Netflix’s comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt shows us females are strong as hell. While there’s no doubt Kimmy’s got gumption when it comes to smashing patriarchal figures, one of Kimmy’s other bunker-mates might give her a run for her money when it comes to breaking glass ceilings.
I’m talking about Gretchen Chalker, played by the hilarious Lauren Adams, whose character we first glimpse assuring Matt Lauer on the Today show that she willingly entered the underground bunker to join the Reverend’s cult for fifteen years. In fact, she’d rather be back underground than out in the real world.
Gretchen’s life after the bunker has been a big failure. She fails to get the Reverend acquitted. She fails to keep up with the new church of Cosmetology. She fails at making her own decisions before Kimmy encourages her to return to her cult roots by starting one of her own (“The sheeps only know that they know nothing!”), complete with child husbands.
Then she fails that, too, calling the FBI to witness her blow up her own compound in the season three episode “Kimmy Steps on a Crack”. She’s the first ever female cult leader, and she’s going to go down like a man by taking everyone with her.
It’s only Kimmy who manages to get through to Gretchen, convincing her what works for a man doesn’t have to work for a woman, and encouraging her to face the consequences by turning herself in.
But get this. Kimmy’s only able to do that after she recognizes how sexist the FBI agents have been treating Gretchen. Oh, Gretchen’s crying? Fall back! We men can’t deal with woman tears! Maybe it’s because of the tear gas you just launched through her window, idiots! The real question is how Kimmy came to this realization.
You guessed it. Gretchen. That’s right. Gretchen-ready to drink the misogynist Kool-Aid-Chalker is the one who says everyone’s treating her differently because she’s a woman in a stereotypical male role.
This brings me to my point. In this day and age where many people in this country believe we live in a post-feminist society, it’s a wonder how shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can speak such truth in such absurd ways.
I’m pretty sure most women haven’t been in Gretchen’s exact position of wannabe-cult-supreme-leader, but I’m also pretty sure most women have at one point or another second-guessed themselves by asking, “Is it just me, or is this happening to me because I’m a woman?”
‘Gretchen sees the ordinary sexism that pervades our systems of power everyday’
We’ve had that person, usually a guy but just as often another woman, try to excuse what’s happened. He called out to you on the street because you were closest to him. He answered your male coworker’s email and not yours because it was the most recent one in his inbox.
While Kimmy does her fair share of smashing the patriarchy, it’s typically only in extraordinary situations.
While she single-handedly wins the trial against the Reverend her kidnapped her, she doesn’t believe Gretchen, at first, telling her it’s “not because you’re a woman but because you’re a Gretchen.”
Gretchen sees the ordinary sexism that pervades our systems of power everyday.
In other words, out of all the Mole Women, I’d argue that Gretchen is the most woke. Then again, we haven’t really learned enough about Donna Maria to judge fairly. So here’s my pitch for a bilingual episode featuring Gretchen and Donna Maria taking on retail tycoons and making it rain with broken glass.