[Image care of © Can Stock Photo / photography33]
You almost don’t notice this one, and that’s why it’s so insidious. Once I started taking notice of it, I noticed how prevalent it was. Go back ten, twenty years, it’s not there as often, but it’s still there. Thirty, forty years, you run a fair chance of not seeing her, but she’d pretty much been there since the start of Television.
I’m talking about the cookie-cutter generic blonde wife. She’s usually a background character for a more developed male lead, but the symptoms come in a disturbing checklist:
- Little to no character development
- Very occasionally a plot point
- Threatened once a season by the Big Bad
- May suffer Death by Man-Pain
She exists to support her man, reference normalcy, and be the support staff for the vestigial children that the male hero has to protect and be vaguely fatherly towards.
Of course the test of the hero is when he “loses everything” – aka the wife, the kids, the home, the business – and has to go on a justice rampage to set the world right again.
Me? If I was even going near this horseshit, I would make the GBW just as bad-ass as her hubby. Like, she’s threatened by whatever big nasty is going on, but she escapes, kicks ass, and meets her Grizzled Lifemate while he’s halfway on the way to go rescue her.
“Are you coming to my rescue?” she would ask.
“Hell, no, babe. I’m coming to help you mop up the survivors for the police.”
But if I was writing this, I wouldn’t have GBW’s in the first place. Let the wife figure have some natural hair colour. Let her dye her hair outrageous colours. Let her have useful firkin hobbies.
In basic – make her a real firkin person, rather than a cardboard cutout with a blonde wig.
You can easily do this by devoting more screen time to her without making her naggy if the story’s about your Innocent White Criminal. Hell, you could probably write a wife figure as not naggy at all without breaking a sweat.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s because I grew up seeing a hubby and wife team – aka my friggin parents. I use that basic concept whenever I write married couples, no matter the gender combo.
This in turn makes me really wonder about the life experience of the people writing your average GBW. Do they not recall their parents’ teamwork? Did they not have parents who were teams? Are Naggy Mom and Soccer Mom the only incarnations they know? What sort of messed up home life did these people have, or are they just falling back onto tired old tropes.
I also blame the casting department. The female counterpoint to the fully-developed male hero has such little screen time and so very few lines that the imagery has to fill in the blanks. How does the casting department tell us that GBW is actually a good person with good qualities? Whitewashing!
Everything about her has to be sparkling and pure. She wears bright colours. She has his breakfast/coffee waiting for him as he gets ready for the day. And she’s a blonde, to symbolise how pure and clean she is.
What’s wrong with a synchronised team morning montage replete with adorkable radio karaoke and maybe some competitive racing to the bathroom or shower? What’s wrong with him cooking a breakfast for her? Demonstrate that bond with touches-in-passing. Hell. My Beloved and I are frequently told to “get a room” for touches-in-passing.
There is more than one way to show the audience how special that significant other is.
Consider this an open challenge to find them all, my dears.