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December 14 2013

Fall shows that are good to women. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets included in this feature that looks at "fall TV's best female characters".

"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave us Ming-Na Wen as a kick-ass veteran of the super spy program, Chloe Bennet as a computer genius and hacker, and Elizabeth Simmons as a scientist and invaluable member of the team."

And the last episode gave the audience

Chloe Bennet crying in her bunk cause they were mean to her, Elisabeth Simmons making big eyes at the muscles of the superpowered guy and Coulsons/Wards incomprehensible dialogue on womens studies.

Not to mention Rayna showing how much she's no Lilah Morgan, flirting with the boss instead of taking his head off when he's in the way.

Maybe I've misunderstood something ?
JPR - No, I'm afraid they have.
Those last two are slightly iffy but the first two? Seriously? Simmons finding a superpowered man attractive isn't sexist. People get distracted by attractive people all the time, you see it in countless media with both genders, and Simmons is a generally awkward character. And the first one is much more Chloe crying in her room because years of hard work and the hope she might find out about or even meet the parents she never knew has just been nastily dashed. But no, no, a woman dared to be attracted to a man and another had the gall to show emotion, THEREFORE SEXISM.
I can't speak for JPR, and I understand your points. For me, it's not that Chloe was showing emotion. That doesn't make her a weak character. How many times did we see Buffy cry, and we still call her a 'strong character'. Or flirt awkwardly with someone, doesn't take away from her strength.

For me, none of that is what makes Skye such a terrible character. It's not that she shows emotion, it's what she typically shows emotion over. Her character is so painfully two dimensional - out of everyone on that boat, she's the most problematic. She's either acting as though she's the only honourable white hat in a den of thieves, or the kid left out of the games whilst the others play around her and she has a bit of a strop. Either way, there's something always 'victim'-ish about her - either she's the misunderstood tough girl (Echo of Faith on Buffy) with the heart of gold that no-one will trust, or she's the whining teenager who's mad because Daddy won't let her see what's in his computer.

So for me, my main problem with her is that she's always the victim. It's always someone else's fault she can't do something, always an excuse for why it's not her fault and why she's not to blame. That's not really a good image for a 'strong female character'. She's not really that smart, okay, she's got past a few computer firewalls, but she never really sells the hacker genius, the way she's written it feels like Coulson himself could have typed in a few things on a computer and got the same information, it's just not really believable. The hacker thing just always seems like an excuse to get her on the team - like they said, 'we need a hot brunette with puppy eyes to be the eyes of the audience - but we need to figure out a way why these people would ever let her on the team. We've got the beefcake, we've got the hot laconic Asian who hits things, we've got two little lab rats, and we've got Coulson. We're going to scrap the computer expert of the team so we can plug in Doe Eyes. She can be our central character.' She's just not believable in any way.

Every time she's on the screen, all I can think is, 'Dushku wannabe double without any of the charm'.

As for Elizabeth Simmons, let me say first that I quite like her character, I think she's sort of a likeable version of an exceptionally awkward Keira Knightly. I actually do think she's a charming actress with an adorkable charm, really not much to complain about there. I don't even care if she's flirty or can't take her eyes of J August Richards. He's cute enough, and she's on a boat where no-one flirts with her, no problem. MY problem with that scene was actually to do with a reversed sexism. If the roles had been reversed - and a female character we knew very little about was being ackwardly oggled by Fitz just for no reason, some people would complain that that it was sexist because female character was only there because she was hot. That having a scene in there was no point, and insulting to the female character because it was based purely on her aesthetics. But if a man is there to be stared at, it's not sexism. Whedon shows have a tendency to do this - it's fine for Spike and Angel to get their shirts off constantly throughout the shows, but if Echo walks around in tight pyjamas, that's sexist. I don't get the double standard. It's still display for display's sake.

To be honest, I didn't really care one way or the other about her character making moon eyes at him. But that that was most of her role in the episode is maybe a bit of a problem. I didn't really care one way or the other, honestly. It's there for cute comedy, whatever, I'm not trying to read that much into it, but there was just no reason for it. They could have done something else with that then just having her be a bit slushy. She's an awkward enough character that it wasn't out of character, I just didn't really see the point in spending several minutes talking about his body (which isn't that nice anyway.....)

TL:DR: I do think it's down to sexism, but not the way you're thinking. Sexism because they wanted to get a hot chick on the team so they just threw her in there with no personality, and no real believable skills other than her pretty face, nice hair, and she looks good in clothes. She's constantly victimising herself - it's always so-and-so's fault because she wants it now and can't have it.
JPR summed it up perfectly.
Uh...I think the article needs editing by its author, since it should be something like "Elizabeth Henstridge's Simmons..." since the original phrasing combined names.


Personally, I can see both sides of the argument - Kelsea Stahler's and posters like jpr's - about whether or not the female cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be looked at as positive role models, though I wonder if comparisons couldn't be made to how a viewer could have perceived Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia in the first season or two as lacking in certain gravitas or emotional strength when faced with certain scenarios. Let's be honest, Buffy regularly complained about being the Slayer and sought "normal" in various ways, Willow was bright and bubbly but horribly awkward at time and Cordelia was a sarcastic harridan who treated the Sccobies like crap. Yeah, it's easier to "explain" their behaviours as the struggles of being a teenager and living up to varying expectations - part of the main idea of "high school as Hell" - but the early Buffyverse was no better at primary characters being less-than-satisfactory.

Don't get me wrong, work and time is needed to make May, Simmons and Skye "grow" as characters. We're seeing and hearing things every new episode that add bits and pieces, but the bigger pictures are far from finished. May needs to have an emotional explosion moment to vent all the restrained joy and anger, Skye needed to have the verbal slap May gave her in The Bridge and the preview for the next new episode shows clues that she's getting more serious about her reality, and Simmons? Well, one can hope Simmons gets to evolve emotionally too, especially if we can explore further the signs she, like Willow, has an uneven relationship with her parents.
I saw nothing wrong with Skye and Simmons's actions last episode. Skye had a vulnerable moment. So what? And Simmons was attracted to Mike, just like Fitz has been awkwardly attracted to Skye all season. Simmons may have been distracted by Mike at first, but it didn't stop her from coming up with a pretty clever tracking system. That conversation about women's studies, though? That was weird, and didn't feel like a Whedon show.

Now, about Skye. Full disclosure: I've liked her character from the start. So I've been surprised by the amount of hate she's gotten, but lots of the reasons I've read are understandable. What's really been bugging me, though, is how often I've seen people implying that she's only in the show for her looks. That because a character looks pretty, she therefore must only be there to look pretty, in spite of everything her character's had to do. In spite of the evidence that Chloe Bennet is clearly a good actress with great comic timing and a talent for delivering dialogue. I think that's why she was cast.
It also makes me wonder if there's not a little bit of prejudice in the complaints that she's the audience surrogate and that she's not a believable hacker. Yes, the writers could improve their showing vs telling with the computer expertise. But there are plenty of other characters with skills that are accepted without them having to prove it first. Her personality's very different from other fictional female hackers, so she's an unusual character type I guess, but I don't see why that should be a problem.
Thank you, Bluelark, your response pretty much completely echoes my thoughts. I like Skye and I think Chloe Bennet does an excellent job. There are many things about her & her dynamic in the group that come across really well to me: from the friendship she developed with FitzSimmons (moment of note: the hug she gave Simmons when Ward returned her at the end of F.Z.Z.T.) to her natural personal approach to other people (the conversation about God in Repairs) to her perfectly understandable and relatable response to May's upsetting authorative scolding in the Bridge.
I don't get how this Simmons-stares-at-JAR's-chest scene is so controversial. After all it's not like this was the only thing happening there in total isolation. Fitz was standing right next to hear doing the exact same thing.
But if a man is there to be stared at, it's not sexism. Whedon shows have a tendency to do this - it's fine for Spike and Angel to get their shirts off constantly throughout the shows, but if Echo walks around in tight pyjamas, that's sexist. I don't get the double standard. It's still display for display's sake.

It’s not a double standard. For years the overwhelming majority of television has been made for men despite women making up half of the world’s population. Its television produced by men, aimed at men, with little thought given to what female viewers may want. Female characters were often included in a show just to stand around and look pretty or take off their clothes gratuitously for the satisfaction of male viewers. Rarely were female viewers taken into consideration or catered to in this way at all. Even “female heroes” that you may have seen in comic books or on TV were still greatly sexualised, with their costumes always being far skimpier than that of their male counterparts to pander to the male demographic.

A little gratuitous nudity isn’t actually a bad thing. We’re sexual beings so it’s perfectly natural. The problem is that television, especially when BtVS first began airing, is greatly unbalanced and there are a disproportionate number of actresses hired solely for their looks or to stand around and be ogled at for the satisfaction of male viewers. Not to mention that there’s a host of other problems such as female characters always being pigeonholed into the same few roles or a lack of emphasis on female-female relationships, hence the ‘Bechdel Test’ to measure if show’s even have female characters interact with one another other than, of course, to just discuss men.

BtVS was one of the few shows that began bucking the trend. It catered to women when most other shows were still only interested in satisfying men. Yes, it had gratuitous scenes of Angel and Spike taking their shirt off but how can us men complain about that when for every 1 show like BtVS, there were 10 other shows still catering to men? As I said, some “display for display’s sake” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just how unbalanced it was. Fortunately, things have begun to change over the last few years and we’ve begun to even out of the playing field but TV and marketing is still aimed more so at men than at women.

So it's really not the same thing and that's why people react differently to seeing women treat as sex objects. Especially on a show like BtVS which was meant to be a feminist text so naturally of course it would pander more to a female demographic as it should. And even though often Angel and Spike did take their shirts off just for the sake of it, remember that they were still far better written than most female characters on other shows were. They were nuanced and fully-fleshed out characters and not there solely to be fanservice.
Any man or woman put on a show for the simple reason of directing gaze is sexist; gender does not matter.

As to the article, it misses important other women in other shows, such as Bo, Lauren and Kenzi, or the character Tatiana Maslaney plays on Orphan Black.

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