Kerry Washington on Scandal

ABC’S “Scandal” & Feminism

I must admit that I moved my Thursday night residence out of “Shondaland” months ago. My Thursday night home was once a utopia for me and my “carefree black girl” friends to discuss the portrayal of a black woman that dived deeper than the usual tropes. We all agreed that the complications and messiness of a black woman’s life on prime time was not only long overdue, but necessary. As we know, representation matters. 

But of course no one I know is Olivia Pope. Our hair is not windswept, our makeup is not perfect and our lives arguably included better treatment / inclusion of black men. Throughout the first couple of months of the series it was easier to overlook this, plus the stop-everything-and-watch me monologues and the look-at-me-now sex scenes.

But let’s fast forward to today. I’ve consumed two episodes from this season: The Ferguson-inspired episode, “The Lawn Chair” and now “It’s Good to Be Kink.”

After watching both, I was filled with similar sentiments: nice effort, Shonda.

As both Ferguson and BDSM have become dinner-table conversation… The cheap, clumsy, one episode wrap theatrics just don’t do anything for the matters at hand. If the Ferguson-inspired episode was a hug to those who have started and groomed #blacklivesmatter campaign, this week’s episode was an awkward pat on the head to feminists.

Though Olivia Pope’s character has never necessarily been a black feminist, her very existence as a complicated, messy and well-rounded black woman is black feminism in itself.

It’s important to understand that though we may not morally agree or identify with everything a written character does, that doesn’t make them any less of how they personally identify — feminist or not. The conversation surrounding Beyonce’s feminism is a great way to illustrate that fact.

It is nearly impossible to think Olivia can be (written to be) it all, especially a vocal activist for every issue but we do have the right to be critical of what we are consuming.

With that being said, let’s backtrack. If you didn’t see last week’s episode it involved: Abby, a former associate for Olivia Pope & Associates, finding out her current fling, Leo, political consultant, is exposed in a tell-all book about their BDSM experiences written by an unknown young writer Suzzane “Sue” Thomas (Lena Dunham). (Later we find out that Abby’s ex-boyfriend David Rosen and BDSM experiences with 15 other men were also included in the book.)

Immediately after Olivia finds out about the book from Abby, Abby is taken on as a client by Olivia. Olivia goes to Sue’s home and tries to stop the book from coming out. She calls Abby and says “it’s handled,” but little did she know it was far from being so. Sue claps back asking for $3 million and things just get uglier from there.

When Sue requests the $3 million (after Olivia asks her again to drop the book so she won’t be slut shamed), she does so by giving Olivia a nasty, too sugary sweet, check yourself before you wreck yourself read via her monologue.

Though Sue’s monologue was quite long, the highlight is as follows: “You’re telling me to be afraid of what names someone is going to call me because I had the audacity to have too much great sex… What happened to you? Where did your power go? When did you become so afraid of life? I am not ashamed. This is my life, my body, my story to tell, sell. Go ahead and call me a whore. Everyone who writes a memoir is a whore.”

The main fundamental problem with the monologue is that it seemed completely out of character for Liv to resort to slut shaming of Dunham’s character so quickly. The whole conversation seemed like an awkward build up just for Sue’s monologue, which in itself seemed like something that could’ve been written by Dunham herself.

The main problem with both of the episodes I’ve seen this season is the wrap-up. In this episode, Sue is killed. Scandal has a way of making the viewers believe that it is forward thinking but using a bag of the same old backward tropes.

Though Sue is not presented as a victim or killed as a damnation for her sexual practices, it still feels like the twists and turns throughout the episode are artificially placed. Ultimately, it leaves the impression that she was killed for having the audacity to have too much great sex, as she puts it.

However, this episode did strongly portray what women in power have to give up to keep their position. Abby is shown contemplating resigning from her current position as White House Press Secretary because, as many of us know, women are often seen as “so-and-so’s significant other,” no matter how much they have going for themselves. If there’s any chance that Leo is going to be dragged in the mud for his sexual endeavors, Abby knows she would be buried.

Though this episode was billed as “the feminist episode” of “Scandal” by many, it seems as if many of the feminist lines expressed by the characters were caricatures of the real thing. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be visiting “Shondaland” again anytime soon.

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