Can Feminists Applaud Lost’s Final Season?

Lost has raised some feminist hackles in past seasons, including my own. (For readers needing a recap, check out this eight-minute summary of the first five seasons).

In season five, for example, Kate, arguably a feminist heroine, was marooned off the island and put into one-dimensional mommy-mode. As I argue elsewhere, Kate can be read as trying to replace her love for Jack and Sawyer with baby-love–a Freudian meme known as “penis replacement.”

This was read by Jennifer Godwin as “Kate’s Finest Hour“: She writes gushingly of Kate doing away with “childish petulance” to become a “wildly competent mother.” Such responses indicate how far we have yet to travel before we do away with the woman-as-womb paradigm. Why, I might ask, do none of the childish males of Lost have to “become men” via parenthood? And why not celebrate Kate for her bravery, independence, strength, courage and bad-ass island-saving skills rather than her “nurturing femininity”?

This framing of woman as baby-crazy reared its ugly head again a few weeks ago in the episode “What Kate Does.” In short, what Kate does is forget she is a felon on the run in order to turn her attention to getting a very pregnant Claire to hospital. As Cara of Feministe notes, it was “nice seeing two women working together and helping each other,” something still fairly rare in a television narratives that notoriously fail the Bechdel test.  On the other hand, do all Lost women need to be framed around pregnancy narratives?

The depiction of Kate in mommy-mode is all the more maddening if one realizes that she was initially conceived as the island leader. Alas, as Jill of Feministe reveals, “NBC execs thought that people wouldn’t watch the show if a chick was in charge, so they gave that role to Jack and turned Kate into one corner of a love triangle.” Her placement as the pawn between Jack and Sawyer is another feminist sticking point. For once, could we have a mainstream female protagonist not deciding which hot white man to go ga-ga over?

To be fair though, Lost is pretty feminist compared to the rest of current TV. As Melissa McEwan of Shakesville points out, “Generally, the female characters are more well-rounded than just about any other female characters on television, especially in ensemble casts.”

While island life on Lost has hardly been a feminist utopia, it has provided fertile ground for an analysis of gender norms. Although the show keeps the gender hierarchy firmly in place for the most part–male characters as “leaders” dominate most narrative arcs–it also suggests that male rule may not be a good thing for island society. In so doing, it can be read as critiquing patriarchy.

Yet, too often the series relies on stale norms. Although the island has gone back and forth in time–and now sideways–all these time zones have been hetero-normative, white privileged, ultra-patriarchal and cisgendered. Moreover, the show problematically frames disability, depicting John Locke “as a deeply pathetic character when we see him off-island in the wheelchair.”

Further, while the show is certainly notable for its diverse cast and complex characters, it veers towards displaying people of color stereotypically (Republican Guard/torturer Sayid, over-controlling and “English-challenged” Jin, simpleton Latino dude Hurley, folksy wisdom Ruth, oppressed Sun, etc.). The series gives the most narrative attention to LWMs–lost white males–while people of color and women are killed off at alarming rates. As Emily Nussbaum jokes, “spunky women” tend to be “reduced to love interests or unceremoniously offed”.

Whether feminist fans can enthusiastically applaud the series’ conclusion remains to be seen. As for me, I am rooting for time-travelling towards a radical feminist future.

Comments

  1. Amy Vasquez says:

    This article proves it–the woman’s movement IS LOST!!!!Bring back the ERA!!! Did you know Earned Run Average and ERA Realty are the top hits when googling the ERA?

  2. Everything can be over analyzed to make it fit into some “victimization of women” agenda. Kate is most often shown as a strong female character. Sun and Juliet are also both shown as very strong female leads and I see no mention of them. There are so many more shows, commercials, movies that are obviously offensive and or sexist…

  3. Amy,
    Not sure how you are making this connection, but I would imagine that characters such as Kate, Sun, Juliet, etc would indeed support ratification of the ERA…

    Aline,
    I think the anlaysis of popular culture can reveal important shifts in societal attitudes in regards to gender, race, class, sexuality and other socially constructed markers of identity. I do not have a “victimization of women” agenda but rather seek to examine how popular shows, even one’s such as Lost which are not “obviously offensive and/or sexist” still contain implicit and explicit messages about gender, etc. I agree that Sun and Juliet are strong leads. However, I would also point out that Juliet has been offed, and Sun is now framed as in endless pursuit of her husband — who, in the first show of the season, was yet again framed as a domineering a-hole. Why, we must ask, are the strong women killed off and/or attached to even stronger (and sometimes obnoxiously domineering) men?

  4. Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  5. As for me, I am rooting for time-travelling towards a radical feminist future.

    Seconded. :-)

  6. A radical feminist future? How about a radically feminist present…this IS the radically feminist future that I worked and marched for 35 years ago. The ERA definitely needs to become law in the USA and then made global.

  7. Lost Fan says:

    Wouldn’t it be better if they could blend those narratives together better? In nature and in human culture, mamas can be the strongest and most ferocious of them all. In science fiction, you get some of this, like in the Alien series, the mother alien was quite evil and wonderful, but of course all strong women have to be killed off.

    I think I was so enamored with the fun of the ride, I didn’t pick up on the other prejudices going on — thanks for pointing those out as well.

    The tragedy of these stereotypical portrayals is the “lost” opportunities for expanding our imagination for a better world.

  8. I so agree. When did “Lost” become about another battle between a bunch of territorial white men fighting over a piece of exotic land? Haven’t we seen enough of this in euro-centric history books, and in every “history-based” period movie? Nowadays, it seems really mostly about Jacob vs. Locke vs. Widmore vs. Jack vs. Ben Linus, with women (who are the remaining ones anyway? Kate, Claire, Sun, Ilana?) and minorities (Jin, Sayid, Hurley) as background sidekicks. So disappointing! And the show started out so promising…

  9. LeaveKatealone says:

    When I saw 6×08 I barely doubted: the reason of everything will be something related with motherhood. And, as it is becoming spiritual, I think it will connect the theories of dark and cold (mother’s madness) with femininity (with wombs, at all) and the opposite (and better) with a traditional macho-masculinity.

  10. Victoria says:

    What is wrong with pregnancy and feminine identity?? Someone please show me where this woman from Femeniste got the idea that Kate was substituted with Jack for the role of the lead. I an concerned about the lack of optimism in feminism these days. It seems like all we want is war with words about the use of our fellow women and their bodies instead of embracing and accepting each other entirely. Just because one woman wants to exploit her body on Americas Next Top Model, and some might disagree, doesn’t mean it is wrong and anti-feminism. I just wish there was more to be said for the women out their making a difference. And taking lead roles, or even minor roles like Joan in Mad Men, which empower us all to take a look at how far we have come. It is much better than projecting a negative past or future for the word the meaning or the movement.
    One love,
    Victoria Leigh Persichetti

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