I’m a simple woman. I don’t need too much encouragement to start watching a new TV show. So when I heard there was a Hulu original series coming out that features a purple-haired, teenage, Jewish feminist with a pet dinosaur, I decided to watch it. I’m so glad I did.
The show is Marvel’s Runaways. The basic premise is that six teenagers, who were previously friends but have drifted apart, come together once more only to discover that their parents’ charity group is actually a group of supervillains. They have to figure out what their parents are doing and how to stop it, while simultaneously learning more about themselves (both in the normal teenager way and in the superpowers way) while juggling their interpersonal relationships. The best part of the show is its ensemble cast made up of well defined, realistic, flawed, and interesting people. The character who initially drew me in is Gert Yorkes.
As a teenage Jewish feminist, I immediately focused on Gert because we share these traits. It was so exciting for me to see a young, unapologetic, Jewish feminist on screen who isn’t afraid to be defined by her feminism. In the very first episode, she starts a feminist club, and speaks her mind about things that perpetuate the patriarchy, even when it’s unpopular. She’s also proud of her Jewish identity, though she does insult her parents’ beef brisket.
Yet, as I continued to watch the show, I became somewhat disappointed by Gert, mostly because her main storyline revolves around her crush on Chase Stein, another one of the Runaways, who appears to have a crush on their friend Karolina. Gert constantly tries to get in between Karolina and Chase and is consistently awful to Karolina. Despite her outspoken feminist morals, Gert plays right into the sexist tropes of defining herself by a relationship with a man, and competing with another woman for that man’s attention.
Beyond that, she’s often framed as the “insufferable social justice warrior,” and she seems to use her feminism to put down things her friends are excited about. For example, when her sister, Molly, is looking forward to dance squad auditions, Gert belittles her for reinforcing gender roles and marginalizing women. The “feminist killjoy” is a common and harmful stereotype. It makes feminists like me vafraid to speak up against sexism because we don’t want to be labeled as crazy or over-sensitive. Making Gert appear this way isn’t progressive at all.
Two choice details, and a little bit of contemplation, altered my perspective of Gert. The first was Gert’s admission to Chase that she always feels ignored, and that she wants someone to ‘see’ her. The second is that Gert has an anxiety disorder. While her struggles with mental illness doesn’t necessarily excuse her faults, these two facts put together gave me a lot more empathy for her, and also helped me relate more. Gert is multifaceted, just like the rest of us. I too want to end gender inequality and smash the patriarchy, but I also have the impossibly strong, impossibly human desire to be liked. While Gert’s methods are imperfect, they aren’t evil or atypical.
I’ve wholeheartedly embraced Gert for who she is: a strong Jewish feminist, who, though flawed, is working to change herself so she can better change the world. In the end, this might be the best, and possibly the most realistic representation, that girls in my age group can ask for. Gert isn’t perfect, but she is a feminist who wants to make a difference in the world and wants those around her to understand her point of view. In a lot of ways, this is all I’m trying to do, too, and Gert’s example helps me believe that I can as well.