By Megan Coleman
Student Projects Assistant
Office of the Dean of Student Life
Enrollment Management and Student Affairs
Portland State University
What is a Matriarch? Merriam-Webster defines it as “A woman who rules or dominates a family, group, or state,” but society seems to have some preconceived notions on what types of women fit that category.
For those of you who are sci-fi buffs like me you will be familiar with AMC’s “The Walking Dead”. For those of you who are not obsessed with the impending zombie-apocalypse this show portrays just that. The show follows a small group of people as they struggle to survive the aftermath of some sort of viral outbreak that reanimates the dead. On the surface the show appears to be just another zombie story full of gore and fighting but if you dig just a little deeper there are some larger themes being examined. The show has tackled a few controversial issues such as the idea of suicide, murder, theft, as well as gender roles.
In the episode “18 miles out” we see two of the main characters in a heated debate about what a woman’s role should be. Lori is a mother, she was a homemaker before the outbreak and she was married to the sheriff who has assumed the leader position of their group. On the outside she looks like the a-typical matriarch of the group but there is another vying for her position. Andrea was an environmental lawyer before the outbreak; she lost all of her family and is now fending for herself. She struggles to fit in with the group at first but has befriended the men and has learned how to shoot and defend the camp and is portrayed as a very strong determined character.
Lori is unhappy with Andrea and insists that by going off with the men she is shirking her responsibilities onto the rest of the women. Lori tells Andrea she is being stupid and wasting everyone’s time and that she needs to come back and help the rest of the women with the cooking and cleaning. Andrea is livid, she doesn’t understand how that helps anyone when they are being constantly attacked by flesh eating dead people and that if they didn’t learn how to defend themselves they would be left vulnerable. The two never really come to an understanding and mostly agree to disagree but it raises some good questions.
My personal opinion is that gender roles are silly. I say do whatever makes you happy to the best of your ability (I suppose using discretion... if eating people makes you happy I may not be all that supportive…). Be a house dad, house mom, business tycoon, lawyer, professor, kindergarten teacher… I don’t think that gender should be an issue but would this change if the world was over? If all social conventions were thrown out the window would your idea of gender roles be swayed? I would like to think mine wouldn’t, I would want to be out learning how to defend myself from the hoards of the undead as well but the idea that its also women enforcing the stereotype was an interesting concept to me. With the exception of an episode from the first season where a husband tells his wife she would be doing more housework (and then dies soon after) there hasn’t been any overt gender bias by the men.
When it comes down to it, I think that Andrea and Lori are both matriarchs of their community. They are very strong women that others look up to and model their behavior after. Just because Lori is a more traditional person and prefers to stay at home doesn’t mean she is wrong. She is doing what makes her feel good and so is Andrea. Andrea seems to be portraying a more “modern” idea of what women “should be” trying to achieve. I think they both are doing important work that needs to be done and that the portrayal of the constant battle of what a woman’s role “should be” on national television offers a great learning opportunity as our generation is trying to sort out where we all fit. Hopefully the show can serve as a catalyst for people to explore their own ideas about gender roles and enable discussions about what preconceived notions people have.