Watching Sunday night’s episode of The Walking Dead, I flinched at Rapey Davey leaning into Sasha and then beginning to unbuckle his belt. I felt my stomach tighten in fear as Negan then entered her cell. Any woman who has been through a sexual assault watched that moment in horror.
Then, Negan entered Sasha’s cell.
For a moment, given Negan’s treatment of women as objects, I expected him to join Rapey Davey. I watched Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s face as he made the “Negan Evil Smirk.” I watched him talk to the underling, almost as if he was going to let Rapey Dave go free. Negan is the villain. We expect villainous things. After all, he’s used Lucille to bash in several brains and shoved a doctor in a furnace. It’s not like we’re talking someone averse to violence.
Then he stabs Rapey Davey through the neck.
I totally cheered. I mean, really, if you were a woman watching that? It’s something you’ve wanted to do to any rapist you’ve ever met.
Then, Negan said my favorite line ever. He congratulated Sasha for her
Beach-Ball-Sized Lady Nuts
In one episode, Negan became a feminist hero. But, he’s a sociopathic feminist hero. It’s a really awesome approach to the character.
Here you have this guy who objectifies women. He sleeps with them. He uses their loved ones as bait to obtain sexual “favors.” For all intents and purposes, he’s nothing more than a sex trafficker of the apocalypse.
Here’s the thing, sociopaths are different from psychopaths. Sociopathy, as defined by Jack Pemment of the University of Mississippi Biology Department, “is indicative of having a sense of morality and a well-developed conscience, but the sense of right and wrong is not that of the parent culture.” Indeed, the same article notes, “The fact that sociopaths do have a sense of morality and a sense of right and wrong reflects that they have beliefs about the social world.” Moreover, this signals that sociopaths have a sense of empathy.
Taking this a step further, we can argue that Negan’s sociopathic tendencies make him more likely to be a feminist specifically because his own sense of morality places him outside the mainstream culture.
The Walking Dead has been noted to have a woman problem. Say what you will about Michonne being a “strong woman,” she’s still got that Strong Woman Trope thing happening. So fine, feminism isn’t at the top of Kirkman’s list of things he’s excited about. (And lest you think it’s just in TWD, look how his television representation in Outcast spoiled one of the best scenes in ever.) Television is entertainment, whatever. I get it.
However, the sociopath, the guy who shoves doctors into furnaces, is the one who believes in the idea of gender equality and merit based awards.
Think about that for a second.
Now that you have, let’s review what this says about society. Here we have a reprehensible yet charismatic character. He rules by fear. His entire method of ruling is violence. As a sociopath, he has a sense of morality that is outside the mainstream.
Rick constantly has to “save” the women. Morgan tries to tell Carol how to live her life. Daryl is either looking for a mother or a daughter. Abraham cheated on Rosita almost without a real care. Most of the men see women as some sort of mother, wife, whore trope.
For the most part, the women in TWD end up as helpers to the men. They are valued as those who can do the work that the men don’t want to do. They continually have to prove that they can be competent. Even when zombies have taken over the world, women still have to prove that they’re useful outside of the domestic space.
More importantly, Negan’s feminism is counterpoint to Gregory’s misogyny. Maggie slowly proves to The Hilltop that her strength lies in her character as much as her physicality. She strips Gregory of his leadership qualities by noting in front of others he had never killed a zombie before. Her quiet, steely, passive-aggressive comments undermine Gregory’s illusions of power. She shouldn’t have to be passive-aggressive. Yet, because Gregory represents a hegemonic, mainstream culture, that’s the only way a woman can be considered more powerful than a man.
Meanwhile, we have the most charming sociopath. Negan knows that Sasha hates him, wants to kill him. Yet, he respects her the way he would respect a man specifically for that. We could argue that by masculinizing her with the comment “lady balls” he’s arguing that she is more like a man than a woman. However, a close reading analysis could say that by noting she has “lady” balls, he’s particularly pointing out that she’s not acting in a masculine way. He’s specifically acknowledging her femininity and equating it to the masculine sphere. It takes a sociopath, someone who plays by his own rules, someone who acts outside of traditional morality, to accept a woman as a de facto equal.
Think about that for a short minute.
Only the sociopath accepts a woman without first questioning the weakness of her gender or expecting her to conform to traditional gender roles.
Perhaps, it’s not that he thinks all women are objects. Maybe he just really thinks those other women aren’t his equals because they’re weak. After all, in a world where skills are at a premium, he killed a doctor because he thought the man had sold him out. He doesn’t respect weak men or weak women.
Negan respects strength regardless of gender.
And he’s a sociopath.
My beach-ball-sized lady nuts and I think that’s a pretty powerful message.