Gender, Movies, Musing, Reviews

Easy A: A Study in Slut-Shaming, Part IV: Rhiannon

This is Part IV of my ongoing series about slut-shaming in the movie Easy A. Click for Part I, Part II, or Part III.

Welcome back! Yes, we’re still talking about Easy A. Yesterday I talked about Brandon, and how slut-shaming affects the homosexual community, and why that’s stupid. Today, though, we’re back on women, because Easy A is awesome enough to have multiple three-dimensional female characters who interact with each other in ways that reflect actual female interactions in the real world instead of just the ones that revolve around men (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read up on the Bechdel Test). This post and the one immediately following it are going to be about the women who should have been on Olive’s side but weren’t, starting with her best friend Rhiannon, played by Ali Michalka.

Rhiannon and Olive are best friends. Rhiannon is the one who got Olive into this whole mess in the first place, by insisting that Olive tell her “the truth” until she made something up. Rhiannon is also, at the outset of the film anyway, intensely sex-positive. She cherishes her reputation as something of a slut: when she discovers that the identifier her peers use for her is “big tits,” she’s thrilled; early on, she praises Olive for her newfound sexual freedom, saying, “Finally! Now you’re a super slut like me.”

But the thing is, Rhiannon isn’t really a slut–it’s just a persona she’s claimed, safe in the knowledge that no one really believes it’s true. Olive points this out early on, saying, “I don’t think letting Peter Hedlen motor boat you behind the Bed, Bath and Beyond really makes you a super slut,” to which Rhiannon defensively replies, “There were a lot of people walking past. Someone could have easily seen.” Rhiannon is claiming the “slut” identity without having to actually experience any of the drawbacks attached to it, because nobody believes her to actually be slutty. She gets to pretend to be a sexually liberated wild child without suffering the consequences Olive eventually faces.

When Olive’s reputation begins to spiral out of control, though, Rhiannon changes her tune in an instant. Immediately after Olive fakes having sex with Brandon, she receives a phone call from Rhiannon, who is pissed off that she had to hear about it from a third party. Her hurt at being excluded quickly turns to straight-up slut shame, and this charming exchange takes place:

Rhiannon: “You know, you’re starting to get a reputation.”
Olive: “And you’re coming off as a little pious. You’re kinda pissing me off a little more than usual.”
Rhiannon: “I’m sorry if I think it’s a best friend’s duty to let her know that everyone–and I do mean everyone–is calling her a dirty skank.”
Olive: “Well, do you think I’m a dirty skank?”
Rhiannon: “You know, I–I didn’t want to believe it, but I guess it’s true.”

Rhiannon’s motivations in this are two-fold. Firstly, she is hurt that Olive has not confided in her–something that she sees as a betrayal of their friendship. Of course, considering how consistently Rhiannon ignores what Olive has to say, it’s not really a surprise that she was kept in the dark. After all, Rhi is the reason the whole mess started in the first place. Nevertheless, hurt by Olive’s apparent rejection, Rhiannon retaliates with what she knows will hurt most: a reiteration of all the horrible things people have begun to say about Olive. Catty in-fighting takes over, and sex-positivity goes straight out the window.

The second motivation is a bit subtler at first, but becomes apparent later on. Watching Olive’s reputation tank, Rhiannon realizes that it actually isn’t that great to be labeled a slut. She hears the things people are saying about Olive, and they’re horrible things, and suddenly she doesn’t want to be associated with that anymore. All of her “super slut” talk was just hot air, and when she’s faced with the reality of being considered a slut, she wants to put as much distance between herself and Olive’s growing reputation as possible. And where’s the safest place to be when a mob is forming? Right at the front of the pack. So Rhiannon literally joins Marianne’s picketing mob, wielding a sign that says “Exodus 20:14” (if anyone is curious, that’s “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”), and Olive is left alone.

This sort of in-fighting among girls is a huge problem, because it sends the message that girls are defined by their sexual reputations. It’s a lot easier to keep girls ashamed of their own bodies and sexualities when they’re policing one another instead of defending each other. The truth is, a girl’s sexual experience is not related to her clothing, and neither is an indicator of character. Olive is still the same girl Rhiannon was best friends with for so long, but Rhiannon can’t see it past the social pressure building up around them. Rather than take her best friend’s side, Rhiannon gives in to peer pressure and joins the persecution, to avoid becoming a victim herself.

Of course, as awful as it is, it’s easy to accept a teenager not standing up for a friend to her peers. It’s not pretty, but it’s understandable. What’s truly inexcusable is when a person in a position of authority starts reinforcing this kind of behavior, which is what I’m going to talk about tomorrow with Mrs. Griffith.

Cattily yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“Just because you lost your virginity doesn’t mean you can go around throwing your cat at everybody.” -Rhiannon

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