How Emma Mackey became the real icon in Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’
(Credit: Netflix)


How Emma Mackey became the real icon in Netflix's 'Sex Education'

We have said this before, and we will say it again. Maeve Wiley is the absolute best in Netflix’s Sex Education and the ultimate badass feminist icon we aspire to be and none of that would be true without the sincere and powerful performance delivered by Emma Mackey. Unabashed, bold and unapologetic, Maeve Wiley might be a rumoured “cock-biter”, but she never shies away from biting back. 

An ardent Sylvia Plath fan, Mackey’s Maeve is sassy, moody, ambitious and loud. With her iconic pink hair, messy fringe jacket and retro vibes, Wiley thrives as the ultimate “bad girl” with a reputation that could send Regina George running for her money. She speaks fluent sarcasm and spews “gems of nihilistic wisdom when necessary”. The rebellious teen is incredibly strong, loyal and trustworthy and has intense fighter-like abilities as she had grown up in a broken home where she had to fend for herself. 

Maeve’s struggle does not stop there. While she makes cash from her witty essays for her classmates, she faces a lot of backlash from pro-life activists when she gets an abortion. Maeve’s struggle constantly upholds the lack of agency that women have over their bodies in society, but somehow the spiritedness of the character subverts such stereotypes. It’s a delicate set of performances that Mackey delivers with a plomb, rarely moving away from the intricate tightrope walk that we all face as a teen.

Netflix has a long list of problematic characters, but if there is one headstrong, feminist icon we are grateful to the streamer for creating, it will definitely be Maeve Wiley. Mackey herself is a strong feminist who has proclaimed that she would rather be remembered as a feminist “than an asshole”. She has often drawn similarities between herself and the character she portrays. Mackey told the Independent that she is “a bit of a lone wolf” and does not really “want to be like anyone else, I want to do my own thing. In that respect, Maeve and I are quite similar – we just knuckle down.”

Sex Education is a show that deals with various taboos, ranging from an uptight headmaster with no inclination towards educating children about safe sex to erectile dysfunctions, homophobia, abortions, sexual assault and many more. It is an enriching experience of adolescence and the dark truths it conceals from us. From predatory strangers harbouring ill intentions on the bus to bullying and homophobia, the show deals with real issues that continue to plague contemporary society daily. The narrative is moving and realistic, embedded in the daily atrocities meted out to people, especially women, in the quagmire of life, and Maeve Wiley is an unfortunate survivor of the same. 

From being shamed for allegedly performing sexual activities to many other hurtful comments, Maeve’s nonchalance and ignorance are embedded in this deep-rooted ambition and desire to be something greater than she truly is. Her sardonic sense of humour and sarcastic personality helps uphold the apparent mean exterior below, which lies a loyal, trustworthy self. With a deep interest in music, literature and art, Maeve is a Nirvana fan, and we love her for that! 

The way her character arc progressed from season one to two showed Maeve’s more intimate and personal side. The beauty of the character lies in the complications and convolutions adorning her life and self that make her seem more human. Her abandonment issues and other deep-seated insecurities are a result of her childhood trauma. She refuses to open up to people (except Otis, please date already!) because she is afraid of being let down by people yet again. She is highly resistant to affection and emotional connections, which makes us empathise with her. Although Maeve can be really hard on herself at times, we love this no-nonsense-taking confident queen. 

Women are often pitted against women in pop culture, and “catfights” sell more than anything. Take any teen comedy, for instance, where the popular girl clashes with the nerd and chaos ensue. (Yes, Mean Girls, we are looking at you!) Maeve is the biggest cheerleader for Aimee and keeps supporting her. Their friendship is healthy and wholesome, and we honestly need more friends like Maeve in our life. A relationship where the friendship is pure and platonic, devoid of envy, hate and jealousy. Maeve also loves smashing patriarchal norms and stereotypes. Her hard-hitting comments and absolute hatred for anyone “perpetuating old-fashioned patriarchal ideology” is what makes her so iconic. 

Life is not the kindest to Maeve, but she is tough and sails through. She is not blind to the adversities she has to face. Her self-awareness and lack of feminine glee humanise her and make her relatable. We love Maeve Wiley and cannot wait for her to finally find an iota of happiness amidst all the noise and hubbub. If Otis and Maeve truly realised their feelings for one another, we would have been ecstatic. But we will be even happier if Maeve Wiley gets the true recognition she deserves because Sex Education would be nothing without her iconic, self-sufficient, creative, bold and brazen personality. Maeve Wiley (and Emma Mackey) is an inspiration.

“Why celebrate the day I got pushed out of some random vagina against my will?”