Unpretty Progressiveness And 'Pretty Little Liars'

Making decisions about LGBT characters is one thing, but actually providing the representation and treating it respectfully is even more key.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Pretty Little Liars showrunner, writer, and producer I. Marlene King recently shared a tweet where she said "We will be equal when we no longer care if a character is LGBT or not when making decisions about them. I'm there now." Making decisions is one thing, actually providing the representation and treating it respectfully is even more key. This is something Pretty Little Liars has been continually lacking in when it comes to their LGBT characters season after season, especially for the lone lesbian character Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell).

Sure every character on Pretty Little Liars has experienced heartbreak, death, and devastation; but truly none more than Emily. For six seasons, it's seemed like Emily's storyline and love life have been shelved or used as a way to propel the other heterosexual characters and couples forward. While all of the other Liars, Hanna (Ashley Benson), Aria (Lucy Hale), and Spencer (Troian Bellisario), have had schooling and careers that have left them substantially well off and well educated, Emily hasn't had the same consistency and privilege. In the first few seasons, Emily had been a part of the high school swim team and had hoped for a scholarship and a chance at a full ride and future. But when she gets knocked to the ground trying to escape running her down, that future is taken from her in one fell swoop when she ends up injured with a torn rotator cuff. In season six, the audience has been given a flash forward in time and we pick back up with Emily who is lost in many ways. She lost her college scholarship when she stopped going to classes and was kicked out of school, she used up all of the money she had saved up and had to sell her eggs in order to try and get by, and now she is currently working as a struggling bartender in a restaurant. Emily has had to fight and work twice as hard and nothing in her life has been handed to her.

Each one of the other Liars have had a semi-stable romantic relationship throughout six seasons while Emily's love interests have mostly either been killed off or gone away. Emily has always had a tumultuous relationship with titular character Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse). In season one, flashbacks showed the audience how Ali strung Emily along while Emily kept her sexuality closeted. Now even as adults, and Emily is no longer closeted, Ali continues to keep Emily baited - much like the writers have done to the audience with their relationship. It has been teased about a possible pairing for the two for six seasons and there has even been talk of endgame for when we have the series finale. But for now, Emily continues to be at Ali's beck and call, having to listen to her talk about her murdering former husband who imprisoned her in a mental institution. Even after all of these seasons, Ali's sexuality has not been addressed. Is their relationship one big bait? Emily's steady girlfriend was Paige McCullers (Lindsey Shaw) and Paige is set to return to Rosewood this week. While Paige has survived in the past, it makes me worry for her future safety. Emily's recent love interest, Sara Harvey (Dre Davis), was killed brutally and left in a hotel bathtub. We actually don't even know Sara's sexuality either because she originally was sent by A, so were the feelings real or was this all a part of manipulation by A, or another bait by the writers? I. Marlene King and the writers have also left so many significant details and much more ambiguous and it feels like so much of Emily's life is incomplete.

Meanwhile, Aria is now engaged to her former teacher Ezra (Ian Harding), whom she started having an underage relationship with in high school. Hanna and Caleb (Tyler Blackburn) had one of the longest running steady relationships on the show before the time jump broke them apart but brought together Caleb and Spencer. Hanna had a handsome and doting fiancée of her own that ultimately she broke things off with, but she at least has also had her own chance at happily ever after. Spencer and Toby (Keegan Allen) are another on again off again pairing that has been part of the seemingly endgame set of straight couples. Whether Haleb or Spoby end up walking down the aisle is up in the air for now, but when you're a straight ship, happy endings are almost a sure bet.

In the same succession of tweets, I. Marlene King went on to say that the show has killed more straight people than gay. While this may be true, that doesn't negate the number of queer characters still killed on the one series alone. Autostraddle published this article about how Pretty Little Liars has killed more queer and trans women than any show. Maya (Bianca Lawson) is dead. Shana (Aerial Miranda) is dead. Charlotte (Vanessa Ray) is dead. And now Sara Harvey, dead. The mistake showrunners and writers make when backlash occurs is thinking that the answer is to stop writing characters that are queer. It's not. It's to start having a conscience with regards representation and hold yourself accountable for the reactions and repercussions of these decisions. Treat your heterosexual characters as if they are just as expendable and with just as flawed storylines. And do not just do it for shock value or a claim to groundbreaking TV -- it's been done before, it's not progressive. Good representation starts with the foundation and respect you give both the LGBT characters and the audience.

Emily Fields hasn't been afforded the stability and privileges as the other Liars. And as we continue on in season six, the baiting between Ali and Emily seems only to be building and the death toll rising. Quality representation and equality are something we continue to fight to see reflected on our television screens. If I. Marlene King wants us to believe that her series showcases characters that are treated as equal, she should start showing some pretty big progressiveness.

Go To Homepage

Popular in the Community