Nancy Botwin, Feminist Icon?

What Women Really Think
Aug. 16 2010 3:31 PM

Nancy Botwin, Feminist Icon?

The new season of Weeds starts tonight and I’m hopeful from watching the trailer that the show, while it can’t return to Agrestic, will return to what made it great: Nancy Botwin fighting for survival.

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Weeds was most enjoyable when Mary-Louise Parker’s Nancy was a scrappy suburban widow trying to keep her family’s fancy roof over their heads by dealing pot. The very methods she employed to keep her family together threatened to pull it apart-and as she got more successful, the danger became more real. It was a twisted take on the very mundane scenario that all women face: How do you balance career and family? What if your career actually jeopardizes the very family you’re trying to provide for? (Granted, for most of us, we worry that working too much will make us neglect our kids, not actually endanger their lives.) You see her thrilling to the idea of her own abilities, her own power, even though she knows it makes for bad parenting.

Things started going downhill in Season 4 when Nancy fled to fictional Ren Mar. She’s still in the business and still trying to protect her family, but that protection comes to take the form of shacking up with and marrying a drug lord who also happens to be the mayor of Tijuana. (Not that that setup is without its own dangers.) For much of the time that Nancy is with Esteban, she’s practically a prisoner in her luxe mansion. And when she’s a bird in a gilded cage, Weeds doesn’t fly.

Without giving anything away for people who might watch on DVD, let’s just say that events occur that force Nancy and her family to go back on the run this season. If Nancy is at her best when she’s standing on her own, when she’s calling the shots and not relying on the protection of a powerful man, is it fair to ask whether she’s a feminist icon for our times?

Rachael Larimore is Slate's managing editor.

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