Big Little Lies Doesn't Need "Strong Women" To Be A Feminist Show

Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/HBO
When one thinks of TV's "strong women," one might consider Game of Thrones' Arya Stark, Scandal's Olivia Pope, or the ever-iconic Law & Order: SVU detective Olivia Benson. These women deserve the title: they are fearless, in charge, and better at what they do than any of the boys. (Or most people, for that matter) .TV's "tough girls" are easy to identify, and often their presence on a series gives the show a mark of feminist approval. (After all, isn't it easy to look the other way at the battered bodies of the women on SVU when Benson is their champion?)

Before you watch HBO's latest series Big Little Lies, you might want to know something: there is no Olivia Pope on this series. There are no crusaders for justice or badass swordswomen. Yet, Big Little Lies may be a more feminist offering than any of the previously mentioned programs.

Big Little Lies is about a group of exceedingly privileged people living in the ultra-wealthy coastal community that is Monterey, California. Specifically, it is about the mothers of that town: Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Renata (Laura Dern), and Jane (Shailene Woodley). The women of Monterey are deeply involved in the lives of their children, perhaps too much: Madeline and Renata wage war over a child's squabble. Madeline refuses to accept her ex-husband's young, pretty wife Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), and instead glares bitterly while mocking Bonnie's earthiness. Celeste's husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) hits her, and sometimes she thinks she's okay with it considering the hot sex that follows their arguments.

There are no crusaders for justice or badass swordswomen.

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When we think of "strong women," we think fighters — women who combat great odds. Madeline declares she tends to her grudges "like little pets" — she's not a crusader for justice, as she claims, but is simply a bored woman searching for some sort of purpose. Something to do.

A series that painted its women as bored, bitter, "bitchy" housewives could have been the opposite of what women need to see on television. Instead, Big Little Lies deep dives into the psyche of these women and reveals that they are more than their surface-level stereotypes. Yes, they are stay-at-home moms who care about status, nice cars, and trivial grudges, but they are also deeply human. They are flawed, messy, and capable of hurting as well as being hurt.

They are well-crafted, fully-realized characters — they just might not be our idols.

And why do they need to be? We need more women on television, not because we need more heroines, but because we need to see women as they actually are. The wife, the mother, the girlfriend — women can very well be those things, as long as those things aren't all they are. Big Little Lies lets us see women as persons worthy of sharing their story — even if the women in question aren't all that remarkable or extraordinary.

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