Friday, May 3, 2019

When Abusive Women are Heroes

I've lately become hooked on the NBC show "Chicago P.D.", and during the past two months I've binge-watched six seasons of available episodes.  This is crazy for me, because I truly don't watch major network TV. At all.  But this show has been a pleasant surprise: great writing, great performances, grittiness without pandering to gratuitousness or smut - just good television.  Reportedly, real police advisers participate in all episodes to make sure the raids and shoot-outs look as amazingly realistic as they do. You all know me - I'm a sucker for action done well.

One character in the latter seasons, though, is keeping me up at night - and not in a good way. The character of Hailey Upton - a tough young cop who was meritously promoted to detective after a year on an undercover assignment (as opposed to by time on the job and/or conventional experience). She is the newest addition to the team.  Unfortunately she's also the most arrogant. The writers seem to have failed to give this decent actress the opportunity to flesh out a character - as I saw one astute fan online put it, she has three dimensions: angry, angrier, and bitchy.  And that's about it.  Is that what the writers think a strong woman looks like?

What disturbs me about the Upton character is two-fold:  I see a fan-base of millennial-age women cheering her as "ass-kicking", tough as nails, some sort of female hero icon; secondly, I see a societal trend toward some forms of abuse being acceptable by virtue of one's gender; like so many societal shifts, it is first illustrated in things like music and TV shows.

Hailey Upton, played by Tracy Spiridakos. 
Let me explain. This character is not a nice person. She's self-centered. She's rude. She's conceited. She is not a team player. Actually, she embodies a lot of the traits that we in the real world know would get us fired pretty fast.  I can hear the objections now: "But she's a Strong Woman!"  I would argue that she isn't that at all.  I think too many young women nowadays - as judging from their social behavior, the people they profess to admire, and the entertainment media they react to - think that excessive rudeness - particularly toward men - is being a "strong woman".  Call me old-fashioned, but I'm pretty sure that being a strong woman has something to do with things like self-control, generosity, compassion, humility and self-sacrifice, simple kindness.

But those traits are traits we traditionally think of as feminine. And because traditional forms of
feminine identity are now frowned upon, these traits aren't "cool" enough. That means that in place of things like self-sacrifice, compassion, empathy, self-control . . . young women have put aggression, intolerance (for anything they themselves deem not in keeping with their kick-ass view of things), controlling, self-aggrandizement, and impatience. They see a TV character who screams at men, "puts them in their place" (never mind that, as in the case of Hailey Upton, the men are usually just good men trying to do right in the world), and aggressively pushes her own agenda in peoples' faces, as the ideal woman.

Upton, no doubt bitching out Rusek (Patrick John Flueger) as usual. 
This is the most disturbing aspect of the Upton character:  the young male detective she is sleeping with - Adam Ruzek - bears the brunt of most of her abuse. She has zero patience with him, she reminds him of her superior rank, she insults him and his family members, she constantly browbeats and berates him at every turn. She displays no respect for him. The few moments she attempted to show any compassion for him were weak and nearly humorous, given her excessive bitchiness any other day of the week. A few episodes back, we have her pursuing him through the hallways, biting at his heels like a tenacious chihuahua, shrieking, "You're going to tell me what is going on RIGHT NOW!"  There just has to be a more mature, respectful way of communicating with a colleague than that.

The writers have not offered the male character so much as the opportunity to say to the little witch: "Look, your rank be damned, you speak to me like that again, this is OVER."  No.... he is simply expected to shake his head and take it.  Over and over and over.  I am angry about it as a fan, because it is so disrespectful to his character - who really would not take this. He's a gentleman - he'd give her the benefit of having a bad day the first time. But after that?

And this is my larger point:  Upton continues to perform what amounts to real emotional battering upon Ruzek, week after week.  And I guarantee, if we had a male character emotionally bash a female with whom he was sleeping, week after week - there would be a huge fan outcry.  He would not be seen as a "strong male".  He'd be seen as an abusive jerk.  And that is exactly what Hailey Upton is. But in the modern PC up-is-down  male-is-female wrong-is-right culture we are in, we can have a character abusing another and make a hero out of the abuser - just as long as the genders are arranged correctly. 

Dawson and Rusek, about to surprise some perps.
How have we come to a point where a woman who displays all the characteristics of a batterer, is a hero?  And that a man who is emotionally battered by her is expected to man up and take it?  This is progress? Seriously?  Again, call me old-fashioned, but abuse is abuse.  I don't enjoy watching it either way.  In my fan fantasy, I have Ruzek telling her off good and kicking her to the curb until she learns some manners.

Chicago P.D. is part of the NBC "Chicago One" series of shows, which also includes Chicago Med and Chicago Fire.  All three air Wednesday nights consecutively, with Chicago PD bringing up the finale. Chicago P.D. seasons 1-6 are all available on Amazon, and current episodes can be seen on HULU.  Visit Chicago P.D. on Twitter for episode updates, cast info, and more.