The Wilds: A Breakthrough in the Representation of Young Women | Teen Ink

The Wilds: A Breakthrough in the Representation of Young Women MAG

January 21, 2021
By kavyaweaver BRONZE, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
kavyaweaver BRONZE, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

“The Wilds,” created by Sarah Streicher, chronicles the survival of a group of teen girls on an isolated island after their plane crashes. Unknown to the girls, however, the crash has been carefully orchestrated, and they are actually unwitting subjects of a social experiment designed to study what a world created and run by women would look like. The primary force behind the experiment, psychologist Gretchen Klein (Rachel Griffiths), fervently believes that a society run by women would not only catalyze progress and development for humanity as a whole, but would also vastly improve the quality of life for women and girls. 

In a scene set during the planning and recruitment stage of the project, Klein implores one of the young women to consider, “Am I thriving? Are my fellow young women thriving? Thriving in this culture created by men? Aren’t we all suffering? Pushing ourselves to perfection, taking on too much and then breaking at the seams? Imagine stepping away from it all, breaking free, logging off. Imagine spending a few months in an environment where societal pressures are eliminated, replaced only by the simple responsibilities of breathing, surviving, and becoming more truly yourself. And at the same time, creating a world that men don’t control. A world of our very own.” 

The promise of an alternative to the patriarchal social order is alluring to me as an 18-year-old girl, particularly as a woman of color who continues to confront hostililty in the world. The young characters in the show also contend with this reality. One girl struggles to define herself beyond athletic achievement and consequently develops an eating disorder. One struggles to come to terms with her queerness within the context of a homophobic household. Their stories are nuanced and complex, painting an accurate representation of the diverse issues many young women grapple with today. The racial diversity of the cast is also refreshing, particularly seeing two young Native American women represented.   

Though it can be unrealistic at times, “The Wilds” successfully builds suspense and does an excellent job of cultivating viewers’ investment in each character’s storyline. The screenplay is well-written and witty, and the dialogue is consistent with the way American teen girls talk. However, my attachment to this show goes far beyond just appreciating the artistic, cinematic, or narrative value of “The Wilds.” My fixation is not just about being excited by the diversity, representation of queer characters, or the portrayal of strong women. At the heart of my enthrallment is the show’s profound and total divergence from content that caters to the male gaze, something that is infuriatingly difficult to find.
There are few demographics as scrutinized, mocked, or belittled more than teenage girls. This phenomenon is perpetuated because those maintaining it often don’t recognize the ways it is grounded in misogyny. For example, the trend of mocking “VSCO girls” that dominated Gen Z social media platforms in 2019 illustrates how entertainment and humor are contingent upon making fun of girls. The VSCO girl label was created as a stereotype for white, middle-class teen girls who wear oversized t-shirts and scrunchies, and use metal straws to minimize plastic waste. They were the target of the internet’s disdain for months. Although it was viewed as a harmless internet joke, it’s a symptom of epidemic misogyny that has managed to proliferate without criticism, because it is packaged in a way that doesn’t evoke explicit sexism. As a young woman, it is nearly impossible to escape the ruthless scrutiny of larger society.

“The Wilds” is revolutionary because it undermines this paradigm, creating an exclusively female space where the characters are free of the pressures of modern life. The premise of giving a group of young women the chance to essentially build a new micro-society from the ground up is a radical idea, and one that hasn’t been explored adequately. The looming pressure to perform at the same level as, appeal to, and secure the approval of their male counterparts is lifted from the shoulders of the all-female cast.

Margaret Atwood once penned an eerie passage that captures the way that the male gaze haunts every woman: “Is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”

“The Wilds” is the first TV show I have seen that escapes the male gaze. The show almost exclusively features women behind as well as in front of the camera, which empowers the cast, who remain un-sexualized, complex, messy characters that don’t play into a male-centered fantasy. 

As a young woman, divulging in this show provides a respite from a world that makes everything I do feel like a performance that is being scrutinized or held up in comparison to men. It allows me, just for an hour-long episode, to escape the watcher peering through the keyhole. 

The author's comments:

a reflection on the way that the recently premiered series The Wilds radically diverges from traditional representations of young women and manages to evade the male gaze

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This article has 2 comments.

on Mar. 12 at 10:55 am
loganrweaver999, Versailles, Kentucky
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This is honestly one of the best reviews that I have ever read! And on top of that.... I absolutely LOVE this show!!

on Feb. 9 at 9:37 pm
Josephdanielson, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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