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Desire is the main reason almost all TV shows are set in the cop, lawyer, and doctor arenas. These jobs give their shows a simple and repeatable desire line that tracks the episode every week. Catch the criminal. Win the case. Save the life. But of course this is extremely limiting. Most people don’t spend their daily lives solving crimes, prosecuting bad guys, and saving lives.
– John Truby
I wouldn’t call myself a fan of crime fiction. I have a grim fascination for true crime, so long as it’s done well, and if you curate your true crime well, you can achieve a fascinating insight into the human psyche, even if it doesn’t do much for your generalised misanthropy.
Related: Why Do We Love Grimdark TV? from Bitch Magazine
Since so much horribleness goes on in the real world, I’ve reached the age where I have no time for stories about men whose motivations are spurred by the torture and murder of women. I can enjoy a good crime series, but if the crime is going to be against women, I want to see a certain amount of female agency. Sometimes this agency comes from the victim/survivor herself; at other times the focus is on the women who work to solve the crimes.
If, like me, you would like to see some more feminist crime, here are three series for your consideration:
THE FALL (belfast)
A lot has been said about The Fall, which is what made me watch it in the first place.
The Fall: The Most Feminist Show on Television from The Atlantic
This is a story comprising two short series, both available now on American Netflix. Gillian Anderson plays the SIO (Senior Investigation Officer) looking for a serial killer of women. From the start, the audience knows who the serial killer is. He is not the serial killer of the popular imagination. Gillian Anderson’s character has some great lines, which show she isn’t wearing the rose-tinted glasses; she knows sexism when she sees it and she calls it out. This is immensely satisfying. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it.
TOP OF THE LAKE (new zealand)
Are you a Jane Campion fan? This is like watching a mash-up of The Piano (scenery-wise), Once Were Warriors (plot-wise) and Twin Peaks (creepiness-wise).
I predicted the outcome by episode three, but I think you’re supposed to. You’re certainly given enough clues. As I said, I’m not a crime fan, so a lot of viewers will probably work it out before I did.
Unfortunately I’m from New Zealand and Australia and Elisabeth Moss doesn’t do a fantastic job of the accent. You’d think they could find some decent local actresses, wouldn’t you? Then again, Elisabeth Moss would introduce this series to an American audience, thereby expanding it many times over. I guess this is how it works.
What makes it feminist? The drama is focused on Elisabeth Moss’s character, oftentimes on her relationship with her mother. There is also a community of battered women — a sort of cult, lead by an aged Holly Hunter — so it definitely passes the Bechdel Test. There are times, though, when I feel the scenes at the commune are unnecessarily comic. (Monkey? Did it have to be a monkey?) But that seems to be the nature of TV that’s made in my home country. Even the darkest stories inject these comic scenes which, to me, often feel out of sync with the vibe.
This show features more diversity than seems usual, too.
Double X presenters (in particular June Thomas) wondered what on earth an Australian police officer was doing, seconded into the New Zealand police force to fight a New Zealand crime. I wonder the same thing, but I’m willing to put it aside for the sake of a story.
Looks like there might be a series two coming? Season one certainly doesn’t feel entirely wrapped up.
HAPPY VALLEY (YORKSHIRE VALLEYS)
The thing that makes this a standout for a feminist audience is:
1. The drama focuses around the female police officer just as much as it focuses on the life of the male criminals.
2. Whereas in The Fall, everyone rushes around Gillian Anderson’s character because she is senior and because she needs to be listened to (also refreshing) this show very accurately depicts some of the problems with being a female working in a mostly male environment. Part of this police officer’s problems stem from the fact that she used to be a detective, but took a demotion for family reasons (also relatable to many women), and is struggling to work under people who have vocational deficiencies.
3. The main confidante of Lancashire’s character is her sister. (Cue: Bechdel.)
4. The main character is far from perfect. (Watching a martyr would be unrelatable.)
I absolutely loved Season One of Happy Valley and can’t wait for Season Two.
Huffington Post publishes some crap, sure, but recently published a list of Books Women Think Men Should Read and I happen to have read a lot of them and it’s a pretty good list. It includes Delusions of Gender, which I regularly bring up if I can’t be assed, and I can never be assed. Because after all, there’s this thing called the Internet. I’m fed up justifying my position on this issue.
Conversation with middle-aged man at tennis just two days ago:
Him: “Teenage boys and girls do everything together these days,” he says. (I can’t remember the prior context.)
Me: “Not like the 90s, then.” (Inside, feeling rather glad that sex segregation is going the way of the dodo.)
Him: (I think misreading my tone) “Boys and girls aren’t allowed to be different these days, of course.”
Me: (After a suspicious pause) “Oh, I don’t know. I see neurosexism everywhere.”
Him: (After a pause and a side-eye) “Are you one of these people who think we shouldn’t recognise differences between males and females?”
Me: “No, I think we should recognise the differences, with the aim of moving past them.” (Secretly thinking I’d rather be discussing politics or religion.)
Him: “Hmm. So you’re telling me you think men and women are exactly the same?”
Me: (Fed up, wanting to play tennis) “There’s a book called Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. I agree with pretty much everything in that book.”
Him: “I don’t think I’d like that book.”
Me: “But you haven’t read it.”
Him: “I haven’t got time to read that.”
It amazes me how many people form strong opinions without actually doing the heavy lifting of reading, processing and reflecting.
Now that my daughter is in Year One, proper homework has started. The kind where a parent has to be involved, because they don’t quite know how to do it themselves. Yesterday it took half an hour to do a page of arithmetic. The assigned reading book is now half covered in words and is 20 pages long. The days of ‘The cat sat on the mat now can I watch TV?’ are over. The bus days of getting home at 4:20 exhausted have only just begun.
One of this week’s tasks is to prepare for a morning talk. Until now our kid has talked about whatever came to mind at the time: Minecraft, new toothbrushes, dogs vomiting on carpet, chickens dying… Dog knows what other household secrets got blabbed. This week the six-year-olds have to take along a favourite piece of music and explain why it’s important to them. They can take instruments if they like. (So far no one has taken instruments and the teacher is apparently disappointed about this.)
Here is my daughter’s favourite song in the whole wide world:
I blame myself. I skipped The Wiggles and Hi-Five jingles because I can’t stand listening to them. My daughter’s music tastes — for now — tend to match my own. And I’m a fan of Larry McMurtry, so of course I’m a fan of cowboy culture.
Not the actual cowboy culture, mind. The fictionalised kind, most of which probably never happened. How much does the six-year-old really know about cowboys?
What do cowboys eat?
Meat. They kill cows and eat steaks.
What do cowboys do?
They ride around on horses and have fun.
But what’s their job?
I don’t know.
Can girls be cowboys?
Yes! Like that girl on that movie we watched, you know? (The original True Grit. She’s also seen Disney’s Little House On The Prairie, in which Laura is adamant she’s going to grow up to be a cowboy.)
My daughter has drawn a few pictures about life in the Wild West. The cowboys are sleeping in beds. They have wives and children and they sing happily around campfires. It’s just like camping!
Even with all this homework, I’m not sure my daughter’s reading is going to improve to the point where I can just hand her a copy of the Lonesome Dove series, so she can see for herself by Friday morning that no sane individual would ever actually want to be a cowboy, or a cowgirl for that matter.
When I opened the curtains this morning to let some light in I screamed a little bit. Six-year-old came running and screamed also. She soon changed her tune when I named him ‘Spiderman': “Ooh, can I have him in my room as a pet? No Daddy, don’t KILL him!’
Not that spider killing is a man’s job, but the fact is, man is taller than I am and has a higher reach.
For the record, we did have a discussion about how the creature might be removed without killing him. Ways of killing him inhumanely were tabled then discarded. This included sucking him up with the vacuum cleaner, which didn’t happen.
As we discussed this my husband clapped his hands together and successfully swatted a mosquito. The conversation moved back to the spider. The mosquito got barely a mention. It seems the life of a large creature is more valuable than the life of a small one.
‘Well, I’m not sleeping in here tonight with that thing,” I said.
‘Of course you can, Mum,’ said the six-year-old. ‘You already DID sleep in here with him last night and probably other nights before that, too.’ It was not the time to bombard me with logic.
I busied myself in the kitchen doing important kitchenly work while husband remained in the bedroom. He emerged some minutes later. ‘I didn’t hear a bang,’ I said. He was holding one of his work shoes. ‘That thing is bigger than the shoe,’ he muttered.
I won’t go into the sorry details but the huntsman was eventually killed via shoe and it did require my help. Any attempt to remove huntsmen alive usually results in loss of limb, which for a spider that runs after prey is tantamount to death anyhow, but a slow one.
‘That is the largest spider I have ever seen,’ Australian-born husband muttered, throwing its carcass to strangely uninterested chooks.
I think he’s maybe forgetting about its cousin out in the shed.
SORT OF RELATED: Australia had to ban an episode of Peppa Pig, because it was all about Peppa being scared of a little spider. Children were encouraged to not be afraid of spiders because ‘they’re little and can’t possibly hurt you’. On the contrary, these huntsmen are harmless to humans. It’s the little bastards you have to watch out for.