In Defense of Skye from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

marvels_agents_of_shield_-_the_asset_20130926_1771055870Agents 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.

(x)

(x)

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 Chloe Bennet, Agents of SHIELD.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.

She was also joking when she said that.

She was also joking when she said that.

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.

Let’s not forget that he also carved out someone’s eye. But he’s just misunderstood.

Let’s not forget that he also carved out someone’s eye. But he’s just misunderstood.

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.

20 thoughts on “In Defense of Skye from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

  1. I don’t like Skye for a very specific reason. She was always kind of wishy washy, but I figured they would get to something (although she did get a special snowflake 084 backstory, which… what?). In Episode 9, with Hannah the religious woman who is being “haunted” Skye shoots her mouth off about Agent May the entire episode. The ENTIRE EPISODE. And about what exactly? That May isn’t “nice.” Really, so those times she saved you, helped you save Ward episode 7 wasn’t “nice” enough for you? When she confronted her past in episode 8 so that Ward didn’t have to pick up the Berserker staff again, that wasn’t “nice”? And it’s just bad characterization, Skye’s supposed to have grown up with no family, thinking no one cared about her but she doesn’t know that not everyone has to be NICE to her? huh. And the fact that she decided to have this pissing contest with another female and that I think we’re supposed to want them completing for a love interest… ergh.
    There’s this whole part where Coulson says that May used to be a lot like Skye. And Skye surmises that is why Coulson keeps May around, to see if that person comes back- not because she’s an insanely smart and qualified agent? But because he loves May and wants her to be like Skye? WOW
    So basically that episode made me dislike her. And while mostly I don’t have a need to bash her at length, they haven’t done very much to make up for that.

    • Belated response, but I think that had to do with May sleeping with Ward, since Skye acknowledges that she’s aware they’re sleeping together much later in the season. Certainly showed that Skye is flawed. Admittedly, I found it interesting that Coulson admits in that episode that it’s Skye’s similarities to May that come across to him, since it gives some motivation for why Coulson brings Skye into his moiety crew, since he’s also motivated to help May (and Skye seems to realize she was wrong about May after Coulson’s conversation with her since she does a 180 at the end of the episode after realizing that she’s wrong about May).

  2. I can’t stand Skye, but it’s not because she’s a girl. It’s because every single thing she does is annoying. It’s not that she complains or is too nice… It’s that when she complains she’s annoying, and when she’s nice she’s annoying, and when she does EVERYTHING ELSE she’s annoying. I also find both Fitz and Simmons insufferable. Maybe I just don’t like characters who come off so young, but I feel justified in that people are always saying how great they are in-show.

    • Is there anything she could do that you wouldn’t find annoying? It doesn’t sound like it. If it’s not how she behaves that bothers you but who she is, and who she is is female, then…I’m not saying it’s definitely sexism, she’s obviously not just a woman, but given the atmosphere of misogyny we’re all mired in, we have to acknowledge the possibility. Sexism isn’t always obvious at first glance and experience tells me that vague, slippery complaints like annoyance and being “rubbed the wrong way” often have some kind of prejudice at their root.

      • The gist of my comment was that maybe I don’t like her youth, rather than her femaleness. There are things she does that are fine. I completely understand her motivation to find her parents, for instance, and she’s proven she can be smart in a pinch, like in the second episode with the inflatable raft thing. There were glimmers of a capable spy in the first few episodes too, when she kept flipping back and forth between allegiances and the audience wasn’t sure what was real. That was interesting, when it seemed like she was really in control of herself, and I even liked the reveal of the parents angle (even though usually the reveal of a character’s mysteriousness makes it boring). I also thought her religious advice scene thing was really sweet, I never thought of it the way it was described in the article as sanctimonious or whatever.

        But her personality annoys me. Her whining is annoying and her entitlement is annoying and her smugness is annoying and the fact that she’s sooooo great at “the internet” and that everybody is super besties with her for no reason. Some people are just annoying, in real life as well as television. Again, maybe it’s about her acting like a teenager, or it’s the writing. I have issues with a lot of the writing in general, so a lot of my issues may not be “her fault.” I feel like all the characterization is pretty shaky and disjointed for all the characters, and like I said, I don’t like Fitz and Simmons either. With them it’s less “personal,” it’s more of a complaint against the writing because I think they’re too cutesy to take seriously on a show like this. Skye just gets the most attention/complaints because she’s central to so many episodes.

        The short answer is I was being hyperbolic earlier, not every single thing she does is annoying.

  3. I’m glad you wrote this because a lot of her traits that people find “annoying” can be applied to Harry Potter or Tony Stark. I’ve grown to like Skye as the heart of the team. She’s more emotional, and I think that’s necessary to connect us to the characters (most of whom have learned to repress their feelings). I do have some issues with her characterization, but I feel like that’s more the fault of the writers not portraying things correctly. For example, when she revealed that she’s been looking for her parents, it felt like she was using a sob story to get Coulson to forgive her. There could have been a better way for her secret to come out. I don’t get why everybody is attacking Skye for being too pretty. Everybody in Coulson’s team is good-looking.

    • 1.) Even when Skye’s in the wrong we’re meant to support her. She asks for help with her family while they’re in the middle of a threat. She’s upset that Ward hasn’t forgiven her after a few weeks when what she did takes longer to heal.

      2.) Her “flaws” are meant to be endearing

  4. First of all: I was quite looking forward to your opinion on Skye and her developing character, and I’m glad this post is up! 🙂 When I first started watching the show I found Skye annoying–not because of her presence as a character and how supposedly perfect she was but because of the way she acted. Yet given the way her character grew and the way she stepped up and how we were presented with her personal reasons for attempting to infiltrate SHIELD, I wonder how I ever disliked her. Well, your post logically defended Skye in a better way than I ever could, so kudos! 😀
    The only place I wasn’t sure of was the moment when Coulson finally tells her what he found out about her past and expresses admiration at the way she handled the news because she didn’t react negatively (or something like that) because it felt like Skye was being written as conveniently perfect, so that there wouldn’t be extra drama; yet then again I’m sure that had she lashed out or got depressed people would find something wrong with that as well, so I’m just appreciating the good stuff about this show and about Skye as well.

  5. The issue with Skye and her too perfect hair and makeup and clothes stems not from her gender but more from the fact that she was supposedly living in a van and those things just don’t go together. Also, a supposedly genius level hacker who knows so little about science seems a little weird. If it turns out that she’s some superpowered alien or mutant then maybe all the things that don’t make sense about her character will be explained.

    • Living in a van doesn’t necessarily mean that getting dressed and putting on makeup is impossible; for a real world example, my ex slept in her parents’ closet for a period of time and spent about three hours getting ready (and we see one fictional scenario in Mr. Robot with a hacker who apparently has no home at all – Darlene). Also, being a hacker doesn’t mean you’re adept at science, so I don’t see why you’d assume there’s a correlation between the two.

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  7. Skye is actually my second favorite character of the show, right after Coulson, and I think the dislike towards her is unfair considering what fans will accept from male characters. Everyone has the right to there opinion though. I think she has a lot of wonderful qualities, Chloe Bennet is the cutest thing ever and brings so much charm to the role, and I’m just gonna keep loving Skye.

  8. “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.”

    I have to interject. How is this viewpoint not condescending? I mean, it’s flat-out saying that one POV is right and the other is wrong; that one is “good” and what the woman “needed to hear” and the other one is automatically wrong. It says that Skye understands religion and religious people don’t. Seems kind of narrow-minded and judgmental. Seems to impose a standard rather than letting people decide for themselves.

    No one is saying that the woman wasn’t overly blaming herself – but the point of that episode was that SHE wasn’t at fault, not that no one should blame themselves for things. Most viewers would say that Ford should blame himself plenty for what he did.

    • But they don’t realize Ford is actually responsible for the incident at the point in time that Skye is having the conversation about God, and I don’t see what’s condescending about Skye expressing that she was taught that God is about love rather than about retaliatory wrath.

  9. I actually really liked skye in season 1.. She was brash, direct, and straightforward, but she was also pretty inexperienced, and new , so her being headstrong worked in balance with her deep layers of vulnerability and compassion… This season is entirely different , i can’t stand her character now, and just want to choke her.. Now that she’s an agent, that was given not earned mind you, she’s still brash, and headstrong, but without the compassion and vulnerability , it comes off more as arrogance and cockiness, that gives the impression she’s more of a know it all, instead of confident .. She’s quick to override coulson, and may, despite them being leagues ahead of with experience, knowledge, and rank… It’s gotten to be extremely annoying, she’s lost that softer side that made her a complex character,, now she’s just a ballbuster..

  10. She is annoying. And she is a TERRIBLE actress. So, I blame half on her for being a bad actress, and half on the show for writing such a terrible character. Last night’s episode, I almost turned it off. When she is in the basement with May trying to control her rage, “I can’t! I can’t! I can’t!” Oh my god this is the laziest most worthless form of writing ever, and I hate it anytime this stupid trope pops up in a story. And her accelerated advance and training is SHIELD takes away from the skills everyone else has. She goes from living in a van to a martial arts and weapons master in one year? It makes everyone else on the team so much less impressive since learning that stuff is so easy in their world. She’s just a horribly written character, and now they are stuck with her. And more than likely, they will be obligated to put her into the Inhumans movie, which will ruin it.

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