Gender, Movies, Musing, Reviews

Easy A: A Study in Slut-Shaming, Part VI: Anson and the Boys

If you’re confused, it’s because you’ve wandered into the middle of my series about the movie Easy A! Click for Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, or Part V.

Last time, we talked about Olive’s relationship to other women and how her reputation made her too dangerous for them to associate with, and robbed her of her voice, which was pretty shitty and hypocritical of them. Today, though, we’re going to the root of the problem: the boys. How is it that Olive can have such a thriving business when the majority of guys at the school know she’s lying? How can her reputation still be so powerful when half the school knows it isn’t based in reality? And, more terrifyingly–how does their treatment of her directly lead to and even condone what Anson (played by Jake Sandvig) ultimately tries to do? (fair warning–what he tries to do is date rape, and I’m going to talk about it)

At the outset of the movie, Olive doesn’t have a love life. She explains this by saying, “if Google earth were a guy, he couldn’t find me if I were dressed up as a ten-story building.” While she definitely has interest in boys, she feels invisible to them–something pretty much anyone in high school can relate to. It’s unsurprising, then, that when the rumor puts her on the map, at first she actually rather likes it. Finally being noticed by every body is a nice change, which is part of the reason she agrees to help Brandon–it also helps her stay on the radar.

Soon after helping Brandon, though, word gets out that Olive is in business, and suddenly every guy in the school sees her value. Suddenly, she is useful to them, not as a person but as a sex object–a way to prove their own sexual prowess. High school is kind of awful about things like this, and Olive isn’t the only one feeling the sting of romantic anonymity. Her first customer, Evan, is the epitome of low self-esteem, describing himself as “a fat piece of shit.”  All of Olive’s “customers” are just as sexless and self-conscious as she is, and she becomes their means of escape.

And yes, at the beginning, Olive is a willing participant in this exchange, but it’s not like she has a whole lot of choice in the matter anyway. As Evan is kind enough to point out, they don’t have to ask her permission–anything they say about her will be accepted as true, and any denial from her will just get ignored. The film references at least seven other guys who took advantage of her “services,” at increasingly lower and lower rates, because there’s nothing she can do about it but accept. They know that the rumors about her aren’t true, but they are more than happy to capitalize on them–and support one another in the secret. Once again, nobody is listening to Olive. She isn’t a person; she’s a means to an end.

Despite her thriving business, though, Olive is more alone than ever. Not only has she lost Rhiannon, but her new-found popularity has yet to turn up an actual offer for a date. As she explains, “Everyone was jumping up and down to say they’d slept with me, but no one bothered really trying to sleep with me. I was starting to think I actually did have a gnome down there. Until finally…”

Along comes Anson, whom Rhiannon has had a crush on for a very long time. But Olive is in a fight with Rhiannon, and she also feels incredibly alone, and so she accepts his offer. He calls it a date. They go to the Lobster Shack and have an incredibly awkward conversation. She’s excited that someone, finally, is noticing her as a person instead of using her for their own gains or judging her on her reputation. It makes her feel like a person again.

But then this happens:

olive anson

Anson hasn’t gotten the memo. He thinks Olive is actually prostituting herself, and it turns out that this whole “date” was just another guy using her as a means to an end. But it gets worse. When Olive explains his mistake, Anson doesn’t take no for an answer. Instead, he tries to override her “no” with reassurance and persistence:

Olive: “That’s not really how this works.”
Anson: “It’s okay.”
Olive: “Stop! …I’m not really having sex with people for money. I’m saying I’m having sex with people for money, but I’m not having sex with people for money.”
Anson: “It’s okay.”
Olive: “Stop.”
Anson: “What?”
Olive: “No! Stop!”
Anson: “Come on, just relax. Come on.”
Olive: “God! Asshole!”

Note his choice of words–“it’s okay,” “just relax,” “come on.” These aren’t threatening words. They’re intended to undermine what she is saying–to make her feel as though she is over-reacting to the situation and ought to trust him, when actually that is the last thing she should do. But when she finally walks away, his real colors come out as he shouts, “What are you doing? I paid you! … Come on! This is bullshit!” Real charmer, you are, Anson.

It’s tempting to draw a line between what Anson does–which is clearly an attempt at date rape–and what the other boys are doing, but the truth is that their behavior is what allows his to persist. They are objectifying her just as much as he is. They are reinforcing the idea that, because Olive has a certain reputation, she doesn’t get to make her own decisions about her body. They also didn’t take “no” for an answer. And it’s not only the boys who are doing this, as we saw with my discussions on Marianne, Rhiannon, and Mrs. Griffith, but they are definitely active participants.  The only real difference between what they do and what Anson does is the end goal. Everything else is essentially the same.

But not all hope is lost. There is one example of positive sexual behavior from a male character in this movie: Olive’s eventual love interest, Todd. How is he different? Well, partially because he doesn’t believe in or care about Olive’s reputation, but more importantly, because he respect Olive’s agency as a person. When he offers her a ride home after the terrifying encounter with Anson, this conversation ensues:

Todd: “Olive. If I promise not to tell anyone, can I kiss you right now?”
Olive: “…no.”
Todd: “Oh. Okay.”

He asks permission, instead of assuming. When she says no, he’s clearly a little upset about it, but he immediately backs off. Todd respects Olive’s agency, and isn’t interested in trying to weasel (or force) her into consent. This gives her plenty of room to explain herself and outline her position, and he actually listens to her. THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD ALWAYS HAPPEN. Girls should never have to say, “stop.” They should get to say, “yes.”

Sorry it got a bit heavy today, but tomorrow the sun comes out! We’re going to talk about the best characters in this film: Olive’s parents, and especially her mother, Rosemary. Tomorrow’s will also be shorter, because oops, this is like 1200 words. Sorry not sorry.

Consensually yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“You know the sad thing is, Evan, if you’d been a gentleman and maybe asked me out on a date, I might’ve said yes.” -Olive

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