Joan Ferguson and Vera Bennett: The Coded ‘Wentworth’ Pairing
Author’s note: I received a lot of feedback from Joan/Vera fans who were disappointed that their favorite pairing ranked so low in our ‘Wentworth Ships’ post. In order to understand why Joan and Vera have such appeal, I nosed around the Internet and asked some questions. This post is an exploration of the information I gathered and how it fits into a larger narrative of LGBT representation.
Joan Ferguson and Vera Bennett are an unlikely pair. In fact, they ranked dead last in our poll of top Wentworth ships. But there’s a certain subset of fans out there that is, indeed, fully invested in the relationship between Joan and Vera. Known as FreakyTits, this pairing not only offers the slow burn that keeps fans pining for more, but it also marries the kind of chemistry and contrast that make their potential union all the more enticing.
Not everyone understands the appeal.
Neither Joan nor Vera is explicitly gay. Throughout the series, Joan’s homosexuality is heavily implied but never definitively confirmed, and Vera’s sexuality is only explored in non-lesbian contexts. Even still, these characters don’t necessarily meet the heterosexual status quo. Unlike many ‘traditional’ female characters, Joan and Vera are not wives or mothers, and they don’t exist to advance a male-driven plot.
Instead, they live for themselves, are wholly dedicated to their work, and are largely unhindered by familial ties. Years ago, in a less LGBT-friendly culture, this shared disregard for convention might have automatically classified characters like Joan and Vera as lesbians.
The ‘non-conforming woman as a lesbian’ stereotype isn’t new. It dates back to the days of Old Hollywood and pulp fiction novels when homosexuality could only be explored in code. Sapphic characters were depicted as possessing a sense of danger or otherness that couldn’t be easily explained. And fictional lesbian couples were made identifiable by their differences–in age, height, gender expression, or power status.
Over time, the LGBT community picked up on and clung to this coded language. It gave them a personal frame of reference in a world that told them to stay hidden. As a pair, Joan and Vera follow that prescribed code very closely.
This is partly due to how society is conditioned to think about relationships. Our media tells us that opposites attract; that contrast must exist in order for romantic potential to peak. While this idea may be more easily applied to heterosexual pairings, the LGBT community finds resonance in it too. It’s present in films like Carol, The Children’s Hour, and Desert Hearts. It’s what many see in Joan and Vera.
While fans speculate that Joan and Vera share more than professional interests, Wentworth never addresses the true meaning of the relationship. From a certain perspective, that open-endedness might suggest they share a bond that dare not speak its name.
But FreakyTits fans refuse to let the relationship’s underlying tones go unnoticed. They ponder, postulate, and analyze. They write fan fiction and share memes. They are arguably one of the most vocal groups in Wentworth social media circles.
So, we asked them to share their favorite Joan and Vera moments. Here’s what they selected:
1) After-hours debriefing/drinking session.
2) Joan brings Vera dinner at home.
3) Joan has Vera over for dinner; tells her she cares.
Note: The dinner ends on a sour note and this happens the next day.
4) The slap that ended any chance of their coupling.
5) The parallel handkerchief moments in Season 4.