Selected Approach: B
Question: Does this representation create, reinforce or challenge stereotypes?
Challenging Gender Stereotypes in Shonda Rhymes’ “Scandal”
Throughout the history of television, women have been presented as passive and submissive, and have been constructed as sexual objects. However, more recently, groundbreaking television series have begun to break the gender stereotype by presenting female characters in strong, authoritative roles which were usually reserved to men. Shonda Rhymes’s “Scandal” fits in this trend, centering upon Olivia Pope, a unique character who challenges the stereotypes by presenting an empowered African American woman. However, Olivia is only one of a series of masculine and feminine characters which challenge gender stereotypes in “Scandal”. As this paper argues, the film series constructs characters which challenge gender roles and expectations in order to display the difference between traditional gender ideology and everyday reality, and make it more obvious. The 7 episodes of the series contradict masculine and feminine ideology, show men and women in inversed gender positions, and presents women who broke the ceiling glass in different professions despite all challenges.
The series begins by challenging stereotypes regarding feminine behavior and attitudes. In the first episode of the series, “the viewers are challenged to accept the fact that Olivia rejects most gender roles usually assigned to women. She is not nurturing, and she does not have motherly instincts, which is suggested by the way she behaves around the baby she saves at the beginning of the episode (Sweet Baby). She takes the “package” without interacting with the baby inside and she seems disgusted by the idea of changing the diaper. Subsequently, her employers present her to Quinn as a tough boss, who resents ‘feminine’ behaviors, such as crying, and sexual objectification, which is represented by her comment to Quinn, “Too much cleavage”. Furthermore, the filmmaker inverses gender roles by making Steven a character which is always ready to use sexuality in order to solve the cases, the same way a woman would. Finally, also in the same episode, the filmmaker presents another character who challenges gender stereotypes, by portraying Lt. Sullivan St. James, a decorated war hero, and the perfect illustration of masculine ideology, as a gay man.
Subsequently, throughout the series, the filmmaker presents women and men in reversed gender roles positions. In the second episode, the filmmakers present Washington’s finest “Madam” as a stylish, elegant woman who is in control, not only for her illegal activity, but also, on her own life. Unlike women who are portrayed in films in general, she willingly sacrifices family life for her career she is involved in a highly successful illegal activity. Generally, women in films put family life first, even when they have careers, and men are more likely to head illegal activities. Furthermore, the Supreme Court nominee Patrick Keating’s wife is shown to have supported him throughout his school years working as an escort. This challenges the male breadwinner image. Also episode 6, “The Trail”, Olivia and Mellie, help governor Grant to become president, orchestrating his election together. Mellie lies about a miscarriage in order to win women’s favor, thus proving that she is a cunning politician.
The film also presents a series of feminine characters breaking ‘ceiling glasses’ in different domains of activity, for which they are not considered fit. For example, the feminine character presented in episode 3, Sandra, a company CEO, and a powerful woman who is not used to being told “no” (Hell Hat No Fury). In episode 5, “Crash and Burn”, the filmmakers present the case of a dead female pilot who is accused of having caused the plane crush, after panicking due to turbulences. Women pilots continue to be very rare in civil aviation, and people generally perceive them as incapable of remaining calm in stressful situations. However,Olivia proves that she remained calm and did everything she could in the given situation. Finally, in episode 7, the filmmakers approach another important glass ceiling, that of women in politics. The vice-president of the United States is a powerful woman who may become the next president. She is presented by the chief of staff as potentially” the finest president this country has ever known” (Grant: For the People). In this series, she has great chances to win future elections, and she is also a woman of high moral principles, who refuses to be intimidated by the president, claiming that her principles are not just accessories (Grant: For the People).
While raising awareness regarding women’s struggle against domestic abuse and oppression, the film does not present the female characters as helpless victims, as they are often stereotyped, but on the contrary, they are perceived as capable of defeating their oppressors. Abby is revealed in episode 4 to have experienced domestic abuse and overcame it to become a self-determined woman (“Enemy of the State”). In this episode, the wife of the South American dictator runs away and hides with her children at a Woman’s shelter. Olivia threatens her husband that, “this woman can be the mother of your children or the face of your opposition” (“Enemy of the State)”. Her speech about women’s political power and personal strength, and her brave stand against a dictator are inspiring for the female audience.
As this paper has shown, Shonda Rhimes’ “Scandal”, challenges gender stereotypes which are typically found in the society, and reinforced in the media, and thus builds masculine and feminine role models for the future generations. For example, the film dismisses fixed views regarding feminine and masculine behavior and attitudes, it presents them in inversed positions, and it portrays women who broke , or are about to break, the glass ceiling of different occupations thus challenging the traditional views that women are not fit for those positions. As such, “Scandal” creates feminine characters which can become role models for the future generation, and gender blind male characters that do not discriminate against them.