Words: Katie Vince (She/They)
*TRIGGER WARNING – MENTIONS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, LGBT+*
Women, trans, and non-binary characters have been killed on screen for decades. It begs the question as to when and why violence against feminine characters became trendy.
The death of queer characters in media has become so common that it justifies its own trope: bury your gays. The ‘bury your gays’ trope is the killing of the seemingly ‘more expendable’ queer characters in TV shows and movies, usually with the deaths adding nothing to the plot, just being there for the sake of killing them. The sheer amount of WLW ( women loving women) characters that fall under this trope has also caused it to be known as ‘dead lesbian syndrome’. Unfortunately, what was one of my favourite shows, Killing Eve, is a prime example of this trope, stirring up mass controversy in the media after the season finale aired in April 2022.
Villanelle was one of the first refreshing queer characters that I saw on television, who I really found a connection with. Throughout the show, several scenes were featured showing Villanelle after having casual sex with both men and women, without speculating on her sexuality or that of her coming out. This was so significant to the queer community, as so many queer shows have a focal point of the ‘coming out’ era, which can be an extremely painful watch, perhaps reliving traumatic memories for a lot of queer viewers. However, the storyline of this show consists of a slow burn love between Eve, an MI5 agent, and Villanelle, the Russian assassin that Eve is hunting. In the season finale, we see the women share a meaningful kiss together, with many fans believing this is the moment that the relationship will become canon (a confirmed relationship, not just speculation). Then, in true ‘bury your gays’ fashion, in the last few moments of the episode, Villanelle is brutally murdered by Carolyn, who is notably played by Fiona Shaw, one of the only openly queer actors on the show.
With all signifiers in the episode before this moment pointing towards a happy ending for the two, to say this murder came as a shock to fans would be an understatement. The death was seemingly justified by the season’s lead writer, Laura Neal, who stated that Villanelle’s death was Eve’s ‘rebirth’. Why did it have to take this brutal killing of a refreshing queer character for Eve to be reborn? Eve was previously married to a man, with presumably no encounters with women before Villanelle, so did it take the elimination of the queer in her life for this cleanse? These characters seem to get a glimpse of happiness just for it to get torn out from beneath them. Media seems to recognise the queer relationship yet doesn’t deem it worthy or capable of a happy ending, unlike the ‘norm’ heterosexual couple. Society has certainly progressed in its view and portrayal of LGBT+ people, but perhaps not as far as we first thought. Is it unconscious bias? Misogyny? Homophobia? Not only does this harmful trope hurt people by constantly seeing fatal ends to the characters that they relate to and connect with, but it also normalises this violence against our community.
It is not only the queer community that this violence is normalised against but also women. For as long as film and television have been around, women have been seen and used as the prop to ‘bolster male characters’ in a show, instead of having a story created for themselves. Violence against women is evident in almost every show seen on television, in almost every genre – Downton Abbey, Grey’s Anatomy, Sex Education, Criminal Minds, etc. I’ve found it hard to think about television shows that I’ve watched that didn’t feature a woman with a traumatic, violent experience somewhere in the plot. Crime dramas especially rely on a revolving roll of new female victims appearing, in which the majority of their cases have been a result of physical violence. Unless regulars on the show, these characters are often nameless and are just used for the predominantly male cast of profilers to investigate and for the plot to move along accordingly.
On the off chance that the victim of a murder is not a woman, writers will still find an excuse to include violence against women. In another episode of the show, a woman is the suspected murderer of a man, but instead of the possibility of her just being a strong person, who is capable of murdering a man, she has to be a victim at the hands of that man. TV is so centred around satisfying the male gaze and representing women as defenceless, so much so that in the event that a woman does kill a man, she is only able to do so while he sleeps. Because, God forbid, a woman is able to overpower a man while he is an active participant. She can never be more powerful than her male counterpart; hence her only being able to kill him when he is asleep. Otherwise, she’d stand no chance. When will writers stop trying to fit these characters into a mould that appeals solely to the desired male audience at the expense of women?
As minorities, women and members of the LGBT+ community have a constant threat of violence in everyday life, so why do we have to recount these experiences on the screen? Film and television should provide the opportunity for an escape from our harsh reality, but it does the opposite and only enforces the idea that we are in a male-dominated society. When we asked for more representation on screen, this was not an excuse for the media to tear apart the characters that showed our authentic selves for the entertainment of others.