Writing about LOST's Kate Austen for Bitch, Rachel McCarthy James sums her up as such: "She's a problematic character that represents one of many wasted opportunities on the show to create at least one consistently excellent female character."
(Warning: if you're not caught up on the show yet, you might want to click away, as I'll be discussing plot points from Seasons 5 and 6.)
In discussing Kate Austen's ultimately disappointing run on the show with Feministe blogger Cara Kulwicki, McCarthy James points out that Kate's character was "betrayed" by the show's writers, who didn't seem to know how to write a strong female character without attaching her, in some way, to one of the show's male leads. Kulwicki agrees, noting, "I really loved her at the beginning of the show. She was so capable yet so compelling, and she totally seemed to have an inner life. And now she's just useless. She does whatever the dudes do, or quite frequently, whatever they tell her to do. Whenever she manages to form a unique opinion of her own, it pretty much always ends up not really mattering in the end and being overruled."
One of the things we often wish for on this site is an increase in strong, independent female characters on television and in film; women who step outside of the standard hooker/victim/doormat boxes and represent women as more than just tools for men to advance their own story lines with. But Kate Austen, who, as McCarthy James points out, was originally meant to be the main hero of the show, became the show's Princess Leia, her ass-kicking and bravery taking a back seat to the tension between the two male leads, who both clearly had feelings for her. If you're not the 'shipper type, every aspect of the LOST love triangle was boring and a waste of screen time, yet Austen's character in particular suffered as a result, as her choices in each episode appeared to be tied to whichever male lead she was most enamored of that week, an irritating writing decision that reduced a strong female lead to a follower of the boys, someone who could not be trusted to make decisions on her own.
In fact, whenever Kate does make a major decision against the will of Sawyer or Jack, she almost always ends up being wrong—and the viewers know it—which makes her character incredibly annoying and reinforces the audience's notion that Kate is just a fuck-up who kind of ruins everything by not "staying in her place" and listening to what Jack and/or Sawyer have to say. The fact that she has a romantic relationship with both men also gives fans ammunition to slut-shame her, something that doesn't happen to, say, Sawyer, who also has several sexual partners during the course of the show.
Austen isn't the only problematic female character on the show; the fates of the majority of the women on the show are tied directly to the male leads, and women who have been left on their own (Ilana, Claire, Danielle, Jacob's mother) tend to end up either dead or crazy. Juliet also falls into the love triangle; Charlotte starts out strong but ends up being Faraday's Manic Pixie Dream Girl of sorts, Penny's fate is always tied to both Desmond and her father, Alex's fate is always tied to Ben, Sun's fate is always tied to Jin's, and motherhood is always presented in an odd and frightening way and never seems to end well for anyone.
But it's Kate Austen whom everyone—myself included—can't stand. I've always thought that my issues with Kate, whom I've openly talked about seriously hating before, spring from who her character seems to be at the core; selfish, arrogant, and a bit dumb when it comes to relationships. But that could easily describe EVERY character on LOST, both male and female. So perhaps my issues, and the issues of many fans, don't lie with who Kate is, but with who she might have been, who she could have been, who we really wanted her to be, and all of the potential that was wasted in favor of a cheap love triangle, you know, one of those things typically written in to "please the ladies." Someday, someone will realize that you don't have to give a woman a boyfriend—or two—in order to impress the women in the audience. All you have to do is give a woman a legitimate shot at being the hero, on her own terms.