Friday morning I woke up feeling like I was going to vomit my face off. After a couple of pointless dry heaves into the toilet and a failed attempt to stick my finger in my mouth and just cough up whatever was making my stomach feel like an acid vat, I finally decided to just give it up and lay down in bed. Bed ridden and with nothing to do but burp and cover my mouth dramatically I decided to log on to Netflix and see if I could find anything good. As usual, nothing interested me. Except for one show that always came on my recommendations but I always rolled my eyes at, if only for the sheer ridiculousness of the poster.
I mean really, could you blame me? I hate bikers and it pretty much just looked like a show glorifying white trash and Harleys. But I knew that some of my friends, whose tastes I very much respect, love Sons of Anarchy and would constantly tell me to watch it. So I finally caved and clicked on the link. I was hooked within five minutes. I finished the first season that Friday and I’m currently working on finishing the fourth.
I really don’t know how to describe Sons of Anarchy, it’s not like any other show I’ve watched. To be brief, it follows the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original (or Samcro as it’s called by it’s members) as they struggle to keep their club in business. The front is an automotive shop, but the real money comes from illegal gun running. Samcro run the small Northern California town of Charming (the name says it all) keeping local police and the county sheriff’s department in their pocket. Samcro is philanthropic; they donate to local causes and keep drug dealing and crime out of Charming. They also hate Neo-Nazis which is always a plus. Not to mention that Charlie Hunnam is the hottest guy on television right now and his character, Jax Teller, son of a founding member and step son of its current president, has a healthy sex life and is often shot seminude, shirtless, or half smirking behind his blond conquistador beard.
But behind the initial draw of eye candy, immoral deluge, explosions, Harleys, and guns, exists something that has resonated with me much more than Charlie Hunnam’s bare ass: feminism.
You might not think that a show about burly bikers aptly called Sons of Anarchy would have such strong feminist leanings, but it actually does. Three women are at the forefront of the first three seasons of SOA and they are all complex, a little scary, but ultimately admirable.
Gemma is the club’s matriarch and Clay’s, the club’s president, “old lady.” Katey Sagal, the actress who plays Gemma is series creator Kurt Sutter’s wife and an interview she stated that Sutter wrote the role specifically for Sagal to showcase her acting ability, so maybe that explains why her character is so nuanced and great. Previously known for Married with Kids, and the voice of Lela on Futurama I really had no idea how on top of her game Katey Sagal is. As a woman, Gemma, isn’t allowed behind the closed doors of club meetings, but she is more involved in major decisions than most of the male members of the club. She is calculating and manipulative, always keeping herself one step ahead of her enemies. She’s tough- she carries a gun with a scratched off serial number in her purse and isn’t afraid to resort to violence to protect her family. But at the same time, she has her weaknesses, and these make her relatable. Born with a congenital heart defect, she has a thick scar down her chest from surgery as a youth. I don’t want to give anything away but her journey through the second and third season is heart breaking. I don’t get the feeling that the writers are doing the “breaking her down to build her up” trope so often found among female characters on television and movies, but they’re instead showing how a woman in her unique situation selflessly gives her everything to her family.
An ambitious ATF agent, Stahl is one of the craziest characters I have ever seen on television. She will do close to anything to advance her career and is absolutely ruthless in her manipulation. Stahl is a sociopath and rarely shows any type of human emotion. She’s also incredibly smart and is singlehandedly responsible for planting the seeds that eventually unravel and rupture SAMCRO. Ally Walker plays Stahl with fierceness and tenacity, as well as hint of crazy eyes. Stahl is also, in my opinion, the scariest character on SOA. Stahl’s character may be a bit extreme but I think she represents the complete opposite of Gemma. Where Gemma is selfless, Stahl is the portrait of selfishness. Stahl fucks over every person she has contact with, and I think she is perhaps representative of the ills of blind ambition and selfish work ethic.
Every piece of fiction that delves into a world not often explored needs a stable, somewhat normal character that viewers or readers can identify with. In The Great Gatsby, it was Nick, in Keeping Up With the Kardashians it’s Scott, and on Sons of Anarchy it’s Tara. Played by Maggie Siff, Tara is a brilliant surgeon and Jax’s love interest. She was Jax’s high school sweetheart but left Charming and a broken hearted Jax for med school and a brighter future. Tara isn’t an idiot, she knows that being with Jax involves having to operate on bullet ridden IRA members and cleaning up Jax’s bloody clothes. Tara slowly applies the lessons Gemma gives her to her own life, taking only what she can handle and feels comfortable with. Tara provides a moral fulcrum for the show and her chemistry with Jax is undeniable.
Often people think that in order for character to be feminist she needs to be unwaveringly strong and masculine, an idea that only serves to elevate masculinity as the ideal way to function in society. It’s a subtle implication that the traditionally feminine are inherently weak, and that as women we can never be legitimate in our strengths. Besides Gemma, Stahl, and Tara, the show features a porn studio with an adult actress turned producer Luann, and an adult actress Lyla. Lyla’s character is sympathetic. While she is on the receiving end of Tara’s prejudices they eventually come to a mutual respect. I was pleasantly surprised by many of the elements present in Sons of Anarchy, but nothing surprised me more than the portrayal of women.
And bonus: girls with guns.
I still hate bikers though.