The Performative Faux Feminism of Succession’s Kendall Roy
To a non-viewer, the world of Succession—a world of oligarchs, private jets, potential political interference, $40,000 watches, and having a favorite champagne (no sparkling wine here!)—can feel entirely unrelatable. And perhaps it is, on its face, but deep down, the characters are hyperbolic manifestations of our own worst impulses. Cousin Greg is the one viewers typically peg as the show’s relatable King with his charming fish-out-of-water act, but it’s actually Kendall Roy whose traits are most often found out in the real world—most notably his faux feminism, which is proudly on display in season three. If you’ve ever been lectured about privilege by a white man who won’t let you get a word in edgewise, it might feel a little too familiar.
The thing about Kendall is that he believes that he is a good person who does the right things for the right reasons. (The same can be said of his sister Shiv, to a degree.) When his father, Logan, informs him that he will be the scapegoat for sexual assault allegations within the cruise division of the family firm Waystar-Royco, Kendall moves into survival mode. If he goes down for the events that happened at cruises, his future is basically over.
So Kendall takes the only option available to him: exposing his father’s actions (or inaction) related to the sexual assault allegations. As the son of a media scion, Kendall knows the importance of creating a public narrative, so positioning himself as the white knight is a savvy move.
And so our feminist king is born.
But the world is not as smitten with Kendall as he would probably like, though his own delusion and narcissism get in the way from him realizing that. In episode three, when Kendall and his team are playing a game of “Good Tweet, Bad Tweet,” a “good tweet” reads, “Allies may not come in the form we like, but what Kendall Roy did was important and brave.” Kendall gives the back-handed compliment receives an immediate and energized “Boom!”
It’s hard to tell if Kendall’s perception of himself is totally distorted, or if he truly holds the beliefs he tries to espouse but his natural tendencies and own self-interest get in his way. Regardless of which it is, this hubris allows him to believe he is acting in the best interests of the survivors, and women writ large, as long as it’s convenient for him. He’s like the guy on the dating app who says he’s looking for a “strong woman,” then calls you a misogynistic slur if you say you’re not interested—if that guy had millions of dollars at his behest.
In fact, since the show’s premiere, Kendall has been turning to women for approval and attention when he can’t get it from Logan, only to talk over them, ignore them, or get visibly (and sometimes audibly) upset with them when they don’t do exactly what he wants.
The earliest sign of this behavior is in season one, when Kendall considers investing in an app run by some young female artists. When he runs into one of the founders, Angela, at a party later, she tells him that they turned down his investment due to the toxicity of his family’s brand, something that Kendall struggles to understand as he chases after her and publicly berates her. Afterwards, Kendall orders his business partner to immediately call up Page Six and start a rumor of the women founders being “sluts” and “junkies” following their rejection of his offer.
This season, Kendall wastes no time performing feminism since setting the narrative and getting ahead of his father are paramount to his interests. He hires powerful women to lead two key areas for him, public relations (Berry Schneider) and the legal battle (Lisa Arthur) — taking a page from the real-life playbook of both Harvey Weinstein and Jian Ghomeshi, who surrounded themselves with women in their defense against sexual assault allegations. (Logan, no surprise, wants to do the same thing.)
And Kendall’s not just using women as a shield, but specifically women of color, for whom no amount of social standing or money will ever be able to stand up against the societal power and influence of a white man.
Still, despite hiring women at the top of their fields, Kendall still exercises his power by talking over them, outright ignoring them, barking orders at them, and failing to even say thank you. Some ally.
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