One of my favorite things about the TV show Scandal is when it has its soapbox moments, when the show seems to be a vehicle for political or feminist insight, for arguments in favor of gun control or women’s rights, when the writing is just so good that I feel like Shonda Rhimes may have hired some of the best speechwriters from DC to consult.
The show often seems to work on multiple levels, the surface narrative and then the metaphorical punch of whatever is underneath addressing larger social issues, but one of the most meaningful messages from the season finale had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with feminism, in a much less flashy way than Rhimes usually chooses. This wasn’t a broad message, it was very personal, but it spoke volumes.
Olivia Pope is frequently a mouthpiece for feminist soliloquies, but this one, while maybe not as obvious, was especially impactful for me, because, you see, Olivia’s actions are rarely in line with Olivia’s words. Olivia may preach the feminist talk, but then she visibly allows herself to be controlled by the men in her life, unable to ignore their phone calls or their requests, permanently in love with a man who cannot be with her, while having a relationship with another man that seems based in sex more than anything else.
It’s a whole thing and it can get very frustrating — especially when Olivia is such a gladiator in the rest of her life. You keep wishing she’d be just a bit more empowered in the romantic area of her life.
And then in this episode, life pushed her just a bit too hard, and she finally became the Olivia we have always wanted her to be. When asked to choose between her two suitors, two suitors she has bounced back and forth between, two suitors who, it seems, have always had the upper hand, Olivia chose herself.
“I’m not choosing. I’m not choosing Jake. I’m not choosing Fitz. I choose me. I choose Olivia, and right now, Olivia’s dancing,” she said, as she danced, in the middle of her living room, to a Stevie Wonder track. “Now you can dance with me,” she tells Jake, “or you can get off my dance floor. I’m fine dancing alone.”
And not only was Olivia empowered, in that very moment, but I was, too.
Because I do often feel like I have to choose. I feel like I need to give people what they want. I want to be liked. I want approval. I am a people-pleaser. I worry about people, and I try to take care of them, and with Olivia’s statement, I was reminded that selfishness is not always a bad thing. That sometimes it’s okay not to give the people what they want.
Selfishness can be empowering. Selfishness doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But I don’t always choose me, and when I do, I feel guilty about it. I hate feeling like I disappoint people. I hate feeling like I cannot do everything and be everything for all people — and of course, that’s impossible, which is why I am so often frustrated with myself and my own limitations, and why it’s so hard for me to say no.
But then I realized that I can choose me. I can, like Olivia, prioritize myself, and let other things fall where they may.
Fingers crossed that Olivia keeps this up next season. I could use a role model.