The teens in RUNAWAYS, in a way, represent individual tropes found in teen movies and TV shows. Both the comics and the show put a lot of work into humanizing the characters past the tropes. That’s part of what makes RUNAWAYS so enjoyable for younger people. The original comics presented Gert as the nerdy activist girl.

She continues on as this trope in RUNAWAYS on Hulu, turned up to 11. However, from what the show has shown us, Gert is less a shining example of good feminism — she’s an example of the dreaded “white feminism.”

“White Feminism”

At times, when RUNAWAYS lets Gert make statements about feminism, she sounds almost like a strawman to make fun of feminists. However, I have a theory. My theory is that RUNAWAYS doesn’t flesh out Gert’s feminism for a reason — because she needs to grow and learn as a feminist. Considering how RUNAWAYS is dedicated to fleshing out its characters, even more so than the comics sometimes, it makes sense.

Gert is what a lot of people would refer to as a “white feminist” in activism. In other words, her feminism doesn’t make an effort to be intersectional. This was true of her in the comics, too, where she makes an insensitive comment about “slave names” (a term coined by black activists) to Alex, the only black character on the team. In RUNAWAYS on Hulu, Gert seems to be having similar troubles. She has a bad habit of not checking her privilege as someone who is straight and white.

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White feminism is a huge problem in the feminist movement. White women observe the oppression of women in society, but because of their own privilege, don’t think to factor in racial oppression, homophobia, transphobia, or other things that might not affect them specifically. While the term has connotations about racial issues, it’s become a term that essentially counterpoints the idea of intersectionality.

The issue is that society sees white feminism as the norm — and as not a problem. This leaves things inaccessible for women of color and LGBT women. Gert’s feminist rhetoric so far seems intent on espousing knowledgeable sounding terms while simultaneously shutting out people who need feminism. Gert seems focused on her own oppression without thought to the people of color around her or the LGBT people around her.

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Gert’s treatment of other women is high on the list of why her feminism fails. Her treatment of Molly, especially, considering Molly’s status as one of the only Latina characters, is problematic. Gert consistently doesn’t listen to Molly or speaks over her. She’s rude to Karolina for multiple reasons. The excuses to be hostile to Karolina range from her involvement with Gibborum, the fact that she’s seen as a conventionally attractive “preppy” girl, or Chase’s obvious interest in her.

Gert White Feminism
Gert, at the beginning of RUNAWAYS, is trying to start a feminist club. It doesn’t go particularly well.

Karolina herself calls Gert out on this. It’s Karolina that mentions that Gert only allows room for women she approves of in her feminist ideas. The tension between Karolina and Gert continues throughout the show, as do the problems between Gert and Molly. Feminism that doesn’t acknowledge people of color, LGBT people, or women that don’t fit into an approved mold isn’t good feminism.

Feminist Failures

No one is born as a perfect feminist. It’s more realistic for Gert to be a bit lacking when it comes to feminist rhetoric. I think RUNAWAYS has made a good decision in introducing a flawed feminist character because there’s the option to help her grow as the story continues.

Gert White Feminism

The show isn’t shy about calling out Gert’s approach. Gert has already had to face some of the consequences of her treatment of both Molly and Karolina. Karolina’s romantic interactions with Chase — if one kiss can be called that — are mainly spurred on by Gert. Gert’s decision to try and manage Karolina’s relationships (mainly her feelings for Nico) just so that Chase is available leads to Chase and Karolina only interacting more.

Gert tends to put her foot in her mouth a lot when it comes to Karolina. Gert lets herself be swept up in jealousy over Chase just because Chase likes Karolina. Karolina even calls Gert out on the fact that her “support” of Karolina’s crush on Nico only exists because it frees up Chase for the taking. That’s without even touching upon the fact that Gert, despite being the one to call dating heteronormative, is a white straight girl chasing after the white straight guy on cast. Gert is essentially a heteronormative dream.

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Gert’s relationship with Molly, however, takes the spotlight when it comes to Gert’s shortcomings. Gert’s inability to listen and determination to mirror her own problems onto Molly (like her assumption that Molly “feeling bad” was an anxiety attack) leads to a lot of tension in their relationship. Molly putting distance in between her and the group is caused largely by her interactions with Gert feeding into the idea that no one listened to her.

Learning Opportunity

I don’t think the show has been doing this for no reason. I feel like Gert is being shaped into a character who will be more aware of her position as a white straight girl who’s trying to boss around the only lesbian and the only Latina she knows. Gert’s scenes can be cringe-worthy at times, and I think they’re supposed to be.

Gert White Feminism
Gert is best at being a feminist when she’s simply a good friend. Feminism thrives when it’s based on empathy and thoughtfulness.

I think RUNAWAYS has planned out what it’s doing with Gert. Gert is 16, she’s white, and she’s straight. Having her deliver a line about dating being heteronormative to Karolina, a gay girl seems very purposeful. As an audience, we can watch Karolina react to the line with obvious discomfort. Gert’s assumption that dating as a whole is heteronormative seems to imply that gay people either don’t exist or don’t date.

Situations where Gert fails to acknowledge people outside her sphere of privilege are opportunities for her to learn and change. RUNAWAYS has set up an excellent chance to show someone’s growth as a feminist. This is a chance not only for character development, which is exciting in itself but for people watching to learn more about how to tackle issues in their own feminism.

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Gert has moments where she shines as a good feminist. When girls like Eiffel are targeting Karolina at school, Gert tries to be supportive despite the complicated relationship she has with Karolina. Gert is terrible at listening to Molly, but it’s shown she truly cares about her sister. Her concerns about capitalism and the patriarchy come from a good place. The thing is, feminism can’t be based on only intentions, especially when privilege comes into play.

Teaching Opportunity

I’m excited about what RUNAWAYS is currently doing with Gert because it’s a conversation people don’t often have. It’s a steep road to becoming a good feminist — and it’s not a journey that has a single stopping point. Feminism is not a concept where people can check off a checklist and say “okay, I’m all set!” and carry on with their lives.

Gert White Feminism
It’s incredibly frustrating to watch Gert speak over Molly in the show — I hope people realize that this frustration is exactly what women of color face all the time in society.

Gert learning more about her own privilege is a chance for the audience to do so as well. When the people watching see the effect that it has when she doesn’t consider Molly’s feelings, I hope they can examine whether they’re speaking over the women of color in their lives.

I hope when they try to attack something in our society; they pause to think about whether that structure functions differently for oppressed people, i.e., attacking marriage as a heterosexual institution without understanding why gay people want to get married.

People learn from mistakes. The cool thing about media is that we can learn from characters’ mistakes, instead of having to make them ourselves. Better yet, RUNAWAYS can make Gert into an example for people to follow after she learns from her mistakes.

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This is all hypothetical as of now. A lot of other things — like destroying the evil organization of child-murderers — have taken center stage in RUNAWAYS. For understandable plot reasons, Gert’s feminism is on the back-burner for a bit. However, it feels like the show is already setting things up explicitly to talk about the issue further.

My Hope for Gert and RUNAWAYS

The only downside of this whole hypothetical is that if RUNAWAYS doesn’t dig into Gert’s feminism and try to improve it, then it can be harmful. If the show doesn’t tackle the fact that her feminism fails at intersectionality, people can take it at face value as the way feminists should be.

Worse, people can take it at face value as the reason feminism is bad. The issue with critiquing feminism is that you can very easily align with people who want to tear feminism down. Some people might see flawed feminism as a reason that feminism needs to grow and become stronger. Meanwhile, other people can take it as an opportunity to try and trash the entire concept.

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RUNAWAYS has to be careful about this. However, I think RUNAWAYS is fairly aware of its audience. People who will see Gert as a strawman aren’t typically the kind of people watch a show like this. I think the creators of RUNAWAYS are pretty aware of this.

Maybe they are taking a chance to use Gert as a way to tackle white feminism vs. intersectional feminism. Hopefully so — it wouldn’t only be interesting, but it would be new and helpful for people watching.

2 Comments

  1. tina

    June 7, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Just fyi…I hear what you’re saying about Gert’s flawed feminism, and based on Ariela Barer’s commentary in addition to the writers, that is the actual trajectory (and you can see it in her interaction with Karolina). But a cavet here that made me cringe quite a bit is that Gert isn’t actually white. Ariela Barer’s Latina, her family’s from Mexico. I know her parents were cast as white, and the show hasn’t in canon explained that (though Ariela’s mentioned wanting it in s2), but this adaptation of Gert is very much not white, and this article dismissing that was incredibly uncomfortable to read. It doesn’t take away from Gert’s flawed feminism, which I do think is there on purpose. But repeatedly white washing Ariela is pretty uncomfortable for an article discussing intersectionality.

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  2. Zoom

    March 29, 2018 at 9:01 am

    Gert’s character is not written with the kind of subtly a discussion about intersectionality or the issues with white feminism would entail. Gert feels like a poorly written strawman, and I’m hesitant to give the writers the benefit of the doubt, because it’s not just Gert’s character. All of the characters in the show behave in strange ways that seem emotionally insincere. What mother tells her kid to jack off in the bathroom of her school to help with cramps? Someone almost gets raped? Let’s just use that as an excuse to have the kids spend more time together, while ignoring the emotional ramifications for episodes in a row.

    The kids are learning about these incredible powers that they have, and everything is delivered in a kind of surface level blasé info dump. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching it, but it’s like all the characters suffer from poorly written afluenza. Gert’s character is perhaps the worst. I was actually shocked how many women worked on the show because her dialogue often sounded like when men troll feminist forums. That said, I hope your theory holds true for the second season. I think this show could be amazing if it actually dealt with the complicated social issues it’s bringing up, but to do that it needs to allow the characters to have the kind of authentic emotional reactions that can be uncomfortable for audiences. I’m not sure the show is willing to take that risk.

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