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.

About

Natalie Wilson is a literature and women’s studies scholar, blogger, and author. She teaches at Cal State San Marcos and specializes in the areas of gender studies, feminism, feminist theory, girl studies, militarism, body studies, boy culture and masculinity, contemporary literature, and popular culture. She is author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. She also writes the guest columns Monstrous Musings for the Womanist Musings blog and Pop Goes Feminism at Girl with Pen. She is currently writing a book examining the contemporary vampire craze from a feminist perspective. Dr. Wilson is also part of the collaborative research group that publishes United States Military Violence Against Women and is currently working on an investigative piece on militarized sexual violence perpetuated against civilians. She is a proud feminist parent of two feminist kids and is an admitted pop-culture junkie. Her favorite food is chocolate. Visit her online at NatalieWilsonPhd.