The Angel in the House, a poem by Victorian poet Coventry Patmore, lays out several archaic gender roles, essentially imprisoning women into a role of the graceful housekeeper, the loving mother, and most of all, the moral center of society. By placing women on this unachievable pedestal, society limits the roles women can inhabit, leading to a misrepresentation of women in media. There is also an underrepresentation of women. When women are given the role of the mother and wife, her story line is often not as action-packed as her husband’s, leading to audiences to become disinterested in the idea of several female characters. While some of these gender roles are being broken, one still persists even today: women are the moral center. The easiest way to observe this stereotype is looking at the wives of immoral men.
Carmela Soprano was the first of these tortured wives. Carmela is a devote Catholic and wife of mob boss Tony Soprano, from HBO’s The Sopranos. Her plot line essentially boils down the her conflicting feeling over her love for material good and the financial security of her family that Tony’s blood money provides and her own internal moral code. Her own struggle with some innate female moral code results in her being labeled “the worst offender of them all.” She is unable to step out of the moral mother role without being harshly commended by the audience. While the men of The Sopranos are bad because they do bad thing, Carmela is bad because she is not completely moral.
Skyler White, wife of Walter White from AMC’s Breaking Bad, is also represented as the moral center of the White family. This often places her in opposition to Walter, the protagonist, and while some hatred is expected for her antagonistic role, the amount of backlash towards this character was immense.
Threats have even reached Anna Gunn, the actress who portrays Skyler. As Gunn writes in her article I Have a Character Issue, even with her moral standing Skyler is hated because she does not completely fit into the a woman’s role, one of complete faith in her husband’s actions. The role of women has not evolved much since Coventry Patmore. Women must still be moral in their judgements, but understanding and accepting of their husband’s faults.
Recently, there has been a new character on television: the anti-heroine. These character are complex and immoral, just like the male anti-hero. They are often relatable suburban moms or aimless thirty-somethings with nothing to lose.
While their characterizations are often complex, the shows themselves are kept light heated and funny. These women never go fully dark, like the male anti-hero. This may be due to the backlash over these realistic characters. As Michelle Juergen writes:
Women who act in a way we’re used to seeing only male characters act… has unfairly branded them unlikable rather than well-crafted and complex. Shows like Girls, Orange Is the New Black and Enlightened are not trying to portray unlikable women, but rather are trying to show that women are human beings, and therefore are sometimes self-obsessed, petty, childish, navel-gazing and in a constant struggle with morality.
Hopefully this new anti-heroine becomes a more accepted part of American media, for the character herself has a lot to teach us on America’s views on gender roles.