On TV, there are two types of characters who get multiple love interests during the course of a series. There’s the player, the typical bad boy kind of male character who seems to get together with every female character who spends more than five minutes in his presence, and who only changes when he meets the one.
And then there’s the female character who’s unlucky at love, the one who seems to always pick the guys who are no good for her, and who ends up, by default, having more than one love interest – even if she has significantly less than the male character we mentioned before.
Guess which one of those characters is considered cool and which one is typically branded a slut?
Welcome to the world of double standards, as real on TV as they are in real life.
I admit I’ve encountered this particularly vexing issue in many a fandom, but lately I keep seeing it in the Chicago Fire fandom, where Kelly Severide is constantly lauded for being a player in the years before he met Stella, while Sylvie Brett is consistently slut-shamed for not having found the one yet.
And it annoys the hell out of me.
The way TV presents characters, and the way we perceive those characters has, of course, a lot to do with the way we’ve been brought up and the standards set by society, but we can all help ourselves, and future generations by understanding that having sex isn’t – and shouldn’t be taboo.
Consenting adults can do whatever they want, as many times as they want, and with as many partners as they want.
It’s fine when Kelly does it, and it’s fine when Sylvie does it. Or, at least, it should be.
The fact that this needs to be said, of course, ties back to the perception that women have to be “pure” to be valuable, a perception we’ve fought hard to shed and one that, still remains, to this day, a part of our general consciousness, pushed not just by men who would like women to be ashamed of their own power, but by other women, who sometimes do the job of upholding the patriarchy even better than men do.
Ironically, this discussion has gained some steam in the past couple of days, as the new Netflix show Ginny and Georgia has been called out for yet another “Taylor Swift dated a lot of men” joke. Within the context of the show the line isn’t supposed to be a good thing, or even something we agree with, just a teenager lashing out, and yet, the fact that we, as a society, end up defaulting to mocking Taylor Swift for …dating …continues to be problematic.
We’ve made it a joke – her a joke, and then we complain when the joke is turned onto others, onto us.
The problem is, of course, there’s no easy solution to this. There’s no magic wand to cure misogyny, not the bigger, most hurtful parts of it, much less the smaller, sometimes hidden ideas that still reflect a patriarchal society. All we can truly do is point these things out when they happen, recognize we are all, in one way or another, responsible for upholding these ideas, and hopefully do better next time, and the time after that.
Sylvie Brett, a fictional character, and Taylor Swift, a real person, shouldn’t be judged for dating more than one person. Not the least of which because we would probably also be judging them if they’d only dated one. There is no middle ground when it comes to women, you’re either too naive and rushing, or you’re a slut, who should have “settled” before.
It doesn’t escape me that this discussion, about fictional characters and real people, is centered around two white women, and it shouldn’t escape you, either. We are, as a society, more comfortable defending the sexuality of white women than we are defending the sexuality of women of color. Storylines where WOC get multiple love interests are rare, because WOC don’t get the good roles on TV, and we treat real WOC much worse than we treat white women. This isn’t my interpretation, it’s a fact.
Misogyny is a real problem, but racism is always the bigger issue in a world that hates POC much more than it hates women (and it hates women a fair bit), and we should put as much time and energy into defending anyone who’s attacked in this way, real or fictional.
Easier said than done, yes, but I really don’t know any way forward other than to acknowledge all of these issues and try. These ideas about what women can or should do, let’s toss them aside. Women can do whatever they want, date whoever they want, be anything they choose.
Unless they’re being actively harmful, we don’t get to judge that.