This is a more difficult post to write than the first two, both because it’s tougher to put my finger on exactly why I liked the way the third untrusting female character was portrayed, and because this character’s experience is more based on generalized male privilege than it is on the much more salient and dramatic problems that come with recovering from acts of violence.
The woman is Lt. Esme Pasquale, and her story is that she’s worried that her fiancé is cheating on her, to the point that she’s used her access to police resources to check out his phone records. The reason it’s brought up in this episode is really because of Laguerta’s reactions to Pasquale, who has just been given the job that Laguerta wanted. While Laguerta displays some sympathy and solidarity at what Pasquale is dealing with (both with her husband and as a woman of colour in a position of authority), she also makes it clear that she is willing to exploit Pasquale’s weaknesses in order to further her own career. In one particularly effective scene between the two women, Pasquale’s face speaks volumes–she doesn’t trust her fiancé, but she can’t quite believe that she’s seeing herself doing what she’s doing. She’s afraid to be as insecure in her relationship as she really is, and she is desperately ashamed to know that Laguerta is right about her misuse of police resources for personal reasons. In one look, you can see how she has no idea how she became this woman, and just how much she is turning the problem in her relationship back around onto herself.
And call me crazy, but in a high-quality show like this one, I don’t think it’s coincidence that this incident is brought out in the same episode that focuses on the two women who have experienced violence (or in an episode that I now learn from IMDb is entitled “Waiting to Exhale”). To me, it highlights a similar message that women have internalized: strong women don’t do these things. Empowered, career-driven women either don’t have relationships with men who would betray them or find it easy to let go of those relationships if they discover betrayal.
Esme is a strong woman, but she’s still struck by doubt, and what male privilege entails in this context is that her lack of trust in her partner becomes self-doubt more than anything else. There’s a difference in how stories portray women in this situation in contrast to cuckolded husbands. I can see two prototypical male attitudes with respect to the thought that their wives are cheating–the jealous, controlling, unreasonably suspicious abuser, or the noble, wronged, trusting Arthurian type, who, when he discovers this completely out-of-nowhere betrayal by his wife, ends the marriage in righteous anger (á la Dr. McDreamy). Where I think male privilege comes into play in constructing these as “the way men are/react” is that neither of these types ever thinks he is wrong. He assumes he’s right about whether or not his wife is cheating, yes, but the stalwart knight who discovers he’s mistaken about doesn’t stop to think about all the signs he should have seen. Contrast that with Esme who cannot stop internalizing, questioning, wondering how she can stop being so suspicious and feeling like regardless of what he is doing, she is being completely unreasonable.
This one is far more subtle than the other two, and done in very few conversations and mainly with facial expressions rather than anything explicitly stated, but it ties back to an overall theme that I think the show is pointing out: society and life experience give women good reason not to trust men, then makes them question their rationality and judgment when they’re untrusting or anxious, and convinces them that it’s not okay to ask questions or require some security from the men they are with–that would be nagging. And that’s the impact that a world of male privilege on the lives of individuals.