Spare Them: The Objectification of Women Through Violence

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Stop cutting women into pieces for a man’s tears. Stop hacking us apart to spur men into action. Stop choking us, stop beating us, stop slitting our throats in our sleep. Be interesting. Let the woman live. Give her her own strengths and weaknesses, and flaws and motivations, instead of a knife in the back.                                                        -

*Contains spoilers of the two seasons of “The Following” and “Hannibal,” and also descriptions of violence against women* 

I loved the first season of Kevin Bacon’s “The Following.” It was filmed like a movie, it had twists, and it had fantastic female characters. There was Claire, the ex-wife of a serial killer who was raising their son, who pretended to still love the cult leader Joe Carroll only to stab him (not fatally, unfortunately), and who stopped at nothing to keep her son safe. There was Emma, the devoted cult member who murdered her emotionally-abusive mother and maintained a calm exterior which hide a terrifyingly unpredictable nature. And my favorite, Debra Parker, the cult specialist working to stop Joe Carroll. Raised in a cult herself, she has deeply personal inside knowledge of how cults work, and plays alongside Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy note-for-note.

Then it all went to hell.

First, there was the kidnapping of Ryan’s sister. We had never heard of her before. We were granted a brief flashback of her visiting Ryan in his darkest, booze-soaked days, but then it was back to her being strapped to a gurney in a warehouse by one of Joe’s sadistic followers. Ryan rushed in to save the day, nearly killing himself, and then his sister disappeared. She was literally a prop to provoke Ryan.

Then it got worse. In the final episode, Debra was kidnapped and buried alive with a cell phone. She called the FBI, triggering a frantic search. Ryan was beside himself. In her last moments, Debra urged him not to blame himself. When they found her, I was praying that she would be brought back to life. But no. She was definitely dead.

And then the last few seconds of the finale and season 2 opener. All is well, Joe is dead (yeah, right), and Ryan is at his apartment with Claire, who he has loved for years. They small talk, order Chinese, and Ryan turns on some tunes. Then, out of nowhere, comes one of the last followers, Meg. She stabs Ryan. Claire saunters out, making a comment about the food, and is literally stabbed from behind. She collapses and Ryan screams. Cut to black.

I read interviews with the actress and writer, hoping for a hint as to Claire’s fate. They said something about “Claire’s story being told.” Ok…that could mean a lot of things. She could recover, and go into witness protection with her son, and Ryan couldn’t see her anymore. Sad, but realistic. Or she could just die, leaving her son orphaned.

Guess what they went with?

Oh no! Poor Kevin Bacon! Now he has all the deaths of these women hanging over him! How sad! How complex his character is!

Then they decided to mess with Emma. In the second season, she is just plain obsessed with Joe. She has no other interests going on. When they run away to meet up with some old cult members, they discover that a new order has been established, and Joe is viewed with suspicion. During a ritual, Emma is chosen “randomly” to be the blood sacrifice. She screams for Joe, who is restrained, as the new cult leader slits both of her wrists and she begins to bleed out. She recovers, but the damage was done in my mind. Joe literally says, in outrage, that the cult choose Emma on purpose to mess with him. Now even the villain of the series is being made more “complex” through the pain and abuse of women. Awesome.

“Hannibal” is an incredibly well-written show. It features a cast of movie stars (Lawrence Fishburne, Hugh Dancy, and Denmark’s most popular actor, Mads Mikkkelsen, as Hannibal) and has some of the most gorgeous cinematography I’ve ever seen in television. It cast a woman as Freddie Lounds, a character played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the movie, and has a dynamic Asian-American actress as a mortician. The show is also extremely brutal.

In the first few episodes of the first season, the focus is on a killer who targets young women, eats some of their organs, and then mounts their bodies on antlers. Eesh. The camera seems to linger lovingly on these bodies, following to a T that old film adage of filming your murders like love scenes, and your love scenes like murders. When the murderer is revealed, the FBI show up at his door to find his wife bleeding out on the doorstep, and him inside with a knife to his daughter’s throat. Our twitchy hero, Hugh Dancy, manages to shoot him, but not before he severely injures the young woman. She goes to the hospital, where both Hugh Dancy and Mads become fascinated (obsessed?) with her as a kind of surrogate daughter. Yeah, it’s weird. When she comes to, Abigail attaches herself to Hannibal (bad choice), who seems to think he can create a kind of family with her, since she has a tendency for killing and being haunted by her father’s victims. Alas, it is not to be. I guess she figures out what Hannibal is (like #1 on the AFI’s list of villains) and so he “has” to kill and eat her, after embracing her and regretfully wishing he could have “protected” her. Hmm. Ok. Abigail was actually developing into a super interesting character with manipulation skills right on par with Hannibal, but I guess that wasn’t meant to be.

There’s a bunch of other stuff that goes on, like a flashback episode where Hugh Dancy’s boss is tormented by phone calls from a former student he thought was dead, who turns out to have been murdered by Hannibal. We watch her scouting around, Clarice Starling-style, only to discover some drawings by Hannibal in his office that prove he is a serial killer (cause Hannibal the mastermind just leaves these things out). She is surprised by Hannibal from behind because wearing only socks can fool even the most adept FBI agent. Hannibal makes her make a panicked phone call to her boss before he kills her, but he saves the recording, and later uses the message to mess with the FBI. Another woman as a prop. To give Lawrence Fishburne’s character more depth. Oh, also, his wife in the show is also dying of terminal cancer. So there’s that.

I’m super concerned for all the female characters. I’m pretty sure Freddie has to stick around, because the character appears much later in the canon, but that doesn’t mean she’s spared from horrible things happening to her. Gillian Anderson had a recurring role as Hannibal’s psychiatrist, and actually succeeded in outsmarting him and running away before he decided he had to off her, too. Her story might not be over though. WHO KNOWS??

It’s not like I want women to be treated like delicate flowers who shouldn’t be touched or hurt in any way. What I do want is women to be treated as their own persons, not as props to build up the characters of men. What happens to women most directly affects THEM, so let’s see their characters evolve from that. Or, heaven forbid, just spare their lives. A woman’s story doesn’t always have to end in death.

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