Well, Teen Wolf is finally back, and sadly, Jennifer Blake still seems to be dead. I have to admit that Jennifer was the cause of much distress for me the first half of the season, but not because I didn’t like her character. I really enjoyed watching her and found her very sympathetic. No, my distress came about from reading what the fans—specifically the Sterek shippers—had to say about her.
While I am no stranger to disliking female characters—Bella from Twilight, Lori from The Walking Dead, the list goes on—the misogynistic and unfounded accusations thrown at Jennifer were hard to avoid, and they were usually entirely uncalled for. Jennifer was an antagonist, so I did expect some evil from her—and we got that. But her villainess ways were hardly the cause of the hatred and bile against her.
Most people seemed to dislike her simply because of her relationship with Derek, seeing her as an obstacle between him and his “true love” Stiles. She’s been called a rapist, a Mary Sue, and numerous other derogatory terms. Another accusation people seem fond of giving her is vanity, which, like most of the other insults, I immediately disagreed with.
I can certainly see where the argument for Jennifer Blake being motivated by vanity comes from. Jennifer used to be the druid for Kali and her pack, but Kali betrayed her. At Deucalion’s behest Kali attempted to kill Jennifer, and in the process she slashed up Jennifer’s face beyond recognition. Due to the betrayal and subsequent disfigurement, Jennifer nearly died. She lost the people she loved, and she lost herself in the process. When she looks back and shares what happened to her with Derek, she says:
I know what you’re thinking, Derek. That I’m using you, that everything that happened between us was a lie, or that I’m evil—but I hope you’re not thinking the most superficial thought: is that her real face?
Later, in a fight against Kali, Jennifer further says:
That’s right, Kali, look at my face.
So it is very easy to see why some people may interpret Jennifer as being vain, as revenge for her lost face is one of her primary motivations. Media at large has a longstanding habit of portraying villainess as wanting beauty or youth—such as the Queen from Snow White and the Huntsman—which is tied to society telling women and young girls that their looks should be one of their top priorities. Teen Wolf, despite having occasional problems portraying female characters in the past, has been a rather progressive show that treats its female characters fairly well. Having a villainess motivated by her physical appearance does seem like a step in the wrong direction.
However, I think there’s a lot more to this issue than vanity. Yes, Jennifer used to be a very beautiful woman and she wants to go back to looking like her old self. But for Jennifer, it’s not about beauty. It’s about her loss of identity. Jennifer has no power over what she actually looks like. She hides her disfigurement with a glamour because she has to. She can no longer recognize herself due to the attack she suffered. The face she has is not one she identifies with.
I would be angry, too, if this had happened to me. While we as a society have a problem of forcing unobtainable standards of beauty on women and young girls, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look nice, even for yourself. Jennifer literally has to hide her true face with magic, and it’s for a lot more reasons than her sense of beauty and vanity.
The above picture is not something she wants to see when she looks in the mirror. That is also not a face that she can show simply walking down the street. She no longer has the luxury of looking like herself, and in a society where people praise beauty as an achievement for women, it’s entirely understandable that she would also be self-conscious about her disfigurement on a more superficial level, as well as an emotional one.
Compare Jennifer’s reaction from her own attack to Lydia’s reaction when Jennifer tries to strangle her. Lydia develops a bruise on her neck from the string Jennifer used, but unlike Jennifer, Lydia doesn’t feel the need to hide the mark. Instead, she takes pride in it, because someone tried to strangle her and she survived the attack. But you also have to keep in mind that Lydia’s bruise will eventually heal, and she’ll be able to move on.
Jennifer will never be able to do that. Her face is stuck like that forever, and it is always going to serve as a reminder of being betrayed and losing everything and everyone she ever loved. Additionally, due to the attack, Jennifer had to change her identity legally as well. Her original name was Julia Baccari. While trapped with Derek in an elevator, Jennifer starts talking to him about identity issues. She mentions that people who use aliases tend to take on names that are “subconsciously derivative” of their original names—such as sharing the same first initials—as a way to hold onto their identity. Obviously, Jennifer, like most people, is attached to her sense of self and her original identity, and it’s very clear that her loss of self has only added to her trauma and prevented her from moving on.
Because of this, I find Jennifer a very interesting character, and that’s why it’s so sad that she died before she could find herself, while characters like Deucalion and Gerard were allowed to live. It’s also why I’ve grown to greatly dislike the Sterek ship and its hardcore shippers over this past year. While there are plenty of Sterek shippers who do not engage in the attacks against Jennifer, there’s still plenty of hatred going around. Many of these accusations are upsetting, because a lot of them do seem to come about from Jennifer being a woman getting in the way of a fan-beloved, albeit non-canon queer relationship. However, accusations of vanity are also incredibly upsetting because they can easily become victim-blaming.
As I said, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be beautiful, but Jennifer doesn’t even want that. She just wants to be herself, and people have responded to her trauma by writing her off as being vain. It’s not vanity to want your own face. So often in these hate posts I find, people talk about what Derek needs in a relationship and how Jennifer will be bad for Derek. No one ever talks about what Jennifer needs. Like Derek, Jennifer is broken by her past, and though Jennifer is both an antagonist and a murderer, Derek is also a reprehensible person, so there is no reason except misogyny why Derek should be pitied by fans for his hardships, while Jennifer is written off as someone who needs to die.