Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

Trigger warning: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

Since I finished Orphan Black, and I’m not allowed to watch The Wire without my husband, I’ve been looking for a new TV show to inhale watch on Netflix. Someone mentioned MI-5 was good and there are a lot of episodes so I thought I would give it a try.


I got to the second episode and it was WTF, hell, no time.

Meet Helen, a trained agent, who makes no attempt to save her own life.

Helen, a trained agent, makes no attempt to save her life.

Helen, a trained agent, makes no attempt to save her life.

Helen is admin, not a field agent, but at the beginning of episode 2 when she’s angling to get into the field, she very clearly states: I’ve taken all the trainings.  This could be a cool story line, right? The woman stuck in a gendered class of employment who longs for something else and believes she has what it takes to make it as a field agent. Wrong.

Helen is not the hero of her own story. She’s motivation-bait for her coworker, Steve (or something, I’ve blocked it out of my mind already). Steve is the hero, and Helen is here to make sure he goes down the proper path of fulfilling his mission, feeling a shit-ton of grief and making the right choice of taking the next step in his relationship with the woman in his life.

Presumably, training for British spies involves at the least self-defense, unarmed combat, weapons training, negotiation–actually I have no idea what training for real spies is like–but on TV it seems the men get training in all those areas. And Helen has taken all the trainings, remember? She said so. Her superiors allowed her into the field, so she must have taken them and done well.

But when her life is threatened, does she do any more than gasp and look blondly terrified? Why, no, she doesn’t. Sure there’s a thug with a gun, but the mastermind criminal holding her–not very securely I might add–is threatening to put her hand in boiling oil (which eww, as a call out to the specifically gendered violence against women in areas of Asia, is disgusting).

Never mind that she’s got one hand completely free (the one you can’t see in the screenshot), her feet are untied and, oh yeah, he’s not holding her in a very secure way.

So what could our trained Helen do?

She could stomp those little black boots on his toes or instep and break them. I bet the pain would make him take notice, maybe even loosen his grip

She could kick his knees and do some serious damage because she’d be kicking against the joint. Knees aren’t meant to bend that way, but they will under pressure

She could head-but him, not my personal favorite, but she could break his nose

She’s also got that free hand. Maybe he has a gun on him. Maybe he has a knife. She could elbow him in the ribs and then slam her fist into his nose/temple/throat. She could gouge out his eyes, hook his nose or mouth and cause some distracting pain. Or my personal favorite (I am not a bloodthirsty person, but depictions of women on TV drive me to it. The writers had a CHOICE. They MADE THIS ONE. We don’t all get choices all the time. In real life, women are assaulted and killed without a chance to defend themselves, but this is NOT REAL LIFE.) Anyway, back to my personal favorite and the favorite of women everywhere: she could grab his testicles and twist/yank/squeeze his brains out.

Oh, wait, did I mention that he’s not holding her very securely? That arm is not around her throat. There is absolutely no reason that in terror for her life Helen could not turn into his hold so she’s facing him and make it a lot harder for him to dunk her in oil without dunking himself. And then she could attack him in any of the ways mentioned above but face to face, because, yanno, she’s a trained agent.

But no, she dies and poor Steve finally finds a negotiating point and manages to save himself…too late for Helen, who’s just another incapable, weak woman sacrificed on the TV altar of women are victims… to keep us real-life women victims too.

Try this at home. Well, don’t try it on your friends and loved ones. Find someplace that teaches women, specifically, self-defense, and then go beat the hell out of the padded attackers. It’s scary. It might give you an adrenaline headache. You might hurt your hands on the punching bag. You might have to be told 100 times how to punch correctly. Or, hell, you might have untapped skills as fighter. You might feel really good slamming all your aggressions out on a punching bag or a man in a head-to-toe padded suit. You might find you like hitting things. It’s made me feel a little better just to list all the ways Helen could have wrecked serious damage on the bad guy and been the hero of this episode.

(Also, MI-5? I wanted to give you credit for making the villains white supremacists, but the only character of color was totally sidelined and not able to be a hero in this narrative that I’d imagine directly affects him. Instead, we got white savior Steve.)

Maybe next time I’ll talk about a show that pleasantly surprised me.


Once Upon a Time

Luther, why do you fail me so?

Seeing is Understanding, and Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense, Blair MacGregor

The Narrative of Women in Fear and Pain, Kate Elliott

Somewhere out there is an excellent post by Julliet Marillier about self defense and women that I can’t find. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?