Teen Wolf‘s Lydia, Defying Tropes of Sex, Smarts, and Beauty in Female Characters
In Teen Wolf, a show full of alpha males and machismo, one of the most interesting characters is something else entirely – a woman. Lydia Martin begins her arc in episode one as a stereotypically ditzy, beautiful, popular girl, but that soon starts to unravel. Over the course of the first three seasons, it is slowly but resolutely revealed how intelligent and powerful Lydia actually is. From a feminist standpoint, Lydia is incredibly important because she starts her story attempting to adhere to the traditional dumb popular girl trope but slowly, through her relationships and character development, drops her pretense to reveal her true intelligence and power as a woman.
One of the most significant moments in Lydia’s story line is seen in episode five of season one. In this episode, titled, “The Tell,” the end revolves around a set of parent-teacher conferences involving the parents of all the teenage characters of the show. The conference between Lydia’s divorced parents begins with them assuming that Lydia is having problems at school and trying to blame one another for those imagined problems. They are cut off by the teacher, who states, “Academically, Lydia is one of the finest students I’ve ever had. Her AP classes push her GPA above a 5.0. I’d actually like to have her I.Q. tested. And socially, she displays outstanding leadership qualities. I mean, she’s a real leader.”
Even Lydia’s own parents assume that she is fully committed to the trope of the ditzy teenage girl character. However, Lydia’s abilities, academically and socially, demonstrate that she is capable of so much more. This scene is a lovely bit of foreshadowing for what is to come in her character arc. Throughout the course of the show, Lydia can be seen, time and again, figuring out problems before anyone else. Her only rival is the character Stiles, who is intelligent but not as focused or socially adept as Lydia. What the revelation of Lydia’s true nature says to the audience, which is comprised predominantly of teenage girls, is that they don’t have to be defined by their intelligence, their popularity, or their beauty. They can use and embrace all three of these concepts. In this respect, Lydia is an incredible example of feminist ideals.
Throughout the course of the show, Lydia is shown to be very sexual, but she is never morally judged for her sexual activity. In many other shows, teenagers, and especially women, are typically judged as being morally bad or corrupt in some way for having and enjoying sex. Unlike these other shows, Teen Wolf never makes any moral judgment on Lydia or any other characters for their sexual activity. Lydia is seen being sexual with multiple characters and is still perceived as someone worthy of desire and affection. This can be seen through Stiles’s unwavering devotion to her. He knows about her sexual history, but he is not bothered by it. He is still in love with her, not in spite of or because of her history, it’s simply a non-issue. She is not viewed as being damaged or brought down by her desires in any way.
In parallel to this, there is one very important moment in episode 11 of season one “Formality,” in which Stiles takes Lydia to Winter Formal. While outside the dance, they are approached by Lydia’s ex-boyfriend, Jackson. He says to Stiles, “it’s your go, boss,” implying that Lydia is someone who gets passed from one boy to another. Her response after he walks away is a breath-taking example of feminism in action. She says,
“I don’t care. I don’t want compliments. I will not fall prey to society’s desire to turn girls into emotional, insecure, neurotics who pull up their dresses at the first flattering remark.”
Just look at that line for a moment. At its core, that one line of dialogue defines Lydia as an intelligent woman who is completely aware of the constraints society wants to place on girls. The fact that this line is delivered by a beautiful, well-dressed woman makes it all the more powerful. It is saying that you can be a strong feminist and still be feminine. This scene is telling young girls that you don’t have to fit a certain mold. You don’t have to choose between wanting to be respected and wanting to be beautiful.
Perhaps the most important development in Lydia’s character is the revelation of her own supernatural powers. At the end of season 2, it is discovered that Lydia is a banshee, a mythical Irish spirit woman who wails when someone is close to death. In the show, the writers add to the mythology, allowing the scream to help Lydia hear the whispers of the dead. She can hear the universe speaking to her and she uses it to help save people. What is important about this is that it takes something that is traditionally seen a weakness for women, the tendency to scream in the face of danger, and turns it into something powerful that can be used to save and protect others. Lydia uses her scream to help her friends avoid danger and death. By doing this, the ‘wailing woman’ stereotype is being turned on its head. Instead of screaming being a weakness, it is a source of strength and power. It’s giving a Lydia a power that no one else has.
Lydia Martin has grown and changed over the course of Teen Wolf’s first three seasons. She has gone from a supposed brainless snob to one of the most respected and powerful characters on the show. It will be interesting to see what more she will accomplish in the fourth season this June.
Katie Garren is a nerdy feminist blogger from Washington State. She runs the blog Katie Reads the Classics , in which she reads and reviews literature mostly for her own amusement.