Ladies Night II
Warning: Episode 43 spoilers await you.
I want to continue the conversation still unfolding in the comments section of my post from two weeks ago about the representation of the second sex on The Wire. To paraphase myself, my purpose in raising this issue is not to say that The Wire isn’t a great show (would we have this blog if it weren’t?), or even to debate the reasons why this is so (male writers; lack of interest; The Corner already “did that” (note: I disagree with this justification as it boils down to the idea that auteurs have some kind of zero-sum quota to meet — ladies in one show do not cancel out a lack of ladies elsewhere)). My purpose is to point out what I think is a meaningful absence, and to try to understand what that absence allows as well as prohibits. A nuanced exploration of masculinity, cited by readers of this blog as something that the lack of developed female characters leaves time for, would, in my mind, only be enhanced by more women. All of our experiences of gender are formed in dialogue with both femininity and masculinity, after all.
Take children. Well, let’s start with Randy. There’s been a lot of discussion on H&H this week about Miss Anna. We’ve heard her name a lot before, usually in the context of the principal trying to scare Randy into giving up names. And Randy is clearly scared. Earlier in the season I thought maybe Miss Anna was overly mean, possibly even abusive, but now it’s clear that she’s just tough. She has high expectations of Randy, which is probably one of the reasons that he’s basically a good kid (as jetset pointed out, he hung up those flyers even though no one was watching). Watching her (and watching Carver deal with her — he’s really becoming decent police) struggle with how to deal with Randy caught in the middle of so much violence was great. Like a lot of junior high schoolers, Randy’s still motivated by pleasing authority and staying out of trouble. As I’ve said in comments elsewhere, I think that’s a good thing: He’s just a kid, he’s easily freaked out by the spector of trouble for things he didn’t do (tagging; rape — one of these things is not like the other), and getting information out about Lex’s murder is a good thing. Given that it’s Miss Anna that’s keeping Randy close to the straight and narrow, I think she’s an example of a “good mother.”
Now, the other mother we saw a lot of in 43 is ho-beast De’Londa. Man. That woman is no good. Interesting to contrast her and Anna and, then, Brianna: De’Londa pushes her son out on the streets to provide for her, asking him to not only risk jail or worse, but asking him to be fundamentally something she’s raised him not to be: Hard. Her actions are so selfish and so deluded, and getting to know more about how she’s a “dragon lady” caused me to feel a lot more sympathy for Namond than I ever thought possible. Both Anna and De’Londa are disciplinarians, but the direction they’re moving in is, needless to say, a bit different. It’s hard to see why a kid like Nay would be friends with a kid like Randy, but it’s clear that they share a fear of their mothers: And why not? If Miss Anna had enough of Randy she could send him away; and De’Londa just doesn’t take no for an answer.
I find it interesting, too, that even having Wee-Bay in jail hasn’t broken De’Londa’s romance with the game. Seems like she likes playing the part of the grieving wife. Instead of trying to shield Nay from that life and the consequences it had for Wee-Bay (although let’s face it, he looks pretty hooked up in there with that cell, though a cell is no replacement for freedom), she’s trying to push him into it. There’s something sad about her — it’s like she can’t imagine a world outside of the one she knows — but also deeply, fundamentally unsympathetic. How different is she from Brianna? Difference is, in my view, that Brianna was working in a Barksdale family framework; that crew is gone, and De’Londa hasn’t learned anything from their demise.
The Wire‘s got other mothers, too — Donnette; Carcetti’s sweet and dumb wife; McNulty’s ex; Beadie. Am I missing any? But as their kids aren’t central to the plot, their roles as moms don’t seem as relevant. (Seems like McNulty easily traded in Beadie’s kids for his own… but then again, we get so little of McNulty now it’s really impossible to talk about anything about him.) Looking at Anna, Brianna and De’Londa, I think we’re seeing some of the struggles of raising children, and we’re also being invited to temper our judgement of children by putting them in the context of the force of their mothers’ personalities (as well as the absence of their fathers — who was D’Angelo’s dad, again? Do we know?). Of course, giving women meaning through mothering is not anything new — in fact, it’s all too familiar —- but there is a kind of tyranny that mothers exercise over their children, and through Nay and Randy we’re seeing the fruits of that.
And then there are the father surrogates: Cutty, Bubbles, Bunny, Avon… I leave that for another post.