V for Vendetta: Femininity as a State of Dependence
Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel V for Vendetta has long been celebrated for its unflinching depiction of a post-nuclear war United Kingdom, terrifyingly dystopian and yet uncomfortably easy to imagine. Moore and Lloyd draw on many aspects of contemporary social dogma to create their dystopia. This essay, however, will focus on an aspect so integral to society today that it would be easy to overlook its appearance in the text: femininity as a state of dependence.
There are three young, feminine women in V for Vendetta: Evey, Rosemary, and Helen. While Rosemary and Helen are obviously dependent on masculine figures, scraping out an existence for themselves purely through their sexuality, Evey’s experience with her own femininity is more complex. Through her, Moore and Lloyd explore the notion of feminine dependence: pushing Evey through stages of gender vulnerability, gender confusion, and gender neutrality, they attempt to show a progression from feminine helplessness to androgynous self-sufficiency, but ultimately fall into the same gender stereotype they have tried to rewrite.
The first time we meet Evey, she is preparing to go out into the streets to begin prostituting herself. She presents herself in a way specifically designed to attract men, as she is counting on the relationship of their masculinity to her femininity to provide her with the means to live. The opening pages of the novel are full of her body, her face; she has long blond hair, she is wearing a skimpy dress and lots of makeup – in short, she is the picture of socially contrived femininity. Her eyes are huge and always directed upward, as though from a subservient position.
These images interact with the text to give the reader a full introduction to the role of women in this society. As Evey approaches a man on a dark street, the text box states, “Her transactions, her decisions, are insignificant. They affect no one… except her” (Moore and Lloyd, 10). The reader is left in no doubt as to the social standing of this girl: in the context of her society, she is nothing. Her first words reinforce this impression: “Mister?” she asks, indicating her position as respecter rather than respected. “Uh…” she continues, and her uncertainty and lack of self-confidence are almost tangible. All of these clues point the reader to the conclusion that this girl is utterly vulnerable, absolutely defined by her gender, and helplessly entrapped in the limitations her society attaches to it.
All this before we even reach the “damsel in distress” scene.
Evey’s role as the helpless female is further emphasized by her first meeting with V, the hero (or villain, depending on the viewpoint) of the story. When Evey is about to be attacked in a dark alleyway, V turns up just in time to whisk her away in a puff of smoke – literally.
While V is a largely androgynous figure through most of the book, on this occasion, in the face of Evey’s extreme femininity, he takes on the traditionally masculine “protector” role. Evey gushes, “You… you rescued me! Like in a story!” (Moore and Lloyd, 13). Her culture’s stories have informed Evey that it is her job to be the defenseless one who waits to be defended by a masculine presence. In response, even the largely gender-bending V is forced to compensate for her over-femininity with a show of over-masculinity. This is indicative of the gender binary’s tendency to polarize “male” and “female” bodies in their everyday realities, exaggerating their respective roles and making it nearly impossible for feminine people to escape their prescribed roles as victims.
Early on in Evey’s relationship with V, it becomes clear that she is only familiar with two kinds of male companion: a father and a lover. As V is neither of these, she struggles to fit him -- and her perception of him as a protector and a guide -- into a familiar slot, becoming increasingly confused at her inability to do so (Moore and Lloyd, 96). If he doesn’t fit into his gender stereotype, neither can she, and that is a phenomenon for which her experience in society has not prepared her.
This gender confusion has a massive effect on Evey’s psyche. For a while, she takes refuge from it by going to live with Gordon, who is first a father figure to her and later a lover. This mix-up of masculine relationships occurs again later, when Evey has an elaborate dream in which she is a little girl with her father, who turns into Gordon and tries to have sex with her, only to turn back into her father. In the dream, Evey has taken time to dress in a childish, frilly purple dress and hair bows, remarking that “I don’t even know why I’m bothering to get dressed up like this, but I feel as if it’s expected of me” (Moore and Lloyd, 143). Her femininity, then, is impressed upon her by her society, specifically by the powerful, protective males who take the form of father, lover, or a confused mixture of the two. The childlike demeanor she takes on in the dream is indicative of her childlike state in the presence of such men – small, vulnerable, in need of guidance and defense.
When Evey is eventually forced to question her own gender role, it is a painful experience. Imprisoned and unsure of where she is or if she will survive, the first thing that really seems to break her is the loss of her hair – the long blond hair that was always such a symbol of her femininity. Until that point, she narrates her capture smoothly; but when “someone grabs hold of my hair… I feel them cutting at it,” her prose becomes disjointed and increasingly distressed. “Oh no, oh God,” she says, repeating the exclamations for emphasis. “They don’t need to do this” (Moore and Lloyd, 153). Clearly, she had not imagined that her captors would stoop to such depths; she feels dehumanized, debased by the loss of this symbol of her femininity. Without her gender identity, which her society has convinced her is an essential part of her being, she does not know who to be.
It takes an indeterminate amount of torture, starvation, and despair in prison before Evey is free of her gender restrictions. When she emerges, she is no longer “beautiful” or traditionally feminine in any way – she is bald, skin and muscle, raw with the discovery that it is not her performance that matters, but her integrity. The section ends with a beautiful image of her standing naked in the rain, with V telling her, “This night is yours. Seize it […] Become transfixed… Become transfigured… Forever” (Moore and Lloyd, 172). The message is that, having faced her own death to preserve her integrity as a human being, Evey is no longer trapped inside the gender role restrictions impressed on her by her society. Standing outside, naked, cleansed by rain, hairless, in a “pure and natural” state, Moore and Lloyd imply that she is at last free of her gender.
But that is where they themselves stereotype.
Falling Into the Trap
Evey would not have achieved this particular freedom without V. Acting as her guide and mentor, he takes it upon himself to teach her the life lessons he considers necessary for her to learn – therefore, he is the provider and she is the dependent. In this case, he takes his control over her life to the extreme of imprisoning her, torturing and starving her, and making her believe she is about to be executed (Moore and Lloyd, 153-69). This is an unthinkable level of presumption on his part, and places him firmly in the masculine “I know what is best for you” mentality. Evey, even though she is no longer stereotypically feminine, is still in the dependent position.
This pattern occurs again at the end of the story, when V dies and Evey takes up the mantle of his political activism. She dons his cloak, mask, and wig, she imitates his speech patterns – effectively, she becomes him. The message is that it does not matter who V was, because “whoever you are isn’t as big as the idea of you” (Moore and Lloyd, 250). The individual person does not matter as much as their actions and beliefs.
Yet this is where the dominant male and the dependent female emerge again. While V made the choice to become “the terrorist,” he passes the job down to Evey as though she does not have a choice. “You must discover whose face lies behind this mask, but you must never know my face,” he tells her (Moore and Lloyd, 245). He is instructing her here, to take up his legacy – become him – without physically looking under his mask. Adding the strict, parental phrase “Is that quite clear?” and repeatedly informing Evey that she “must” do things, he places himself in the role of the one who knows best, and her in the role of the one who must obey. Even after her un-gendering ordeal in V’s prison, Evey is still the dependent female.
In their graphic novel V for Vendetta, Moore and Lloyd make an attempt to criticize the social notion of femininity as a state of dependence. Through Evey’s experiences with gender vulnerability, gender confusion, and gender neutrality, they explore the possibility of defeating this stereotype. However, they ultimately fall into their own trap with the character of V, casting him in the masculine mentor role and Evey in the feminine dependent role.
Source: Lloyd, David and Alan Moore. V for Vendetta. New York, NY: DC Comics, 2005. Print.