Friday, February 24, 2017

Riverdale Roundtable: What Betty and Veronica’s Revenge Says About Slut Shaming [Contributors: Rae and Megan]

Episode three of Riverdale was a doozy. Not because of the whole murder thing, but because only three episodes into the series, the show is already tackling a tough topic: slut shaming.

Veronica goes on a date with the star of the football team only to find out the next morning that there's a campaign against her online. She won't stand for it, and Betty comes to the defense of her new friend. Having gotten the school paper out of mothballs, Betty is ready to expose this situation for what it is. She finds other girls that this has happened to and reveals that it's due to an ongoing points system the boys have created, without considering the girls whose reputations are being ruined as a result. It's all a game — a game Betty and Veronica want to put to an end. Below, Rae and Megan talk about the episode, female friendships on TV, and where Riverdale is going.

Riverdale could have handled this topic like almost every other TV show, but it didn't. What did you like about the way the show handled slut shaming?

Rae: I like that it was effective — that there were real consequences from the school after their actions were brought to light. That doesn’t happen often in real life, especially for someone who is a star athlete. It wasn’t just secret revenge for Betty and Veronica — it was brought to light to everyone in their community. I can’t exactly recommend an activity that chains someone to a hot tub (I was very concerned that someone was going to die from overheating and alcohol poisoning or something?), but I love that the girls took control of a situation instead of remaining passive victims. For everyone watching who is unable to take action in their own lives for whatever reason, it could be really cathartic to see that on TV!

Megan: I was surprised that the writers tackled it so soon into the series, but I was glad. Like you said, there are seriously very few consequences in real life for someone like that. I enjoyed that the show made it inclusive — that it wasn’t just something that affected one of the main characters. It’s important to show that this can happen to anyone, not just the pretty new girl, you know? I thought that was important. They saw the injustice and wanted to see it remedied. I think that’s so amazing, as that’s not what girls are generally taught.

Do you think it was bold for them to take on this topic so early on in the series?

Rae: It definitely makes Betty and Veronica’s characters come into sharper focus, and it helps cement their bond. So I actually think it was very smart to do something like this so early on. Especially with Betty, it gave such a good idea of the pain and hurt that she is always trying to cover up. And for both of them, it gives such a good idea of what they will and will not tolerate, and what they will do to get justice. This could be very important going forward, especially as they get more involved in a small-town murder.

Megan: I definitely agree with that. There’s a certain idea that girls, especially high school girls, just let things slide and don’t ever speak up. But if they do, they’re just labeled a "b--ch." Instead of letting Betty think less of Veronica for the rumor, she actually comes right to her side and gets the full story before she just shuns her, like she might have on something like Gossip Girl. I think that it shows how the writers really want to bring these characters into the here and now and flip the idea of teenage girls on TV on its head. Instead of just dealing with the blowback, they become a force all of their own and won’t stand for it. I didn’t think of it like that before, but you’re right. In a small town murder aftermath, it’s important that they want to get the truth.

Why do you think this is a topic for them to have taken on at all?

Rae: Well, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? To be a woman in the world is to be under constant scrutiny and to constantly fight to not feel shame about pretty much everything in your life. It’s so important to address that women face shame about their bodies, sexual activities, social media — pretty much everything — and I very much admire any show that centers women’s experiences like that.

Megan: I think for anyone who knows anything about the Archie comics, that these two girls are constantly fighting over Archie, it’s nice to see that Riverdale doesn’t follow that story. They seem to want to make Betty and Veronica these strong voices and personalities who fight the good fight for ladies. I know I’ve referenced Gossip Girl already, but it’s an interesting parallel. On that show, they basically just took it and didn’t really do much and that was setting a weird standard for girls watching. But I think with Riverdale, they’re realizing that girls want to see much stronger voices in their TV viewing experiences.

Most scenarios like this see the perpetrators not facing any sort of punishment. Why was it important that Betty and Veronica were seeking justice on behalf of ALL of the girls?

Rae: So many women are overlooked when justice is served — if it ever gets served — that it’s great that the show recognized that this was happening to women all over the school. It’s so important to realize that even if a woman can’t speak up or come forward on her own, that doesn’t mean harassment or abuse isn’t happening.

Megan: Right! And I thought it was great that the group of girls was really diverse. It wasn’t just the pretty blondes and new girl, you know? It was girls of all different shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. I thought that being so inclusive brought to attention that it can happen to literally any girl, and that it does happen to all different types of girls.

This episode focuses on how easy social media has made rumor spreading. It’s relevant. Do you think Riverdale did a good job of depicting that?

Rae: Yes, absolutely. I was lucky enough to escape high school before social media became pervasive, and it absolutely changes the game for kids in school today.

Megan: I think that they really did. It shows how pervasive it is. It’s easy for something to happen and then suddenly everyone know about it. It shows that there’s a lack of privacy when it comes to certain things, especially in a situation like the one that Veronica found herself in.

Let’s go back to how Betty and Veronica ultimately handled the situation. They did the modern day equivalent of a written confession by taking a video of him admitting the wrong and posting it to social media. But Betty took it to an extreme in order to get a confession out of him. Do you think they were playing into the “crazy girls” narrative?

Rae: That’s a good question, and I don’t know that I have an answer. I’m wondering how they will handle things with Betty’s sister because we don’t know much about her right now except that she had a breakdown and is currently in a hospital or clinic. But with Betty, I do think the show wasn’t glorifying her extreme behavior, and it came across to me that it could be cause for concern, especially since Veronica was also worried about Betty. So I don’t think it was necessarily irresponsible of the show, but I do think it will need to be careful about how it portrays mental health and takes the women seriously so it doesn’t write off girls as crazy. I think the way that Betty is starting to show her emotional issues can be a great way to explore her character, and I hope it doesn’t come across that she’s “crazy” and that’s it.

Megan: The mental health aspect is important to bring up. From what we can tell so far, Polly’s admittance has been hard on Betty, and it’s absolutely taken a toll on her. We just don’t know the extent of that. I agree that if they writers are not careful, it’s going to come out messy and a little like they’re preying on the fact that so many people are finally being open and honest about their mental health issues. It’s going to be something that they’re going to have to treat delicately, but also realistically. If it’s not coming off as genuine, people won’t really respond to it.

What do you think this says about the type of female friendship narrative they’re trying to tell on Riverdale? Where do you think Betty and Veronica are heading?

Rae: I think it says great things about Betty and Veronica’s friendship — that they are willing to go to extremes for each other and show they have each other backs can create real, meaningful friendships. And any show that highlights that kind of friendship between women is great to me!

Megan: I remember watching the two actresses on a talk show and they said that they wanted to change the narrative of female friendship on TV from being rivals to actually being friends that are there for one another. I know that I’ve already mentioned it, but it’s nice to see that two girls can be friends and go to bat for one another repeatedly instead of having the smallest thing tear them apart a la Serena and Blair on Gossip Girl or Marisa and Summer on The O.C. I think it’s so crucial for girls of any age to see that sort of bond on television — to remember that girls don’t have to see each other as competition; they need to see each other as allies and someone in their corner. I think it’s a great development.

What do you think this episode says about the rest of the season?

Rae: Honestly, it prepared me to never be fully prepared about what is going to happen on Riverdale. I certainly didn’t expect Betty in a wig, handcuffing a guy to a hot tub to exact revenge.

Megan: You know what? I couldn’t have said it better for myself. Now I can’t wait to see what this small town has in store for us!

You can catch Riverdale on The CW airing Thursday nights after Supernatural.


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