No, The Fall is Not Just Classy Misogyny

The Fall

Last Sunday, Observer columnist Rachel Cooke took The Fall to task over her belief that the show was little more than the fetishization of violence against women. She noted the camera tends to linger for too long on Gillian Anderson’s body in scenes where the show’s central figure (a hard-nosed female detective in a very male-dominated sphere) is just, say, having a shower or catching a work nap. And that the lead villain, played by Jamie Dornan, is a little too handsome, charming and good with children — leaving the show’s audience confused. How can they hate him, even when he’s brutally strangling women? Her argument is that critics overlook the show’s sexist overtones because it has great writing, acting and cinematography — but that ultimately the show is a celebration of the exploitation, rape and murder of women.

Allow me to disagree.

The show is absolutely attempting a “shades of grey” aspect with Dornan’s character, Paul Spector, which could be misconstrued as condoning or glorifying his actions. After all, when he’s not stalking and murdering women, does seem like a fairly nice guy. He’s a loving father and husband, works as a bereavement counselor and even (confusingly) defends a woman whose husband appears to be abusing her. But it’s a mistake to argue that we’re meant to like him because of this, or excuse his murders because — gosh darnit — he sure is good with his kids. Instead, it seems all the more sinister that he can carry on a normal life while harboring an abhorrent compulsion. Instead, I feel that the show forces us to wonder how many seemingly normal people walk around with dark secrets. And Dornan’s attractiveness feeds into that — how could this guy (played by a former underwear model) really be evil?

As for the focus on Gillian Anderson’s sexuality, the show presents us with a much more complicated set of circumstances than Cooke gives it credit for. In the first series, Anderson’s character, Stella Gibson, sleeps with a police officer that she picks up at a crime scene and it’s only after that officer is killed in the line of duty that she discovers he’s married with children. Gibson, who hardly knew his name, let alone the fact that he was married, is the censured and questioned by her boss about the inappropriate relationship and essentially blamed for the distress she’s now caused his already grieving wife. In something of a soap opera moment, she reminds said boss that he too slept with her while he was married — and wonders, to the audience, more than to him, why it seems like she is forced to shoulder the responsibility for men’s infidelity. The second series continues that story line, in which Gibson is publicly outed as a home-wrecker in the press and is forced to dress primly and lie low to avoid further embarrassment. Is this a simple exploitation of a female character, or is it a nuanced and progressive look at the way we still view women and sexuality?

Meanwhile, most of the killer’s victims are women that he finds in bars or on dating websites — women who all fit particular aesthetic (dark hair, pale skin, big eyes), but particularly those he seems to view as “fallen” or ruined. And indeed the focus of the murder and the rituals he performs afterwards seem to be an attempt to purify his victims in death. It’s a pattern that Anderson’s character recognizes. In order to make sure that the media continues to view the victims as victims — rather than women who were “asking for it” — she asks that the other officers working the case not release information about the women’s sex lives to the press. It’s a theme that runs through the show: women comfortable with their sexuality are demonized, even while men are committing far more egregious crimes. Isn’t the show asking us to question why a single woman sleeping with a man she doesn’t know that well is somehow on par with a man stalking and murdering and posing women because he views them as despoiled?

These are not moments that a misogynistic show would delve into — and it’s at this point where I wonder if Cooke is mistaking the show’s exploration of sexism for sexism in and of itself. Because that is the real purpose of the show, from my perspective — it is an examination of the way we view certain victims as less innocent than others. That we are often willing to excuse the behavior of attractive or seemingly nice men but we won’t extend that courtesy to attractive or seemingly nice women — particularly if they enjoy sex. To dismiss these moments of real introspection and investigation into our attitudes about women because Jamie Dornan’s got a nice ass or because Gillian Anderson wears a silk nightie is to misunderstand the show entirely.

So no, The Fall is not misogynistic. But I dare say that Cooke’s article may have been.

3 thoughts on “No, The Fall is Not Just Classy Misogyny

  1. Very well said. That article was unbelievable in it’s conclusions. I hope it’s because she had indeed just watched one or two episodes and not because she couldn’t see the meaning behind every scene and every action, but I doubt it. I mean, for God’s sake, how can you watch Spector be the creepy bastard he is and not have your hair on edge every single time he interacts with his children?! I’m constantly disgusted by him! And the more I see the show, the more I get it.

    This guy is manipulative in everything he does. Stella has him analized just fine from the beginning. He acts as though he cares, he acts as though he is a good father, he acts in every aspect of his life. How can you think that a good father hides his sick fantasies over his daughter’s bed?! How creepy is that? He manipulates his daughter, his wife, every woman he meets. He even manipulated that woman in season 1, who was being abused by her husband, into going to the police just so he could get back at the man, so he could feel better for himself, so he could show off his power over people. He is disgusting in every way, how can people not see this?

    And please, please, don’t get me into talking about how some people perceive Stella. They are confused by a “good” father who is a serial killer and see good in him, but they perceive the most honorable character in the whole show as an example of sexualisation of women. Stella is the best human being in this show. She comes to everything with no prejudice, non judgemental but observing, seeing every little thing that shows how men perceive women. No one comments her sound deductions, her kind nature, her calmness in the face of a challenge, her professionalism and understanding, her excellent education, her ethics and values. They see casual sex and lace bras. What more can I say. Who is the misogynist here? The creator of such a character, or the critic?

    I hate this society with every fiber of my being every time I read those things. It’s engraved so deeply in our skin, this image of how a woman should be, that we can’t see women as people. We have to put them in boxes, categorize, find flaws the way we play connect the dots. We create stereotypes in them ourselves. Women do this to themselves. Sorry for the long post, and thank you for this article, because really, things like that sadden me.

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