Characters, Gender, Movies, Reviews

Easy A: A Study in Slut-Shaming, Part II: Marianne

Welcome back to another installment of Morgan-cares-way-too-much-about-movies: Easy A edition! For those of you just tuning in now, be sure to start with my post from last week about the film’s protagonist, Olive Penderghast. Today, we’re moving on to the character who is, arguably, the film’s antagonist: Marianne Bryant, played by Amanda Bynes.

Marianne’s defining characteristic is her cartoonish devotion to all of the “family values” espoused by the super-religious. She’s basically everything people are talking about when they say they “don’t like Christians” (which of course does not apply to the more liberal version of Christians, who know not to judge lest ye be judged). Marianne is pushy, judgmental, and hypocritical, and she jumps to conclusions like she’s escaping a burning building. The first line we hear from Marianne is just after Olive has told Rhiannon her fake story, when she describes the pair as “just a couple of admitted whores.” This one line tells us pretty much everything we need to know about her general attitude, but let’s break it down.

First of all, Marianne insists on holding other people to her own standards of behavior, and judging anyone who disagrees with her, while maintaining that only God can pass judgment: “I’m not the one you have to answer to for your depraved behavior,” she tells Olive. “There’s a higher power that will judge you for your indecency.” This is, of course, hypocritical beyond belief, because not only is Marianne passing judgment on someone she barely knows for something she has no proof of, but she’s also willfully bringing retribution down upon that person’s head. Marianne is the reason Olive’s story gets so out of hand in the first place; under the guise of trying to “help” Olive, Marianne sets the dogs on her, all while claiming it’s God’s will. Nevermind that Olive’s sex life is none of her business anyway; nothing justifies being awful like believing God is on your side.

Secondly, Marianne’s behavior makes her vastly unpopular, both among students and teachers. Even the school guidance counselor, Mrs. Griffith, refers to her as “…that snotty Jesus freak office aid I have.” This is clearly not a person who is well thought-of, and yet she has the power to cast aspersions on Olive and to essentially lead a mob against her. Why does everyone just go along with Marianne? For the same reason everyone goes along with slut-shaming in general: the things she’s saying are so ingrained in our culture that when she points a finger at Olive, no one questions her. It doesn’t matter how much everyone hates Marianne, because the things she’s saying are things we’ve all been conditioned to inherently believe, even if we don’t say it aloud with the same zealousness.

Of course, Marianne’s over-zealousness is also symptomatic of a life lived in fear of stigmatization. Her father is a preacher, and her community is her church. In order to fit in, she must behave this way, or so she thinks, because the opinion of others is all that matters. She has to be the best Christian–beyond reproach–which in her mind means thumping the good book every chance she can get, regardless of who it hurts. At her heart, all Marianne really wants is to fit in, and she achieves it by shoving everybody else out.

While Marianne is the main embodiment of religion in Easy A, it pops up in a more general sense in a few other places. The most prominent comes when Olive has just encountered picketers proclaiming that she is a slut, citing the Bible as evidence of course, and she decides to see what the heck they’re all talking about and consult a priest herself. This is what Marianne has been trying to get her to do, after all: turn to God. But Olive doesn’t find solace or support in the church. Instead, she runs into this frustrating conversation:

Olive: “Assuming there is a hell–”
Pastor: “Oh, the Christian Church recognizes the existence of hell.”
Olive: “Okay, so we’ll just say there’s a Hell.”
Pastor: “There is. Just so we’re clear.”
Olive: “Okay. So for argument’s sake–”
Pastor: “Oh, there’s no argument. It’s there. Right below our feet. Right above the orient. It’s there.”

Olive never gets to ask her question. The pastor keeps interrupting her, arguing technicalities rather than giving her what she really needs: someone who’s willing to listen. This is a prime example of how the conversation about sexuality falls apart where religion is concerned. Instead of lending an ear and actually trying to understand where the “sinners” are coming from, the morality folks shout them down with centuries of unforgiving dogma. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who refuses to listen.

How very Christian.

Again, it is worth noting that the version of Christianity depicted in this movie is not representative of the behavior of all religious people. There are plenty of religious people who don’t give a flying fuck what anybody else does in the bedroom. However, this version of religious fundamentalism is all too familiar, and it really does dictate both a large part of the political sphere and public attitudes about sexuality in general (among other things). Marianne is not a straw man. People like her really do exist, and they are a very real problem, and as long as they are allowed to operate unchallenged, all of this bullshit is just going to keep on happening.

Tomorrow, it’s time to talk about Brandon and homophobia.

Fundamentally yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“Never underestimate the power of extremists like Marianne.” -Olive

P.S. Yeah, BEDA is happening. See you tomorrow, when I begin to slowly lose my mind.

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