"Tough" isn't the same as "healthy."
The new season of "Scandal" is here and excited chatter on social media is picking up.
Why? Because women love the lead character Olivia Pope. In fact, they love and admire her so much I've even seen a trend circulating of women navigating their problems by asking themselves: “What would OP do?” (What would Olivia Pope do?)
And personally I think it's a scandal that so many women around the world look at an unhappy, dysfunctional mistress as their role model. Really, ladies? This is our hero?
But, Olivia Pope (OP) is actually the worst role model ever. If you admire her, you should think twice about that.
Why do women viewers love her so?
We all enjoy complex characters; they’re what make great books, compulsive TV viewing and gripping movies. Writers work hard to create multifaceted characters that feature myriad versions of the human condition. There's no doubt that OP is one character that show creator and producer Shonda Rhimes must really enjoy bringing to life.
I started watching "Scandal" purely because of the hype surrounding OP (expertly portrayed by Kerry Washington) and the number of people in my circle who kept telling me that they wanted to be just like her. Sadly, it’s been a disappointing journey for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the show; the concept is captivating. But the more episodes I watch, the more out of love with OP I’ve grown. So I stopped watching "Scandal" just where OP realized that she wasn’t kidnapped to a foreign country, but that she’s most likely still in the U.S. (S4, E10 "Winter Premiere: Run"). Not sure I’ll go back to it now that the new season is launching, other than watching the odd episode for research purposes.
So, what makes OP such a horrible role model?
OP is selfish, manipulative and so consumed in her own drama that every decision she makes puts someone she cares about in danger. Yes, she elicits strong faith and intense loyalty from everyone around her, but it’s mostly to their detriment. People blindly follow her, without question, and call themselves gladiators (interesting that the definition of gladiator is "often a slave or captive, ... armed... and compelled to fight to the death in a public arena"), and we've seen that people do indeed die for her.
Morally, OP displays no shame or remorse when she gets something spectacularly wrong. In the show, OP openly disrespects the First Lady by continuing her sexual and emotional relationship with the President (more on this in a moment).
Yes, OP is feisty, smart, sexy, bold and possibly a true feminist icon, but only in that she's doing exactly what SHE wants to do. OP doesn’t take a pragmatic, long-term view of where her actions will take her. Everything is knee-jerk and reactionary. Irrespective of the consequences, OP does whatever she wants, as long as she’s happy or gets her way.
Ironically she's rarely happy with the outcome of her choices, but this just causes yet another knee-jerk reaction, as she swings like a pendulum between options and reaction.
We've seen a hint of what OP might want in the episode "Vermont Is For Lovers", but let's face it; That scenario is unlikely to happen and her enthusiasm for that dream has been a little lackluster in any event. The truth is, OP doesn’t really have any idea what she truly wants, or what will make her genuinely happy, so until she sorts that out she’ll continue to wreak havoc wherever she goes.
And then there's her addiction to drama and her dubious choice of men
The most questionable part of the OP "role model" bubble is that she’s having an affair with a married man (Fitzgerald Grant, or Fitz), a man who is also the President. This is a man who knows that his wife was raped by his own father and that their only son was murdered on the orders of OP's father. Fitz believes he’s entitled to have an affair with OP, yet wouldn’t let his neglected wife stay with a man who truly cared about her (VP Andrew Nichols).
Oh, and let’s also not forget that Fitz is a murderer. He's a man who, like OP, makes a lot of rash decisions that hurt those around him. A man who uses people (in much the same way OP does) to satisfy his own agenda. This manipulation extends to OP, too; keeping her dangling with half-whispered promises of deep love and future happiness, promises he can't keep without sacrificing himself and his political career.
Aside from the fact Fitz is married to someone else, he's just not a great man; he's weak and insipid, seemingly incapable of making decisions or taking action. Yes, he makes great gestures of choosing OP over his wife (in particular S2, E21 "Any Questions?") but he's too weak to follow through or even confront his wife about it. If OP's such a kickass woman and feminist icon, why would she settle for this kind of man? It's ironic that many of my feminist friends and acquaintances laud OP's merits when being a mistress is perhaps the most dis-empowering and least feminist thing a woman can do.
What about man number two though? Is Jake really that different to The President? No, at least he's not married (as far as we know), but he’s a murderer (he murdered OP's friend, the father of her god-daughter). His character is interesting because he tries to ‘Stand In The Sun' with OP, seems to genuinely care about her, and has saved OP from herself and certain death on a few occasions, but ultimately he’s as broken as OP. If he wants to save himself it looks as though he’ll have to leave her behind.
An interesting character? Yes. But a true "role model?" No way.
Yes Olivia Pope is the product of two very dysfunctional parents who used her as a pawn in their warped world of power games and espionage — this obviously hasn’t helped her view of herself nor the world around her. BUT, her inability to face the reality of her own situation and learn from her mistakes is a barrier to her ever achieving her dream and attaining happiness. Yes, OP is as screwed up, as we all are, and this alone should make her the unlikeliest of role models.
One final thought - OP isn’t happy, and there's no logical reason why a woman would choose a role model who isn’t happy.