Scandal 416: When Problematic Opinions about Black Women, Sex, and Sovereignty Become a Learning Opportunity
This post is not the promised analysis of Olivia Pope in the context of themes from It’s Good to Be Kink (416), and the broader
trajectory of season four. It’s also not about my other thoughts and concerns
about the episode (Fake again? WTF; Really, Mellie, Really?!). No, all of that has to come second because people are
out here acting a gotdamn fool over the fact that Olivia had sex with a (foine
ass) stranger. It is one thing to disagree with the course of action Olivia has
taken in this particular instance, but quite another to make disparaging and
downright dangerous comments that go well beyond the scope of the fictional
character. Yesterday, as the day went on,
the reactions became more and more problematic, causing my reactions to
And then I woke up to new bullshit. So, here I am.
In most cases I have
paraphrased real comments from real people that have either been sent directly
to my inbox, Tweets, or posts I have come across. A few of these are direct quotes (have fun
deciphering!). If you are concerned
about my methodology, I have actual screen grabs to back up all of the comments
below. Because I do not wish to attack
individuals, but instead to unpack the faulty logic and dangerous ideology behind
the comments, I have declined to assign identities.
The ‘IT’S NOT ABOUT
FITZ, WE’RE CONCERNED ABOUT LIV’ Category:
Sleeping with random men does not solve Olivia’s problems just as
leaving DC did not. Will she feel more ‘empowered’ the next day after sleeping
with this guy? Have fewer problems?
random dudes does not solve multiple problems, but it sure does feel good for
one night. Would you deny her that? And it’s a hell of a lot better than her
usual, and actually sad schtick of work and isolation with wine and popcorn. I’m also pretty sure neither the episode, nor
Olivia, suggested a one-night stand is a panacea.
Sleeping with random men means Olivia has experienced ZERO growth. Isn’t
she just repeating patterns of her party girl past? She is on a hamster wheel
Faulty logic. Olivia slept
with one man, one time. This has nothing to do with growth. Is sexless-ness or settling into a monogamous
relationship criteria for ‘growth’? And do we want to qualify ‘growth’ as going
from a party girl past to sleeping with
a married man? Yeah, I thought so. Also, how can nothing have changed yet people also want to go back to season one Olivia? Riddle me that.
no sense that Olivia is ashamed of her dating past. Many people are making assumptions that female promiscuity is a bad
thing, when they would not make the same assumption with regard to Russell. No
one is concerned for his safety, or outraged that he has chosen to go the home
of a woman he has just met.
In 403 when Catherine
brought up Olivia’s party girl ways, Olivia was on professional business with
her employee, Quinn. Olivia’s past is not Quinn’s business. Her refusal to
revisit that past is not proof of shame, or regret. Sometimes we have a phase and
then we move on. We are also entitled to revisit that past, as and when we want
to and for however long it pleases us.
Yes Olivia owns her body, but she needs to get her act together first,
then she can go after whatever she wants.
Paternalism. So, only
women who have their ‘act together’
should be allowed to have sex with whomever they choose? Or, sex impedes one’s
ability to get one’s ‘act together’?
Olivia is going to wind up pregnant, or with an STI because of this irresponsible
GTEntireFOH. Where was this concern when Olivia was sleeping with Edison, Jake,
or Fitz? At least one of those men intermittently sleeps with another woman
when he’s on the outs with Olivia. God knows, Olivia whipped Fitz’s dick out
entirely too fast on that Resolute desk (208) and in that server closet (214)
for there to have been any condom use. Nary a fuck about pregnancy could be
heard from y’all then. So, spare me the faux concern. Besides, Olivia is a grown, responsible woman
who values herself. I’m pretty sure contraception was handled. More importantly, you have no indication that it wasn’t.
The MISUSE OF
AGENCY, AUTONOMY AND SOVEREIGNTY Category:
How can women justify Olivia’s behavior as some kind of feminism and
sexual agency that will lead her to healing?! That’s plain insane!
I have not seen a single soul who believes that a single incidence of getting
new dick will act as a sprinkling of fairy dust over Olivia’s life. Secondly,
you don’t understand feminism and sexual agency. A feminist ethos that lacks
paternalism embraces sexual agency, and does not pathologize the exercising of
said agency. Again, Olivia made the decision to sleep with Russell out of a
sense of curiosity and autonomous desire. Supporting her right to follow those
things—for a night, or a lifetime— if they are her choice is feminism.
Olivia’s goal isn’t sovereignty because everything she does, or reacts
to, is about Fitz
“This is not about you. My whole life is not about you. I have goals.
I have DREAMS! I did this for me.”—(“We Do Not
Touch the First Ladies”, 312)
So, yeah, Olivia’s life is totally about
being an appendage to Fitz.
There is a larger point to be made, the dismissal
of which, has caused some to argue that Olivia has no identity outside of
Fitzgerald (weirdly, in an episode that had nothing to do with the two of them).
To oversimplify, Olivia’s life is actually about following her autonomous
desires, and dealing with the compromises and challenges to achieving them. ‘Desire’
is not a synonym for ‘sex’ or ‘romance’.
However, in the case of Olivia Pope, those elements are part and parcel of her
This is not a good way for someone experiencing PTSD to behave! It seems
like a stretch to believe she would be mentally stable enough to guard down and
have sex with someone she met at a bar, let alone take him back to her apartment!
For someone so concerned about her safety, why would she do that?
Consider that PTSD is
not a fixed state that grips a person 24 hours a day. Like depression, it can
be an ongoing thing that people struggle with, and to varying degrees. Olivia seems
to be a highly functioning PTSD sufferer. I note that no one has questioned her
ability to remain brilliant at her job while dealing with PTSD. Yet, somehow
the decision to have a sexual encounter is null and void because of it? Error
404, girl. Fucking is way less complex than devising a strategy to clean up a
political mess. Sex is really not that deep (no pun intended).
Olivia took Russell
back to her apartment because foreign spaces actually leave her more vulnerable after the kidnapping (that’s why the confined space of the
bar’s bathroom brought on an episode for her). The entire encounter was about
having this sexual experience on her terms, and getting over her fears. Bringing
him back to her turf fits in with that. Trust that the gun was likely not very
The TYLER PERRY SCHOOL OF FEMINISM Category:
talk about owning your own sexual agency is hogwash if you mean sleeping around
paternalism, misogyny and a healthy dose of smh. Please see the above section
about sexual agency, and what it actually means.
Every woman has value, and her love is a gift. If you open up your legs
to just anyone, for free, with no
strings attached, you are demeaning your gift. This is especially true if you
do so after experiencing real love.
-___-. Having a vagina is not a gift; it is a fact of
life. Therefore, being a woman is not like being a piece of property that
depreciates over time, or gains value based on the number of owners between whom
we’ve been traded. Our worth is not based on those to whom we grant access to
our bodies, and the number of times we do so. Our worth is inherent because we
exist as living, breathing beings in this world.
have got to get off this romance novel/Hollywood Rom-Com bullshit. Sex and love
are not synonymous. It is entirely possible to have sex with someone without
being in your feelings, even after you’ve experienced deep soulful love.
PTSD suffers can sometimes ruin the emotional bonds they have with loved
ones after acting out in sexual ways.
Olivia’s wild behavior could ruin things between her and Fitz.
Besides the fact that
they haven’t been together all season, this could possibly be a thing if Olivia
and Fitz had any agreement on sexual fidelity. Obviously that’s not part of
their relationship. So, Olivia’s one-time (as it presently stands) behavior has
literally nothing to do with Fitz.
Lastly, have you met
Fitzgerald? Have you not watched four seasons of Scandal? The only way to ruin
things between Fitz and Olivia (besides death to one of them) is for Olivia to
finally and definitively end things with Fitz. Olivia could bone every man this
side of the Potomac and Fitz would still be like
People are only calling Olivia a whore because the writers have called
her whore since season one! Even Olivia called herself a whore! You can’t blame
the fans when they do it, too.
Oh, I will absolutely
blame fans each and every time they call Olivia Pope out of her name. The show
is not instructing anyone to call Olivia a whore. The derogatory words fans use reflect their
own sense of morality and respectability
politics. By the logic above, the show is also instructing us to call Fitz ‘weak’,
a ‘devil’ and a’boy’; and Olivia is ‘the help’. Clearly we don’t agree with that. Why would ‘whore’
This Olivia is displaying loose behavior that is not in line with season
one Olivia. She would NEVER have stooped to this level. It is clear that she does not respect herself,
and now, neither do I. I’m out!
As for the rest of it,
do people not see how contradictory it to request a return to some mythical
season one Olivia (because, y’all, she was so perf!) while also talking about
how nothing has changed? Non-sequitur as fuck. The less people knew about
Olivia, the more pristine their projections remained. With each season that
came tumbling down.
Moreover, what is the ‘level’
to which Olivia has ‘stooped’? Is this not the same woman who had been sleeping
with a married man? Or maybe that is on a different ‘level’ (higher or lower?).
Also, this is the woman who has a history of sleeping with a bevy of powerful,
older men. She seemed to have respected
herself all these years. So… the attempted point being made above:
I’ll conclude by
saying that everyone is entitled to reject a storyline on the show. That’s not
my concern. The language some of us use to voice our displeasure reflects our
own complicated politics about representation, sexuality, gender roles, etc and
reveal patterns of thinking that are highly problematic. Some of us, including
myself, come from conservative cultures where some of the above ideologies are
normative. Listen, the patriarchy is real and you don’t need to be a man to
uphold it. All of the above comments came from women who have bought into
patriarchal notions that women, especially black women, are expected to uphold [religiously]
prescriptive standards of sexuality and morality in order to have value and ‘earn’
respect. It’s important that we challenge these patterns of thought because
they are oppressive rather than liberating.
Ok, that’s all I’ve
got. Have you seen any problematic comments that I haven’t covered? Are there gaps
that you would like to fill in? Especially if you disagree, I’d love to hear
This morning a woman using a cane got on the bus. I stood up and asked if she would prefer to sit. She said, “no, I’d like to stand.” I sat back down and carried on reading my book. When I got up to leave she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thank you, dear, for being a gentleman.” And then she winked at me. Her comment had this fabulously subversive edge to it—-like we had just participated in some grand smashing of ableism and patriarchy by rewriting the script for chivalry and so-called common courtesy. In our telling, women and crips have agency and consent with a side of “when I say what I want, leave me the fuck alone.”
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