I’m a simple woman. I don’t need too much encouragement to start a new TV show. So when I heard there was a Hulu original series coming out that features a purple-haired, teenage, Jewish feminist with a pet dinosaur, I decided to watch it. And, I’m so glad I did.
In the show, “Marvel’s Runaways,” six teenagers, who were previously friends but have drifted apart, come together once more only to discover that their parents’ charity group is actually a group of supervillains. They have to figure out what their parents are doing and how to stop it, while simultaneously learning more about themselves (both in the normal teenager way and in the superpowers way) and juggling their interpersonal relationships. The best part of the show is its ensemble cast made up of well defined, realistic, flawed and interesting people. The character who initially drew me in is Gert Yorkes.
It was so exciting for me to see a young, unapologetic, Jewish feminist on screen who isn’t afraid to be defined by her feminism.
As a teenage Jewish feminist, I immediately focused on Gert because we share these traits. It was so exciting for me to see a young, unapologetic, Jewish feminist on screen who isn’t afraid to be defined by her feminism. In the first episode, she starts a feminist club and speaks her mind about things that perpetuate the patriarchy, even when it’s the unpopular opinion. She’s also proud of her Jewish identity, though she does insult her parents’ brisket.
Yet, as they show went on, I was sometimes disappointed by Gert, mostly because her main storyline revolves around her crush on Chase Stein, another one of the Runaways, who appears to have a crush on their friend Karolina. Gert constantly tries to get between Karolina and Chase and is consistently awful to Karolina. Despite her outspoken feminist morals, Gert plays right into the sexist tropes of defining herself by a relationship with a man and competing with another woman for that man’s attention.
Beyond that, she’s often framed as the “insufferable social justice warrior,” and she seems to use her feminism to put down things her friends are excited about. For example, when her sister, Molly, is looking forward to dance squad auditions, Gert belittles her for reinforcing gender roles and marginalizing women. The “feminist killjoy” is a common and harmful stereotype. It makes feminists like myself afraid to speak up against sexism because we don’t want to be labeled as crazy or over-sensitive. Making Gert this kind of feminist isn’t actually progressive at all.
Two choice details, and a little bit of contemplation, altered my perspective of Gert. The first detail is Gert’s admission to Chase that she always feels ignored and that all she wants is for someone to see her. The second was revealed in a short, seemingly throwaway conversation: that Gert has an anxiety disorder. While the fact that she struggles with mental illness doesn’t necessarily excuse her faults, these two facts put together gave me a lot more sympathy for her, and also helped me relate to her more. Gert is multifaceted, just like the rest of us. I too want to end gender inequality and smash the patriarchy, but I also have the impossibly strong, impossibly human desire to be liked. While Gert’s methods are imperfect, they aren’t by any means evil or atypical.
Something else that strikes me as important is that while Gert is sometimes over-the-top about her feminism, even for me, other characters still learn from her. In one episode, Chase quotes her favorite expression, “dates are heteronormative,” and says that while most of the time he doesn’t understand her, she sometimes makes good points. It’s empowering to see a feminist character who actually makes the people around her better feminists. It makes me feel like I can do the same!
I’ve wholeheartedly embraced Gert for who she is: a strong Jewish feminist, who, though flawed, is working to change herself so she can better change the world. In the end, this might be the best, and possibly the most realistic representation I, and other girls like me, could ask for. Gert isn’t perfect, but she is a feminist who wants to make a difference in the world and wants those around her to understand her point of view. In a lot of ways, this is all I’m trying to do too, and Gert’s example helps me believe that I can do it.
Josie Rosman is a sophomore at J. R. Masterman High School in Philadelphia, PA.
Editor’s Note: This content was produced in partnership with the Jewish Women’s Archive.