Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been getting a lot of mixed reviews. There are people who love it, but there are also plenty of people out there who find that the show is not up to their standards, including people on this blog. Despite Stinekey’s very well-articulated opinion on the matter, I am actually in love with the show and the characters. That said, I’m not going to delude myself into thinking Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is perfect. It has numerous problems; for one thing, just about all of its antagonists are people of color.
However, this post is not about whether or not it is a good show. But there is one argument against Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that always crops up, and I do take issue with that. It didn’t take long after the show first aired for the hatred and bashing of the character Skye to commence, and though I don’t mind that some people find her character bland and unrelatable, I feel as if some of this dislike for her is based on her gender.
Fans do not have a wonderful track record when it comes to female characters. Female characters are held up to impossible standards—they have to be perfect, but not too perfect; they have to be selfless, but not too selfless, or they’re unrealistic; they have to be pretty, but not aware of their beauty; they have to be in a relationship, but if they act on their sexual desires, they’re sluts; etc. The list never ends. There’s always something that a female character is supposedly doing wrong.
I wouldn’t mind the complaints about Skye, but I’ve heard them all before, in reference to other female characters who are nothing like her, and this leads me to believe that sexism and misogyny are the true culprit behind most of the hate she receives.
Hacker girl shows some promise, but she’s too pretty, it irritates me. She also has too much make-up on. Her hair is too perfect and her clothes too artfully hipster. She’s just too Mary-Sue-esque with her fiery temperament, her mad ninja internet skills, her vague morals, her earnestness and blah blah blah. Until she stops being so disgustingly perfect she will irritate me. (x)
Though I will concede that there are decent and thought-provoking arguments against Skye, too many of them look like the one above. And they don’t even make a lot of sense. She has vague morals, but she’s too perfect. She wears makeup and is pretty; well, that’s a crime worthy of extreme hate right there, amirite? I mean, I wasn’t aware that being both good-looking and a hacker were mutually exclusive.
Additionally, she also gets a lot of hate for wanting to know about her past and not appreciating S.H.I.E.L.D. keeping secrets about her own life from her. And apparently, in the episode “The Hub”, it was also wrong of her to be concerned for her other team members who were sent on a top-secret and incredibly dangerous mission.
Back at plane, Skye is still being pissy about not being allowed to know what is happening with the mission because she’s not a Level Seven, so she’s taking potshots at May, who is. I can never tell if Skye is supposed to be likable when she does this or not. Is it supposed to be some sort of tenacious dog with bone thing that she keeps pushing everyone to just let her do what she wants even though when they do that she gives their data to the Rising Tide? It doesn’t come across as anything but whiny and weirdly entitled. Why not let Skye skip any sort of training or safety measures? She’s Skye! Don’t you people know who she is? She needs answers! She’s going to get them! Seriously, we kind of hate her a lot right now. (x)
But at the end of the day, Skye can’t seem to win any favors with the fans. If she’s not being too selfish, she’s being too nice.
She even tells a religious Christian that she herself doesn’t believe, then lectures the poor girl on a better version of God to believe in. No wonder Coulson thinks she’ll be the best agent ever! (x)
I personally wouldn’t describe what she does in “Repairs” as giving a lecture, as opposed to providing comfort. Is it really such a crime for a non-religious character to both understand religion and empathize with someone who worships? The advice Skye gives is actually really good and probably what the woman in question needed to hear. Yet, this scene is counted against Skye.
This is hardly the first time I’ve been disappointed by fan reception of female characters. The #killallison trend from Teen Wolf is one of the first things that comes to mind. This sort of dislike appears in just about every facet of fandom, and especially in fanfiction, which is why it’s all the more sad that I see it happening in regards to canon.
I shouldn’t be surprised, though. There seems to be at least one female character in the more popular stories that fans latch onto with a burning fiery hatred. One of the reasons I stopped reading fanfiction for Kingdom Hearts was because I couldn’t stand the treatment of Kairi’s character. There is even a Kairi hate club where the fans have complied a list of reasons to despise her character, ranging from her liking time alone to herself to “obviously” existing to get in the way of Sora’s and Riku’s love for each other. There’s even an anthem for the dislike:
I pledge allegiance to the hate
of the Kindom Hearts character, Kairi.
and to the HC for which it stands
One underdeveloped bitch character
With SoNami pairings for all!
It was not until reading this anthem a second time through that I realized just how fucking offensive it was.
This kind of dislike for characters like Skye, Kairi, Cho Chang, Sansa Stark, every female character ever, happens way too often. There is literally no possible way to win. And this dislike seems to stem entirely from the characters being female. I think it’s possible to hate a character who happens to be female, and I think it’s possible that sometimes there is just bad writing, without being misogynistic, but when the reasons presented behind not liking a character start with that character’s makeup, I do question whether or not sexism is involved.
It’s hard to say where this kind of dislike comes from. Often times, this hatred is perpetuated by other women, as if we females should constantly be warring with each other. Women in general aren’t usually represented in media, and when we are represented, it’s not always in a positive light. We’re painted as being bitchy and catty for things that male characters are praised for. As such, we treat our female characters as needing to prove their worth or humanity, while we just hand male characters allowances and excuses. Think about how often people make excuses for someone like Derek Hale or like Loki, a character who actually attempted genocide and mass-murdered a bunch of people.
Go to fanfiction.net and you will find countless Loki-redemption stories. I love Loki as much as anyone else, and redemption is not a bad thing; it’s actually quite good, but you may notice that that allowance for redemption seems to be a male privilege. This is not something extended to female villains. A while back, I wrote a post about Jennifer Blake from Teen Wolf and talked about her identity issues. I had a whole bunch of people on Tumblr call me out for being disgusting, because OMG, she’s a murderer. I didn’t even want excuses made for her actions. But I did question why characters like Derek Hale, Deucalion, or even Peter, get a free pass when she doesn’t.
And when we look at characters like Skye, we can see that this treatment isn’t just limited to female villains—it applies to pretty much every female character. Maybe Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could do a better job with Skye, since there’s always going to be room for improvement. But oftentimes, it seems as though Skye is guilty of nothing more than being a prominent, original female character in a popular show. She should have a mysterious past, she should have unusual skills, as is normal in the Marvel Universe, and she should have flaws and strengths. She should not be called “whiny” or “annoying” because she wants to find out about her past, information she should be entitled to, that she shouldn’t have to work for, that S.H.I.E.L.D has no right to keep from her. This is something that affects her life directly, something that ensured she was never adopted, that she had to keep jumping from foster family to foster family.
A character like Loki finds out he’s adopted, and emotional abuse by Odin aside, he grew up in luxury—yet people still make excuses for him and talk about his pain and suffering and what he needed, and yes, he was also entitled to the truth. On the other hand, someone like Skye, who was also denied information she deserved to know, and was, from her perspective, fucked over for her entire life by S.H.I.E.L.D., gets called a terrible person for prioritizing her own history.
Yeah, this is something that I take a lot of issue with and will probably continue to take issue with in the future. Her makeup, physical appearance, etc., are not negative character traits. Her desire to help other people because she can empathize with them is not unnatural or over the top. And her wish to learn about her own past isn’t selfish. If you genuinely dislike Skye, that’s fine, but too many people hate her or other female characters for no reasons than their gender, and that is sexist.