We’re excited to share our very first alumni post! The reflection below was written by Cassandra Morales (UMBC Class of 2013) who worked in the Women’s Center from 2012-2013.
Binge-watching Netflix is a favorite college past-time that I carried into my post-undergraduate life. There is nothing like the satisfaction of finishing all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or the excitement of the addition of a new season of Call the Midwife. When the third season of Scandal was added, I happily started it. However, out of all the twists and turns, there was one that stood out to me, and one that I continue to think on; when Mellie is raped by her father-in-law, it may not be the most shocking twist, but it is one I feel is worth critique.
For most, the actual experience of rape is not like a bad day at work, but it’s treated in the same light: many of the characters are impacted for a few days and then get over it quickly. The event happens in a vacuum, dealt with and dispensed in only a few episodes. To me, this seems like a highly unrealistic representation and indicative of the fact that it’s not about the victim, but for the story or other characters. The viewer does grasp how far Mellie is willing to go to further her husband’s political career (and therefore her own). What is not explained is how Mellie copes with the trauma, and, much like real-life cases, the focus is not the impact on the victim, but the impact on everyone else.
While writing this, I realized what might be the most frustrating part is that I can say this is not the most shocking twist in Scandal. Inadequate representations of rape are highly prevalent in TV shows nowadays (American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead to name a few). While I do think TV shows are a good platform to discuss rape and sexual assault, it does not seem right that it is only portrayed in one way. Sexual assault happens in so many different ways, impacts the victim in different ways*, and that should be reflected in what we watch. I begin to wonder if people who are most able to write about that experience, women specifically, are not well represented among the writers of these shows.
I will not stop watching Scandal, nor for that matter will I stop binge-watching TV on Netflix. However, what I will take away from this experience is the importance of being a conscious consumer. Critiquing a show that you love (or a store, or a sport) does not inherently mean that you must write it off. In fact, it means the opposite. I love watching TV and I am deeply invested in what I watch. As a woman, as well as a feminist, I must ask that my experiences, and the experiences of my peers, be valued in my TV shows because I value them. By critiquing them, I am more aware of what is lacking in my favorite shows. As a result, I am able to create what I want to see in the world. I encounter problematic issues in the places I shop, the music I listen to, and even the books that I read. It is impossible to be without a problematic aspect in your life. Ignoring these issues solves nothing. With my power as a consumer, I am obligated to reflect and critique and ask for more.
*If you know someone who has been sexually assaulted, here’s some important ways you can respond and support. UMBC community members can also receive support and resources through UMBC’s Voices Against Violence Program and offices like the Women’s Center. For more information on resources, visit the Women’s Center website.