As though she had wanted to prove Maureen Dowd’s point about the feminist thought police [see previous post], the Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert has taken out after Carrie Mathison, the lead character in the television series Homeland.
Gilbert makes the case against Carrie:
In her relatively short and extremely stormy tenure at the CIA, Carrie has slept with her boss (Estes) and broken up his marriage, seen one asset (Hasan) executed in Pakistan, lied to another (Lynne) that she was under CIA protective surveillance (after which Lynne was promptly assassinated), illegally spied on a returning Marine (Brody), slept with said Marine and given him information that helped him beat a polygraph, gotten another asset (al-Zahrani) killed by a briefcase bomb during a meet, gone rogue on the streets of Beirut, slept with Brody after she knew he was hatching terrorist plots against the U.S., gotten pregnant by Brody after she knew he helped assassinate the vice president, and then helped Brody escape after a bombing she failed to predict that ended up killing almost 200 people at Langley. And that's just the first two seasons.
Surely, it is correct to note that Carrie makes mistakes. But she does not just make mistakes. She is dedicated to her work and at times she does her job effectively.
Gilbert, however, dismisses the notion that Carrie has anything resembling competence:
Carrie's incompetence matters because her only saving grace as a character is the oft-repeated assertion that she's professionally extraordinary. …But she also embodies the ugliest stereotypes about women in the workplace: that they're hysterical, brittle, rude, entitled, inefficient, and governed by emotions rather than logic. Instead of earning her promotions, Carrie either fails her way up the CIA ladder (after practically everyone else is killed by the Langley car bomb) or threatens people into giving her what she wants. Her current position in Islamabad was achieved by blackmailing CIA chief Lockhart, although from her interaction with her new antagonist, John Redmond (Michael O'Keefe), we can deduce that most CIA agents in Pakistan think she got it thanks to services rendered—a myth she doesn't attempt to dispel.
Carrie Mathison is a fictional character. She is not a stereotype. She is not designed to prove or even to disprove a feminist point. Maureen Dowd might say that we should recognize that some incompetent women who have gotten their jobs for reasons other than their professional achievements. We might even elect one of them our next president.
Gilbert continues to make the case against Carrie:
The trope of smart, capable women constantly undermining their professional lives with their personal problems is especially pernicious when you consider that, for these characters, their professional lives are all they have (see Scandal's Olivia Pope and Katherine Heigl's character in the upcoming State of Affairs). Women in television are rarely allowed to be invested in both their careers and their families, even in 2014.
In truth, such women exist. Like it or not, some women sacrifice their personal lives to their professional success. And yes, it is easier for a man to engage himself fully in his job if he has a wife at home. And it is true that some women undermine their professional lives with their personal problems.
After all, women are human beings, too.
No work of art is obliged to portray women fulfilling the feminist dream.
For her part Gilbert believes that art must serve the culture. She means that art must to show that the feminist dream can come true.
In truth, this is propaganda, not art.
In her words:
As a culture, we need female antiheroes who aren't stereotypes: career women who don’t have to sacrifice their personal lives because they love what they do. We deserve complex characters who are difficult, problematic, occasionally cruel, and often brilliant, and whose defining quality isn't being either sociopathically detached or obsessively emotionally involved. Carrie—inefficient, erratic, egotistical, inconsiderate, unprofessional Carrie—who puts on her lipstick with totally steady hands after almost being killed, and grunts, "Well, you're pretty enough" to a pilot while aggressively watching a baseball game, is neither a superhero nor an antihero, but a once-intriguing character who's become a grotesque. "There's no diagnosis for what's wrong with you," her sister tells her. Hopefully, for the sake of the rest of the show, there’s a cure.
Gilbert is especially disturbed by the scenes in the first episode where Carrie returns to Washington to face the infant she abandoned.
They are gruesome and painful scenes. Certainly, the moment where Carrie nearly drowns her baby is awful to witness.
And yet, Carrie Mathison has put career ahead of motherhood. She is not a natural-born mother. She does not have anything resembling a maternal instinct.
Do you think that a woman can do everything in her power to function as a man in a man’s world and then go home to become a good mother?
Thankfully, precious few women would even contemplate drowning their babies. And yet, we recall Andrea Yates. It’s not as though it has never happened. And when it does happen media experts spend a considerable time trying to make sense out of it.
In addition, more than a few women, under the aegis of feminism, have chosen not to have children. Contemporary feminism is far more concerned with how not to have children than it is with how to have them. Feminists have long believed that motherhood would chain them to their homes and prevent them from finding true happiness in the workplace.
Since Carrie is not in any way constrained by her obligation to care for and to nurture her baby, she might have been a feminist heroine.
As for Carrie’s use of her womanhood in her work, let’s say that it’s a very interesting question.
Dowd suggests that art should invite us to think, so why not take up her challenge?
If a woman is completely consumed in an extremely important job, how much will she have left to nurture a child? And, how likely is it that she will find a man who is willing to stay at home and nurture a child?
If she is a single mother, who will care for her child while she is away from home?
If a woman decides to exercise a profession that is mostly done by men, will she not make use of her femininity to advance in her career? Is it right or wrong for her to do so?
If a woman decides that she should act like one of the boys, is it realistic to expect that no one will notice that she is a woman? Is it reasonable to assume that her being a woman will have no effect on her job performance?
When feminist dogma claims that a woman can do any job as well if not better than any man, ought we to accept this opinion without question?
What effect does her womanhood have on a work assignment in a culture that is notably hostile toward women? Did it matter that George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Iraq in 1989 was April Glaspie?
The feminist life plan tries to persuade women to delay childrearing. It does so by promising that they will still be able to have a home, a husband and children. Ought we not to question this idea?
Ironically, it’s a fictional character, one Carrie Mathison who seems to give the lie to the fictional heroine of feminist myth.