraced the same behaviors. 

 

They were all depicted as negative.  No double standard at all IMO. 

 

The only successful man (business-wise) who comes across positively is Nolan.  And while I like him, he also is the least believable in his role to me, as a multi-gazillionaire high-tech pioneer. 

 

Actually, I think Revenge plays along class lines, not gender.  The powerful, wealthy business/social elites are ruthless barracudas.  People like Jack are salt-of-the-earth, wholesome, trustworthy. 

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I really think that Season 4 has backslid monumentally in terms of it's portrayal of gender.

 

One thing that this show always got pitch perfect was Emily's dynamic with male characters, particularly her love interests. Daniel, Aiden and Jack were always Emily's subordinates for varying reasons- Daniel was the ignorant pawn in her game, Aiden was her henchman and Jack was the damsel-in-distress for her to rescue. It was perfect because Emily could have romantic interests without needing to be less or equally powerful to them- she could be unequivocally stronger and the relationships still worked. Yet this season Jack is suddenly a cop and awkwardly carrying Emily out of burning buildings. Emily's other love interest, Ben, is also a cop who uses his authority to force himself on Emily when she's not interested. It just feels like the show is trying too hard to even the power balance by making Emily a fragile bird and the men in her life hyper-masculine men in uniform.

 

Another major problem with the feminism of this season is how it's shied away from delivering on what it's promised. The promotional material for Season 4 lead us to believe that the season would be about Victoria's grand revenge on Emily and female-driven conflict. We were supposed to see Victoria coming after Emily and executing an elaborate revengenda of her own like Emily did in Season 1. Except we haven't seen this. After declaring war on Emily, David fell into Victoria's lap and the entire season has become all about him. Victoria has had no tangible plan for revenge whatsoever, making her threats to Emily in the premiere empty, and we've only had one narration from her. All she's done is briefly to turn David against Emily and, realizing that that plan would inevitably fail, is already trying to make peace with Emily.

 

And now the show is dragging a new conspiracy and male villain into the picture to replace Victoria.  It's a shame because I was legitimately interested in how Victoria was going to pull off her revenge plot (with no money and no social status) but apparently the answer was reducing Victoria to David's seductress.

Edited by GuyAwks
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