'Sons of Anarchy's' Maggie Siff The Latest to Speak Against the Disturbing Hostility that Accompanies Adolescent Male Fantasy

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'Sons of Anarchy's' Maggie Siff The Latest to Speak Against the Disturbing Hostility that Accompanies Adolescent Male Fantasy

By Dustin Rowles | Trade News | December 11, 2013 | Comments ()


(Author’s Note: There will be no spoilers here for last night’s Sons of Anarchy season finale, although, you can read my take on the episode over on Uproxx, or Joanna’s over on Vulture)

We’ve been here before, with Rita Morgan on Dexter, with Winona on Justified, and of course, with Skyler White on Breaking Bad (and for slightly different reasons, Dana Brody): Buzzkill female characters and their goddamn sense of morality. F**k them, right? Where do they get off on erecting obstacles in front of their murdering, drug-dealing, gun-running husbands? Who cares about the welfare of the children when there’s drugs to be injected, faces to be shot, and power to be grabbed?

The latest so-called victim of hostility from the dude-bro community — whose only fault is in wanting to see no-strings uber-violence — is Tara Knowles, the Sons of Anarchy character played by Maggie Siff.

I’ll concede that there have been moments that I’ve wanted Tara’s character to be killed off of Sons of Anarchy, but it was never because she stood in the way of Jax Teller’s ambitions. It was because, at times, she was a weak character who too often rolled over. However, in this most recent season, when Tara grew a huge backbone and decided to put the fate of her and her children in her own hands, the character became one of my favorites on the show, and by the end of the season, the thought of her potential death had become a devastating one.

Still, I see enough comments on Tumblr or Reddit or in Sons recaps to know that there is a very large segment of the fan community that hated Tara for the very reasons that made her such a great character this year: She schemed, she connived, and she manipulated, all in an effort to escape her increasingly monstrous husband. The c-word is very common in these threads, and while certain complaints against Tara — and characters of her ilk — are sometimes warranted for narrative reasons, the nature of the hostility is disturbing.

In a radio interview with EW, Maggie Siff spoke to that yesterday:

“I think it’s a really interesting conversation. I think these shows are always set up so we follow a protagonist and the story is very intricately built around caring for them in some way. And so anybody who runs counter to that is going to run into the problem of people turning on them. But I also think there are pretty deep gender cultural issues that have to do with a certain kind of fantasy of male and female roles, and a certain kind of fantasy around this anti-hero — the man who does terrible, terrible things but who we root for anyway because it’s an enactment of an adolescent male fantasy that people take great pleasure in seeing played out. And people who run counter encounter a lot of hostility. I think it’s the hostility that’s the most disturbing thing — the amount of vehemence or anger or righteousness that people can feel when they say, “She should be shot. She should be killed.’” That’s the thing that’s most startling and disturbing, when you really sit down and think about it.”

It truly is, and it’s even more disturbing that the hostility seems to bleed into the overall commentary on a character. The rise of the anti-hero in recent years and also seen the rise of this ilk of female character, which has offered a disturbing outlet for men (mostly) to voice their misogyny in a way that may seem acceptable because it’s in the context of a television show. Did people express this sentiment with Carmela Soprano, or is this all tied into the rise of Internet commentary? In either respect, it’s a troubling trend that plays into the vile men’s rights movement.

(Source: EW)

(See Also: 23 Reasons We Won’t Miss that B*tch, Skyler White)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Cowtools

    I don't watch SOA, so forgive me for dropping this idea here.
    I have a theory that in 20 years time people will talk about these 'dangerous men' shows the way people today talk about Pearl Jam (bear with me here).

    Basically, Pearl Jam influenced Stone Temple Pilots, which in turn begat Nickelback and such. And now all anybody online says about Pearl Jam is how horrifying their influence was.

    I have a feeling that SOA, Breaking Bad and the like will ultimately spawn dozens of dumbed-down imitators that are just adolescent power fantasies, with all the nuance and ambiguity sucked out, and then all anybody will be able to talk about is how Breaking Bad lead to this...

  • Indy Z

    "I think these shows are always set up so we follow a protagonist and the
    story is very intricately built around caring for them in some way." That's the key for me. When the protagonist is female, males who run counter to her interests are just as hated... I mean, look at Jason Biggs in Orange is the New Black - it was infuriating the way he used Piper's story to advance his own career, even if from a more objective viewpoint, she was the one who was, you know, in prison.

    It's been a while since I watched Weeds, but Nancy's slacker brother continually screwed things up for her and I pretty much hated him.

    I really don't see this as a gender issue, rather it's a function of how stories work. Getting inside a character's head, following their lives makes us sympathetic to them. If they're darker or have an edge, they're interesting, not evil. Whereas if you see the same behavior with no context, the character is a flat villain.

  • Guest

    I think that there is a lot of so called hate for the mentioned characters but what people like to forget on the internet is to think a bit about a situation.
    There is no misogynic conspiracy there are just characters some people dont like. I can speak only for myself but from the mentioned characters i only despised Skylar. I personally liked Tara and i didnt care for the others, they were just part of the plot.
    And i bet that there are not many people who disliked all the women in the mentioned shows but its easier to assume something and write an article about that assumed reality than to put a bit more thought into it.

  • Naye

    I hated Winona, but that may just bias for Raylan lol

  • Premie

    Jesus Christ Dustin. The "c-word"??

  • aroorda

    Without any spoilers: is it worth catching up the last season and a half of SOA? I stopped watching after episode 4 or 5 last season. Or right around whenever (SPOILERS FOR OLDER SEASONS)

    opie died

    Or do I just stay away? I just remember Michael burning Tigs daughter and thinking "why do i care anymore?"

  • Jim Johnson

    Probably best to stay away.

  • jellybird

    I think the difference between Tara and so many of the other characters mentioned is that Tara is not regressive. You could argue that Walking Dead's Lori with all the 'let the men do their jobs' is perhaps the most regressive, but Skyler was still in many ways a woman whose career has a certain dependency on White's.
    Tara Knowles is none of that. As a pediatric surgeon, she is well compensated financially. She has a career independent of the SoA world. Perhaps part of the problem is watching her let go of that career, give it up to pursue a lifestyle that she claims to abhor. And she pays the consequences - losing that career because of injury at the hands of her family and further moral compromises. It is not something that made a lot of sense.
    So, yes, she was getting a lot (perhaps the bulk) of frustration from those clinging to a male fantasy, she was also doing her best to betray every female fantasy as she didn't walk away time and time again. She was more tolerable this season as she stood up and finally took the steps to walk away...but maybe it was too little too late? Maybe the only viewers left were those subscribing to male fantasy or those who had given up on seeing the show for anything grander than a shoot em up Tuesday night?

  • Naye

    When you say "betray female fantasy" what exactly do you mean? Some part of me thinks the whole "stand by your man" thing is part of the male fantasy, and hence some women buy into it. In the black community we call this "ride or die" and it's extremely prevalent, and is seen as a desirable trait among...the less desirable, but it's promoted all over our media, and it's a catch-22 for young women who see images of women that are submissive to the societal demands that we help uphold male pride and "let men be men" while on the flipside women receive little to no respect for raising children alone (triflin baby mommas) or for seeking a male who can match our personal standards (goldiggers) etc. etc.
    I have had to explain to many male friends I know that watch the show, that Tara's actions were completely justified. That when you have kids you do anything for them, including selling down the river anyone else you know. And some of these men have kids. I think gender roles have a lot to play with that. Women are expected to be home with the kids while men tend to be given a pass to pursue more manly diversions such as a motorcycle club. Shows like BB and SOA allow their male characters to be selfish. It's kind of a painful realization when so many women i know have to lecture some of their spouses on the responsibility to the home vs. the responsibility to themselves (or their homies or whatever).
    Last note: My best friend is a guy who recently had a daughter and I asked him how much she weighed at a particular point. He said he didnt know, and I was surprised because as a first time parent I knew every detail. He told me men weren't required to go to the checkups, that was her mother's job, and there are some things "men just don't have to do." I was horrified and appalled by his misogyny and told him so (in not so nice words). I guess I never noticed it before, he tends to say "acting like a girl" more than I'm comfortable with. I always thought he just wasn't around enough strong females, and I'm very outspoken, and I guess I thought I was just arguing with him like I do everybody, but it wasn't until that conversation that I realized he actually held very ingrained views about how men and women are supposed to act. I never let him off the hook, but I was very deeply saddened and surprised to know someone who is otherwise pretty contemporary held those views.

  • jellybird

    Well, I think the female fantasy would be that she could rescue Jax, that their love would change him and his circumstances. That she - and their family - would ultimately be more important than everything else. Foremost, that she would demand respect of place and prominence as an equal partner. I cannot say whether such views are the product of social norms, but I think they are pretty widely held fantasies about romantic love and partnership. Tara certainly espoused them. At times she even followed them, but most often the focus was about her fitting into his world than he into hers. Up until the final episode of season 6, can we identify a moment where Jax holds Tara's goals above his own? There is lip service to Tara's importance, but ultimately the wellbeing of the club and members are the proximate concern.
    I think these ideals are different than ride of die - which is ultimately about acceptance and acquiescence to a man's goals and choices. I agree that ride or die / stand by your man may be really a man's fantasy - a woman's best position is silent and prone. :)

  • Naye

    Im with you until the saving part, I don't think she tried to save him, I thought originally he was trying to save himself. But whats interesting here is that you can have a woman who wants to have what you described as "fantasy" (things which I find should actually be the norm), and is certainly in a place where she could demand such, but she entered into a "man's world". So of course the entire show is male fantasy. I don't think the ideals portrayed are any different from ride or die. Ride or die doesn't mean that a women is silent and stay at home, it means that her personal good is sidelined, which is exactly what happened to Tara. It also involves the woman taking an active role in her spouses likely reckless activities, as Tara did by becoming club doctor. The male fantasy bleeds into other areas that result in inequality for women in personal and social relationships. It's why men are not harassed for leaving the kids to pursue a dream, whereas a woman would be. It's why men seem to get off publicly for cheating, whereas a woman is vilified. The show is just a more in-your-face look at these inequalities within a certain subculture, but most definitely these are echoed in real life. I'm glad Sutter decided to make Tara push back so hard. I certainly am not surprised by the response. So yea, i guess it IS female fantasy that we should expect equal praise for doing "what needs to be done" on a television show or otherwise.

  • RocksEaglesHats

    Wonderful post- this is a phenomenon that needs further unpacking by smart people, and Maggie Siff's diagnosis is spot-goddamned-on. Anyone who tries to characterize actors as dumb or shallow should read this quote- this is sharp analysis.

    I'll just address a small sliver at the end: I didn't watch The Sopranos in real time, rather coming to it via HBO Go years later. But my experience in watching it was that the moral universe of the show was complex and sensitive enough to encompass the two moral poles of Carmella and Tony without choosing sides.

    Breaking Bad, for all its brilliance, in many ways mirrored its protagonist's myopic singlemindedness. It was such a breakneck, forward-driven experience that anything attempting to slow it down was met with emotional spasms of protest. Skyler was DESIGNED to be a foil, to be hated- Vince Gilligan is too smart for there to be any other explanation. Dexter was based upon the thrill of watching someone murder dozens of people (for the "right" reasons, of course) and get away with it. Rita made him maybe want to do that less, so she too was hated. In either case, both shows were totally centered on a single man attempting a high-wire act. Both of their wives were introduced to the ecosystem specifically to be buzzkills and subsequently to be hated. The worst example is Dana Brody- she's less a character than a bug-zapper for misogynistic hatred.

    The Sopranos was never based upon the supply of "thrills". It was a patient, textured, complex family story. We rooted for Tony but we didn't worship him. We loved him but we also loved his kids and loved his wife, even though they ALL did stupid or horrible things from time to time. When Tony and Carmella fight at the end of season 4, not even the most devoted misogynist could muster anything but tears and the spectacle of marital tragedy. Not anger. There were the caper episodes or arcs where we just wanted Tony to win, but David Chase never deliberately threw Carmella in his way in the way the other shows mentioned gratuitously threw their leads' wives in their paths. He respected her- she was his character, not a device to gin up red-faced anger.

    My broader point is that while the anti-woman hostility we're seeing from these male viewers is disturbing and eye-opening, I think we know enough of the world not to be surprised that it's there. I'm more surprised at these shows respective showrunners cavalier and deliberate manipulation of those impulses in society.

  • $78742978

    Yeah, you know I always found Gilligan's reaction to the Skyler-hate a bit disingenuous. If you look at first season Skyler especially, she is written to be a henpecking housewife in order to generate sympathy for Walt. I mean, that scene where she outs Walt's cancer at his birthday and then cries and makes it all about her... I was on the hate train on that one. I mean you can think carefully about a lot of her actions and they're understandable, but the way they're presented, all you see is Skyler being controlling, and you don't have many (any) sympathetic moments with her. And I think once you start a character out like that, it is very very hard to reform her, which I think they tried to do in later seasons. By the end I really sympathized with her and thought she was smart and sympathetic and all, but first impressions are hard to knock down, and I think Gilligan created a bad first impression on purpose.

  • Maguita NYC

    It isn't just tied to the internet's rise in commentary, but I believe a great margin is due to the reflection of politics (and its discrimination) in everyday opinion.

    When your politicians are voting in laws that belittle the position of women in society, when the threatening of one specific gender goes unpunished, no matter if prosecuted, and when theocracy reinforces that faith is to depreciate a specific gender, the internet indulges your anonymity in giving free reign to bigotry, where continuous threats of bodily harm go unpunished.

    If Tara Knowles was... Tony Knowles who is tired of his wife's shit and abuse, and opted to fight for his life and the safety of his children, what would have been the reaction? Men are different from women, and men and women fight differently. But why is it that a woman's character is besmirched when using her wiles instead of brute force? Maybe the writers should address this issue, while we as a society heal and evolve beyond indoctrination, and remind ourselves there is difference between reality and scripted entertainment.

  • Without rehashing all the previous arguments and comments, I think Siff's point can be levied primarily at SOA because the life of the club portrayed in the show is of a bunch of men desperate to cling to an adolescent lifestyle. That's part of the allure for them: they don't work 9 to 5, but they all have money and homes and food and gas. They get to hang out in their club, have easy access to attractive women, get to behave as boorish as they want and no one can call them out on it.

    The intriguing duality lies in Siff's Tara vs Sagal's Gemma. Because most other shows have given us a voice of reason that's often female (Winona, Skyler, Tara) but they never give us a competing female voice that's on the other side. (Only other one I can think of is Justified's Ava). Tara's rival since day 1 was Gemma Morrow and it was from her that she learned to scheme, to plot and to coerce. And while she's a reprehensible human being, who has at one point or another had a hand in the death of many close associates and friends, I have yet to hear of any anger aimed at Gemma.

  • kushiro -

    Over at Warming Glow there's a pretty healthy hatred of Gemma, because of how she is just fucking awful.

  • Art3mis

    Agree entirely about the disturbing trend. Disagree that Dana Brody is part of it. I haven't heard a single person complain about her getting in the way of Brody or being a buzzkill; people complain about her because her teenage drama got a lot of screentime and they wanted the show to focus on spycraft. I honestly don't think those complaints were gendered or would have changed if it had been Chris Brody getting all of her storylines.

  • ryallen

    she doesn't deserve to me mentioned in the same sentence as the other 4. on any level. that entire show, actually.

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