Not only is Vince Gilligan’s Better Call Saul every bit as good as Breaking Bad, it also has the one thing Breaking Bad lacked: a strong, kickass female character. Kim Wexler is an accomplished, independent lawyer. But season 2 episode 5, “Rebecca,” showed us how real her struggle, and the struggle of professional women everywhere, really is.
Before we even get to sexism, we get a glimpse of the minor annoyances women deal with on a daily basis that make their jobs harder, and that men simply don’t have to think about. In the episode, Kim’s boss, Howard, is punishing her in a particularly degrading way, by removing her from her office and putting her in doc review for long and tedious hours that completely waste her talents. She stays even longer than she needs to, working past midnight to prove to her boss what a hard worker she is, and that she will quickly climb out of this hole. When the other HHM employees go home for the night and Kim is the only one left, she removes her heels, letting out a sigh of relief, and gets back to work.
If you have ever worn heels, then you know they’re uncomfortable. Moreso if you’re standing, walking, and working in them all day. Heels go from uncomfortable to painful. The longer you wear them, the worse it gets. By midnight one can only imagine the stabbing pain that would shoot through her feet and up her legs every time she took a step. Men, in their flat dress shoes, are never distracted by this pain on the job. Women must simultaneously deal with this everyday pain and ignore it, keeping up a level of excellence in spite of it.
I suppose Kim could wear flats, but we learn early on that HHM is all about appearances. When we see Kim Wexler, we see what we envision a professional woman to look like. She wears a business-practical knee length skirt, and wearing anything but heels with it would look sloppy. The skirt also allows us to see her legs, which we know she has to get up earlier than her male coworkers to shave, and to do her hair, and makeup. And let’s just have a moment of silence in respect for the underwire we know is digging into her rib cage.
Though this wasn’t in any way a part of the episode, it did lead me to think about women having their periods on the job. We have no idea what time of month this is for Kim, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much harder this week would have been for her if she had her period on top of everything else. It would be just one more little thing for her to worry about, and one she clearly didn’t have time for since she didn’t even have time to eat lunch. In the back of a woman’s mind during her period, she’s always planning and spacing out her extra trips to the bathroom (which is especially fun when she just can’t get away from whatever she’s doing) and worrying that she’ll forget about it and leave a stain on her expensive suit skirt or those fancy HHM chairs. Not to mention the cramps and headaches that would add to the foot pain, and make simply doing her job that much harder. And people still try to say women aren’t tough enough for certain jobs. Ha!
Then we get to the even worse challenges women face in the workplace on a daily basis. Working through lunch, because doc review takes up all the rest of her time, Kim works frantically and tirelessly to bring in new high-profile clients to her boss’s firm. She believes this will get her out of the hole. She makes phone calls from the stairwell (standing in her heels) because she no longer has an office. On one call, Kim has to explain that she is seeing someone, and we can infer that the man on the other end hit on her and probably told her that she sounded sexy. On another call, Kim is forced to explain that she’s not Howard’s secretarty, but an attorney, just like him.
Eventually, Kim snags a toast-worthy client, and is so proud of herself that she cheers into an empty garage. When she and Howard meet the female client and a male who accompanies her, Kim and the female client book it up the stairs–a comment on how women are always moving faster and working harder because they have to just to break even–while Howard and the male take a leisurely stroll, because they can.
The worst part is, after all this working her ass off, Howard gives her case to Francis, leaving Kim once again with the grunt work.
Though Francis is a gender neutral name, we can assume he’s yet another man getting the assignment Kim deserves because as Jimmy says in the beginning of the episode recounting his first days with HHM: “Met some nice guys and gals. Well, gal. Singular.” This line shows how so many high-profile careers are still male dominated, due in no small part to the previously mentioned challenges and sexism.
At the end of the episode, Chuck asks Kim: “Coffee?” She says no thank you, and he says “Can you make me some?” While because of Chuck’s “condition,” he thinks can’t make coffee himself, this is also another intentional comment by the show to illustrate how women are asked to do these kinds of “traditional women’s work” tasks around the office. Asking this implies that Kim’s time is somehow less valuable than his. She can make the coffee (or the copies, or insert other menial task here) while he gets important work done.
As the show wears on, Howard’s proclivity towards exercising power and control over Kim is becoming more and more apparent. And I was so impressed with how Better Call Saul showed workplace sexism and the other challenges women face, I wonder if they won’t eventually go for the biggest one: sexual harassment. Maybe Howard is too smart for that, or maybe I’m reading him wrong. But I know if he is stupid enough to try that on Kim, he’ll be sorry.
Which brings me to my favorite line of the episode and a perfect one to close with. To Jimmy, who has been trying to devise ways to get Kim out of doc review, Kim says, “You don’t save me. I save me.”
4 thoughts on “Better Call Saul’s “Rebecca” Perfectly Captures Workplace Sexism and Gender Inequality”
Hi! Just googled X-files “Orison” after watching it and found your blog. So funny to see the next entry was about the Better Caul Episode “Rebecca” I just watched last night!! Just coincidence I suppose but I thought I’d just mention it…
Quite Interesting review on Orison BTW and I found the episode to be a good one. It looks like some of the critics of the episode were just uncomfortable with the idea that Scully could kill someone and reacted negatively.
Disagree with some of your thoughts about sexism on the Rebecca episode however – not denying the facts about women having all sorts of struggles at the workplace, but it always feel like some women don’t see the other side – that us men have also all sorts of different issues to deal with too, and I think it’s as much about differences of social behaviours between women and men, than it is about 50% of the population being “victimized” by the other 50% .
Anyways, did not mean to start a war of the sexes here. Nice blog, maybe I should start one someday;)
Hi, and thanks for your comment! I’m so glad you are enjoying the blog. I’m always happy to listen to the issues of men as well, but also think it’s important to be able to speak about women’s issues, and only women’s issues sometimes–just how sometimes the conversation focuses on ASL-a specific disease, rather than always all diseases at once. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that 50% of the population is victimizing the other 50%. Have you heard the phrase “Yes all women?” I like it because men always say “not all men,” and of course we know that. Not all men are sexist, and not all men refuse to acknowledge or care about the struggles of women. But all women have experienced sexism. If you’re interested in furthering this discussion, I’d love to know which points specifically you disagree with. Do you disagree that these issues affect women negatively? I’m always up for a respectful exchange of ideas.
I agree with you about “Orison”–it’s an important story to tell whether or not you think it’s out of character for Scully. Now I’m having a capital punishment debate in my own head lol.
Thanks again for reading. I hope to hear from you again 🙂
To expand a bit on my thoughts, first of all I liked this episode and found it compelling, and I am sure many women would identify with what Kim was going through and that’s a good thing. But men could identify to some extent with her situation too, as the main reason she was in this situation was because her boss was “punishing” her, and this was her struggle to get back in his good graces. Working crazy hours and everything, you could have written this episode with a man instead and that could have worked too I think. Unless you believe only a woman would have been punished as degradingly but I would dispute this I think.
So I’ll only focus on what I think could qualify as sexism, things related to her being a women. For example being asked out during a business call, or asked to bring coffee, or being assumed to be the secretary. I agree those as prejudices of being a woman in a traditionally male dominated environment.
But my point would be that it’s an unchangeable reality that if an individual is in a group with a majority of a different kind, there is always a distance, stereotyping or some prejudice. Same with an ethnic minority, sexual preference, etc… I am myself a European immigrant in North America, and it’s not always easy to either be accepted or trusted. That’s because people make assumptions about something which is not usual. If a male nurse works in a team of mostly women, I would think he would be also stereotyped as maybe not caring enough, not clean enough or any things men are assumed to be compared to women. Normally with time people get to know the individual and the prejudices go away, unless we deal with complete idiots lol.
To be fair there is another angle too, which I would say is the difference in sexuality or sexual behaviour between men and women, and it is a more complicated thing to analyze (I know, I’m pretty nerdy that way trying to analyze everything). So for example that women need to dress up in an uncomfortable way, or they need to deal with their periods, and that something which makes it harder to work in an office that traditionally has a majority of men. While true, we go back to the issue of being a minority. And a lot is the result of basic sexuality which is inherent to humanity. Women sexual behaviour is more based on attracting male attention, and men’s based on showing attention to female (debating sexual behaviour is a minefield so I won’t go much further!). So a man may need less uncomfortable clothes to look good, but he needs to show additional assertiveness or social behaviour. What I mean is we can never take the sexuality out of the equation since the office is also a social environment and sexuality is a part of it. So it might be unprofessional to ask a business prospect out just like that like in this episode, but it would also be unprofessional for an attractive lady to lead a client by playing the seduction card. Some people do it though!
I’m glad we can dig into this, and it’s always interesting to formalize one’s thought on a matter!
Hi again, Gael.
I’ll try to respond to each section in brief. First, I 100% agree that men can also relate to her struggle. Kim’s character is so relatable to the overworked American, regardless of gender. And we are all familiar with feeling put down by our bosses at times. I don’t necessarily think she was punished in a more degrading way because she’s a woman, but I do think women often get held to higher standards and have to be twice to ten times as good at their jobs than their male counterparts, who would maybe be less likely to get punished in the first place. I could see Howard saying “Hey man, don’t sweat it, let’s go golfing.” But this is just me speculating and projecting as there would be no way of knowing without a male character in Kim’s exact position to compare side by side. All I can say for sure is it’s definitely how I interpret the show-as Kim having to work harder and taking more crap because she’s a woman. But not everyone will interpret it that way, and it doesn’t make me right and others wrong.
I too am a nerd and love to analyze everything! Sexuality in social situations including the workplace is too complicated for me to get into right now. I could talk about it forever, but alas, deadlines. I will say that my original thought–that for a woman to look good/professional in this particular law office she has to wear the skirt and heels, and while some employers might find this look sexy and try to hit on her, or while some might use their sexual appeal for business reasons, I don’t think either of those apply to the show. Howard is portrayed as many things, but not a sexual harasser. And Kim is always professional with clients. However, I do think it’s fascinating that the fact that women sometimes appear sexier in the pursuit of looking good for the job can lead to wither of those things. It’s another thing women need to watch out for in the workplace. Some male employers might take her knee-length skirt as an invitation to touch her knee, or wander further up the skirt. If she wore a pantsuit, she might have to worry about the tightness of her pants showing off her butt. It’s not that men don’t also have similar concerns, but that women typically have to worry about it in a more defensive way. Since men are typically the ones in a position of power over their female subordinates, women have to worry about being pressured sexually, and giving into that pressure, for the sake of keeping their careers or advancing in them. You want and need to look good at work, but looking “too sexy” can lead to its own problems. That’s not to say that women don’t objectify men in the workplace or check them out in a nice-fitting suit. Women objectify men all the time and it’s not cool, especially at work. But it’s far less often that a woman is in a position of power over a man and can use sex as a weapon. The recent #MeToo movement shows us men’s power over women is far more prevalent.
It’s been a pleasure discussing this with you. Thanks for your thoughtful insights!