The Sexist Roots of “You”

Netflix’s popular TV show “You” is a psychological masterpiece. It follows the complex and disturbing perspective of a male psychopathic murderer in Season 1, accompanied by a female equivalent in Season 2. One of the main unique draws of the show is its ability to make the main character, a murderer, likable and personable to the viewers. It does this astonishingly well with Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), the male lead, while seemingly intentionally leaving Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), the female lead, in the dust. This striking dichotomy between the two main characters is rooted in the stereotypical idea that women are more impulsive, emotion-led, and irrational than men, allowing for the strong potential of this female character to fall through the cracks and become victim to the sexist outlook on female emotions. 

Throughout Season 2, Love’s character is portrayed as an intelligent, independent and strong woman extremely capable of handling her own life and decisions. Joe is also portrayed in the same light as intelligent and determined, but his impulsive killings in Season 1 differentiate him into a new serial killer label. He kills more than what one would deem necessary. This narrative of him develops in Season 2 with the stark contrast to Love’s self-control and down-to-earthness. She is really only revealed to act as a killer when absolutely necessary, as seen with the murder of her brother’s pedophilic nanny.

This refreshing narrative of a strong, equally-matched and intelligent woman turned a corner in Season 3, however. During Season 3, Love’s character changed drastically and became inconsistent with her character in Season 2. She began to murder people around her as an emotional reaction, which had never been the case before. Any time she got mad or jealous, she would murder or hurt them to the point where she was blatantly illustrated as a hysterical woman. Meanwhile Joe’s character, while quite honestly more creepy than Love’s with his stalking and obsession of different women, flourished in Season 3 as the show portrayed him as the rational one in him and Love’s marriage. He often had to clean up her messes and hide the bodies she murdered while she was left speechless with her ill-thought-out actions. It was truly disappointing that this never got resolved and her character never made a recovery. 

The final scene was in fact the most disappointing in Season 3, when Love ends up trying to paralyze Joe so that she can force him to fix their marriage. Not only is that unrealistic for her character but it’s a stretch for a psychopath of her type in general. Joe ends up outsmarting her in the end by killing her with her own poison she intended to use to kill him. This is yet another instance where the narrative is distorted, as previously Love had always been a step ahead of Joe, which gave a refreshing twist to Joe’s character development and journey. 

The quick fall of Love’s character is a premium example of the film industry’s subtle stereotyping of women. The repeated emphasis on Love’s impulsiveness and emotional hysteria serves as a larger observation on society’s view of women as a whole and their reaction compared to men who are in the same situations. Season 3 of “You” has proven that even if a man and woman commit the same crimes, the woman will typically be viewed through the lens of the irrational and emotional stereotypes of women. Joe’s murders are rationalized and justified because he was trying to “do the right thing,” while Love doesn’t get the same credit and it is once again chalked up to her emotional hysteria. Whether intentional or not, the observation Season 3 of “You” provides to its viewers is that women act on emotion while men act on rationale and intent, which is a smashing narrative to continue to affirm society with.

Photo courtesy of Netflix.