Easy A

 Over the Christmas break, I rewatched the comedy Easy A (thank you, Netflix!). For those who are unfamiliar, Easy A is a teen movie about a girl named Olive, who lies to her best friend about losing her virginity, and instantly becomes the focus of her school’s gossip mill. When a gay friend asks her to pretend to hook up with him to save him from bullying, she sews a scarlet A on her clothes and goes into business as the School Slut, allowing desperate guys to lie about hooking up with her in exchange for gift vouchers and money. Meanwhile, the school’s Jesus Brigade turns on her, determined to force her to leave the school for her sinful behavior.

The film has been praised as a feminist teen movie, with a powerful message about teen sexuality (aka, that it’s no one’s business but your own). And Easy A is a really fun film. But despite its apparently sex-positive exterior, the film is, in my opinion, pretty darn problematic when viewed from a feminist perspective.

Outside of Olive and her family, not a single female character in the movie is likeable. Her best friend Rhiannon forces the initial lie out of Olive, and then turns on her and calls her a whore. The only female teacher we encounter is Lisa Kudrow’s character, who is cheating on her husband with a student. And although “Team Jesus” character Marianne is not presented as a hypocrite, she is still an annoying, judgemental caricature. Of course, most of the male characters in the movie are also pretty unlikeable — the film is, after all, a story about the general horribleness of high school and its approach to sexuality. But the male characters also get to be more complicated. The two likeable characters in the school are her male teacher (who Lisa Kudrow cheats on) and her love interest. Even some of the boys who pay for her lies have semi-sympathetic narratives, like the gay boy who asks Olive to help him end his bullying by making him appear straight.

But the biggest problems in the movie are the lies themselves. Olive becomes a social pariah because she’s labelled as a “slut,” and she embraces that in a fit of defiance and financial opportunity. When she ends the movie by saying that whether or not she sleeps with her new boyfriend is none of anyone else’s business, it feels like a very important, empowering statement. But throughout the movie, we are constantly reminded that Olive doesn’t actually deserve this treatment, because she’s lying. She’s not actually a slut! She’s just pretending to be one! When her mother addresses the rumors, she comments that she slept with many people when she was younger because she had “low self-esteem.” Not because she truly wanted to, mind, or because it would have been an acceptable choice, but because she didn’t respect herself enough.

Beneath the movie’s fun feminist exterior is the idea that Olive’s treatment isn’t unjust simply because slut shaming is a horrible thing, but because she hasn’t actually done anything. Some girls might deserve that treatment (and clearly, most girls are pretty darn horrid), but Olive does not. It becomes less a sex-positive movie and more a story about the horrors of the high-school rumor mill… not a bad premise for a movie, but one that seems to rely on the fact that the rumor mill says horrible things that aren’t true, rather than the fact that these things are actually none of anyone’s business.

03 comments on “Easy A

  • Anne , Direct link to comment

    YES. THANK YOU. I was really perplexed to see that so many people seemed to enjoy it a lot. I so wanted to like that movie, but it let a bad taste in my mouth. And it’s especially frustrating since it had, in my opinion, a lot of potential. Emma Stone was fantastic, and I love the scenes with her family. But you’re spot on about the lying part. I hadn’t given much thought about the characterization, but you’re right! If I remember correctly, Olive and her friend don’t even have any discussion of the movie to reconcile themselves, do they? It disappointed me. I find their relationship sloppily handled, while it could have been intersting. And don’t get me started on the Christian characters: I’m a catholic myself (albeit a French one, and we have a deeply-rooted seculiar tradition, so it’s quite different from the US) , and it perplexes me thoroughly when I see such portrayals. The thing that shocked me most in the movie was how Olive felt she had to justify herself after she was assaulted- to tell that she was not actually “a slut”. So, hum, the message was that if girls are “sluts”, or prostitutes, or anything in between, they should expect to be raped? Or deserve it? Or their rape is less of a “true” rape? They actually could have carried a strong message (and especially given the current context!), in the narrative itself or/and more explicitly, but it turned out the opposite. I can’t get past that.

  • Laura T , Direct link to comment

    I watched this a couple of days ago, and although I enjoyed the film, I definitely agree with this review – the message is mixed, to say the least. I think Olive’s decision to tell everyone she wasn’t really a ‘slut’ was as much to do with her finally getting together with her love interest as with her assault, but yes, the juxtaposition of those two scenes was still worrying.

  • Gwen , Direct link to comment

    I definitely see your point, however, speaking as a fan of the movie, I would say those that made it and the majority of fans are against slut shaming… I mean, those that didn’t like the movie thought it was too heavy-handed, or thought she was kind of a brat for lying to get attention and “should have expected it” or whatever. I feel like if she really had been sleeping around, that wouldn’t have been a bad thing for her to do, but it would have made the movie less of a commentary on how men and women are perceived differently based on whether they’re perceived to be having sex, and how that doesn’t magically make them different people than they were before, and more just something that happens to her. I did find a problem, though, with Mrs. Griffiths’ whole thing of, “real whores can’t admit it to themselves” because, you know, “real whores” existing at all is not something I want to endorse, but seeing as she’s probably feeling somewhat guilty about her own actions (at first) and isn’t exactly the voice of reason or the voice of the movie, even that I can look past. As far as not having sympathetic female characters other than Olive and her parents… even if they act as antagonists, Marianne, Rhiannon, and even Mrs. Griffiths have sympathetic moments. Marianne genuinely believes in what she’s doing and befriends Olive after Olive is nice to her, hell, Olive’s nice to her because she’s crying over her BOYFRIEND’S parents getting divorced, and only un-friends her because she thought Olive slept with said boyfriend and gave him chlamydia, which, even if you don’t believe in slut-shaming, is cheating, and I imagine from her perspective, a betrayal on Olive’s part in response to Marianne’s friendship. Rhiannon’s actions against Olive might also be out of some concern for her on some level, given that she tells her not to “mistake popularity for infamy” and tells her everyone’s calling her “a dirty skank” because she thinks it’s “a best friend’s duty”, and wears a sad, guilty expression at the end when Olive explains the truth and texts her an apology. Mrs. Griffiths initially offers to tell everyone the truth about her and Micah when Olive is blamed, suffers a breakdown, and hugs her when she offers to cover up for her. Plus I think the fact that the women AREN’T sympathetic for the most part could be making a point about how most of the slut shaming happens when girls shame other girls for their choices, which is true, and that kind of internalized misogyny does kind of need to be commented on, as well. That’s my take on it anyway.

What do you think?

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