While island life on Lost has hardly been a feminist utopia, it has provided fertile ground for an analysis of gender norms and hierarchies. Via traditionally masculine characters such as Jack, Sawyer, and Locke, as well as through the representation of various other ‘non-normative’ masculinities, the show suggests there are many ways to ‘be a man.’ More importantly, it has at times suggested that perhaps being human is more important than being a masculine man or a feminine woman. After all, when you are fighting for your life, ‘doing gender right’ is hardly at the top of you priority list. The show has certainly not been consistent with this motif though, and frequently lapses into tired, sexist love triangles, masculinized aggression fests, and save the poor little lady narratives.
Jack and Sawyer exude macho, hetero-masculinity (and annoyingly try to out-masculine each other in their love triangle with Kate), but their characters have nevertheless challenged the ‘stock male action hero stud’ type at various points throughout the show’s narrative arc. They are more fully fleshed out than many a male character (and no, I am not referring to the ubiquitously de-shirted Sawyer). They are shown to be emotional, complex, vulnerable, nurturing – neither, in short, hold entirely to the Rambo-man-in-jungle motif. In fact, Locke is the more Rambo-like character – a rugged individualist and would be patriarch. Yet, he does take a collective/communal approach to solving problems and does not try to become the alpha male Jack and Sawyer do. He is a strong leader, but not one who lords it over the other characters. He, like Kate, is decisive but not bossy, strong-minded yet not dictatorly.
Jack and Sawyer, on the other hand, fall into the traditional ‘good boy/bad boy’ dyad. One week Jack is the good and Sawyer bad, the next week it flips. Via these characters, we are prompted to consider differing versions of masculinity. Do we like the good boy Jack who rules out of (supposed) benevolence or the bad boy don’t-give-a-damn Sawyer who makes his (supposedly) selfish nature clear?
While the show keeps the gender hierarchy firmly in place form the most part (with masculinity being valued over femininity), it also suggests that this may not be a good thing for (island) society. Jack and Sawyer are shown as too rash and domineering, Ben is a downright creep-fest, and Locke puts himself first far too often. Kate would be a far better leader than any of these patriarchs. Yet, the show maddeningly lets her slip into stale feminine norms too often, which, I suspect, is due to non-feminist writers penning the script…
What are these writers thinking by marooning her OFF the island and putting her into one-dimensional mommy mode? Kate is hardly the type to drop everything in the name of motherhood, let alone your typical stranded and awaiting savior female. And for freak’s sake, could she stop taking so much crap from Jack and Sawyer? Sleep with ‘em as often as you like Kate, but keep your head on!
While Kate is back-tracking into the “problem that has no name” this season (re: Betty Friedan), Sun’s presence in season 5 could be hurtling towards a more feminist future. Unmoored from dad and husband, I am looking forward to where this season takes her.
Perhaps this season the show will break with the rather normative way it has presented gender thus far, with females being framed in relation to males and/or to their children (or desire for them). The season opener made this motif particularly clear. All the male characters were actively trying to save the island, save each other, and figure out the mystery while the females were either in save-the-kid mode or sidekick mode (Sun being the only exception).
The second show of the series was not much better. Penny was merely the loving helper to Desmond and Julia continued to play a secondary role in comparison to the ‘island saving’ males. The female sidekick to Faraday (I can’t remember her name, how telling is that???) was mere dressing to the narrative. Plus, she was infuriatingly depicted as going all gaga when Faraday declared his love. Yuck. And, while the ‘army’ was headed by a strong, gun-toting female, the real leader was (once again) male.
Thus far, all the time zones the island has travelled to have been hetero-normative, patriarchal, and cisgended. Maybe as the island is skipping through time, it will land in a feminist time-zone, one in which females and males equally share in the adventure and leadership, in which women too are the saviors, the important scientists, the visionaries. We need more than Kate and Sun and Julia – and more than the vision we are given now of mainly white hetero hyper-masculine males being the most valuable and valued island inhabitants. Perhaps they need to bring in Ilene Chaiken, Diablo Cody, Amy Sherman-Palladino, or Tina Fey to help pen a few episodes… What would Liz Lemon do on the island? How about Bette? What about Max (The L Word) or another non-cisgendered character/story-line?
(As a side note, Sawyer can keep his shirt off for all I care, but please avoid the lame meta-textual references reminding the hetero female audience they are being treated to a skin-show!)