You can sell feminism with AK-47s. That is what I learned from Sons of Anarchy. I used to think the problem was that men were against feminism; turns out it is women who hate it. Men just needed better packaging.
Give men a body count with motorcycles and they love women’s lib. For the last seven years, I have watched all seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy, the FX version of “Hamlet”—if Denmark was riding around on Harley-Davidsons in northern California. I have watched Jax, the president of the motorcycle club, marry an astonishing neonatal surgeon. I have seen a 60-year-old grandmother be powerful and hot in high heels. I have seen working mothers with excellent daycare. This has happened on a television show that is enormously popular with the thug testosterone demographic.
Alert Gloria Steinem: Feminism has won!
Of course, Sons of Anarchy is mostly bad to women, who are mostly biker old ladies—when they’re not employees of the house of ill repute that the club owns. But the world is mostly bad to women. The world is also mostly terrible to men. One percent—make that point one percent—of the population owns almost everything. How is that good to much of anyone? But at least the leading ladies of Sons of Anarchy are intense characters. The show has righteous aspirations. It believes in two big careers and two little kids in one family. All the hedge fund managers I know have stay-at-home wives. Bikers do it better.
Besides: Every yin needs a yang. It’s TV. They need lingerie. There is also a lot of Jax’s bare butt. And since the bikers do time all the time, there is plenty of prison sex. Sons of Anarchy favors pandering equality. It is just dirty.
Tonight is the series finale, and if it’s true to “Hamlet,” there will be blood. If it’s true to “Hamlet,” no one here gets out alive. (Recall Hamlet inadvertently killed Polonius before all the advertent stuff.) Sons of Anarchy is a show about casual killing. I try to count the dead on every episode, and it isn’t possible. Bodies fall on the side of the road and land in shallow graves, or they just lie there like timber. Often the death was a mistake. The violence is so oh well. I was raised on the beautiful gore of Sam Peckinpah, so you’d think I wouldn’t mind, but I do. I find it awful. I find it awful, and I can’t stop watching. I love Mad Men as much as the guy who lives down the hall, but I prefer crime shows. I love dumb ones and smart ones. I love Law & Order, but in a pinch I will sit through Blue Bloods. Those engaged in evil—and the ones fighting it—are at extremes. People just propulse. It is like watching a meteor shower, but with a plot.
The women of Sons of Anarchy are exceptional not because of a feminist agenda, but because they live outside the law. When the rules don’t apply, Grandma is always having a one-night stand with one hot number. Without rules, a lot more happens. Feminism would have better luck if it were wicked and fun.
Of course, everything would be better off being wicked and fun. Sons of Anarchy is not brilliant TV. I’m not even sure it’s good TV. It is enormously popular, but I don’t know anyone else who watches it. I just love the crazy. I love the way the men spend their days killing whoever they mistake for a problem, and then they are scared of the women because the women are fierce without guns. It is respect for a power you can’t understand. It is respect for love.
That’s the part of Shakespeare that Sons of Anarchy got right: We do terrible things because of love. We don’t need hate to have a miserable time. Love will ruin us.
You’ll see. In the end there will be nothing left.
Elizabeth Wurtzel is the author of Prozac Nation, Bitch and More, Now, Again. Her latest book is Creatocracy: How the Constitution Invented Hollywood.