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Aug 24 2013

The hatred of Skyler

Who else? Well there’s Anna Gunn, who plays the character Skyler White on Breaking Bad (which I’ve never seen, I should add in case I’m expected to be knowledgeable about the show). She gets hatred and threats, because…well because she plays this one tv character that people don’t like, because her character is a woman, married to a man, and even though the man does some bad things, well…

My character, to judge from the popularity of Web sites and Facebook pages devoted to hating her, has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women. As the hatred of Skyler blurred into loathing for me as a person, I saw glimpses of an anger that, at first, simply bewildered me.

It is bewildering at first.

Because Walter is the show’s protagonist, there is a natural tendency to empathize with and root for him, despite his moral failings. (That viewers can identify with this antihero is also a testament to how deftly his character is written and acted.) As the one character who consistently opposes Walter and calls him on his lies, Skyler is, in a sense, his antagonist. So from the beginning, I was aware that she might not be the show’s most popular character.

But I was unprepared for the vitriolic response she inspired. Thousands of people have “liked” the Facebook page “I Hate Skyler White.” Tens of thousands have “liked” a similar Facebook page with a name that cannot be printed here.

Let me guess. “Skyler White is a cunt”?

As an actress, I realize that viewers are entitled to have whatever feelings they want about the characters they watch. But as a human being, I’m concerned that so many people react to Skyler with such venom. Could it be that they can’t stand a woman who won’t suffer silently or “stand by her man”? That they despise her because she won’t back down or give up? Or because she is, in fact, Walter’s equal?

Yes, yes, and yes.

At some point on the message boards, the character of Skyler seemed to drop out of the conversation, and people transferred their negative feelings directly to me. The already harsh online comments became outright personal attacks. One such post read: “Could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?” Besides being frightened (and taking steps to ensure my safety), I was also astonished: how had disliking a character spiraled into homicidal rage at the actress playing her?

But I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.

I can’t say that I have enjoyed being the center of the storm of Skyler hate. But in the end, I’m glad that this discussion has happened, that it has taken place in public and that it has illuminated some of the dark and murky corners that we often ignore or pretend aren’t still there in our everyday lives.

Along with Mary Beard and Laurie Penny and Caroline Criado-Perez and Anita Sarkeesian and Rebecca Watson and and and.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    sailor1031

    I guess for many people the tenuous line between reality and fantasy has just disappeared and it all seems real. I think this explains why people follow religion too and issue death threats to atheist school girls. internet “anonymity” allows some to actually be online the assholes they wouldn’t dare to be in real life for fear that someone would put their lights out..

  2. 2
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    *sigh*

    So I just searched Facebook for pages and groups supporting Skyler White, just because, and… I found three pages, with about 5 likes between them.

    What I don’t understand is why someone wants to kill Anna Gunn? She plays a character (well, from the grand total of one complete Breaking Bad episode I’ve seen and the bits and pieces beyond that… is it bad that I’m not actually enthralled with the show?), she’s not actually the character. What is so hard about this?

  3. 3
    michaelnam

    I remember on the Nerdist Writer’s podcast, Vince Gilligan was asked about this by a woman in the audience. He stated his surprise for the amount of hate that Skyler gets, so he turned it around and asked the lady why she didn’t like Skyler. The audience member wasn’t really able to articulate it except to say something to the effect of “C’mon, Skyler, be cool.” Basically, it’s as Anna Gunn is describing it. Her place as a “wife” on the show means going along, “being cool” with her husband’s descent into depraved criminality becoming a person even Vince Gilligan says he dislikes.

  4. 4
    sarah00

    I’ve never understood the hatred of Skyler, to the extent that reading the comments on some episode reviews have made me wonder if I’m watching the same programme as everyone else. While there’s been decisions she’s made where I’ve been silently screaming at her to rethink, she’s got NOTHING on Walter (and my wishing her to reconsider if only based on the fact that as a viewer we know more about the situation than she does).

  5. 5
    ludicrous

    I guess this is a teevee show (I forgot where I put mine) we’re talking about. My guess would be that this Skyler character suffers from a low smile index. (seconds smiling divided by seconds on camera)

    A proper woman should strive for an over all smile index of at least .6 Higher if walking past a construction site.

    If we men are forced to observe a .2 or lower for any length of time our misogynist rage index will peg the meter.

  6. 6
    Nepenthe

    Additional context for those who’ve never seen the show and spoiler for Season 2.

    -

    -

    One of Walter White’s first acts in Season 2 is to come home and rape his heavily pregnant wife in their kitchen. My sympathy for him is approximately nil. I don’t understand how so many people support him over the woman he is heavily abusing.

  7. 7
    PZ Myers

    I have watched the show, and there’s good reason to dislike Skyler (but NOT, most emphatically NOT the actor who plays her). The show is about moral compromise, and we’ve watched the anti-hero Walter White slide ever deeper into the muck throughout the series. But while Skyler has resisted and is dismayed by it all, she’s also become his willing accomplice. She has been going along with the bad guy husband…it’s just that she expresses resistance and reluctance.

    What’s weird is the contrast, though. Walter has gone gradually from a sympathetic character to the kind of monster who shrugs at the death of a child and who then dissolves the body in acid; who blows up a nursing home; who leaves a trail of bodies behind him. He should be despised. Skyler has also been breaking bad — she launders money, she covers for her husband — but is nowhere near as evil as Walter. But she gets all the hatred, while Walter is considered “cool” in a nasty macho kind of way. It’s OK if you’re a bad guy.

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    Well that’s all the more depressing.

  9. 9
    poolboy

    Skylers hatred is irrational. She’s hated because 1. she’s a woman. But what’s worse is that she’s a woman who is 2. getting in the way of male power fantasies. Either Walt or Hank. And that’s where most of the hate comes from – guys with a power fantasy invested in the show.

  10. 10
    MartinM

    Skyler is not a willing accomplice by any definition I’d consider reasonable. She’s one of Walt’s many victims, who helps him cover up his crimes because she believes that it’s the best way to protect their children, and that she has no other choice.

  11. 11
    DLC

    Wow. I never watched Breaking Bad, but I looked into the show’s Wikipedia page. (yeah, everything has a wikipedia page, it seems)
    Oddly, I was thinking about what an asshole Walt is. He turns into just as much a murdering thug as he himself barely escapes in the first season. He’s not at all likeable, even though I can sympathize with his illness.
    If it’s as described by PZ above, then yes, I could see not liking the Skylar character either.
    (I want to emphasize — the character not the actress who plays her. )

  12. 12
    Nepenthe

    @10

    Indeed, Walter essentially gaslights and coerces her into her crimes. I don’t think Skyler has any idea of the violence she’s complicit in.

  13. 13
    chrislawson

    Poolboy is absolutely spot on. Skyler is not a very likeable character, but she’s nowhere near as morally broken as Walt. Seriously, at this point in the show Walt has turned out to be way more monstrous than any of the drug dealers, cartel kings, professional murderers, and skeezy lawyers. The reason people seem to hate Mrs White (and Mrs Soprano and Mrs Draper) is that they act as brakes on their husbands’ reprehensible (but apparently cool) behaviour. That is, they get in the way of the male power fantasy. There’s no other way to link the sheer visceral hatred directed at these female roles.

    Two points that I do not understand: (1) some of the most virulently anti-Skyler comments I’ve heard have come from women; (2) the haters don’t seem to understand that these shows build from the challenges faced by their protagonists — and the challenge of pursuing awful behaviour while maintaining a veneer of respectability is part of the drama. If Skyler and Betty Draper and Carmela Soprano all stood by their men C&W-style, there would be a lot less story to tell. It’s one thing to hiss a pantomime villain; it’s another to have an overwhelming fury for a female semi-antagonist just because she won’t let her husband destroy her and her family with impunity.

  14. 14
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    Don’t forget the hatred of Lori on Walking Dead. She’s another fictional wife/mother that is almost rabidly hated.

  15. 15
    leni

    I confess that I really, really did not like Lori. I could empathize with her character right up until she decided to keep the baby. That is when I began actively hoping the zombies would get her. Zombie fucking apocalypse and abortion is still “wrong”. AARRRGGGG!

    But the actress seems like a really nice person. I saw her on The Nerdist and she’s got a great sense of humor. Really likable person. No desire to see her get munched by zombies in real life.

    I disliked Skyler too, at first. But then as Walter got worse, I just felt sorry for her. She was in an impossible situation. The episode where she first goes to see a divorce lawyer almost made me cry.

  16. 16
    leni

    On a brighter note, people love Michonne, probably even misogynist assholes. Although maybe it’s more fear than love, but I suppose that’s a step up from hate.

    Also, Arya Stark from Game of Thrones is very beloved, despite having a very low smile ratio. Actually probably because she has a very low smile ratio.

  17. 17
    Amy Clare

    #13 – Maybe some women hate Skyler because she is getting in the way of their own gangster’s moll fantasy where they play the rich pampered wife of a career criminal who is forever grateful to her ‘soldier’. *eyeroll*

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