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MTV's Teen Wolf And The Treatment Of Female Characters

As the final season premieres, will Teen Wolf change their past of treating their girls badly?

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Via beautifulballad.org

As Teen Wolf's final episodes come closer, it's difficult to not wonder about whether or not the show will keep with tradition and brutalize, ignore, and then cast aside its female characters. The teen paranormal drama-comedy-horror genre bender has done few things better than it has done with making a close-knit fandom and then lending in it getting torn apart over their love of ships that may or may not have any basis in canon. Among other things the show has been good at, the way that it treats its female characters, as actual characters and not as something to be used for the pain and development of other characters or as romantic objects, has not been so great.

Via tvline.com

TV shows aim to make the viewers feel an emotional connection to their characters and the story. It's what keeps people watching the show because if someone doesn't care about what's going on with the characters, they're going to have no motivation to keep watching. When it comes to shows aimed at a younger audience, this emotional connection can also act as role models or teach lessons about life and, for some young viewers, can even act as something of a friend or safe place to go when the rest of their life isn't doing so great. MTV's Teen Wolf, a sort of spinoff of the 1985 movie, has some problems. Their ratings have been steadily dropping from around 2 million viewers per week to to less than a million people tuning in each week in their latest season. This sharp drop in viewers can be easily attributed to the fact that they've slowly been alienating their viewers and causing a major disconnect between the people who watch and the characters on the show. With a core audience made up mostly of female viewers, the way that the show treats the girls on the show is definitely a leading factor for the viewers feeling disconnected from the show, but some parts of the fandom are just as much to blame for their treatment as the writers.

It's hard for viewers to make an emotional connection with a show like Teen Wolf that has such a "swinging door" of actors - since the first season they've lost Gage Golightly (Erica), Tyler Hoechlin (Derek), Arden Cho (Kira), Sinqua Walls (Boyd), Crystal Reed (Allison), Daniel Sharman (Isaac), Colton Haynes (Jackson), among others with less central storylines and some of them have been pretty open about why they left: be it a role on another show, no longer feeling a connection to their character, or outright being screwed over by the network and the producers. Although the constant coming and going of characters and actors makes it hard for the writers to write rich characters with realistic interactions and a strong foundation for storylines, but that's no excuse for characters like Lydia Martin (played by Holland Roden) who have been there since season one to go from a shallow secret-genius to a banshee with questionable mythology, another part of the story that the writers have taken little to no care to really flesh out on the show, or characters like Kira Yukimura (Arden Cho) who are introduced in one season to make room for a (once again, messy) Japanese mythology plot and some more than slightly racist jokes and then stayed for two and a half seasons, only to be cast aside and edited out of episodes in the later seasons - something Cho has been vocal about on social media since her departure.

While there isn't a lack of male characters leaving the show, it's the females who have a more troubling exit record. In five seasons, the following characters have either died, mysteriously disappeared without explanation, or moved away: Kate, Victoria, Erica, Allison, Braeden, Marin, Cora, Jennifer, Kali, Heather, Caitlin, Emily, Talia, Corinne, Claudia, Meredith, Lorraine, Maddy, Danielle, Tracy, Paige, and Kira. For the boys, the show has lost Boyd, Derek, Aiden, Ethan, Danny, Jackson, Josh, Theo, Peter, Deucalion, Matt, Chris, Isaac, and Gerard. While the numbers seem almost comparable, only a few of the girls left alive while only a few of the males were killed and several of the male characters either come back and are off-and-on characters throughout the seasons or are mentioned again later, something that the girls don't get, as though they fade from existence immediately after dying. Of the four male characters who were actually killed and didn't just get sent to live somewhere else and get to come back later for grand reappearances that the social media team at Teen Wolf endlessly baits, ⅔ of them were either not white or not straight and the third was never specified.

Via fanpop.com

Season two saw the addition of a new pack: three young teens from Beacon Hills high school who were social outcasts were recruited by Derek Hale to be in his pack. One of them, Erica Reyes, was a girl who had PE with Stiles, Scott, Allison, and Lydia and who, in the first episode she was introduced in, was revealed to have epilepsy and had a seizure after climbing the rock wall.

Teen Wolf’s timeline isn’t very consistent and canon puts Derek anywhere between the ages of 25 and 40, although he’s played by Tyler Hoechlin who is in his late twenties. In flashbacks, he’s shown to be only a couple years younger than his uncle Peter, played by 39 year old Ian Bohen, and in one episode of season three he asks Peter what a laptop is, which Peter makes a joke about Derek’s age, implying that he’s on the older end of the possible spectrum. Meanwhile, the fandom pins Derek’s age to around 20 or 21, for their own shipping purposes. Although Derek has had three age appropriate female love interests over the course of the show and one younger teen who he seduced into a werewolf transformation, the majority of Derek’s fans choose to pair him with Stiles, a teenage boy with whom he has only spoken a few times and each time Derek or Stiles gets a new potential girlfriend, Sterek shippers act personally attacked and call the girl who has come to “ruin” their non-canonical ship misogynistic names and claim that the fandom and the creators (including the gay executive producer) are being homophobic.

Before Derek had any love interests his own shifting age, he had one that the fandom tends to forget about. After Erica, who says in one episode she’ll be 16 soon, is taken to the hospital in her debut episode, her gurney is wheeled to a private room by a mysterious person who sits her up and slides his hands up her legs. The episode shows her smile at one point when Derek is telling her about how he can make all her problems go away, but the original script made no attempt to dispel any creepiness in having her look around nervously and flinch when Derek reached up her hospital gown.

After her big transformation into a werewolf, she has one more debut: as the “hot” girl when she walks into the cafeteria in a mini skirt and what appears to be Derek’s shirt, eats an apple, and leaves. Her entire first appearance into the show is sexualized, from when the older alpha corners her in the hospital after reading her charts and seduces her into being turned into one as well to her return to the school, barely clothed in tight leather with everyone staring at her.

After that episode, she was clearly written in to be Stiles’ love interest, with her confessing to have a long-term crush on him and constantly seeking him out during their mission to find out who the kanima, a mythical lizard-creature, is.

Via teen-wolf-pack.wikia.com

Season three saw the show take a more serious turn and it also saw the death of who many people believed was the lead female: Allison Argent (Crystal Reed). After her death, Allison’s best friend on the show and the only real female bond that had remained throughout the three seasons, Lydia, took a backseat to the rest of the show. She spent a majority of season four alone in her family’s lakehouse trying to figure out a mystery that she was set off on by Scott (Tyler Posey). Even the next season, which producer Jeff Davis had promised would be Lydia’s season was mostly dominated by the male leads like Scott and Stiles (Dylan O’Brien), save for the first few minutes of the premiere that showed Lydia escaping from the local mental asylum, Eichen House, by beating up the guards and using her powers to get out before ultimately being dragged back inside.

The first few minutes of the show were posted on the show’s social media accounts as a promotion for the show and it was promising to fans that it meant Lydia would be central to the season and that it would finally give her focus on grieving for her dead best friend and ultimately make her something more than just the object of Stiles’ long-time crush or the banshee who alerts them to a dead body and disappears again. Unfortunately for hopeful fans, the rest of the season made Lydia a supporting role to Deputy Parrish’s investigations and, once again, glossed over any independent moments or feelings they could’ve explored for her. In fact, the only person who has said anything about Allison or who was given any time to grieve after her death wasn’t her best friend, but her ex boyfriend Scott, with whom she had been broken up and each of them dating someone else at the time she died. She died laying across his lap and her final words weren’t about what a strong person she had been - something that was intregral to her character while she was alive - or about the fact that she had been there to save Lydia, but that she was in love with Scott. And when it was time to write their initials on shelves in the library as part of a senior tradition, it was Scott who slowly wrote her initials down and then sadly walked away, not her best friend.

Although Allison’s death broke up the one female friendship that had been in the show since the pilot and served to give another male character reasons to be sad instead of ever letting her best friend say or feel anything about it, it wasn’t the first issue that Teen Wolf had with a girl on the show. But unlike Allison dying and Lydia being pushed out of the spotlight, this problem came from the fandom. Specifically, it came from a small section of the fandom that ships Sterek, or Stiles and Derek, and the fact that they felt threatened by a girl coming in to be Stiles’ love interest to the point of either just ignoring her or using her as a “best friend” in their fan fiction or abuse and, eventually, her leaving the show.

Via twitter.com

There are a staggering 72,469 works on Archive of Our Own under Teen Wolf for just the TV show, and of those Erica Reyes appears in 11,254. Of those, over 8,000 of them are the show’s dominating ship - Sterek (Stiles Stilinksi/Derek Hale) - with Erica as a side character. When it comes to the relationship that was clearly developing on the show, the tag for Stiles/Erica only has 281 works and even out of those, 135 are still Sterek. In fact, 271 of them feature Stiles in a relationship with someone else so out of 72 thousand Teen Wolf fanfictions, one of the betas who was a popular feature of season two shows up in just around 15% of them and only ten of those (roughly 0.0001% of the total fanfictions written by the fandom) feature Stiles and Erica in a relationship without also featuring him with another character, usually male, on the show.

Erica was killed off in season three in what seemed to many of her fans as a very last minute decision by the writers and, when you look at the scripts that she was mentioned in for that season, you can see that they were written, finished, and ready to go but then suddenly picked back up out of the blue on 5/7/13 and re-written. Since Erica’s departure, creator and executive producer Jeff Davis has admitted that he’s made two blatant re-writes of her by just taking pieces of what he had planned for Erica’s storyline and giving them to the two new girls: Cora Hale, Derek’s long lost sister who had supposedly died in a fire but was found in the same episode that Erica died and only lasted half a season before the actress left and Cora was never mentioned again, and Malia Hale/Tate, a werecoyote who was introduced a few episodes after Cora left and in her first real episode as a human, had a sex scene with Stiles.

Via tv.com

The first season set up one of the only long running popular het ships: Stydia. In the pilot, Stiles says something was the best thing to happen to Beacon Hills “since the birth of Lydia Martin” and expresses that he’s had a crush on her since third grade, which Lydia ignores and keeps walking. Their entire early relationship is him being infatuated with her while she largely ignores it or goes out with him to make her boyfriend, Jackson, jealous. In season one, after seeing the alpha werewolf at a video store, Lydia’s mother gives her a pill to relax her and for some reason puts her in skimpy lingerie, keeping with the awkwardly sexualized teenage girls the show’s foundation was built on, and then sends her to bed. Stiles comes to visit her to make sure she’s okay and see what she saw when Mrs. Martin, Lydia’s mother, leaves the two of them alone to talk. In a scene that fans went on to either ignore or purposefully remember wrong, Stiles looks at the pill bottle on Lydia’s dresser and then smirks, runs to check the hallway for her mom, and comes back to the bed where Lydia leans forward and is about to kiss and touch him when she calls him Jackson and passes back out, which ruins the moment for Stiles.

Stydia, as their ship name is called, found the scene hilarious and said that Stiles definitely wouldn’t have done anything with her and that he was sitting there awkwardly while she was all over him. It’s as though they believe that he was fine to just sit there with her and not try to stop her, until she called him the wrong name and took him out of his fantasy, and that it’s fine because he was passive and not really doing anything, it was all her fault that she was so out of it on the pills her mother gave her and was the one coming onto him.

Much of Lydia’s character, particularly in the first few seasons, relies on her sexuality for the fandom to like her outside of placing her up with a male character. In the beginning of season three, one of the first times Lydia is shown is in her bedroom, getting ready for school. The camera pans to the side and shows a half naked, attractive guy who appears to be at least a few years older than her sitting up in her bed while she gets dressed. He asks if they can go out on a date some time and she ignores his question to keep putting on makeup so he tries again and asks if they can at least have sex again, which makes her laugh and she tosses him his jacket and leaves.

At school, she tells her best friend Allison - who she had a rocky, sarcastic, catty friendship with for the first two seasons but somehow became closer to during the summer break between seasons two and three despite the two of them spending their vacations in different countries, most likely as a writer’s response to the fandom complaining that there weren’t solid female relationships in the first two seasons - that she doesn’t want another boyfriend and that she just needs a distraction from the fact that her ex, Jackson, moved to London and starts to eye the boys walking in through the doors, which Allison immediately reminds her are “fresh boys” because they’re younger than the two of them. Meanwhile, the fandom was excited about “positive sexuality” and ignored that not only was it only a coping mechanism so Lydia didn’t have to acknowledge what happened to her boyfriend, but Allison was supposed to be such a good friend to her and was slutshaming her for wanting to find a new guy.

Via rebloggy.com

Although the fandom likes to praise Allison and Lydia’s friendship and claim they’re there for the female/female relationships, it’s hard to believe that when episodes feature at most three scenes of two girls talking to each other without bringing up a male, and those scenes usually only last two or three lines before they mention a male, so they really don’t even count.

One of the three moments in the second episode of season three where two girls talk featured two characters who had never been mentioned or seen before and disappeared after the end of season three: Heather and Danielle.

Scott and Stiles are going to the birthday party of Heather, someone Stiles has been friends with since preschool when the scene cuts to Heather and her friend Danielle talking about Heather’s plan to lose her virginity. They speak for about three lines and then Danielle asks if she has a “target” after Heather expresses that she doesn’t care about the sentiment behind a first time or how messy or painful it can be and Heather ignores her to run up to Stiles and kiss him before he can respond. She then drags him downstairs and starts kissing him and pushing him up against a wine rack. While Stiles is talking about how when they were kids, they went down there to play, Heather is undoing his belt and stepping out of her shoes.

Although it’s nice to see a show with less Puritan values where, in two episodes, there are two girls who are comfortable about their sexuality and don’t feel shameful or like they have to play coy when going after a guy that they want, this was the first and only time Heather was ever seen because when Stiles runs up the stairs to get a condom, Heather is taken as part of a brutal sacrifice. On top of being a victim of Teen Wolf’s habitual sexualization of teenage girls, she also fell victim to their habit of taking a girl and brutally killing her off, only to further their plot and maybe mention her one more time.

On a show that’s main audience is females, particularly younger ones, having this treatment of its female characters is unacceptable. MTV should not be promoting the idea that girls are only there to wear short skirts, sleep with guys, be killed, or be there solely to replace the last girl who died. The show should be teaching better messages to its young fans instead of making the girls sexual objects, props, and disposable characters that can be killed off for the bigger storyline of the season and just tossed out and never mentioned again while the males are propped up and the center of everything, even simply leaving instead of dying so they have the option to come back if they choose to.

And the fandom should stop accepting this by either making a girl’s entire worth her relationship with their favorite male character or by forgetting about the girls who died or ignoring them altogether to push together two male characters with no basis for a relationship, especially when it means that they’re neglecting the canon female written to be a love interest for one of them who they write of as a slut or a homophobic slap in the face from the showrunners.

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