Last month when I watched the pilot of the new sitcom Selfie, a reinterpretation of My Fair Lady that stars John Cho and Karen Gillan, I reserved my opinions. Pilot episodes are often clunky and lack the nuances of later episodes.
Sadly, the second episode of Selfie proves that this show is all about women being second class citizens who must be under the control of a wiser, older man.
Cho’s character Henry takes Gillan’s character Eliza under his so-called wing to correct her misguided behavior. What follows is a classic retelling of our culture’s obsession with the Madonna/Whore view of women.
This stereotype, which stems from the two famous Marys of the Bible, purports that women are not complicated creatures. They are either saints or sluts. They have no other motivations or personalities. They are one or the other. In short, women are not people. If a woman falls into the whore category, she requires a man to correct her behavior and turn her into a Madonna.
Review of Un-Tag My Heart
The second episode deals with Eliza’s love life and sexuality, all the while chipping away at her self-confidence.
It opens with Eliza favoriting a tweet that called her ugly. Henry is confused by this. Eliza tells him that she favorites those tweets to show they don’t bother her and that she embraces the hate in a positive way.
She says that her haters “make her famous.” She flips the negative attention on its head. She recognizes it for what it is, people who have too much time on their hands lashing out because they’re jealous. There really is no other reason to spew vitriol at someone based on their Instagram photos. Only bullies call other people ugly. She gets it.
Henry doesn’t. Instead of lauding her self-confidence, he breaks her by saying “People hate you because they hate you.” To him, it’s perfectly ok for people to hate someone they’ve never met.
If people hate her, it’s because there’s something wrong with her.
There isn’t anything wrong with her.
This moment exemplifies the generational gap between GenXers and Millennials. Cho, who was born in 1972, and Gillan, who was born in 1987, respectively represent these generations.
I find it very sad that people of my generation fail to remember what it was like to be called lazy because we wanted to wear jeans to work. We were judged on our appearance. We were “slackers.”
The habit of every generation demeaning the one that follows should stop with us. We are better than this.
We need to be honest. If social media existed when we were young, we’d be posting selfies of our flannel shirts and crushed velvet slip dresses.
The degrading of Eliza isn’t just generational. It’s age old. In the next scene we enter straight into Madonna/Whore territory. Eliza’s clothes and body become gossip fodder.
To her coworkers, her clothes make her slutty, not powerful and successful. She is the top sales person at her job because her clients view her as a slut. Oh, and she must be sleeping with everyone.
1. Society equates men in suits with power. That’s sexy. Culturally, when a man is in a suit, he’s considered someone who owns every aspect of his life. He owns his sexuality. He probably has a lot of sexual partners. He’s also successful at his job. His ownership of his sexuality does not negatively reflect on his success. In fact, it’s part of his power. It’s a positive part of his power. Think Don Draper.
Eliza, like Don Draper, understands the game. She shouldn’t be bullied for playing.
Eliza is maligned and bullied for owning her sexuality. It’s a negative. How dare she. The way that she dresses and the fact that it makes her feel powerful does help her professionally. Why is this not a positive part of her power like it is for men? Why must a woman’s power only come from being demure or wearing a pantsuit?
2. Harkening back to Don Draper, when man have casual sex it’s not a big deal. It’s part of our cultural view of what it means to be a man. It’s in line with who men are.
When Eliza has casual sex, it’s because there’s something wrong with her. She doesn’t want a meaningful relationship with her partners. She even says “I’m fine with the booty call status for now.” It’s not what she’s looking for right now. This way of thinking must be fixed. It doesn’t fit in with our cultural view of who a woman is. Thus, she is out of line and must be put in her place.
Cho’s character angrily admonishes her for having sex with someone she’s known only 2 weeks. He makes her think there’s something wrong with who she is and what she wants.
You hear that women who’ve had sex with someone on the first date? The writers of Selfie think you are slutty, shallow and out of touch.
Even though Eliza has stated many times that she does not want a deep relationship with Freddie, one of her sex partners, Henry continues to tell her what she needs to do to turn their casual relationship into a serious one. He knows what she wants more than she does.
Slouching Toward Rape Culture
Henry tells Eliza that she “needs to think about how [she] is perceived at this office.”
But it is not Eliza’s fault that people don’t view her as a whole person. It is not her fault that people only see her physical appearance and not her intelligence. Unless you are in the entertainment industry, you do not attain professional success based solely on your looks. While studies have shown attractiveness affords people certain advantages, it is hardly enough to put you at the top of your profession.
It’s not her problem that others aren’t interested in who she is as a complete person. That’s their problem.
The bullied should never be responsible for the actions of bullies.
And this is where the show blatantly endorses rape culture. It’s Eliza’s fault that people judge her based on her clothes. There could very well be other women, and men, in the office who have just as much casual sex as she does. But because they don’t dress the way that she does, no one will ever gossip about them.
Henry insinuates that Eliza’s clothing choices and her habit of casual sex lead to dangerous situations (i.e. sexual assault). If she wants to avoid them, she needs to change her behavior.
The way that Eliza dresses means that she’s asking for it.
In fact, you know how Eliza learns casual sex isn’t good for her? She falls down a manhole and her pelvis is fractured. That’s right. Eliza literally has one of the most sexual regions of her body broken to teach her a lesson.
Intelligence and Selfies Don’t Go Together
Besides rape culture and second class citizenship, Selfie posits that beautiful, fashionable women can’t be intelligent. As I’ve established, Eliza isn’t good at her job because she’s smart. That would be impossible. So it follows that her only interests are clothes and men.
The black and white outfit that Eliza is wearing in the picture shown earlier in this post is very similar to one that I own. Shows like Selfie promote the idea that if I dress like that, I must be vapid. I had three majors in college and I read about 4 books a week. Those smarts must go right out of my brain when I get dressed in the morning.
Again, Selfie has no interest in representing stylish women as smart and empowered. That would involve women being fully human.
In order for others to see her as intelligent, Eliza has to put on a sweater, wear her hair in braids and don glasses.
The only thing Henry is laughed at for is not having a Facebook profile. So he’s chastised for not being on social media. Wow. So many cultural implications and oppressions there.
What Selfie boils down to is sexism and jealousy. A woman in control of her appearance and sexuality must be put in her place. An older wise man must degrade her and squash her confidence.
A woman at the top of her profession can only be there because she is beautiful and sleeps her way to the top. Her work performance is irrelevant. Meanwhile, a handsome man who wears expensive suits and sleeps with his female employees is only judged on how much money he makes.
Selfie doesn’t even try to hide its sexism. It’s more blatant than any I’ve seen in quite some time. By perpetuating the idea that women should be controlled and judged solely on their sexuality, Selfie damages the psyche of women and men of every age.
This show should be ashamed of itself.