There are a lot of reasons to love The Walking Dead. Those reasons are deeply personal the millions of viewers who have made the show the highest rated show on TV. Ever. There are lots of things I love about The Walking Dead. But one of the things I love the most about show is The Walking Dead women. Carol, Michonne, Andrea, Maggie, Beth, Sasha, and Karen are strong women who have stepped up in a dangerous world to become serious badasses who fill many roles with strength, grace, and commitment. Without nary a tribal-looking bra top or ragged micro-mini skirt in sight.
The post-apocalyptic world, whether due to a zombie apocalypse or another devastating event, has never been a particularly female friendly place. Judging by movies, TV shows, graphic novels and games that are set in a post-apocalypse world women will be unable to take care of themselves, fight off threats, or find clothing that actually covers their bodies. The Walking Dead women manage to kill Walkers and contribute to the survival of the group without having to take off their clothes to do it. They use skill and strength instead of sex appeal to survive.
I can already hear some people rolling their eyes at my characterization and here the dismissive cries of ,”it’s entertainment! Why does everything have to be a “feminist issue”? But to those people I say it has to be a feminist issue because if you are a female, or have a female child, life is a feminist issue. The media has a huge influence on how people see the world, and see themselves. A show that has the global reach and massive audience that The Walking Dead has can have a huge impact on culture. Girls who grow up seeing Michonne expertly defend the people she loves with her katana or watch Maggie transition from farm girl to warrior will grow up believing that they too can meet whatever challenges life throws at them without taking off their clothes to do it.
The issue of the way that female characters are presented is one that is obviously personal for me. As a woman and as a devoted fan of nerd culture it’s impossible to ignore the misogyny that is very often present in the nerd world. But my worldview has been shaped by decades as a member of the remnants of the Punk and Post-Punk movements that came into existence in the late 70s.
Throughout the 80s and into the 90s women started to take control of their own sexuality and carve a space for themselves in the “alternative” art and music scenes. What the public perceived as “Riot Grrls” were really women stepping forward to take responsibility for their own lives and confront the stereotypes of women that they felt were outdated in the modern world.
When the show opens and the world has just crumbled around the survivors they default to traditional gender roles, almost by default. When Rick finds the survivors at the camp the women are the ones responsible for cleaning the clothes, cooking, and washing. From the very beginning the women push back against this sexist division of labor. As the group dynamics evolve the women begin to define their own roles in the group instead of having the traditional gender roles forced onto them. Even though many of them had no idea how to step into other roles at the beginning they adapted and changed quickly. They didn’t step back and wait to be saved. They learned. Andrea learned that you need to take the safety off the gun to fire it. They learned to shoot, and to stab. They learned to overcome their societal training to avoid confrontation and be able to address the threats in front of them.
No female character on the show has changed as much as Carol. The Carol we saw at the start of the show was just a shadow of the powerful woman she really is. Carol throughout the show has remained in the background. After Sophia’s death she occupied space the space in between the fights for survival. She was the one who took care of Judith with Beth, organized the meals, and took on the domestic tasks necessary for the comfort and survival of the group. But Carol became a character thatembodies the phrase, “fierce with reality”. Her years of living in abuse taught her to assess a situation, and potential threats, in a very short amount of time. But now she is unafraid to take action to get rid of those threats. In practical terms Carol’s entire marriage was preparing her to not just survive the zombie apocalypse but thrive in it.
In the remaining episodes of Season 4 audiences will see a lot more of the background of the characters and the lives they had before the zombie apocalypse. But The Walking Dead women are proof that in the post-zombie apocalypse world women can be strong and powerful without having to be sex objects, which is a powerful message. One of the recurring themes in the show is that in the post-apocalypse world you will have to choose what type of person you will be and how you will live that you have for as long as you have it. The Walking Dead women are living fiercely and unapologetically, protecting themselves and the people they love, and doing it on their own terms.