9.20.2012

Television Wives: Tired of the Ophelias


Writers, it's time to start thinking outside the box a little when it comes to writing female characters. Particularly wife characters. I'm really getting tired of seeing otherwise great stories being dragged down by the tired as fuck Lady Plot Blocker formula. No, scratch that. It's not merely a formula. It's a disease that has been infecting fiction since the beginning of fiction.

For whatever reason, when we (and I say "we" because I've been guilty of this myself on occasion) write stories, we usually have a man doing something either really bold or really dumb, but usually a combination of both. But that bold and dumb thing is also supposed to be the "heroic" thing, or at least the thing that drives the plot. He's the husband who has to dash off in the middle of the night to put out fires or invent the cure for cancer or be a superhero or cook meth, all while the wife sits at home doing all the "boring shit" like raising the kids and cooking dinner and essentially hating her life and giving her bold and dumb husband an ultimatum that states he must choose between his bold and dumb activity or her. Ultimately, of course, the man finds out a way where he can get both things and everybody's happy, fah-lah-lah-lah, but we the audience must suffer through a lot of needless artificial conflict building along the way.

I would say this is the case in nearly every movie and television show with a husband and wife dynamic. The wife or girlfriend can never actually support her partner. She has to be the roadblock. The naggy conscience. The Plot Blocker.

Sometimes there are hybrids, and we're seeing more of this. It's when the wife is married to an asshole, or at least to someone who is making her fundamentally unhappy, but perhaps this person is providing a comfort to her. Like a nice house and car and things he bought by say, working long hours or selling drugs or laundering money or killing people. Or, at the very least, by doing something morally uncool. But of course she STAYS with him, because she needs and/or wants those material things for herself and/or her kids. There is always a reason to stay because the plot will provide one. It's usually a really dumb and shallow one, something that also portrays the woman as dumb and shallow, but there is always a reason. And she's going to complain about everything the whole time. Eventually, she'll enter some spiral of misery during which she'll start screwing around behind the husband's back. Maybe she'll start up a really nifty drug habit. Maybe, in a last-ditch effort to remind the world of what a miserable and complaining harpy she is, she'll attempt a really elaborate suicide and fail in such a way that clues her husband into what a dolt he's being. Or maybe it'll be all of the above.

Because she has to be a victim. She can't act of her own accord, because she's now a hostage in a prison of her own making. She's a woman trapped in a man's world. She's a hopeless pawn of the Patriarchal Penis Overlord sharing her bed, and the only real way out for her is madness and/or death. A death that most of the audience will likely have been hoping for, because she's been written into such a pathetic and non-sympathetic human being by people who truly do NOT understand that just because she's a woman doesn't mean she has to act this way. And for whatever reason--because the plot simply wouldn't allow it--she can't just take the kids and run, get a restraining order, call the cops, or even perhaps become a witting and willing and enthusiastic partner in her husband's gritty enterprise. She can't actually take control of her life and make something better of the situation like an actual, thinking adult would, because no, SOMEONE has to watch out for the kids, right? Someone has to be the conscience for the bold and dumb man. A very naggy, histrionic, passive-aggressive, victimy conscience. And that someone will always have to be the gentler sex. The female. The wife.

That is why people generally can't stand television or movie wives. People will call us sexist for feeling this way, but no, I cast that aspersion on the so-called creative minds behind these works for enabling this flawed storytelling device to continue through every medium. Enough already.

Hey, writers. Can we try something new for a change?