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Frisky Rant: Slut Shaming Doesn’t Have A Silver Lining

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silver linings playbook

When I sat down to watch “Silver Linings Playbook,” I had high hopes. Friends whose opinions I respect loved the film and praise for her performance has made Jennifer Lawrence a front-runner for Best Actress in this year’s Oscar race. I’ve loved Lawrence since “Winter’s Bone” and I’m constantly amazed by her ability to play incredibly tough, independent, strong-willed protagonists.

But “Silver Linings Playbook” left me with an uneasy feeling, and it wasn’t because of the film’s flawed grasp of mental illness or its contrived and formulaic plot. It had everything to do with the treatment of Lawrence’s character. My first reaction to the film when it ended was: “What was with all the slut shaming?” [Spoilers after the jump!]

It turns out that I wasn’t actually wrong about the type of character Lawrence would be playing in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Lawrence plays Tiffany, a very tough, independent, strong-willed protagonist and a widower who deals with her grief through dancing and having lots of sex. She plays opposite Pat (Bradley Cooper), her brother-in-law’s best friend who has bipolar disorder and was recently released from an eight-month hospitalization. Pat and Tiffany bond over their mental instability and quickly venture down the road to their happily-ever-after ending together, as is expected in a romantic dramedy. At first glance, there’s nothing wrong with this. The audience meets Tiffany at a dark point in her life – we want things to improve for her, and by the end, they have. The problem is that Tiffany’s happy ending relies on her falling in love and starting a relationship with Pat, a man who repeatedly shames Tiffany for her history.

Let me back up for a moment. It’s relevant to note that “Silver Linings Playbook”  has been praised for its sex positivity, which is not completely unmerited. Tiffany is unapologetic about her sexual relationships; she tells Pat, “There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that.” She refuses to make excuses for herself, or apologize, or label her sexuality after admitting that she’s slept with men and women. It’s a part of herself and she has no regrets. In fact, as Tiffany says herself, it’s a part of herself that she truly likes.

Which brings us back to Pat, and how he treats Tiffany. Throughout the film, Pat routinely refers to Tiffany as a “slut” and a “whore,” and not in the same empowering way in which she uses those words to describe herself. He hears her when she talks about the fact that she engages in casual sex and likes it, but he doesn’t listen. He isn’t interested in knowing that part of her, which he makes clear when he scares off one of her lovers and dismisses her stories as examples of unstable behavior. Though Pat spends much of the film falling in love with Tiffany, he isn’t in love with her for whom she really is – he’s in love with a fantasy of who he wants her to be. And at the end of the film, when Tiffany and Pat are finally together, it seems as though she has compromised a part of herself — however small — in the process.

For the most part, the slut shaming in “Silver Linings Playbook” has been left out of conversations surrounding the film. In an interview with NYMag.com’s Vulture blog, Jacki Weaver, who plays Pat’s mother, did respond to a question about Tiffany’s treatment in the film by saying:

Sexism is alive and well! We were saying this 40 years ago … I remember I was a little girl when Elizabeth Taylor stole Eddie Fisher from America’s Sweetheart, Debbie Reynolds, and the reaction back then was enormous! And Angelina Jolie was in trouble, too, for taking a husband away from another America’s Sweetheart. Don’t take husbands from America’s Sweethearts.

Whether Weaver’s implication is that “Silver Linings Playbook” is a backlash against Hollywood sexism or a reaffirmation of it is unclear. Her response doesn’t address the key issue, however: Tiffany is shamed for her past, even though it’s not a past that brings her any personal discomfort or shame.

It troubles me that this is the role for which Lawrence may win her Academy Award. If the characters she played in “Winter’s Bone,” “X-Men: First Class,” and “The Hunger Games” had been promiscuous bi-curious women, you can be sure that they wouldn’t have fallen in love with men who called them sluts and meant it as a bad thing. Is Lawrence receiving buzz for playing Tiffany because it’s truly her best performance, or is it because, for the first time in her career, she’s playing a strong woman who compromises a part of herself for a man?

Tiffany is a great character and Lawrence plays her wonderfully. But Tiffany does not exist in a vacuum, and the way she is treated by Pat matters. Tiffany doesn’t strike me as a person who is necessarily meant to be monogamous, but if she is, she’s certainly not meant to be with a man who judges her for her past. That’s not in keeping with Tiffany as a character, or with the other characters Lawrence has played throughout her career. I’m glad that “Silver Linings Playbook” features a woman who is unapologetic about her sexual history – I just wish that her love interest could share in her comfort with it.

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