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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.

Date: 2009-08-11 03:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
First off, let me say ITA w/ you. But, take a deep breath and repeat "fiction,dammit,fiction" TPTB were selling a show, the way Hollywood does everything - with sex.

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.

To go one step further, this is probably why she so appealed to the teen and tweens - they didn't see the scope of her weaknesses and only saw her as the damsel in glorious need of rescue (can you hear the collective *sigh* from those fans?) I saw her as weak and silly, innocent in a naive way. With a *vulnerability* that would appeal to macho-minded men and boys.

The attempted rape actually brought out one of the few moments of strength Marissa showed - that she forcefully fought Trey off. I personally think the show would have been better served if Trey had merely come on to her several times, even stolen one kiss, where Marissa, in her shock would have taken a split second too long to push him away. A guy like Trey would have seen that as a possibility. There would have been so much more conflict between her and Ryan this way. It still could have led to violence between the brothers....but again, they used the shooting to put that wedge between Marissa and Ryan.

I stopped liking Marissa after the shoplifting episode and hated her the moment Oliver was introduced. In her own way, they made her a user of people. But I think the intent was to show that she attracted the wounded: Ryan, Oliver, Johnny and Volchok. Luke went on to have his own problems and DJ seemed to be the only guy with any balls.

But to get back to your original topic, ITA that she was victimized - but the whole relationship with Ryan was based on his *saving* her all the time. TPTB would have had to deal with that first.

All in all, this was a terribly flawed show. Which is why I watched with my finger over Marissa's face b/c I hated what they did to her. To ALL the females in Ryan's life. There was not a single one except maybe One-Night-Chloe who was a strong independent woman. And there you have misogynist Josh Schwartz in a nutshell.

Date: 2009-08-11 04:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
F,d,F is what keptme from going postal about this. But at the same time, what we do in fiction reflects what we think about reality. How we portait people tells the world how we see people. And the fact that these stereotypes are Hollywood standard is a huge part of the problem.

And yes, I am sure that a lot of teens and tweens swooooned whenever Ryan saved Marissa (or any other girl). Because it was so romantic! And because she always did need the help, there was no need to address the problems that are indicated by the believe that men have the right and responsibility to save women. After all, she really couldn't have helped herself! (I see a lot of similar reasoning in the Twilight-debates)

And maybe it is the advocatus diaboly in me, but what if she hadn't managed to fight TZrey off? what if eventually she had realized that he was stronger, he was willing to hurt her, and fighting was making things even more painful? Whould that have made the viewers see her as weak? Make them ask "why didn't she fight harder?" I dont know, women who don't manage to stop their own rape, who don't fight "enough" are so often called weak, I am scared to think what people mmight have said in this scenario.

Not all the women on the show where as stereotypical as Marissa, but I still think that on the whole, the writers put a lot more effort into the male characters. And what makes this especially sad is the fact that the majority of the show's fans were female and apparently not bothered by this lack of kick ass female characters. Maybe because they liked the stereotypes. Maybe because they didn't realize- or couldn't express- what was wrong with the way a lot of the women on the show were written. Or maybe because they had gotten so used to female characters not being interest, likable, strong people that they didn't expect anything else and decided to just focus on the good parts (which is where I was, I think).

I believe it is important to address these things when I see them. Not because I believe that everyone involved with the show was evil, or everything who liked the show was sexist, but because ignoring the problem isn't going to make it go away.

Date: 2009-08-11 04:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
We as fanfic writers put way more thought into plot and characterization than the actual writers did. It seemed all they did was introduce a powerful topic...and then just walk away from it. They never got involved enough to actually solve anything. And that was their fatal flaw.

I didn't mean physical strength with regard to M fighting off Trey, but rather her mental resolve that allowed her to do that. It seemed like one of the few times when she actually thought enough of herself to be forceful. But yes, every case of rape is as different as the man and woman involved in it, and we do too often victimize the victim.

Date: 2009-08-11 04:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The writers were idiots. If they were parents and the characters were their kids, social services would have come to take them away.

I know it's not what you meant. I have just been reading up on the topic lately, and on how not fighting is seen as consent when it really is so, so much more complicated, and most of the time, the reason for not fighting (more) is the very real possibility that fighting will make things even worse. Because if someone is willing to rape you, how do you know he won't also be willing to kill you? Or, or, or...

It is a sad fact that people often spend more time asking why a victim of rape (or emotional or physical abuse) didn't try something/ anything else to escape than they spend thinking about why the hell anyone would think it was ok to rape (or emotionally or physically abouse) the victim. Because we live in a patriarchial, sexist society. And because if it is the victims fault, then as long as I don't make the same mistakes, I will not become a victim myself.

Sigh. I have been thinking about these things a lot lately, sorry for ranting at you.

Date: 2009-08-11 05:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
No problem. And I agree with you. Very sexist and very patriarchial.

Fight to save your life (esp. if a weapon is involved) or fight to get away? Or go limp and pray for the best? No one can know how they would react in a situation unless they are in it.

Date: 2009-08-12 01:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
And by "most of the time" I don't mean that the other times, not fighting really is consent. I mean that there are also other reasons, like having been drugged, or having been physically abused by the perp before, or being frozen in fear and shock, or not even being able to think, much less come up with some way to fight back, or...

Just needed to make that clear, because I realized it could be read differently.

Date: 2009-08-11 08:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
After Josh made Kirsten an alcoholic, I decided he hated woman. All woman. No woman can be strong and independant - not in his little tiny pea brain mind.

I absolutely hated the rape story line - with a real passion. But that's one of those first hand knowledge things that I do not discuss. Ever.

Same with the Teresa is pregnant - no, oops it was a miscarriage- send Ryan back to Newport...
again, first hand knowledge and all made me hate that story line as well.

Josh, in my opinion is a complete moronic asshole.

Date: 2009-08-11 11:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am so sorry that you have first-hand experience of these things. And if anything in my post was triggering for you, I am very, very sorry about that. (I should have posted a warning)

And yes, I agree that Josh didnt like women. Even the ones who started out independent and strong, with their own agency and interests, ended up becomming less, not more,over the course of the series. Not because they had problems, but because of how they were written to deal with them.

Other than giving us Ryan and the first eight episodes, Josh really didn't do anything good. All the good after that was thanks to the actors, not the writing, IMO.

Date: 2009-08-12 12:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Never apologize for something you post at your own LJ. Definitely not just for me.
It is what it is and if I didn't want to comment, I wouldn't have!!!

T'ain't your fault Josh's only solution was to demoralize the female sex, IMO.
Yes, we got Ryan. And that's a whole lot of YUM!
The rest?
Josh is an ass!

Date: 2009-08-11 10:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't think that most shows are representative of real life and people, male or female, or their situations. They try, but fail for the most part.

That being said, The OC didn't, in my humble opinion, even make an attempt to be real. They threw in what they considered to be real life situations, and put their own fictitious spin on them....and the way that the characters dealt with the important issues rarely lasted past an episode or two, just long enough to create drama.

I think that series television as a whole is to be taken with a grain of salt. If anything, my involvement in this show has taught me that. Not to take it seriously, not to get too wrapped up, and not to expect too much.....

Date: 2009-08-12 12:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, the OC was definitely very, very unrealistic.

The problem, I think, is not the lack of realism itself, but the way the writers chose to be unrealistic. Because I am not naive enough to believe that these things happened purely by accident. Subconciously, maybe, but not without cause.

I know the lack of follow through was one of the reasons why a lot of us started writing fanfiction. I just wish I trusted my ability to write OCs, so that I could have made Ryan deal with having a girlfriend who was a strong, interesting character. Others (cheeky, brandy and connell) have done that, and it is refreshing to read. Which proves that it could have only been an improvement on the actual show, IMO.

And television definitely needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But that doesn't mean we have to accept stereotypical representations of women, or poc's or other minorities - or their complete lack of representation. There are shows that do better, so it can be done.

Maybe on the grand scale of things, complains like mine seem to be focussing on the wrong thing, but I think we are very much influenced by the media and popculture of our time, and the "little" things add up to a big problem.

Date: 2009-08-12 10:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Certainly, media contributes to many stereotypes that are just plain wrong. The young people have the wrong role models (Britney, etc), and 12 year olds want to look 16 and usually do.....
I'm not suggesting that we accept the wrong representations...not at all. If I had a daughter I would be terrified of the bombardment of all the wrong things out there.

Date: 2009-08-12 12:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree with you that the show was often misogynistic. I think the writers must have all been very young and very shallow, and more interested in the jokes than trying to deal with the logical emotional outcomes of any of the dramas they put the characters into. And sadly, there were female writers on this show.

Date: 2009-08-12 01:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It is a very sad fact that there are a lot of women out there who internalize the sexist massages and the screwed view of woman that is propagated by our mainstream society and go on to impose them on others. In fact, I think almost all women do this to some degree. I know I still value myself based on my looks sometimes, and sometimes catch myself thinking about some behaviour as "typically female" instead of "what society (dominated by privileged white hetero males) wants us to think/ behave like, so we fit into their world view and they can comfortably belittle us and not have to consider giving up any of their privilege".

Becomming aware of these things is an ongoing, never ending battle that I have just started to really take part in.

Is it sad that there were women on the writing staff who were willing to accept and contribute to this portayal of women? Yes. Is it surprising? No, sadly not at all.

Date: 2009-08-12 01:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's no secret that I despised "M" in all of her incarnations, meaning character and "actress." The reasons basically mirror what you've outlined in detail. After maybe 3-4 episodes, or the first arc of the first season, that was where I was. I still can't believe I thought we'd be rid of her in T.J. Nope. I should have learned the same at the first Christmas when I thought Ryan would be free of her, since she was another version of his own whiny, needy, clingy, melodramatic, self-absorbed, self-destructive, weak, manipulative mother. It was all about her. There were no redeeming qualities and I hated the idea that such a character was written. Even worse, she was made the "heroine" in many ways. It was beyond a sad commentary on our current society. With the far-reaching power and resonance of media, those images and messages would travel around the world- and will continue to do so. Then consider the true demographic being targeted and how impressionable many are to perpetuate the irresponsibility.

Since my job mandates that I often have to deal with many of the issues cited, and also the ones that Ryan would have faced, from neglect, abuse and abandonment, to alcoholism and violence, but in very "real world" conditions, the mishandling made me even more angry. Obviously, it's "only TV," but it is, as I said, a very powerful and influential medium. Many viewers don't grasp the separation and see it as reality, or make it their own. My own personal experiences and some professional ones made me truly detest the storylines, especially the attempted rape. That never even needed to be a part of that arc, which should have been more about Ryan's past and how Trey brought that to the present, along with the huge gap between the brothers in terms of intelligence, integrity, decency, etc. There were many better ways to explore the characters, the two families and contrast Ryan's two worlds with other emotional conflict. Bad decisions all around. Exploiting issues for dramatic purposes and doing so without proper research or sensitivity is a pet peeve of mine. Try to do it well, or don't do it at all.

It's very disheartening that there were young females on the writing staff. The bulk of the blame has to go to the Schwartz. Obviously, he's not just egocentric, but has some very sexist perspectives in his outlook. Unless he's matured significantly, I'd pity any female in contact with him. He wasn't just about putting the emphasis on the one-liner at the expense of all else, but he truly either had no idea how to write female characters, harbored negative feelings towards them, or was lazy and careless while focusing on what appealed only to him and his whims. None are particularly flattering.

Date: 2009-08-12 01:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, your disdain for the character is well documanted ;-) And as I said, I still share it. Only now, my main ire is focussed not on "her" (as mcuh as we sometimes pretend otherwise, these people don't actually exist, after all) and more on the writers who thought that writing a character like her was not only acceptable (because I don't think writing a character who consists of nothing but stereotypes really is), they thought she made a good "heroine". Ouch. And a lot of the teens watching the show felt the same. Double ouch.

Do it right or dont do it at all really should be a law when it comes to tv shows (or any popular media) taking on issues as serious and painful as rape, abuse, alcoholism, abandonment and the likes.

What was different about the rape story line in comparism to the others is that with those others, I was constantly aware of what they were failing to deal with, because I was really invested in Ryan and what happened to him.

With the rape story line, I had reached a point where I disliked the character of Marissa so much that I didn't really care all that much, simply because I couldn't make myself care about her character. I thoought it was a horrible thing for Trey to do, but mostly I thought that I didnt want to watch any more episodes centering on this unlikeable character who. And this is partly my fault for not being more aware, but I also blame the writers for not telling the story in a way that would make me care, by making it about the attemted rape of a woman, instead of one more drama in a long line of things happening to the perpetual damsel in distress. Rape as a means to an end, even if it "just" fictional attempted rape to create drama and tension between the characters is just never ok.

Date: 2009-08-12 03:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I hear you- on all counts. And you know I couldn't make myself feel anything for the character, especially empathy or sympathy. The only feelings that came to mind were disdain and disgust. It wouldn't have mattered if when that storyline was introduced, or even if it was done better- but it wouldn't have been. The bottom line was it was insensitive and completely unnecessary. It never should have been introduced, and not only because it was more about a character I was long tired of and cared nothing positive for. The story served no real purpose in the arc and, again, it was handled poorly and abused the power of media in pop-culture in terms of influence. If only again... But the writers couldn't have produced any sort of heartfelt story that was emotionally engaging and that focused on Ryan's past and his family and personal issues either. We know that!

Sadly, as we agree, the media is taken far too seriously, especially by younger viewers. Some of the kids I've dealt with on some pro bono initiatives are prime examples of the negative effects. TPTB need to have some idea of the responsibility they have that comes with a public forum. Unfortunately, the wrong people seem to be in that position and they only perpetuate the stereotypes and the cycle that results.


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