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November 19, 2009

Slut-Shaming Pop Culture Moment: A 90210 Halloween

The other day I caught a rerun of an old Halloween episode of Beverly Hills, 90210. I remembered the basic premise - Kelly wears a sexy costume to the big Halloween house party and is almost raped by a creepy guy, but her friends save the day - but I had forgotten just how slut-shamey this episode was. I'm only going to talk about the Kelly storyline, but if you want to really take a walk down cheesy memory lane, the full episode is available on YouTube.

First, there's the scene where the whole gang goes to the costume shop to pick out outfits for the party. Kelly and Donna were supposed to do a group costume with their dates, but the guys blow them off at the last minute, so they need something new. Kelly tries to pressure Donna into a sexy costume, but Donna's not into it so Kelly tries it on herself, and this exchange with Brenda follows:

Brenda: Kelly...don't you think it's a bit much?

Kelly: Brenda, I don't have a date for tonight. If I am going to this party stag, I want to make a splash. [When was the last time you heard someone say they were "going stag"?]

Brenda: Well, you're more likely to start a fire in that thing.

Kelly: Brenda, come on. It's Halloween. It's the one night of the year when we get to dress up and act a little crazy.






Kelly ends up rejecting that first costume for not being Halloweenish enough, but don't worry, she shows up at the party in something even sexier. The reaction when she enters the party is so over the top, it's hilarious. Everyone stares and points and gasps, including her friends. (If you can't watch the video with sound or just don't want to torture yourself that much, just skip ahead to about the 1:30 mark to see Kelly's grand entrance.)







Okay, so is it the most age-appropriate costume I've ever seen on someone who's supposed to be in high school? No, of course not. If a parent or teacher or other adult had flipped out over it, I would have gotten it, but the way her friends and other people her own age at the party reacted, you'd think she had walked in wearing a g-string and pasties.

I also thought it was funny that from the waist up, Donna's costume is plenty revealing too, but since her ridiculous mermaid outfit is being played for laughs (and she's acting awkward and uncomfortable instead of "slutty"), it's apparently not a big deal to anyone.

If you didn't watch the whole thing, Kelly's entrance immediately earns her another lecture from Brenda. The highlights include: "Did your mom see you like this?", "Do you want guys staring at you like that all night long?", and "I'm warning you, you're looking for trouble." Kelly calls Brenda a "goody-goody", says that she thinks she looks great, she just wants to meet guys, and she can wear whatever she wants. She ends by saying that she knows how to take care of herself, which we all know on shows like this is foreshadowing for 'this character is about to be thrown into a situation where she can't take care of herself'.

In case we haven't gotten the message yet, along comes Steve with his opinion:

Steve: Wow. Kelly, you look...

Kelly: Don't I?

Steve: What is this supposed to be? Some kind of gownless evening strap? [Oh Steve, you're so witty.]

Kelly: It's a witch's costume.

Steve: Yeah, well I thought those witches wore those big things, like a cloak.

Kelly: I'm sorry if you have a problem with it.

Steve: I have no problem with it, it just leaves nothing up to the imagination.

Kelly: Steve, with you and me it's all imagination.

Kelly finally gets a break for about five seconds when Brenda overhears her blowing off a sleazy guy and tells her "I guess you do know what you're doing". (Remember that foreshadowing thing? Guess they wanted to make sure we didn't miss it.) Then they review all of the cute guy options at the party and Kelly settles on Cowboy Guy, soon to become Creepy Cowboy Guy. She's determined to get to know him. They do some cringeworthy flirting that I can't bring myself to transcribe and like, OMG, he's totally a college guy! She calls him an obnoxious frat boy and he calls her feisty, so you know it's not love. He wants to throw her over his saddle and ride off into the sunset, but she doesn't "ride on the first date". (Yes, this is the actual dialogue.) They continue to banter; I continue to cringe.

They dance. He can't believe she's into David Letterman because she doesn't "seem like the type". (I have no idea what this means.) She likes to stay up late. He asks if they've met in another life and she says yes, they were ancient Egyptians. (Yes, this is the actual dialogue.) They decide to get something to eat and have a pointless debate about whether she should eat a chicken wing or a quesadilla. (Apparently his insistence on the quesadilla is supposed to be a red flag that he's a potential rapist.) Someone bumps into her and she says, "I wish there was someplace we could go that wasn't so crowded", because it's more than halfway through the episode so they have to get the storyline moving somehow.

Of course he takes her up to a bedroom, and then immediately shuts down her small talk about the house by sitting on the bed and saying that he's not into architecture and wants to know about her history instead. (Smooth.) She starts off with where she was born and raised, as if that's what he's getting at. And that's the problem with this whole thing - in about ten minutes they've taken Kelly from street smart to totally naive just to make the story work. She saw right through the first sleazy guy's attempt to hit on her, and suddenly she's clueless about what Creepy Cowboy's intentions are? I don't really buy it.

So he immediately goes into supercreepy mode, advancing on her while asking if she has a boyfriend or if she's looking for one, and blocking the door when she tries to get him to go back to the party.
Kelly: Look, I don't want to be up here anymore, I want to go back to the party.

Creepy Cowboy: Well I don't think you do.

Kelly: How do you know what I want?

Creepy Cowboy: By your actions. I mean, if you didn't want to be up here, why'd you come?

Kelly: I wanted to be up here, and now I don't, okay?

Creepy Cowboy: I thought we were gonna play make-believe.

Kelly: This isn't the kind of make-believe that I had in mind.

Creepy Cowboy: I'm looking and what you're wearing, and I'm thinking this is exactly the kind of make-believe you have in mind.

Kelly: The answer is no, okay?

But of course it's not okay. Because even though she hasn't so much as kissed this guy and says no to him right away, she was wearing a slutty costume so clearly she was asking for it. For a second he pretends to back off and apologizes, says he respects her, and asks her to forgive him...and then he pins her down on the bed and won't let her up. Have we gotten the message yet, audience? Luckily Brenda and Donna show up and interrupt, and Creepy Cowboy explains that he was "kidding". Yeah, attempted rape is hilarious.

Brenda summons Dylan and Steve, and the Cowboy digs a little deeper by saying, "Hey, we were both into it, and then suddenly she started lying. You guys know what I mean, right?" Steve's response to this is, "How dare you lay a hand on her, I love that girl!" Oh, okay Steve, so would it be cool with you if he just went back to the party and found a girl that you don't love to force himself on?

The guys kick Creepy Cowboy out of the party, and he tries to take one more shot at defending himself. "Guys, you got this all wrong. I mean, when a girl dresses like a slut..." Steve shuts him up by punching him, and I'm okay with that. And now it's back to the bedroom to put the slut-shaming cherry on top of this cautionary tale.
Kelly: I'm such an idiot. I thought I was being all sexy dressing like this, you know? Look where it got me.

Brenda: Kelly, I tried to tell you that the dress was a little too much.

Wow. Really, Brenda? Your best friend is trying to deal with the fact that she was just almost raped, and you can't save the "I told you so" for later?

She does redeem herself a little bit after that horrible start:

Kelly: It wasn't the dress though, it was me, and what I did.

Brenda: Kelly, you said no. He should have listened, period.

Kelly: I should have listened to you. You tried to warn me, you tried to tell me what I was walking into. [Again we see that without Kelly magical sudden onset of cluelessness, this storyline wouldn't have worked.]

Brenda: Kelly, you said no.

Kelly: I said no too late. Might as well have been saying yes, you know? [Um, no actually, I don't know. And it wasn't "too late".] I was trying to act all cool and everything, talking sexy. I was leading him on.

Donna: Well then he should go take a cold shower, or whatever they do. [Oh Donna, we love you. And since Donna's character was actually portrayed as kinda clueless and less experienced with guys, I think a storyline like this centered on her would have been more believable.]

Dylan asks if he can say something, and since he's Dylan McKay and everyone loves him, of course it's okay: "I know the last thing you need right now is another guy telling you what to do or what to think...You're blaming yourself for leading that guy on, but I want you to know, as a guy, it doesn't matter how much of a magnet a girl turns on. A guy always has a choice, of not making her do something she doesn't want to do." At this point Brenda looks over at him, kinda like 'crap, maybe that's what I should have said instead of my weird mixed message about how it wasn't her fault cause she said no but she still shouldn't have worn that slutty dress'. So now she's firmly on board Team No Means No.
Kelly: I didn't make that choice very easy, now did I?

Dylan: Yeah, you did. You said now.

Brenda. And after that, what happened isn't your fault. [That should have been your opener, Brenda.]
I'm not sure how to feel about the end of this conversation.

Kelly: The weird part is that before we came up here he seemed like such a nice guy, you know?

Brenda: Kelly, it doesn't matter if he's cute, or smart, or Prince Charming.

Donna: He was a rapist!

Kelly: Donna, I don't think...

Donna: What the hell else can you call it? Kelly, what would have happened if we hadn't come in here?

I get that they want to make it clear that the Creepy Cowboy wasn't just being creepy, or pushy, or aggressive, or whatever, he was committing a sexual assault. But it's kinda weird that the conversation ends on that note, with Kelly looking more freaked out than ever, instead of on the 'it wasn't your fault' note. It almost seems to bring it back around to 'look what you got yourself into with your slutty behavior, young lady'.

So what's the lesson? That the Creepy Cowboy was a jerk and a rapist...but you wouldn't attract jerky rapists if you didn't wear slutty costumes? Overall, the episode is a mixed bag, because there are good messages mixed in with the bad ones. I think the problem is how many people might watch it and end up summarizing it the way a blogger at examiner.com did:
Things got really scary, though, for Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), when she was nearly raped by a guy dressed as a cowboy due to her provocative, bewitching costume. Luckily, her friends Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty) and Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) came into the room and called for help.
No. Kelly was nearly raped due to the fact that a sleazy douchebag chose to try to rape her. She was the victim and she wasn't to blame for what happened. And that's a message that we need to hear a lot more often, on TV and in real life.

Have you noticed a slut-shaming pop culture moment recently? Let us know!

9 comments:

Chloe said...

I really like 90210, but I totally understood your points. Your comments made me laugh, they are hilarious, lol. And, I emphatically agree with your summary.

"Kelly was nearly raped due to the fact that a sleazy douchebag chose to try to rape her."

Anonymous said...

i stumbled upon your blog while searching for why people call chlamydia "the clap"--and i gotta say, you've got a good thing going here. i like the way you write.

anyways, i've got to disagree with you on this post. people are going to make assumptions about you based on how you dress, and it's naive to think they won't. when a girl wears a top that shows off her tits, i think: "she wants me to look at her tits."

okay, a girl going to a party dressed like a slut--does that mean she wants to be raped? no. will guys think she's looking to hook up? yes. will they be surprised when she leads them on, goes upstairs with them, and then tells them that she's not in to it? yes.

a lot of men will tell you that they don't judge you based on what you wear, but listen closely: they're full of shit. they're saying that to a) get your approval, or b) not make you feel guilty for dressing like a slut. truth is everybody judges--it happens unconsciously.


keep writing, it's good stuff.
-dund

THE EVIL SLUT CLIQUE said...

dund:

"okay, a girl going to a party dressed like a slut--does that mean she wants to be raped? no. will guys think she's looking to hook up? yes. will they be surprised when she leads them on, goes upstairs with them, and then tells them that she's not in to it? yes."

The point is that it doesn't matter how a girl is dressed or whether a guy feels like he was "led on". It doesn't matter if he's "surprised" that she doesn't want to hook up with him, because he made assumptions and judgments instead of actually finding out what she does want. It's still 100% his choice to try to rape her instead of taking no for an answer, and it's still 100% his fault.

Lilith said...

dund: I'm just curious why you felt it was cool to describe a woman dressing sexy or somewhat revealing as dressing "like a slut" as if there's something wrong with it. It's like you missed the whole "Slut-Shaming" part.

A lot of people do judge others based on what they're wearing. Just because it happens, doesn't mean it's okay or that anyone should feel guilty or unsafe because of it.

Anonymous said...

@TESC:

100%? really? the guy is definitely the catalyst in this situation, but the girl put herself in a very stupid situation. here's an example: if i dressed like a tourist and decided on a stroll through the bronx, i'd get mugged. is it my fault i got mugged? no. am i responsible for putting myself in a bad situation? hell yes.

i have another example from highschool that plugs almost directly in to this episode. a friend of mine has a crush on a guy that is a bit older than her--the bad boy/playboy type. one night he invites her to his apartment around midnight. they have some drinks and when he puts his hands on her, she says she has to go. he decides that she'd rather stay, and he rapes her. if i wanted to make her feel better for awhile, i'd tell her that it was 100% the guys fault and that she did nothing wrong. since i actually care about her, i told her that she needs to be careful about the situations she puts herself in and the the messages she's giving out (through dress, body language, flirting).

if you put yourself in a situation like that and then count on the virtue of the man to do a 180 at the last second, you'll likely end up wishing you had a little more foresight. right or wrong, it's a situation that you should take care not to put yourself in. at some point, the woman has to take _some_ responsibility for walking the plank even if she didn't jump.

-dund

Anonymous said...

Wow. Look, there is a difference between stressing the importance of personal safety and VICTIM BLAMING. It's a fine line, don't cross it.

Maybe it's not realistic to "count on the virtue of the man to do a 180 at the last second" but the fact remains that it's what he SHOULD do. No, it isn't smart to put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation but it's still the man's responsiblity NOT to commit/attempt rape and it's still HIS fault if he does.

-M

FW said...

Dund, it sounds like you really hate men, saying they are weak, and too stupid to control themselves.

I'm sorry you feel that way, hopefully in the future you will find some good strong male role models who can teach you what being a man is really all about.

Megan said...

@Anonymous:

Do you realize that rapists will also rape women who aren't dressed like a slut?

Also, when a woman is looking to "hook up", that doesn't mean she'll have sex with any guy who comes along. "Sluts" can still have standards. Men need to realize that just because she's looking for sex, that doesn't mean she wants to have sex with you personally.

If a guy gets confused when a girl says no, excuse me if I don't feel so sorry for the poor little man. Being confused or disappointed is trivial compared to being raped.

fdgdfg said...

I HATE PEOPLE LIKE DUND. MOST RAPE COMES FROM PEOPLE YOU KNOW, NOT STRANGERS AT A PARTY. RAPE HAPPENS TO BABIES, ANIMALS AND OLD PEOPLE, NOT JUST PRETTY YOUNG WOMEN. IF WHAT THEY WERE SAYING WAS TRUE, THEN HOW COME COUNTRIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST WHERE THEY ARE WRAPPED FROM HEAD TO TOE HAVE THE HIGHEST RATES OF RAPE?

LOL DUND WANTS TO GO BACK TO THE DAYS WHEN WOMEN COULDN'T SHOW THEIR ANKLES WITHOUT BEING STONED. SETTING BACK HUMANITIE'S PROGRESS ONE VICTIM-BLAMER AT A TIME...

FACT IS, RAPE ISN'T ABOUT SEXUAL ATTRACTION, IT'S ABOUT POWER AND CONTROL. MOST RAPISTS DON'T COME. THEY DON'T RAPE BECAUSE THEY'RE ATTRACTED TO THE VICTIM, THEY RAPE BECAUSE THEY LOVE THE FEAR COMING FROM THE VICTIM AND HAVING CONTROL OVER THEM.