Aug. 11th, 2009

arualms: (Default)
WARNING:  Contains discussion of rape that might be triggering.

Oh boy. This will open a pretty ugly can of worms, won't it?

I think most of us are aware of the incredible whiteness of the show that brought us all together. And maybe you have all already dealt with the inherent sexism as well, and I am just repeating things that were already discussed elsewhere, or things you have dealt with by yourselves and don't want to talk about here. I will not be offended if you just skip this post.

But for me, it is important to talk about this, because I have been reading a lot lately about sexism, male privilege and the way both are upheld by our society, especially the popular media. And while flipping through the chanels today, I stumbled over an old episode of the OC (the bonfire episode when Alex ends it with Marissa). And I had a pretty intense moment of WTF. And also OMG, that explains a lot. But even though the way they called Alex a fighting lesbo pissed me off to no end, and the way this whole plot line was filled with misgyonic crap, that's not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is the way that the show presented women through the character of Marissa, and why that makes me uncomfortable and mad.

I was one of those whose dislike of the Marissa-character grew with every season, sometimes every episode. And there were reasons for this. She was whiny, she (almost) always expected others to save her, she was flighty, she was a "tease", she was egoistic.

What I just realized: Marissa was in very many ways, a walking sexist stereotype. The weak woman who needs the strong man to save her. The emotional woman who doesn't know who or what she wants. The mean woman who played with the feelings of the men who wanted her. The stupid woman who went for the wrong, controlling guy when she should have gone for the nice one who genuinely cared about her.

All of these are stereotypes that are very often presented as typical women by society, by the media. And I think that was one of the reasons why I disliked Marissa so much. Because her character was written in a way that made her prove all these stereotypes right. And watching her made me feel bad. Made me think "I am not like that. I don't understand how anyone could act like that. I have to make very sure to never be that kind of woman." When really I should have thought: Women are not like that. I don't like that this show is pretending that they are.

And this it where it gets really hairy. Because my dislike of the character of Marissa got to a point where I took part in things I would have previously never thought of as acceptable. When Marissa was almost raped by Trey, I of course thought that what Trey did was horrible. But I also thought that Marissa was stupid for hanging out with him, for drinking with him, for not listening to the warning signs. Because that's what the show gave me: A character I couldn't identify with, who engaged in obviously thoughtless actions.

And the consequence for her was that she was sexually assaulted. And the consequence for me was that I took part in victim blaming.
Yes, it was rape, it was wrong, Trey should have been arrested. But also: She should have known better. Looking back, I am really ashamed of thinking that. Because while it was only a tv show, while Marissa was just a character, that kind of behavior of people who are confronted with the existence of rape, that kind of reasoning is far to common in our society.

A society that still finds a myriad of ways to blame the victims of sexual violence. And turning those women into stereotypes, into exagg erated images instead of real people, real human beings, is one of the ways this is done. Because if the victims are not like me, are not real human beings, then I am safe. I don't have to face the reality that women get raped no matter how they behave, no matter what clothes they wear, no matter how careful they are. Because we live in a society that excuses sexual aggression, sexual violencce, rape; a society where not saying no loud enough means you didn't say it at all, where not saying anything because you were to scared is the same as saying yes. A society where seeing women as objects is still considered normal.

And they way they dealt with the aftermath? I know a lot of us complained that there was far to much Marissa and not nearly enough Ryan. I know we complained about the way that Marissa dealt with what happened. Because we didn't like the character of Marissa, but we did very much like the chaacter of Ryan. And we wanted the show to be about him.

This, I think, is a sign that the whole rape storyline was very, very bad for the show. Because if you want to deal with the issue of sexual violence, really deal with it, then it has to be about the victim. About how the victim deals with what happened to her (or him). About how what happened, how being treated as something that can be used, an object instead of a human being, changes that person forever. How having your right to define your own boundaries, the right to say no and have your wishes be respected, the right to make your own choices about your own damn body taken away from you makes it impossible to ever look at the world the way you did before. I am incredibly lucky in that I don't have any first hand knowledge of what that is like. But far, far to many women do. And I might end up knowing too, some time in the future.

And using rape as a plot filler, as something to add tension or drama? That is incredibly hurtfull to all those women. Rape as a means to an end is wrong. If they wanted conflict between Ryan, Trey and Marissa, they could have gotten that some other way. But it is wrong to take on the issue of rape and then deal with it in such a wishy-washy way. Depicting rape victims as stereotypes, making the victim so unsympathetic that the viewers don't care about their pain, that they want her to just get over it, so that the plot can move on to something more interesting, to characters we actually care about? All of this contributes to a society where rape is seen as something that happens to "them", to other women who behaved in ways that made rape inevitable, really; to women who asked for it and who need to get over it.

So I still dont like Marissa. But I am now a lot more aware of what it is that I don't like about her. I don't like that she is a walking collection of stereotypes. I don't like that the writers used her weaknesses, those weaknesses that so many people claim are typically female to make other characters look better by comparism. I don't like that the writers thought that she was the kind of female character that viewers would prefer to see. I don't like that, for many viewers, this seems to have been true. I don't like that a show I used to watch, a show I used to enjoy, was so sorely lacking in strong, female characters that I would have liked to watch.

This doesn't mean I will never enjoy watching the DVDs again. But it does mean I will be more aware of the messages the writers were sending, and how they were using their characters to send those messages.

ETA: Fixed some spelling mistakes and tried to clear some stuff up.
ETA2: Added necessary warning. I am very sorry for not putting one up in the first place.


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