Some months ago, I wrote a post called "Sexism in The Walking Dead: An Ongoing Discussion" which to this day remains the most popular post on this blog, still getting hits every week and the occasional comment. Which makes me very happy, because that's exactly what I intended when I titled it "an ongoing discussion." I never felt that I'd come to any definite conclusion or verdict in terms of the sexism found in both the comic and the TV adaptation. I do feel pretty confident that there is sexism in the work(s), but dismissing all of it as sexist without further analysis doesn't really do it justice either.
A comment from earlier this week by Missus Goodveggie does a pretty good job of highlighting how complex the work is when it comes to gender issues. I'm going to quote her comment here, unedited:
Ok I know this is really late in the day but I was so excited to come across this post. I was given the walking dead comics (not seen the show yet) by my brother-in-law and have since had some very interesting debates with him over this sexism issue. I thought the two scenes you mentioned (the laundry and the voting) were appalling precisely for that reason that it's kind of the writer going "this isn't sexist...because it's totally true mwah ha ha ha". I also want to point out that Michonne can hardly be used as a 'strong' female character because about 3/4 of the way through we discover that her uncompromising violence has been under the influence (real or imaginary) of her dead boyfriend - if you then go back to the scenes where she's talking with him you can see that Michonne herself is arguing against violence. I'm not saying violence is right, but it's overwhelmingly portrayed as the 'strong male' role here and therefore the woman can only engage in it under the control of some ethereal, omnipresent male. That she's unable to resist his influence even after he's passed on is troubling. Even her revenge on the Governer for raping her is actually her 'boyfriend', so the rape of the woman is more his issue than hers? Andrea I'll give you, I could nitpick (would Dale have been shown happily shacking up with her if she were the elder, physically dependent partner) but that's all it would be.I thought this was a really great comment and it has made me want to revisit the comic and continue thinking about how these issues operate within it. For more discussion on the topic, check the original post and the rest of the comments.
However, if you examine the portrayal of masculinity in the book it's not actually much more positive. It could be argued that Rick is equally constrained by the hyper-masculine role he takes on. He's the white, straight alpha male, aggressive and decisive, perceived as the natural leader by all the 'lesser' (ethnic minority/old/young/disabled) men as well as the women. And he perceives himself that way. Rick's biggest tragedy is not just that he's actually s**t at leading, but that this role is so ingrained into his and everyone else's minds that nobody (including him) will accept the fact. They follow his inane, off the cuff, moral hypocrisy through death after needless death. They question his leadership, but they vote him onto the leadership council. He is tormented by self-doubt, but is convinced by his own and others' misconceptions. The only time Rick's effective as a leader and sympathetic as a character are the moments when he's engaged in the ostentatiously 'feminine' art of relationship building and nurturing. Given that one of the key themes of the series seems to be that the morally ambiguous, post apocalyptic dystopia they're living in is more the result of the survivors' own behaviour than that of the zombies, you could see the whole thing as a damming indictment of what a world regressed to traditional gender roles would look like.
Meanwhile, over at The Beat, I got involved in a discussion about a different kind of sexism - the one that affects real people in the comics industry, including both creators and fans. The post was about the lack of visible female presence at Mark Millar's Kapow! comics convention, and his response to that criticism, although the discussion that followed got a bit derailed into a semantics-heavy argument about whether or not Millar can be called a sexist because of it (which, frankly, is besides the point).
Anyway, I won't quote anything from that one, but feel free to head over there and read the discussion. There are a few good points being made (and not just by me, haha), and it manages to remain fairly civil, so it's worth a read.