Gender, Movies, Musing, Reviews

Easy A: A Study in Slut-Shaming, Part V: Mrs. Griffith

Hello! You’ve found Part V of my entirely overlong series on the film Easy A. Click for Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Yesterday, I touched on Olive’s best friend, Rhiannon, and the way that sex-negative thinking can pit girls against one another and create rifts between friends. Today, I am going to talk about the same sort of cultural expectations, but from a top-down perspective. How does sex-negativity operate even among people with authority, and how does that perpetuate damaging misconceptions about sexuality? This is where the school counselor, Mrs. Griffith, played by Lisa Kudrow (better known as Phoebe on Friends), comes in.


When we first meet Mrs. Griffith, she just misses Olive coming out of Mr. Griffith’s classroom–Mr. Griffith being both Olive’s favorite teacher and (obviously) Mrs. Griffith’s husband. This is after Olive has adopted her scarlet letter uniform, and the first thing Mrs. Griffith has to say upon meeting her is to express confusion over not knowing who she is. “I’m the guidance counselor,” she tells Mr. Griffith. “I should know all the students, especially the ones who dress like prostitutes.” Right off the bat, Mrs. Griffith is making a judgment on Olive’s character purely on the basis of what she is wearing. The fact that the school counselor, who is suppose to support and help students, has internalized this attitude is a red flag from the beginning. How can she possibly hope to help these students if she’s equating them with prostitutes?

But there’s a deeper level to Mrs. Griffith. If you haven’t seen the movie, this is going to be a massive spoiler, but you shouldn’t be reading this anyway so I don’t care: Mrs. Griffith is having an affair with Marianne’s boyfriend, Micah. This is, of course, unacceptable sexual behavior, for two reasons. The first is because, through their lack of fidelity, Mrs. Griffith and Micah are hurting other people (her husband, Marianne, and you could even argue Micah’s family). The second, and far more thematically important, reason is that Mrs. Griffith has a position of authority over Micah. Yes, he’s over eighteen, so technically it’s legal, but he is still a student under her jurisdiction (and he’s also established as being somewhat intellectually challenged, which arguably could mean he can’t consent after all). Sexual relationships between people in differing positions of power are dangerous, because they blur the line between consent and just following commands because it’s required. Mrs. Griffith is the only example in this film of sex done wrongly, and she is called out for it at every turn.

But what about Mrs. Griffith’s relationship to Olive? Well, that’s where it gets really scary. Initially, when Micah comes down with Chlamydia (given to him by Mrs. Griffith), he blames it on Olive to avoid getting his real lover in trouble, but Mrs. Griffith offers to come clean. While she didn’t listen to Olive’s original claim that she wasn’t having sex, Olive’s later admission that she’s been “whoring around” prompts Mrs. Griffith to comment, “No you haven’t. No you haven’t. A real whore can’t admit it to herself, much less others. Trust me.” It’s clear that Mrs. Griffith has a huge amount of internalized shame over her sexuality, which has driven her to exercise it in furtive and destructive ways rather than to communicate openly with her husband about their problems. She is essentially slut-shaming herself, and it is ruining her life. Olive, being the caring person that she is,  takes the fall for Mrs. Griffith anyway–but then eventually realizes what a mistake that is, and later asks Mrs. Griffith to help her dig herself out of the hole she’s in and reveal the truth. Now, though, Mrs. Griffith sees a way to continue living her lie, and that’s when things get nasty:

Mrs. Griffith: “Olive, life is full of choices. I made a bad one, but then so did you. But I see no other alternative than to just live with the guilt. My guilt stems from my indiscretion and yours for lying, but we made our choices, and we just have to let it ride.”
Olive: “Or I could just tell the truth, and get you fired and put in jail.”
Mrs. Griffith: “First of all, he is of age, okay? It’s perfectly legal in the state of California. I checked. He is 21 in eight months. And secondly, let’s play the who-would-you-believe game, okay? Why don’t you ask yourself, if you were an adult, who would you believe, huh? Who would you believe? Who would you believe? Who would you believe??? Who? …thank you for coming in.”

Yup–she pulls the authority card. Kind of makes you wonder how consensual her relationship with Micah really was, doesn’t it? Mrs. Griffith doesn’t care that she is ruining Olive’s life by allowing this lie to continue. The way she sees it, Olive has made her bed, and therefore it is perfectly acceptable to capitalize on the situation. Of course, this is bullshit; Mrs. Griffith is the adult in this situation, and it is her job to know better when her students can’t. She should take the fall for her behavior, but she doesn’t because she knows what’s down that road as well as Olive does, and she refuses to subject herself to the social stigma. Instead, she panics. And given what Olive has suffered, can you really blame her for being afraid?

Mrs. Griffith is representative of the top-down sex-negative attitude encountered in schools across the world. By passing judgment on Olive, she is perpetuating the same destructive system that drove her into her own sexual neuroses, and she doesn’t even know it. This happens all the time. Instead of having an honest conversation about sex, sexual responsibility and attitudes about promiscuity, Mrs. Griffith sweeps it all under the rug with her own dirty laundry. Because if you don’t talk about it, it isn’t happening, right? Right.

Tomorrow we talk about boys!

Yours in denial,
M.M. Jordahl

“He’s not the sharpest Christian in the Bible, okay?” -Mrs. Griffith

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6 thoughts on “Easy A: A Study in Slut-Shaming, Part V: Mrs. Griffith”

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