David Lynch’s television show, “Twin Peaks,” features 18-year-old Audrey Horne, a strong, realistic female character with power and purpose. Mischievous, sultry, and intelligent, Audrey begins independently investigating the murder case of local, beloved high school student, Laura Palmer, after she meets and develops a crush on the FBI agent working on the case, Dale Cooper. Audrey is first presented as the classic femme fatale, but, when considered through a feminist critical lens, she is slowly revealed to be one of the most complex and dynamic characters on the show, taking control of her life and using her sexuality to her advantage.
Feminist criticism, according to Peter Barry in his book, “Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory,” is a theoretical framework that recognizes the significance of women and femininity in media and popular culture. This framework looks at images of women in media and questions their authority, coherence, and meaning. It considers how representations of women in media provide role models for femininity and feminine goals and aspirations, and how these representations influence the culture and perception of real women in the world.
In the beginning of the series, Audrey would seem to be a poor feminist role model. As seen in the Pilot Episode, she originally begins investigating the case only because she likes Agent Cooper, and she wants him to sweep her away to a “life of mystery and international intrigue.” Her sex appeal is played up throughout the series; in the Pilot Episode, we see her taking off her school-appropriate saddle shoes to replace them with a pair of red leather heels. She often uses her sexuality to weasel her way into different situations, which might imply that a woman’s only strength lies in her sexuality.
However, a transformative moment in the series is when Audrey meets the transgender DEA agent, Denise Bryson, in Season Two, Episode Eleven. Audrey is flabbergasted; “They have women agents?” she asks.
This is when she realizes that she doesn’t need Agent Cooper to in order to live the life that she wants. She can become a detective all on her own. This realization is the catalyst for Audrey’s transformation: midway through the second season, she takes over the family business after her father goes crazy, becomes an activist through civil disobedience, and develops a genuine desire to do good. She manages to take control of her life even when it seems like everything is falling apart.
Audrey’s development by the end of the series is culturally significant because it shows that heroines can be sexy and strong. Many female characters do not hold a purpose outside of their sexuality and connections to men. Often, in an effort to force a stronger portrayal of women, female characters are made to behave like men, suggesting that femininity cannot in and of itself be powerful. Audrey, however, is allowed to keep both her femininity and her strength, showing us that the two are not mutually exclusive. She is brave, independent, intelligent, and sexy. She can investigate Laura’s murder and solve the mysteries in her town, but she can do it while wearing scarlet lipstick and high heels. She is simultaneously tough-as-nails and extremely vulnerable. Yes, she often uses her sexuality to assert power, but she does not let that define her; it’s combined with quick-thinking and determination. She’s Audrey Horne, and she gets what she wants.