Bad Girls Gematria: A Moral Calculus
by Jennifer T.

Gematria[1] is a type of numerology.  Numerical values are assigned to letters, and those numerical values are used to calculate the value of certain words or phrases, usually in religious texts.  The usefulness of Gematria is in creating a way to compare two dissimilar things (like the meanings of two words) by giving them similar essences (a numerical value).

But how does this have anything on earth to do with Bad Girls?  Well, we thought it might be fun and interesting, or at the very least amusing, to attempt to put some numerical values not to letters or words, but to certain general impressions that viewers have gotten from watching the show.  Bad Girls depicted marginalized characters, normally despised by society, in what feels like a very positive light.  We felt a bizarre need to generate firm, hard numbers to "prove" whether Bad Girls depicts lesbian characters in a more positive light than straight characters.  It has often been said this is the case, and the legions of lesbian fans who follow the show are surely evidence that it does.  But can we prove it mathematically?  And what about the officers versus the prisoners?  Are the prisoners depicted in a more sympathetic light?  Similarly, does Bad Girls privilege lesbian relationships above all others?  Or is it just the show's intensely successful depiction of one lesbian relationship in particular which gives us that impression?  All these questions, and more, will be answered in the charts below.

Methodology

In order to come up with numerical values which represent the show's representations of men and women, gays and straights, we had to start by assigning each significant character, and each significant relationship into a category.  For the individual characters, we identified them as male or female, then straight or gay, prisoners or officers, and then good or evil or other. [2]  For the relationships, we identified them as straight or gay, and then created three categories: 1) In Love, 2) Casual, and 3) Insane.[3]

In most cases, the categorizations were pretty clear.  But of course as in any endeavor of this slightly wacky sort—distilling complex, nuanced meaning down to concrete numerical values—ambiguity arises.  For instance, is Arun, the transgendered, seemingly bisexual but perhaps straight character from season 7 straight or gay?  Is Neil Grayling good or evil?  Were Helen and Sean in love?  We had to take our best guesses, based on general consensus.

We then weighted each character based on how long they were on the show.  We felt long-running characters created more impact, and therefore should weigh more heavily in the calculations.  Every character (guest star and regular alike) started with a weighting of 1.  Then, for each season the character was on the show, they were allocated an additional .25.  So a single-season character like Monica Lindsay counted as 1.25, a guest star like Thomas Waugh counted as 1, and a multi-season character like Di Barker counted as 2.50.  For the relationships we created a slightly different weighting system, since relationships are generally shorter in duration than characters, and yet there was still a need to differentiate between one-night stands and sustained romances.  So every "couple" started with a weighting of 1, and then received an extra .5 points for every season their relationship lasted.  So Helen & Nikki were 2.5, Helen & Sean were 1.5, and Helen & Thomas were 1.

After every character and relationship was categorized, we did some calculations, looking at different categories of characters and relationships, and comparing the breakdowns of good and evil characters, in love and insane relationships, and the results are undeniable....

Individual Character Conclusions

As expected, the female characters on Bad Girls are more likely to be good than the male characters.  In addition, a much higher percentage of male characters are evil than female characters.

To slice it a slightly different way, we compared the overall distribution of male and female characters with the gender distribution just among the good characters.  This comparison also demonstrates that the good characters are more likely to be female: 77% of all characters are female, but of the good characters, 80% of them are female.

There is an even more noticeable difference when comparing straight characters with gay characters.  A much higher percentage of the gay characters are good: 82% versus 59%.  This is particularly significant, given the long tradition of negative depictions of lesbians onscreen, particularly in films and television programs about women's prisons.

In addition, when compared to the general character population's distribution of gay and straight characters, the good characters are more likely to be gay than the general character population is likely to be gay.

And, as expected, a higher percentage of prisoner characters are good than officer characters, and a lower percentage of prisoner characters are evil than officer characters.  This difference reflects the progressive and humanizing perspective of the show, which tried, wherever possible, to portray convicted criminals in a positive and sympathetic light.

   

And, as with the gender and sexuality comparisons, the percentage of the good characters who are cons outweighs the percentage of cons in the character population as a whole, again reflecting the generally positive depiction of this marginalized population.

Relationship Conclusions

If it seems like the moral valuations of the individual characters demonstrate a distinct privileging of gay characters (and gay women characters in particular), the depiction of relationships drives that point home even more clearly.  Nearly three-quarters of the gay couples depicted on the show were portrayed as in loving, positive relationships.  Less than 40% of the straight relationships can boast the same.  In addition, a three-times higher share of straight relationships were portrayed as completely dysfunctional.  Only two brief gay relationships could be categorized that way (Nikki's brief fling with Caroline Lewis, and Natalie's seduction of Kris).  These numbers reflect the care with which the show repeatedly undermined stereotypes and negative depictions of gay relationships.

And while only 32% of the relationships on Bad Girls were gay relationships, nearly half of the positive, loving relationships depicted on the show were gay relationships.

Continuing with our examination of the depiction of prison officers compared with prisoners, the contrast is far more striking when it comes to relationships.[4]  First, both the prisoner relationship category and the between-the-bars con-screw relationships have roughly equivalent, quite high percentages of loving relationships.[5]  The prison officers, led by the likes of Di Barker and Karen Betts, seem to fall into dysfunction again and again, with nearly half of the officer relationships categorized as dysfunctional.

The breakdown is almost more striking when comparing the breakdown of all relationships with the breakdown of loving relationships.  While half of the relationships depicted on Bad Girls were screw relationships, less than a third of the loving relationships were screw relationships.  In fact, the screws (and the cons) were both more likely to experience a loving relationship if they got involved with a prisoner: 40% of the loving relationships were between-the-bars relationships, the highest share.

A big thank you to the following folks who really got a kick out of this crazy convergence of math and television, collaborated on a fair weighting system, debated the goodness and badness of various characters, and generally pushed me to the limits of obsessive analysis: popstalin, DontUWish, Cassandra, Xenaclark, microsofty, Lisa289, solitasolano, msalt, ekny, Washuai, Jeanna


 


[1] Wikipedia has a pretty decent basic background on Gematria.

[2] Characters needed to play a significant role in at least three episodes to be included.  We decided to exclude the more minor or short-lived characters because Bad Girls has always presented characters in a very complex way, slowly revealing layer after layer. Starting with Denny, we learn repeatedly that the characters we meet may not be who we first think they are. And characters usually take at least a few episodes to reveal their true selves. Therefore, the short-lived characters exist primarily to give other characters someone to play off of; they are generally not fully embodied characters in their own right.  Below is a breakdown of how each character was categorized and weighted:

  Gender Sexuality Morality Prison Status Weight
Al McKenzie Female Gay Evil Con 1.5
Arun Parmar Female* Gay* Good Con 1.25
Barbara Hunt Female Straight Good Con 2
Bev Tull Female Straight Evil Con 2
Buki Lester Female Straight Good Con 1.75
Cassie Tyler Female Gay Good Con 1.25
Colin Hedges Male Straight Good Screw 1.75
Crystal Gordon Female Straight Good Con 2
Darlene Cake Female Straight Good Con 1.75
Denny Blood Female Gay Good Con 2.25
Di Barker Female Straight Evil Screw 2.5
Dominic McAllister Male Straight Good Screw 1.5
Donny Kimber Male Straight Good Screw 1.25
Frances Myers Female Straight Good Screw 1.25
Gina Rossi Female Straight Good Screw 1.25
Helen Stewart Female Gay Good Screw 1.75
Henry Mills Male Straight Good Screw 1.25
Janine Nebeski Female Straight Good Con 1.5
Jim Fenner Male Straight Evil Screw 2.75
Josh Mitchell Male Straight Good Screw 1.5
Joy Masterton Female Gay Good Screw 1.25
Julie Johnston Female Straight Good Con 3
Julie Saunders Female Straight Good Con 3
Karen Betts Female Straight Good Screw 2
Kevin Spiers Male Straight Evil Screw 1
Kris Yates Female Gay Good Con 1.25
Lorna Rose Female Gay Other Screw 1.25
Lou Stoke Female Straight Good Screw 1.25
Malcolm Nicholson Male Straight Evil Screw 1.5
Mandy Goodhue Female Gay Good Screw 1.25
Mark Waddle Male Straight Good Screw 1.5
Maxi Purvis Female Straight Evil Con 1.25
Monica Lindsay Female Straight Good Con 1.25
Natalie Buxton Female Straight Evil Con 1.75
Neil Grayling Male Gay Good Screw 2
Nikki Wade Female Gay Good Con 1.75
Pat Kerrigan Female Gay Good Con 1.5
Phyl Oswyn Female Straight Evil Con 2
Rachel Hicks Female Straight Good Con 1
Roisin Connor Female Gay Good Con 1.25
Rowan Dunlop Male Straight Evil Screw 1.25
Selena Geeson Female Gay Good Screw 1.25
Shaz Wylie Female Gay Other Con 1.5
Sheena Williams Female Gay Good Con 1.25
Shell Dockley Female Straight Evil Con 1.75
Simon Stubberfield Male Straight Evil Screw 1.75
Snowball Merriman Female Straight Evil Con 1.25
Sylvia Hollamby Female Straight Evil Screw 3
Tanya Turner Female Straight Other Con 1
Thomas Waugh Male Straight Good Screw 1
Tina O'Kane Female Straight Good Con 2.5
Virginia O'Kane Female Straight Evil Con 1
Yvonne Atkins Female Straight Good Con 2
Zandra Plackett Female Straight Good Con 1.5

*While Arun is a trans woman, she still exists in the world of Larkhall as a woman.  In addition, her interest in Pat indicates at least some level of bisexuality

[3] Unlike for the individuals, we included every single couple, from a single shag in the loo to epic, star-crossed true love.  This was primarily so that we could obtain a large enough sample size (there are far fewer relationships than characters), and because we were concerned about delineating certain relationships as more significant or worthy than others, because that could potentially introduce bias, and we certainly wouldn't want to do that!  Below is a breakdown of how each couple was categorized and weighted:

  Sexuality Morality Prison Status Weight
Barbara & Henry Straight In Love Combo 1.5
Cassie & Roisin Gay In Love Con 1.5
Di & Barry Straight Insane Screw 1
Di & Fenner Straight Insane Screw 1.5
Di & Mark Straight Insane Screw 1
Di & Neil Straight Insane Screw 1.5
Frances & Colin Straight Casual Screw 1
Gina & Mark Straight In Love Screw 1.5
Helen & Nikki Gay In Love Combo 2.5
Helen & Sean Straight In Love Screw 1.5
Helen & Thomas Straight Casual Screw 1
Janine & Donny Straight In Love Combo 1.5
Josh & Crystal Straight In Love Combo 2.5
Karen & Fenner Straight Insane Screw 1.5
Karen & Mark Straight Casual Screw 1.5
Karen & Richie Straight Insane Screw 1
Kris & Natalie Gay Insane Con 1
Kris & Selena Gay In Love Combo 1.5
Lou & Rowan Straight Insane Screw 1.5
Neil & Bobby Hollamby Gay Casual Screw 1
Neil & Tony Gay In Love Screw 1.5
Nikki & Caroline Gay Insane Con 1
Nikki & Trisha Gay In Love Con 1
Pat & Sheena Gay In Love Con 1
Rachel & Fenner Straight Insane Combo 1
Roisin & Aiden Straight In Love Con 1
Shaz & Denny Gay In Love Con 2.5
Shell & Denny Gay Casual Con 1
Shell & Fenner Straight Insane Combo 1.5
Sylvia & Bobby Hollamby Sr Straight In Love Screw 3
Sylvia & Malcolm Straight Insane Screw 1
Tanya & Malcolm Straight Insane Combo 1
Yvonne & Charlie Straight Insane Con 1
Yvonne & Colin Straight Casual Combo 1
Zandra & Robin Straight Insane Con 1

[4] We considered relationships which involved a prisoner and a non-prisoner who was not part of the prison staff to be "con" relationships (eg Nikki and Trisha).  Similarly, relationships which involved an officer and someone unconnected to the prison were considered "screw" relationships.

[5] This is at first surprising, given the horror of watching Jim Fenner seduce both Rachel Hicks and Shell Dockley in season 1.  However, it's a situation where two long-running relationships (Helen and Nikki, and Crystal and Josh) tip the scales a bit.



 

 

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