The Sharpest Object: Toxic Femininity

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

Or: Why the Yin Always Needs Its Yang

On Sunday afternoon, I wrote a post about martyrdom. On Sunday night, HBO aired the finale of its 8-episode limited series Sharp Objects and I got an eerie sense of where the familiar topic may have come from in the first place.


This post contains spoilers for HBO's Sharp Objects, including its finale. You've been warned.


I didn't read the books, but Sharp Objects, it turns out in the end, is the story of a mother seduced by the love of her child, a child seduced by the love of her mother, and neither one of them actually being capable of love anyway.


Fans of the show, and the book its based upon, have had much to discuss since the series premiered in July. Online group chats, recaps, and think-pieces have flooded the internet each Sunday, sparking weekly post-mortems, feeding ever-evolving speculation about who killed two adolescent girls in a small Missouri town called Wind Gap.


This murder mystery unfolds when Wind Gap ex-pat and newspaper reporter, Camille Preaker, returns home to cover the story after fleeing to St. Louis some years ago. Upon Camille's return to Wind Gap, we meet her self-focused mother, Adora, her avoidant step-father Alan, and her precarious 14-year-old half-sister Amma. This entire cast of characters is, in their own way, projecting quite the charming life.


In between bouts of getting stoned with her friends and low-key bullying the town, half-sister Amma innocently plays with a dollhouse replica of the secluded Victorian-style mansion the family lives in and that's not even the most unnerving thing about her.


Infantilizing Women


Fans in these online spaces share differing theories on who murdered two of the town's 14-year-old girls and tore out their teeth. Could it be John Keene, the brother of the latest victim? Bob Nash, the father of the first? The chief of police? Adora? Amma? Alan? Fame-obsessed Ashley? (She's not really important, just a red-herring of sorts). Who knows! (Well we do now).


But while these spaces harbored many competing theories about the killer, what the voices tended to agree on was how overtly sexist much of Wind Gap is. Leading the misogyny parade is the fictional town's chief of police, Bill Vickery who consistently seems to be missing what (and who) is right in front of him. The chief spends his days blindly chasing after some lame resolution to this murder mystery; one dusty enough to sweep under the rug so he can go on living in the illusion that all is well in his town.


But it's not just the chief. The townsfolk spend so much time trying to sell themselves on the narrative that men are made of brute force and women are made of silliness that they don't see what's skating by right in front of them. They're convinced the killer is a man. They say it so often I don't know how they're not sick of themselves. But spoiler alert: the Wind Gap women kill.


Girls. So predictable, am I right? With their nail polish and squabbles over boys, cat-fighting and rumor-spreading and triple gruesome murders and such.


Wind Gap, representing us all in some way, demonstrates such comfort with the look and feel of masculine violence and the urge to infantilize women that they are negligent in recognizing the bright colored feminine violence seeping in through the cracks in the veneer.