As you all may know, AMC’s critically acclaimed series, Breaking Bad, ended this past week. As fans everywhere mourn over the series’ end, we mull over some of our favorite moments, such as Jesse’s love of swearing, Flynn’s affinity for breakfast, or the multiple air times the BB audience got to witness Bryan Cranston in tighty-whities. And yet, there is one thing I will certainly not miss, and that is the insane amount of woman-hating criticism Anna Gunn’s character, Skyler White, received throughout the show’s airing. For those of you who don’t know (sheesh, how do you not know already?), Skyler is the wife of meth-kingpin, Walter White. [SPOILERS AHEAD!]
For the first couple of seasons, Skyler is oblivious to Walt’s illegal activities. She eventually finds out and, obviously concerned for the safety of her family, demands Walt stop.
Well, Walt doesn’t stop and an intense power-struggle ensues entailing separation, infidelity, surrender, reluctant cooperation, and, ultimately, a deterioration of character. Skyler White is an incredibly complex character. She may have some moral failings of her own, but it’d be a complete disservice to simply dismiss her as an “annoying, b*tch wife” who didn’t “deserve the great life she has.” Quotes from real-life internet people, don’t you love ‘em?
There seems to be a trend on television where female characters are persecuted for demonstrating their own agency in their relationships with other men. Walter White may have been the protagonist of BB, which is clearly going to lend him sympathy from viewers, but he is also a murderous, manipulative drug-lord. Somehow, and don’t ask me why, wanting to separate from your abusive husband and protect your family warrants people calling you a “b*tch.”
The term “b*tch” can be used in many different ways, but it is usually used to strip someone, most often a woman, of his or her authority. Skyler rose up to defend herself in the face of crazy unfavorable circumstances; she knew her husband was involved in dangerous, illegal activity and had very limited space to act in order to safely escape the situation without letting her family find out. Skyler is the only one to call Walt out on his lies, and because he does not leave his meth empire, she makes the first moves to distance her family from her manipulative husband. And yet, Skyler is reduced to a “nag,” a “shrieking, hypocritical harpy,” and a “b*tch.”
I know, Skyler, Internet haters get to me too.
Let’s also not forget that Walt sexually abused Skyler in the second season. The assault scene was brief and was pretty quickly forgotten, but yeah, it still happened. Let’s be clear: Skyler White is a victim. She is placed in an extremely difficult situation where she has very limited mobility. Skyler is subjected by her husband’s manipulation and forced to burden his secret. She does not have an outlet in which to release her tension or the ability to communicate with others. Throughout the series, we see Skyler fall in and out of depression, hysteria, and cigarette addiction, but she did not suffer silently; Skylar fought back despite her limitations. And yet, Skyler was still stripped away of her autonomy by being reduced to a single aspect of her character. Is that maybe telling of how we treat real-life assault survivors?
A common argument I’ve seen used against Skyler White is: “Well, why doesn’t she just leave Walt? Seems to me she’s livin’ the life riding the meth train!”
And to that, I’d like to respond: “Uh, because it’s that easy?” As if uprooting your life and ending a marriage with the man you raised two children with were easy, especially under these circumstances. People who hate Skyler either don’t like her because she won’t support her meth-kingpin husband or because she can’t find it within herself to leave him. Oh, the irony!
Skyler White is an incredibly multi-layered, complex character and yet, because she is a woman, she isn’t granted the same standards of analysis as her male counterpart. A lot of the criticism Skyler’s character received, as well as actor Anna Gunn, were not especially revealing of character flaws but of the flaws within people’s own perception of gender. Skyler White did not fit the mold of the archetypal woman, and thank God for that.
Quotes taken from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/24/opinion/i-have-a-character-issue.html?_r=0