Since the advent of the Zombie Apocalypse, we have seen a surge in what it means to be a survivor on The Walking Dead. Femininity and the concept of survival are rarely two things that go hand-in-hand, but the series puts the two together to reveal the complexities of feminism in a time of extreme crisis.
Through the eyes of the main cast, we see the lengths people are willing to go to help themselves and those around them to survive. This teamwork forces the traditional male and female roles to come loose and ushers in a new movement that regards all people willing to survive as equals.
The “Walking Dead”
Upon looking at the team, it’s no wonder that the roles and responsibilities played by each character shapes the outcome of events and the survival of the group.
An example of the differences in how the group evolves is the Season 1 Episode, ‘Guts’. In this episode, the characters are still trying to cling to society’s expectations by awarding gendered roles to each person. By episode three, a leader is not yet identified, and the differences and importance of everyone’s job is revealed, with some voicing their concerns in the division of work and the laziness of certain members – Ed – in the group.
At the start of ‘Wildfire’, Andrea is treated as a hysterical woman by many in her team. With Amy’s death, it’s clear she’s not viewed by others as being particularly stable, despite her actions being completely warranted as someone in mourning. As a result, she is seen as unreliable and more of a burden than a help to her team.
Season 1 makes it clear how much our society relies on gender roles for it to function. Arguably, the first season acts as a commentary on our current culture, exploring how preconceived notions make life difficult for certain groups if they don’t adhere to the ideas of a dying past. Stigmas are, therefore, put in place and take the biggest toll on the women of the group.
In Season three, Rick and his team are forced to come to terms with gender equality. Lori’s death, Michonne’s appearance, and The Governor’s attack reinforce the need for leadership regardless of gender. Patriarchal at first, the posse regard Rick’s word and opinion alone as final, ignoring anything that he doesn’t agree with.
By the end of the season, Rick’s dictatorship unveils cracks in the social system, only coming to light with the team’s direct and indirect interactions with The Governor. The two men are, at best, reflections of one another, and represent the idea of society being led by traditional patriarchal notions. The rise and fall of the groups reveal the nature of the leadership and is a learning curve for Rick’s group.
In the episode ‘Killer Within’, Judith’s birth represents not only the hope of survival but also an emergence of new ideas. With Lori’s death representing the end of old beliefs and ideas, Judith’s birth forces many to realise how fragile humanity is. Survival should not be defined by gender alone, but by the willingness to live on in the new world.
The Lone Warrior
Michonne’s arrival, in the form of the katana-wielding introvert, is arguably the most feminist point in the series. With her comes the independence and true nature of survival and sacrifice.
Her presence not only changes Rick’s team but awakens the whole group to the new nature of their world. Whilst feminism tends to portray the independent woman as the ‘ideal’, it rarely highlights that women are not one-dimensional individuals.
Michonne’s growth within the series removes the popular idea that a woman cannot be a true feminist unless she is stoic. Rather, Michonne’s character reveals a deeply loving woman who can be both maternal and an icon.
Feminism at its worst
By contrast, the series also reveals how feminism can be harmful. In Season 5, viewers are introduced to Officer Dawn Lerner. She is the ideal feminist, more so than Michonne, in that she is a leader, independent, and steadfast in her beliefs and actions. However, she represents what’s wrong with feminism, believing everything she doesn’t agree with is, by default, wrong.
The ideology leads her to be a character that doesn’t believe in equal treatment. Her all-or-nothing stance reflects Rick’s from earlier in The Walking Dead series, resulting in a repeat of what happens when an entire team is not respected as equals. What makes her a bad character is her actions towards other females under her “care”. Rather than dealing with their legitimate concerns, she ignores them and caters to her own personal needs.
Overall, the representation of feminism within The Walking Dead reveals how concepts of gender are merely a farce. It’s an idea that hinders many characters, stopping progress in their survival. Traditional beliefs are shattered by Rick’s team as they work together to improve their survival.
By ignoring set rules and ideas from the world before ensures survival, allowing everyone to grow and respect each other’s talents and quirks without gender getting in the way.