Is It Okay To Dislike Gwen If I Swear I Won’t Use Misogynistic Language?

Is It Okay To Dislike Gwen If I Swear I Won't Use Misogynistic Language?

Over at GeekFeminism there is a really great post about how hating on women characters isn’t cool, especially if you’re doing so using really misogynistic language. It’s definitely worth a read. As I was going through the post, I found myself cringing at the language and hatred on display. I mean, I have issues with Gwen, too, but dear Isis, people, must we make fun of the gap in her tooth?

Scrolling down the comment thread, I saw this from Lizabeth S. Tucker: “I also believe that the reason that a large number of female characters on television series are not liked is simply because they are badly written. I always hope for a strong female character, not necessarily perfect, but one who holds her own, who stays in character.”

Yes. Absolutely yes. And no where is more apparent than with Gwen Cooper. Let it be known up front that I do not usually like Gwen. I did not begin disliking her immediately, as many fans did, but over time. After watching my favorite Torchwood episodes over and over again, I discovered that the times I really wanted Gwen off the screen were the times she was in a room with a guy she was snogging or wanted to snog. She was fine in scenes with Jack until the horrendous moment when Torchwood decided that the two of them were inexplicably in love. Anything she did when Owen was around annoyed the hell out of me until they finally got over each other. And I am convinced that I hate Rhys only because we rarely see him not with Gwen, and thus everything is just horrible all around.

When Gwen is not in a scene with a man she fancies, suddenly all the things that I find annoying about her fall away and she becomes a character I can really like and root for. So what’s up with this? I suspect that it’s because many of Torchwood‘s male writers do not know how to write relationship and sexual tension stuff to save their lives. They do not know how to make a woman be in love or in lust without being insipid and ridiculous. Need more evidence for this hypothesis? Look 3 feet to the left where Toshiko is standing.

And, as always, I blame Chris Chibnall most of all.

So really, the problem here is not Gwen, it’s the writers. And I’ll just bet if you went through every episode of Torchwood that was written by a man (with the exception of Russell T. Davies), you will find the bad writing, characterization, and awkward, bullshit sexual stuff with Gwen and Tosh (though Tosh’s stuff was limited to Owen, mostly, and her badly written character we felt sorry for). If you look at the episodes written by women, I bet the better aspects of both Gwen and Tosh come to the fore, and we feel less sorry for the latter and/or more warm toward the former.

13 thoughts on “Is It Okay To Dislike Gwen If I Swear I Won’t Use Misogynistic Language?

  1. Hmmm. I dunno about the ‘episodes written by a woman are where she came out best’ thing.

    ‘Meat’ for example, was written by a woman, and Gwen’s at her absolute worst in that one. ‘Ghost Machine’ was also a female writer.

    I actually prefer Chibnall to RTD. A lot. RTD can’t come up with an original plot to save his life, and when he does we wind up with the S4 finale – don’t even get me started on EoT or the terrible, terrible Bad Science and Plot Holes of CoE.

    Chibnall actually used characters as characters, not as accessories for his Special Snowflakes.

  2. It’s annoying how easily criticism of female characters descends into such awful language that you end up defending those characters even if you don’t yourself like them…

    I call this the Twilight paradox :D I now spend most of my discussion time concerning Twilight defending women’s right to like it, even though I personally don’t, because the feminist, pro-female Twilight-haters are such a minority compared to the “see how stupid large groups of women are when they agree on liking stupid things” Twilight-haters.

    I do think that the most positive thing we can to in these instances is to be wary of criticising female characters in such a way as to blame THEM rather than, as you say, the writers. It’s a habit that I believe people slip into too often with TV shows, and especially when the characters are female.

    I always wanted to like Gwen more than I actually did. Looking over the episodes I find it interesting that RTD (who doesn’t have a great rep for his female characters, sometimes deservedly so, sometimes definitely not) writes the version of Gwen I find most likeable. I really enjoyed her most in the first ever ep and in Children of Earth. The rest of the time it was hit of miss, though I’ve never gone to check which episodes are the best/worst and who the corresponding writers are.

    1. Every character on Torchwood is better written when RTD does it. I’m convinced that this is because he mistakenly let Chris Chibnall run things, and Chris had very different ideas about who these people were than Russell did. I think the Jack we see is very much the Jack RTD wanted, but I somehow don’t think he meant for Toshiko to turn into a needy Asian stereotype or for Gwen to devolve into the mess she mostly was in the series. As you said, in that first episode of CoE she was amazing, and I pretty much held on to my like of her through that whole series.

      The biggest thing Chibnall did to earn my eternal ire was the way he characterized Owen. It seemed clear to me that Owen was meant to be a huge tosser since RTD has him essentially raping people in the pilot and all. But under Chibnall’s guidance, he actually scores far more tail than anybody on the show. There are three problems with that:

      1. Owen is not nearly attractive enough or even charismatic enough to warrant the amount of ladies throwing themselves at his penis.

      2. Who in their right mind would throw themselves in his way when Jack is standing right there? Or, for that matter: Ianto.

      3. I don’t believe that there is enough low self-esteem in the world to account for someone being attracted to someone who is so genuinely terrible and lacking in personality.

      I think there was some Gary Stu-ism involved.

  3. I hated almost everything about Children of Earth, but I actually loved Gwen in quite a bit of it, as compared to how I usually respond to her. I think because she gets to actually do stuff. (I’m fuzzy on the details, though, because I have refused to watch it a second time).

  4. …wait. People hate on River Song? Well. I’ll be striking them off the Christmas card list, then.

  5. I do not like the way the character of Gwen was written, she was always doing things that were at best ill advised (at worst dangerous) and was never reprimanded like she should have been. However, my dislike for her isn’t dependent on her being near certain male characters, it is because she has done so many unlikable things.

  6. I find it helps to treat some TV and comic writers like unreliable narrators. That’s not really what the characters (male and female) are like, it’s just how the narrator (the usually male nerd writer) sees them.

  7. Aw, how can you not love a man who plays the drums on his naked butt? Rhys is a nice jolt of normal in the weirdness of Torchwood.

    (I never disliked Gwen particularly; in fact, I liked her, not least because I can’t imagine a protagonist in an American production with such a gap between her teeth. Every time I look at her, I’m reminded of the Wife of Bath from Chaucer.)

    1. Jorja Fox has a similar gap, though I don’t think Sara Sidle had/has nearly as big a role on CSI as Gwen’s in Torchwood!

  8. can we dislike her characterization instead of her. hating her implies its her fault. Hating her characterization puts the blame precisly where it should be, on the writers.

  9. Excellent post, both yours and the GeekFeminism one. It really sums up why I’m tired of the hating on Rose Tyler as well; it so often ends up in misogyny and classism. I mean, yeah, the Doctor’s whinging manpain regarding her makes dislike deserved, but it isn’t the character’s own fault, it’s the writers’ and showrunners’ issues.

    Naturally, this is not even remotely just a DW/TW/SJA problem, though Chris Chibnall IS one of the reasons why we can’t have nice things.

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