Paramount’s hit series Yellowstone returned with Season 5 this month and broke the series’ previous viewer records with over 12.1 million views. Yellowstone, and its two spin-off series, 1883 and soon-to-be-premiered 1923, tell the story of the Duttons, a family of 5th generation Montana ranchers, and their fight to maintain a way of life that is increasingly threatened by outsiders, politics, and the relentless creep of “civilized” society that strives to tame and monotonize both land and people.
The show is unique in its ability to portray nuance; it is not truly a “red-state show,” as viewers occasionally claim, but it is certainly not your typical liberal Hollywood fare. Conservatives love the show for its characters’ eschewal of anything that smacks of elitism and its purported “family values” (a questionable sentiment, as the Dutton’s family values apply only insofar as the individual does not threaten “The Land” or the Dutton way of life). Liberals, on the other hand, can find an ideological foothold in the show’s depiction of the challenges faced by Native American communities and the environmentalism subplots.
In the middle of this struggle between worldviews and the search for meaning, truth, and legacy lies arguably the most interesting character of the series: Beth Dutton. Of all the complexities and nuance Yellowstone portrays well, Beth Dutton is likely the show’s best because Beth Dutton, like many—dare I say most?—modern American women, is a woman confused about what it means to be a woman.
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Beth’s storyline is largely characterized by her wounded femininity. In Season 1, we see Beth make the transition from girl to woman as she experiences her first cycle—a pivotal moment in the life of every woman that terrifies and confuses Beth. In a heartbreaking scene, Beth’s mother, Evelyn Dutton, in a misguided attempt at comforting her daughter in this transition, tells her,
I’m going to tell you something my mother told me, and you’re not going to like it. Everything’s different now. All those boys you used to outrun and outwrestle, that’s all done. They’re going to look at you different, see you different, and they’re going to look at you like you’re less, like you’re somehow weaker today than you were yesterday. You’re not, though. You’re stronger than all of them because if men were responsible for giving birth, the human race wouldn’t have lasted two generations. But after being treated like you’re weaker long enough, you’ll start to believe it, too. That’s why I’m going to have to be harder on you, honey. I have to turn you into the man most men will never be. And I’m sorry in advance for doing it. Because you’re going to hate it sweetheart. I know I did. But I look back and I know my mother was right. It was the best gift she ever gave me.
This tragic advice, the coldness that characterized their relationship thereafter, and the circumstances surrounding Evelyn’s death—a death Beth blames herself for—irreparably scar Beth. By internalizing her mother’s advice that true strength lies in denying her femininity and turning herself “into the man most men will never be,” Beth becomes destruction personified.
We see Beth grow into a swaggering and foul-mouthed young woman, weaponizing her body and engaging in destructive behavior with drugs, alcohol, and men. She becomes pregnant out of wedlock, and her adopted brother takes her to an abortion clinic where they perform not only an abortion but also a hysterectomy.
Part of what makes Beth so compelling, though, is that rather than sink completely into the mire she has created, Beth struggles to overcome her wounds, and she does so precisely by reclaiming the lost parts of her femininity. After spending years numbing her emotions with sex, drugs, alcohol, and the pursuit of power, she finally begins to let her guard down, allowing herself to show weakness by weeping to music and admitting her fears to her longtime love, Rip.
She mourns deeply over the loss of her ability to become a biological mother, yet she finds some degree of healing in stepping into a mother-like role for a young, orphaned ranch hand. Her marriage to Rip at the end of Season 4 also precipitates a grief-stricken reflection of her past and an apology for the time she stole from the two of them by her destructive decisions.
Beth Dutton’s series arc in many ways reflects the destructive consequences feminism continues to wreak on real American women. Second- and third-wave feminism pushed the idea that to be successful in the eyes of the world, women had to resist the patriarchy—turning the natural and biblical order of families on its head—and deny or minimize the very things that made them women—triggering a war between mother and child.
As we continue our drift—or, more accurately, our riptide pull—into fourth-wave feminism, we are being pushed even further into unreality, where a woman no longer need become like a man because there is no such thing as man or woman to begin with! The results for society at large, if unchecked, will be nothing short of dystopian.
Lest we be deluded into thinking that this “Spirit of Beth Dutton”—this anti-Marian spirit that tells us to eschew our femininity, or that it is somehow indistinguishable from masculinity—affects only “other” women in our society, let us take a long, hard look at ourselves and our own homes. The Spirit of Beth Dutton is subtle, and it is relentless.
It comes to us sometimes, like Beth’s, through our wounded relationships with our own parents. It may be reinforced later by the actions of anemic men we encounter through dating, school, or the workplace—those men suffering from a failure to launch or who demonstrate toxic forms of masculinity.
It comes to us through our modern education system: that system that insists on creating units of economic output rather than men and women capable of logic and reason. It comes to us through misguided Church organizations that insist on representation and diversity over the truth, beauty, and goodness of our gendered bodies and the unique roles in which men and women are to serve.
Once it gains traction, the Spirit of Beth Dutton then manifests in a variety of ways. How often do we, as women, feel tempted to use sex or the way we dress as a weapon or a tool? How often do we, as women, struggle with the balance between work and family life, too often setting aside (or outsourcing) our husband and children’s needs to meet the demands of the corporation—or even the ministry?
How often do we, as women, feel at war with our bodies? The changes of puberty, the hormonal weight fluctuations, the unplanned pregnancies, the struggles to become pregnant, the miscarriages, the contraceptive mindset that quietly creeps into even our well-intentioned Natural Family Planning methods?
How often do we, like Beth Dutton, respond to the fears and anxieties of life by attempting to assert control? Control that reveals itself in our becoming more like mothers than wives to our husbands; or our helicopter parenting; or nagging; or in complaining and gossiping to our friends, mothers, and sisters?
Yellowstone gets the character of Beth Dutton right. She is the modern woman, and she is terrifying in her woundedness. Yet she is beautiful in the hope depicted by her slow healing. We, too, must rebuke the spirit of Beth Dutton in our femininity.
Those lies, both subtle and blatant, that assault us from all directions and tempt us to fall into the same traps Eve did: that God is holding out on us; that we are somehow not already made in His image; that we must somehow usurp Adam or blur what makes us female in order to become like gods.
I rebuke, reject, and renounce the Spirit of Beth Dutton in my life, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.