In one two-minute clip, "Scandal" exposed the levels of intense online abuse women in the public eye face. And in true Shonda Rhimes fashion, the show nailed it. As Amanda Hess wrote for Pacific Standard last year, "women aren't welcome on the Internet," and that apparently includes Olivia Pope.
On Thursday night's episode of "Scandal," Kerry Washington's Pope faced a barrage of rape and death threats after "coming out" as the president's mistress.
We watch Pope curled up on a chair with her laptop and a glass of red wine, sifting through the comments on a website that has put up a pornographic parody of her relationship with President Fitzgerald Grant. In one of the season's strongest moments, Pope explains to Fitz exactly what she's seeing:
A lot of people, a lot of anonymous Internet people, cowards who won't use their names, apparently want to have me killed. Also raped. How come whenever a woman does something that people don't like, the only way these men on the Internet know how to express themselves is by threatening rape?
I have at least a thousand threats of rape here. Just on this one site from guys who are mad that I had the audacity to be born female. And black.
Do you think if I told them I own a gun and that I've shot someone, they'd threaten to rape me? Do you think if I told them I've survived being kidnapped and tortured they would get that their weak little misspellings barely make me blink? That I would welcome the chance to take out a little bit of PTSD on the next man who put his hands on me?
Fitz tells her to just turn off her computer. But unfortunately, trying to "stop reading the comments" isn't a sustainable way to combat online abuse.
Olivia Pope is one of the strongest characters on television. But even the bravest and most thick-skinned among us aren't immune to mass levels of verbal harassment -- especially when people are calling for your body to violated, mutilated and destroyed.
Although men are more likely than women to experience low-level abuse online (a.k.a. name-calling), women -- specifically young women -- are more likely to experience severe sexual harassment, online stalking and sustained abuse. It's this type of online harassment that "Scandal" sought to tackle. Women routinely face threatening messages clogging up their timelines for things as simple as supporting abortion rights or identifying as feminists.
So, thank you Shonda Rhimes for amplifying that reality to the millions of viewers who watch "Scandal" each week. It's something people need to hear and see -- if only for two minutes.
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