The Walking Dead is one of the highest rated show on cable. Based on the comic with the same name it has become a major success for AMC. The show and comic tell the story of a world in apocalypse. The dead have risen, but no one knows why. The zombies known as “walkers” have destroyed civilization. Rick Grimes and his small band of followers have to survive a world of walkers and dangerous people. The show and comic have great stories and action. Yet, there seems to be a problem with its female characters. The women in The Walking Dead are not positively presented as their male counterparts. The strong female characters seems to fall victim to “Vasquez always dies” syndrome. The strong women characters are either killed or considered to insane to be considered respectable. Robert Kirkman’s statement in an interview for The Comics Journal may hint to why there is a problem with how women are presented in The Walking Dead . Simon Abrams asked him a question in an interview why are women portrayed in such narrow terms. His response could be, to say the least an unsatisfying answer. Kirkman first said “I don’t mean to sound sexist, but as far as women have come over the last 40 years, you don’t really see a lot of women hunters.” Then he expounds further “they’re still in the minority in the military, and there’s not a lot of female construction workers.” The argument gets worse as he continues “I think women are as smart, resourceful, and capable in most things as any man could be … but they are generally physically weaker.” Robert Kirkman then said “it’s science.” This excuse for lack of strong female characters is devoid of cogency. Then his statements are only half truths. There is no denying that the show has an issue with female characters.
Kirman’s statements display a general lack of understanding or lack of knowledge . He claims not to be sexist, but it is clear there is a level of prejudice. The statement about not seeing female hunters is not entirely true. Women are engaged in hunting and shooting more than they were in the past. The reason is that women no longer have the certain gender role restriction. Hunting was seen as something women should be restricted from. The reason women would not be involved in large numbers is because only recently they got involved. Men were already hunting in larger numbers, so obviously it would be disproportionate.
Kirkman’s idea is one that come from images of cavemen hunting in the prehistoric past . This Flinstone cartoon idea about humanity is hardly accurate. Humans of the Ice Age probably did not hunt mammoths on a regular basis. Smaller game and gathering were probably the best options for sustainable food. Hunting may not even be a true measure of physical strength. Tracking and trapping an animal takes a level of thought and patience. The early humans appear to have the males do most of the hunting and women perform the gathering. It was assumed that males would do hunting because there size and strength was greater. However, there could be a problem with this theory. There is a possibility that early australopithecines hunted in groups. The major change was when humanity developed simple tools. Homo erectus was a maker of tools and this gave it an advantage over other animals. As time passed spears, knives, and bludgeons came into existence. The use of these weapons and tools require little strength. This gave humanity an edge over the larger predators and larger toothed animals. Guns are now the ultimate hunting tool and weapon . Hunting does not require large muscles do successfully.
There is a reason that women are a minority in the military and construction. Discrimination was a factor, not just elements of sexual dimorphism. Protectionism a legal mandate banned women from certain professions on the basis it was too dangerous form them and they needed to be protected. Women were even forbidden from lifting objects of a particular weight in some cases. The reason women were not in combat positions in the military was because they were prohibited from those jobs. The ban had been in place up until 2013. It should be understood it takes time to reverse injustice and wrongs of the past. Women will not automatically fill all combat positions overnight. Sexual dimorphism does not mean women cannot do physically demanding jobs. It means they are different. Men have more physical strength, which makes it easier for them to handle physically demanding task. Women if they want to be part of these professions have to train to gain strength. The average woman will not be as strong as the average man, but to say “women are generally physically weaker” is not entirely accurate. The female body is thought to be biologically inferior, but exercise physiology has proven otherwise. There is no difference between male and female muscle in terms of histological composition. Exercise and weight training can increase a woman’s strength.
What should be considered here is magnitude. Men have denser bones, larger tendons and ligaments. Women’s muscle still responds to training, its just that total body strength will not be as high as a man who is engaged in the same training regimen. Women can be strong, but it requires more effort due to differences in endocrinology and physiology. Kirkman presents an image of weak and helpless woman being something common. Body type also determines strength. A woman with a mesomorphic body type could be strong as or stronger than an average man.
There are women who can be stronger than some men. If Kirkman tries to hide his prejudice by saying “it’s science.” Sexual dimorphism is the product of human evolution. Yet, it is also related to sex selection. The reason men have more strength was for competition for mates. Males would fight one another for access to females. The early Australopiths did this like other animal species and females would mate with the victors of these fights. The fact the male wins in terms of sexual selection, indicates health to the female. This can be seen in other primates like gorillas. When homo sapiens evolved some of traits of sexual dimorphism remained. Traits related to sexual dimorphism can be flexible in the human species. Kirkman from his comments believer in biological determinism . The truth is that we are products of both our environment and biology. Science still does not explain why Robert Kirkman has trouble with female characters.
Female characters on The Walking Dead are not portrayed well. Rick’s wife Lori is not really one of the best. Both the TV program and comic do not give her much character. The problem with her is the actions she takes. She has a relationship with Shane, Rick’s best friend out of grief. The problem with this is that it shows women as emotional wrecks under pressure and vulnerable after the loss of a long term partner. Lori’s function in the comic seems so limited that it almost comes close to the women in refrigerators concept. This trope explains how female characters are normally placed in a story to either motivate the male character in action. They have no personality development or growth, but are there to either be killed or lose power in some way. Fans were even dissatisfied with the character in regards to the show. Lori does give an apology for the relationship with Shane, but thing never were fully right with Rick. She dies during the Governor’s assault on the prison while giving birth. For the three seasons she was alive, she never developed as a character. There were points in which she could have been admirable, but writers kept her in a one dimensional box.
The perplexing case of Andrea also reveals some issues on The Walking Dead . The comic still has her living and she is a very active member of the group. The character that is in the comics should have been the one in the television show. Andrea as portrayed in the show started off giving up hope. The dead of her sister made her almost suicidal. Dale then convinces her to leave the CDC when the scientist sets it to self-destruct mode. Around season two Andrea wants to live and survive. She wanted to continue and find a better place. She even learns shooting from Shane and bonds with him. Andrea gets lost during the fall of the farm to the walker hordes. She meets Michonne and both survive a harsh winter. Andrea show a level of independence, but when she gets involved with the Governor that changes. She refuses to see that he was nefarious and then attempts to speak on his behalf. Andrea went from being a powerful character, who could have been a potential leader in the group to a dependent. There was an opportunity in which she could have killed the Governor in his sleep, but did not because she was under his charming spell. It seems the strongest women either end up dead.
Andrea’s situation could fall under another common trope of “Vazquez always dies.” This describes how even though a woman is powerful and a survivor some how she is killed violently. The comic has not killed her ( for now), but it could happen seeing as this trope is so prevalent. Kirkman has stated that reason Andrea was killed in the show was that he wanted to make alterations for the TV show. While it is expected that characters will die in a horror genre, the reasons for Kirkman’s decision seems to lack fortitude. When it comes to women and non-whites of the show they are the ones who will die first. This could be fulfilling some subconscious desire of the mostly white male creators who are projecting prejudice through their content. There is no definite proof, but if one analyzes both the comic and the show it may lead to these conclusions.
The character of Michonne is one of the better female characters. There are still challenges and problems with her in both the comics and the show. Race cannot be avoided in popular media and stereotypes are inevitable product of an intolerant society. The most obvious stereotype here in the magical Negro. This racist stock character paradigm is common in American media. The black character only function was to help the white protagonist. This character could either have supernatural powers or special abilities and was merely a side kick. Michonne falls into this category in a way seeing as she is watchful of Andrea and Rick. The character is saved from being completely stock or stereotypical , by getting development. She goes from being more loner like to a leader within Rick’s group.
Some argue the treatment of women in the comics seems better, but not in Michonne’s situation. The Governor rapes Michonne in the comics. This tragic occurrence is even more disturbing considering it happens to one of the strongest female characters in The Walking Dead comic. Then from a historical context it becomes infuriating. The Walking Dead takes place in the US South . The enslavement of African American people involved the rape of women and children. Slave owners would sexually assault black women and the image of a white man attacking a black woman makes it more disgusting. While feminist acknowledge the the subtle sexist elements in the show and the comic, they ignore the racist ones. Non-white characters die in the most violent way at the hands of a white person. Glenn the only Asian character has his cranium smashed by Negan in the comics ( and as seen in the season six premiere of the show). Tyreese gets beheaded in the comics( but his death in the show was by a walker). It seems as if that black and Asian people are not survivors in The Walking Dead universe.
The show enjoys killing off black characters more and specifically black men. Noah and Bob were killed by white characters in the show. Michonne’s survival seems to be in question at this point. There also is the problem of another racist stereotype. It is the image of the angry black woman and super strong black woman. This image of a black woman with an attitude or bad temper as been portrayed in various entertainment ad nauseum. Michonne when she first meets Rick’s group at the Prison in the series seems to be more vexed in personality. The recent seasons have attempted to reverse this and her character seems to be changing. Michonne is a great fighter, but in that portrayal comes another stereotype. The super human black woman ( and man), which comes from a positive stereotype. The positive stereotype comes from blacks being super human athletes and described as something beyond human. Positive stereotypes are not harmless,because they derive from prejudices and hatreds. This concept of the super strong black person comes from enslavement. The African people enslaved in the New World were not considered human, but animals or property. This falsehood was used to justify physical brutality against the enslaved on the grounds their bodies were so strong it did not harm them. This myth continues in the form of positive stereotype in the notion “blacks dominate sports.” Michonne when she fights in the show, almost seems like she is super human. They made a physically strong female character, but did not advance her characterization.
The show is still exploring Michonne’s character. It’s uncertain where it might lead and what the relationship with Rick will do. There has been transformation to the character and at one point she explain the psychological distress of living in a collapsing civilization . The show humanizes her by getting her to help Carl cope with difficult situations. After the fall of the prison, Carl and Michonne along with Rick say in an empty house. The great part about this is that she is given more personality than just being a killing machine. She even soon rejects the idea of being a person who just lives for survival. She wants to live for something. As Michonne said “she does not want to be seen as a monster.” This character has potential for improvement.
Carol is a good counter argument to the idea that walking dead cannot create strong female characters. Carol’s evolution is impressive.She went from being an abused wife to one of the bravest fighters in Rick’s group. Carol is flawed for all her talents and her biggest error was the murder at the prison. Rick banished her from the prison without Daryl’s knowledge. Carol eventually will save the group from Terminis and comeback with them. However, now she is in a crisis and the pressure has gotten to her. The killing and struggle have caused her to want to leave Alexandria. Her reasoning is that the group will be better off without her. Morgan tries to bring her back almost getting himself killed in the process.
Carol went from being passive to more aggressive, but now questions the kill or be killed mentality. What is going on with her is more a crisis of conscience. The loss of Sophia changed her to adopt a more offensive defense strategy to the world. Even though her husband was abusive the death still was a lugubrious matter to her. It was in many respects was what allowed her to develop as a person. This evolution is still happening with Carol and it is fascinating to see how it shall culminate. There are also times in which she acts as an adviser to other member’s of Rick’s group. She once said to Daryl “that his brother is bad for him.” Carol provides Maggie comfort under intense situations. The Walking Dead got a female character right. The article from Jezebel does not acknowledge Carol, which is bizarre. The article was written before season four in which there have been numerous changes. It should be gratifying to women viewers or feminists that a female character was given this development. Before condemning the entire show or comic examine the entire source material. It seems that there a tendency of some to condemn media by either seeing small excerpts of a source. Carol if written correctly can be a great character. That should be the model for characters on the show, rather than the one dimensional presentations.
The discussion about survival leads to one question : how much strength do you even need to survive a zombie apocalypse? Going off The Walking Dead universe it would appear large muscles may not be even useful. The walkers are slow moving and lack intelligence. Physical strength would be useful in fighting off one or two. If the number exceeds twenty or even hundreds that would be insuperable. Weapons are more efficient than fists. The type of weapon has to be considered. Baseball bats, lead pipes, spears, axes, or knifes are better than guns to an extent. Walkers are attracted to noise and gun shots do produce it at high decibels. Guns should not be discarded completely, because it helps in situation where its too many walkers to fight off at once. The biggest issue would be finding ammunition and reproducing enough to ensure protection.
May be muscular strength is not the element of physical fitness best equipped for a zombie apocalypse. Cardiovascular endurance would be essential. The people who had the ability to run the fastest would be in a better position. Slower runners would certainly fall victim to walkers. As Zombieland once said comically, cardio is a rule. Fighting your way through walkers would probably not be the wisest path of action. Avoidance if possible seems to be a better strategy. Flight as opposed to fight would ensure a high level of safety. It should be assumed there would be more zombies than living people. The living would be at a disadvantage in this regard. While having at least some moderate level of physical fitness could guarantee survival, there are some biological aspects to consider.
The problem with having large muscles is that maintaining them requires a good portion of food. Fat however stores some energy. The world of a zombie apocalypse will for obvious reasons be short on food. A person with some fat may not feel the adverse effects of hunger as a person with a muscular or thin body. The average person probably would not even weigh much considering food security would be limited. Hunting or farming would have to be done to meet nutritional needs. Farming would require permanent settlement. This causes some problems. Settlements would be targets of people or zombie herds. No law or order other people are just as or even more dangerous than actual monsters. The best chance is to either be nomadic or semi-nomadic. This would only work if the group of survivors follow the game they are hunting. People who live in this type environment have to live and survive on limited food.
The person who would suffer more from lack of food is a person with less fat.
Food is not the only challenge, but access to clean water. Water is just as important as sustenance. It seems that elements of survival in the collapse of civilization require more consideration. One unrealistic element about The Walking Dead is that clean water seems more prevalent than it should be in certain circumstances.
Robert Kirkman’s excuse for lack of strong female characters lack cogency. While sexual dimorphism is a scientific reality, it does not limit women from doing certain things. Kirkman’s statements seem to reflect what could be referred to as an enlightened sexism. It does not directly state women are inferior beings, but they are defective or incomplete human beings. A technique to hide this negative belief is to attempt to justify it through a rudimentary or sometimes incorrect understanding of science. Nature did not make women weaker or biologically inferior. It is the process of primate evolution and reproductive techniques that made the human sexes different. These differences are not an indication of inferiority, but the attributes of genes and environment. Unlike Kirkman’s view that women are not important in the story line of the The Walking Dead needs to be changed.The Walking Dead is a great comic and television show. That being said there is room for improvement. Both the comic and show are still running so there are opportunities to improve the female characters. The possibilities are endless, if you have the imagination. There is a chance that the show can introduce interesting female characters and have existing one play a larger role. It can be done; producers and creators must be willing to do it.