Femininity in The Wire

I find it interesting that the Williams article spends pages describing the masculinity represented on The Wire without ever mentioning femininity or lack there of. While I understand that femininity is perhaps outside the scope of the article, I still think it deserves a mention. Perhaps this point was overlooked because, as the article failed to mention, The Wire portrays very little femininity and fails to create many complex female characters. While George writes of how rich the material is for the male characters, in my opinion, only Kima is well developed. While Kima is a fantastic character, she is the only female cop and she has a pretty masculine demeanor. Kima in many ways adapts to a male world and can not act as a feminine woman (as it turns out, when she does appear like a feminine woman, she gets shot in Season 1). The other female characters are mostly props and sexual objects for the men with some exceptions. In episode 2.4, I was surprised that Beadie’s life was getting fleshed out. Yet, as someone who never wanted to be a police officer and has no idea how to investigate a murder, she still feels like an outsider. While I agree that The Wire does a good job of representing masculinity and race, it creates a world with no legitimate femininity. Most of the women are outside of the operation and sexual objects. The Wire may expose the “bitches” and “hoes” mentality that the drug dealers have, but it does nothing to combat it. While I like certain parts of the show, I am troubled by the problematic portrayal of women.

8 responses to “Femininity in The Wire

  1. This an interesting point to bring up because it begs the question of why there are very few female characters. It could just be simply because David Simon found that police departments are mainly male dominated. It could also be that he was more familiar with the male character and was unable to represent female characters in the same way. It is difficult to make a case for why there are so few female characters, but I would agree that Kima is well represented.

  2. I think this is a good point of discussion to examine whether or not the world of crime, especially in Baltimore is hyper-masculine or not. Even as Simon expands his scope to the docks and city hall and even the education system, his focus is on the male experience. Female characters, especially Kima Greggs and Beadie Russell are accommodated to the masculine world of “The Wire” in their own characteristics, whether its Beadie’s naivete as a police officer, or Kima’s lesbianism. In Season 4, we are introduced to Snoop, one of drug dealer Marlo Stanfield’s lieutenants who also fits a role as masculinized female… Simon does introduce more female characters as the series is fleshed out, but they never occupy the focus of the narrative. Is Simon attempting to comment on the centrality of masculinity in the American city? I want to believe Simon has better intentions…

  3. This is a really interesting point. I wonder if the demographic of fans of The Wire is significantly more male than female.

    It is true that for whatever reason there are fewer female cops than male, and probably fewer women drug lords in real life. Since that’s what the show deals with, if it were to delve into female characters and other aspects of femininity in other realms, it could just be deviating too much from the premise of the show, valid as these endeavors could be. So is it a flaw? Do all works/stories/shows in general have to address issues of both genders equally, or is it okay to only focus on one?

  4. I think this is an issue that pervades most of Simon’s work thus far. It could be that because his interaction with women was limited while he was writing Homicide he has only the uber-masculine perspective. The strongest representation we get from him in regards to femininity is Fran from The Corner, who is still an extremely flawed woman (though she eventually becomes an inspiration). Even Melissa Leo didn’t have a female counterpart from Simon’s original Homicide; the femininity of her character had to be manufactured.

  5. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. I agree that The Wire fails to acknowledge women as equals in the series. Kima is a great character but why is it that she must adapt herself to the masculine world in order to be seen as an equal? Does Simon not want to comment on the lack of gender inequality in the police force? He might be making a statement by having few female characters that are not seen as objects to inform the viewer that the police force is a male dominated society. His work is a depiction of the realism in the police force in Baltimore.

  6. When you look at some other popular programming developed by auteurs, it does make you wander about Simon’s intention with female presence in his shows. Looking at a show like “Mad Men”, sexism and misogyny are dealt with openly without an agenda; it is looked at because it was commonplace and that’s how it was. Nonetheless, the three strongest females in the show: Joan Holloway, Betty Draper and Peggy Olson, all are fleshed out and given identities that are complete in comparison to their male counterparts. And even though each girl fits a stereotype (Joan=Marilyn Monroe, Betty=Grace Kelley, Peggy=Ann Marie) they bring a particular edge to their feminine definition. I feel like many of the women in “The Wire” are reduced to afterthoughts, or must command a male presence at the expense of being effeminate.

  7. The last episode where Kima is questioning her decision to be a mother is relevant to this argument because she is rejecting femininity in a very obvious way. On one hand she is rejecting traditional gender roles. On the other she is rejecting a more nuanced portrayal of a woman. Cheryl is far from a “typical” female character and Kima’s aversion brings gives her a more traditionally masculine role. Kima pushing Cheryl away pushes Cheryl away from the audience.

  8. I agree. Kima’s character is masculinized and represented devoid of femininity. The lack of varied female delineations is what pronounces Kima’s non-normative construction. The absence of varied femininity elucidations configures The Wire as a hegemonic text of masculinist orientation. Thus while it works to subvert institutional work of race and class it reinforces another paradigmatic subversion.