Dexter: Feminist Serial Killer?

I’m not sure if I buy the argument that Dexter is feminist, but that could be because I’m still on season 4.  The show does, however, highlight the sexual relationships of its female characters (Deb, LaGuerta, Lila, the various prostitutes…).  What do you Dexter fans think?

By Natalie Wilson, Ms. Magazine

Dexter’s eye-for-an-eye vigilantism came to a gripping fifth-season finale this week with Jordan Chase (Jonny Lee Miller), serial rapist and murderer, brought to a bloody end by one of his victims, Lumen (Julia Stiles). If you are not familiar with the show, go here for a good feminist overview of the series, or see the series of posts here.

This season, the Showtime TV series had much to offer feminist viewers: blood-spatter analyst (and serial killer) Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) as single dad; female Lt. LaGuerta’s (Lauren Velez) betrayal of Dexter’s sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter); Deb’s mad detective skills and, at the heart of the season, a rape revenge fantasy involving Dexter and Lumen, who were bent on meting out punishment for a group of male rapists and murderers. This time around, Dexter’s partner in crime was an intelligent, articulate, tough woman–a female raped, tortured and nearly murdered who realizes that the violence done to her cannot be buried or denied and will forever change her view of the world and her place in it.

As noted at Feminists For Choice, “the show does an above-average  job of accurately depicting the agony of rape trauma syndrome and PTSD.” Why is this good viewing for feminists? Yes, the violence is visceral and the blood excessive. The administered justice is very harsh–with murder on the agenda for those serial killer Dexter decides “don’t deserve to live.” But underneath its brutal exterior, the show also presents us with deeper moral questions about a legal system that consistently fails to catch or punish serial killers, rapist, and child abusers–and deeper still about what type of society breeds such violence and if, indeed, our legal system creates just as many criminals as it attempts to apprehend.

Read on!


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6 responses to “Dexter: Feminist Serial Killer?

  1. tanglythings

    I’ve never thought about Dexter as a feminist, but I guess there’s something to it, lol. As Natalie Wilson pointed out, the last season in particular highlighted its female cast, following Lumen’s journey from a rape victim to a self-proclaimed vigilante (along with Dexter). But, to be honest, I had a problem with Lumen, at least in the beginning, because I thought she was too obvious of a plot device and too little of an actual character. She did grow on me, though, and she provided for a different kind of theme this season, but it still fell short of the sheer brilliance that was season four. But I digress – my point is that Lumen felt kind of one-dimensional and, while her story did offer the audience an insider’s look at the “agony of rape trauma syndrome and PTSD,” it paradoxically made it seem somehow less real, *because* the whole arch was so clearly crafted to shock and trump the Trinity Killer story. Having said that, it’s good to have a show that deals with difficult issues. (Aleks)


    • kera

      I’m still on Season 4 – I’ll respond as soon as I finish the season! 🙂


    • kera

      Ok! Finally done with Season 5! I think that Dexter is definitely not a feminist. Just because the show highlighted several forms of women as victims doesn’t make the show feminist or Dexter a feminist. Dexter straight up got Rita killed, and before he did that he was one of the worst fathers ever – he’s never there and he rarely helped Rita with the kids or housework. This season he has all but abandoned his fatherly responsibilities, leaving women to watch Astor and Harrison even when they’re only in the episode like 2 minutes. I think that the only reason they made a rape victim the focus this season was to keep the female viewers who were angry at Dexter – namely me!


      • tanglythings

        Oops, sorry for replying so late! Yes, I agree with you. I lost a lot of respect for Dexter after Rita got killed (though I’m not sure if “respect” is the right word when talking about a serial killer…). One thing I did like was the Esther arch – I like that he had to work to get her trust (not that he deserved it), though I wish the kids had played a larger role in this season. I think you also have to remember about Deb, who’s probably the second most important character on the show – what do you think about her?


      • kera

        I love her! She’s my favorite character on the show, and this season was an amazing one for her. I would say that I hate that she’s always getting involved with the wrong guy, but it seems like every major character has relationship issues on this show so I don’t think it’s a gender thing. And I definitely agree about the daughter, although I was so pissed about his relationship with his children by the last episode – when they show up a day early and he totally ignores them and then they’re still really happy the next day at the birthday party which is organized by the nanny! Also, Val brought up how Rita’s parents weren’t even at her funeral! Guess they didn’t want to pay for another extra! 🙂


  2. tanglythings

    Haha, I love Deb too but it frustrates me that she’s always getting involved with serial killers or douchebags. She deserves better and she’s smarter than that! But maybe you’re right, it’s not like there’s a single normal person on that show… And yep, the birthday party was such a cop out. I really hope Dexter becomes more of a father in the next season. Were Rita’s parents really not at the funeral? I didn’t even notice. Maybe they’re dead? (hopefully not behalf of Dexter, heh)


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