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The Women of True Detective

So I was sent this link and asked whether I agree with the article. To summarize, for those not interested in jumping over there, the question is whether True Detective is trying to make a point in the way it portrays women.

Honestly, I don’t think so. Not intentionally. But the text can be read that way, if you’re looking for a reason to justify loving the show despite the fact that it treats female characters badly.

We’ve got Maggie, the long-suffering wife (now ex) of Marty. She nags and is angry a lot, though with good reason. And she’s the closest the show comes to a fully fleshed-out, realized female character. But even then she’s not really whole; she’s only seen through her connections to Marty and Rust. She is not her own person with her own story line.

And then there are all the others: prostitutes and baby killers and Marty’s deranged mistresses. They are all cogs in the writing machinery designed to move the plot along or else to give deeper development to Marty’s and Rust’s characters. I would and should howl about this, but when I look at my Peter Stoller stories I have to admit my women are—though in at least one instance more developed—equally marginal. My Miranda, like True Detective‘s Maggie, is seen only in relation to Peter and the others around her. But then again (in my defense), my stories are all told from Peter’s limited point of view, so how else can she be portrayed? This is not true of True Detective, the writers of which could easily have chosen to give Maggie or any other woman her own story arc. (And I, one supposes, could always go back and write a story from Miranda’s point of view. Hmm.)

Still, I won’t try to make excuses for myself or True Detective. I think it’s a fabulous show, even though it falls down on the gender front. For one thing, I’ve come to expect HBO shows will have a lot of naked, objectified women. (No, I don’t watch Girls.) I don’t like it, but the predominately male audience they’re out to capture does. The Slate article talks about perspective, and this is it: HBO and True Detective are told from the male perspective. And it’s shameful and sickening that this is how so many men see and treat women. But there it is.

But do I think the show’s writers are trying to say something about female power? Do I believe they’re being quietly subversive by giving us these flawed men and showing us “strong” women (if “strong” means: an angry, nagging wife willing to walk out; prostitutes that lecture cops; mistresses who go after men in one way or another)? Nah. That’s more incidental than intentional. When a young girl waits for a woman to nod before doing what a man’s told her to do . . . It won’t be impressive until a man is the one waiting for a woman’s permission.



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