On to another work by a male creator that is sometimes treated as feminist: Veronica Mars, which aired on UPN from 2004 to 2007. While I don’t think creator Rob Thomas set out to make a feminist show, there are definitely some feminist messages in the show. There are some shockingly anti-feminist ones too.
For those who haven’t seen it, Veronica Mars revolves around a teenaged detective. The show starts with her in high school and concludes with her in college, allowing her to grow up a bit over the course of the series. Like Nancy Drew, Veronica Mars is no shrinking violet. She’s creative, she’s tough as nails, she’s aggressive, she’s a good investigator, she has complex relationships with other people.
She’s a pretty strong female character, although one of the things about the show that irks me is the way she see-saws between partners, as though she is somehow incomplete without a boyfriend. There are other great women on the show, like Mac, who is delightfully nerdy but also has a tough streak, and Parker, who is initially depicted as a vapid blond but turns out to have hidden depths (like Veronica herself).
The good things about the show: It depicts sexual assault and rape, exploring what happens when you are ignored when you try to report it, and depicting the fallout of sexual assault for survivors. Veronica Mars also explores class issues, forcing people to confront the divide between rich and poor as we see it play out between the characters. There’s also some interesting racial stuff, including non-white characters who are allowed to be something other than stereotypes, are interesting, and talk to each other about things beyond the white characters.
The bad things: Well, there’s the revolving door of Veronica’s boyfriends. There’s also the ‘feminists’ in the final season. Veronica herself never IDs as feminist and we don’t see the F-word thrown around much at all until we meet an aggressive women’s group at the college that’s like your worst stereotyping nightmare. They’re man haters, they’re willing to frame people for crimes they didn’t commit while they themselves commit rape, and they ride roughshod over numerous other characters.
I have a hard time calling this show feminist, given that. Yes, it depicts some strong women doing awesome things and it challenges some oppressions, and, to be blunt, it is one of my all time favorite television shows ever. But the fact that the only feminists we see are gross caricatures is really frustrating. Even though they are understandably angry, given that the campus has been plagued with a rapist over multiple semesters and nothing has been done about it, even though I think there is a place for violent, aggressive resistance, this was not the place to show it. People didn’t consider the fact that the feminist group was justifiably enraged, and went over the line, they took away the idea that all feminists are irrational people who overreact and actively participate in oppression.
You could consider it a meta-criticism on feminism, but I doubt Veronica Mars was delving that deep, you know?
I feel like people watching the show who haven’t really been exposed to feminism were internalizing some feminist messages until they got to the actual feminists, at which point they learned that feminists are bad. What’s more important, the delivery of the message, or naming the ideology that goes with it? I’d rather that people be doing feminist things and not recognizing them as feminist than doing nothing at all, or doing actively anti-feminist things (and sometimes calling them feminist), but I also wish that depictions of feminists in pop culture were not uniformly awful. Few shows are even willing to call characters feminist at all and positive depictions of feminists and feminism are thin on the ground.
I don’t know if Thomas really thinks that this is what feminists are like, or was trying to make a commentary with the caricatures that just didn’t resolve itself, but it left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Surely, a criterion for considering a show feminist is that if it contains feminists, they shouldn’t be caricatures.