Season two is already off to an exciting start. We have both Brody and Carrie starting season two, episode one acclimating to new lives, only to have their newly found comfort disrupted by forces from their respective pasts. Each of them is pulled back into the fold of their previous lives and must navigate how this return of the past can feasibly co-mingle with their current lives. Although I could go on in some detail about the interesting parallels of Brody and Carrie and their struggles in navigating the clash of their past and present lives, I was actually much more intrigued this week by the representation of and cooperation among women in these episodes. There appears to be a strong indication that a “community of women” can work together to get things done. Where men, within the show, are often indicated as the instigators or performers of foreign relation faux pas, women (Carrie in particular) are often found to be the ones who take charge and clean things up. However, as empowering as these moments of female commeraderie are, there are still questions that should be asked related to how these moments can be read and if they are as positive as they actually seem.
When Fatima Ali, an asset that Carrie recruited (and also the wife of a Hezzbollah commander) surfaces with information for American intelligence agencies related to Abu Nazir, she refuses to speak with Saul when Carrie is no longer in a position to speak with her. The second episode of season two opens in a female prayer room, where Fatima is performing her Friday morning prayers. Carrie connects with her assets here. This is clearly a place where male agents would have been grossly out of place. It is precisely Carrie’s unquestioned presence in this female place of worship that begins to suggest that Carrie’s gender provides her a certain degree of access that someone like Saul or other male agents would not (and did not) have with this asset. Additionally, Carrie’s connection with Fatima is said to be largely centered on her assisting Fatima through an incredibly abusive domestic situation. After all, Carrie insists that she “practically saved her life” and that she was absolutely certain that this act would pay off in the long run.
Fatima’s act of defying her husband to help Carrie is similar to an event that happens in season one. After the Mosque shooting, where two innocent muslims’ lives were taken, Carrie visits the Imam, hoping he might be able and willing to provide information regarding Tom Walker’s whereabouts and his activities at their mosque. However, it is not the Imam that ends up helping Carrie, it is his wife (Zahira), in something of an act of defiance. She does not want her husband or anyone to know that she met with Carrie to pass on information, but Zahira is protective of her people and wants to help settle the growing animosity between the muslim community and the rest of the world. When she meets with Carrie, she references a piece of the conversation that Carrie had with her and her husband, saying that she “understands what [Carrie] said about [the] country, the knife edge it is on,” alluding to the rising tensions and the balancing act of attempting to lessen that tension. Interestingly, this interaction is one that rests on Carrie’s gendered access. When she visits the Imam in his home, he is not allowed to be alone with Carrie and, as a result, his wife also sits in on their conversation. Zahira recognizes that Carrie wanted her in the room to hear her plea for information, which prompts Zahira to contact Carrie without her husband’s knowledge.
Where women (particularly Carrie with other Muslim women) in this show are seen as “behind the scenes” rectifiers of male created chaos, these relationships that Carrie forms are not without their share of criticism. Carrie’s “saving” of Fatima and taking advantage of the gender specific rules to appeal to Zahira are seen by some as iterations of the white savior complex, whereby Carrie is there to rescue these women or show them the “light” of western gender ideals. Alex Bevan, for example, points out that in representing Carrie in relation to Muslim women in this way, the show Homeland prioritizes western feminist ideas and allows Carrie to remedy their situation with her “superior” western ideology.
Jessica is another interesting case study for this week’s episodes. She is beginning to come under the wing and influence of Vice President Walden’s wife (Cynthia). These women come together to throw a fundraiser for veterans. Although Brody is supposed to give a keynote, Jessica ends up having to take on the task when he ends up MIA as a result of a flat tire/taking care of Abu Nazir’s bomb-maker. Jessica’s speech suggest the importance of supporting women and their families, that perhaps, had she (as a wife) been supported and been more prepared for Brody’s return home, she could have done a better job in handling the challenges that accompanied him. This reply receives a very positive response from the socialites and soldiers alike that are in attendance. By virtue of cozying up with Walden’s wife, Jessica is beginning to find a purpose outside of her own home. However, even this can be understood to have some consequences. Walden’s family is undeniably a part of the DC elite and Cynthia’s influence on Jessica is starting to become all consuming. For example, when Jessica finds out that Dana accused Brody of being a Muslim (and his subsequent confession that it is true), her reactions are largely a respnse to how his conversion will “look” and how it might affect her (and their family’s) ability to be seen among the DC elite.
There is clearly a lot of good that can come out of these female partnerships, but they also call up questions as to who is benefitting from them and at what cost. Jessica is succumbing to the negative qualities of classicism while Carrie is reifying ideas related to western “superiority.”
Bevan, Alex. “The National Body, Women, and Mental Health in Homeland.” In Focus. 54.4 (2015). 145-51.
8 thoughts on “(Home)Land of Women (Homeland Rewatch S2.01-S2.04)”
You bring some interesting perspectives on the examination of women. I’m noticing that in certain areas Carrie’s gender enhances her character and in others it posses as a limitation. I wonder if one was to compare Carrie’s character to other female characters if these notion of gender (performing or otherwise) be observed and if so to what degree.
I thought it was highly interesting to see and observe Fatima’s behavior in the car, because it highlighted the fact that even though she risked her life to help the CIA, Saul was more concerned about Carrie then Fatima’s own fate.
I really like your analysis here on gender roles. One question I would have is about what types of jobs women “get done” as compared to the men. Notice that the Situation Room is filled with men…the “men on the ground” attempting to assassinate Nazir and his croneys are men…Saul and Estes, when they decide on how to approach Brody, are men making decisions for a lot of people. Another key female role that you did not really get into is Roya Hammad, who actually works as a bit of a go-between for Nazir and Brody. How much does her character fit with/depart from some of the gender roles you establish here? I’m thinking particularly about her scene with Estes – inviting him to dinner, etc.
Really nice work.
I liked your analysis on the females in the show, and I particularly found intriguing how Carrie’s actions with Fatima’s and the other Muslim women contained iterations of the white savior complex. You are right! I did not connect those dots together.
I also had similar thoughts regarding Jessica. I am wondering what her fate among the D.C. elite will be once Brody’s cover gets blown.
Had completely forgotten about the Imam’s wife (this show throws a lot at you), but I think that’s intriguing in considering that women informants have helped Carrie more than male informants. I really enjoyed this post, I am trying very hard to become more aware of feminist thought/theory as admittedly I am just beyond neophyte in that category.
The link you make on Zahira and Fatima is really important and thanks for laying it out so well. You mention that it puts Carrie in a Western/superior position, but I also note that she is very utilitarian in her approach to these women. I never for a moment think Carrie wants to be out in the field to advance women’s position around the globe–she wants to use these women as pawns in her American adventurism in the Mideast. As I mentioned on Brian’s blog, American feminists have been very outspoken about the need for our military in Afghanistan to get involved in re-ordering gender relations there. Carrie seems oblivious to these concerns. She’s much more interested in Abu Nazir than Zahira. Also interesting that you paralleled this to Cynthia/Jessica–another relationship where women operate in the shadows of their men. I think I have more hope for Dana these days.
I really appreciate the idea of a “community of women” on Homeland. I had been focused on the portrayal of Carrie as a “hysterical” woman and overly emotional, but this is much less cynical than the way I’ve been approaching the show. I do think, however, that Carrie doesn’t behave towards the women she’s worked with (Zahira, Fatima, Lynn) in a pro-community way. I think that she sees them as an asset and wants to get what as much as she can get out of them (in the case of Lynn, she pushed her into an unsafe situation that cost her her life).
I like your exploration of the female power structure here. It is very clear that women are dominant or can be dominant here. They are the only ones that can play certain roles and find out information that in the end becomes a benefit, yet they still have men to answer to which makes it difficult for them to get the recognition that they truly deserve.
I’m glad you brought up the idea of the “community of women,” and addressed places in the show where this can be further considered. Personally, after watching the show thus far, my impression has been that there are very few complex depictions of female characters other than Carrie. A lot of the other women we see step in merely to serve a specific role (and then never reappear.) So I especially enjoyed your analysis- as it forced me to further consider the depictions of women we see on the show. When it comes to Carrie- I think we see her using her female assets to get information; I think she cares about them, but it is more on an individual level, and not necessarily tied to some feminist ideology. Where Jessica is concerned- I find her character to be pretty one-dimensional; it seems like she serves as a plot device more than a complex character.