Amy Gardner: Giving Feminism A Bad Name Since 2001

The first time I watched The West Wing I was maybe fourteen years old. From the moment she first appeared in season three, I hated the character of Amy Gardner. Now I’m twenty, and I still hate her. Let me tell you why.

THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE WEST WING.

Amy Gardner gives feminism a bad name. She is the reason ignorant people hate feminists. She is the reason the despicable term “feminazi” is still in use. She symbolizes a worldwide phenomenon of feminists being depicted as crazy, and it’s incredibly harmful to the women’s rights movement.

Now, I would be the first to admit that The West Wing is fraught with misogyny. It took me a re-watch as an adult to realize this, but it’s true, and I think it’s largely Aaron Sorkin’s fault. C.J. Cregg wasn’t promoted to Chief Of Staff until Sorkin had vacated the writer’s room. Kate Harper was only conceived of after he was gone. And in the absence of Sorkin, Donna blossomed into the strong independent woman we knew she was all along. Even Amy became more likable after Sorkin vacated the premises. That doesn’t change the fact that at first, she was a nightmare.

We are first introduced to Amy when Josh invents a problem in order to go see her and ask her out. She’s hardly likable. She’s sarcastic to the point of being mean. I admit freely that at first I did not like her because I regarded her as an obstacle dividing my OTP. As long as Amy was in play, Josh would not realize that he had always, always, always been in love with Donna from the very start.

I mean can this guy get his eyefucking under control, maybe? Or replace it with some actual fucking? Donna wouldn’t mind, Josh, she loves you just as much as you love her.

While re-watching the show, I already knew the outcome. I have memorized the outcome of the Josh & Donna storyline. Sometimes I watch the last few episodes of the show again just to see them happy and, like a true fangirl, get joy from their joy. So I don’t really have any reason to worry about Amy, right? Wrong.

I have seen people defend Amy both in real life and on the internet. “She’s just quirky,” is what they tend to say. But Amy isn’t quirky. Spending hours at the office making balloon animals when you should be doing your job as a lobbyist isn’t cute, it’s just stupid. Imagine if Sam Seaborn spent even ten minutes of his day making balloon animals. We’d all think he was crazy, and that’s because we know Sam to be a serious, conscientious guy. The message her balloon animal hobby sends is clear: this lady is not to be taken seriously.

A number of times, Amy puts her political ideology before her romantic relationship with Josh, and I have seen this prioritization hailed as a revolutionary depiction of the modern ambitious woman. I would argue that it’s not: putting your career first in Washington D.C. shouldn’t be considered extraordinary regardless of your gender. But we live in an unequal world, and it is, and I do applaud Amy on that front.

What I dislike about Amy isn’t that she’s rude, like Toby, or ambitious, like any character on the show. These are traits that can amuse me and endear me to characters. The real problem arises in season three episode twenty, when Amy is made aware of something that needs to be taken care of urgently. In this matter, which comes down to passing a bill, she and Josh are adversaries, and she is only made aware of the conflict through their personal relationship. In order to prevent Josh from making the vote go his way, she throws his cell phone into a bowl of stew and then cuts the chord of the landline with a pair of scissors.

Let me repeat that: She drowns his cell, then ruins the landline.

Regardless of who’s right here and who is wrong, that’s just crazy behavior. If I was Josh I would walk out on her right away. Purposefully vandalizing your partner’s possessions is under no circumstances okay. Doing it to get your way? Definitely out of the question.

Furthermore, I am afraid that Amy’s actions in this scene reinforce the stereotype of the feminist as an irrational, hysterical, hormonal lady who shouts and stomps her foor until she gets what she wants.

This is a little off-topic, but I would also like to point out that Josh and Amy didn’t fundamentally disagree on the matter. Josh wasn’t trying to enstate Sharia law or anything. He was willing to allow marriage incentives in exchange for a lot of funding for child support. Amy was being stubborn and unrealistic and she was completely unwilling to compromise. All in all, the situation also made her come across as somewhat delusional as well as really impulsive.

Amy Gardner, the idealistic womens’ rights lobbyist and potential love interest to Josh Lyman, could have been such a great character and a wonderful addition to the show. Instead, she was every real feminist’s worst nightmare. And for that, I blame Aaron Sorkin.

 

 

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