Why Law & Order: SVU Matters

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, a popular spin-off of the hit television show Law and Order is famous for its intense, emotional episodes with true-to-life stories. The show has been running for 17 seasons, with many of the original cast still involved, and doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon.

I love this show for its sensational appeal. It is an interesting, thought-provoking television show that works to keep up with the times and remain relevant to what is happening in our world right now. But the show has a much deeper impact than just being good television. It’s bringing awareness to important issues in a significant way.

Law and Order SVU deals primarily with sex crimes. With many of the story lines pulled from newspaper headlines and true stories, the show doesn’t exaggerate the problem: rather, it sheds light on the crisis that our country is facing. Sexual assaults are on the rise; Approximately every 2 minutes, an American is sexually assaulted (rainn.org). This is especially true on college campuses, where it is estimated that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. We live in a culture where sexual assault is no longer seen as an anomaly- it is viewed as the norm.

The reason this show resonates is that the stories are real, and the people playing them do an excellent job of portraying them accurately. Not every victim in the show gets justice; This sadly is the case in real life as well, with 68% of sexual assaults going unreported, and 98% of rapists never seeing a day in prison (rainn.org). Law and Order SVU has been calling attention to the fact that sexual assaults are not treated as a horrible crime in our culture. They are seen as a cultural norm.

Law & Order: SVU tackles other important issues too. Since the beginning of the show, they have been addressing transphobia, homophobia, racism, and classism, along with the obvious addressing of rape culture and slut shaming. As a feminist, this show is inspiring to me for many reasons, including its bravery with topics, the number of POC who are in starring or supporting roles (the M.E., Melinda Warner, and one of the lead detectives to name a few) and the way it stays true to reality, even if reality sucks. Law and Order SVU is easily one of the best, most progressive, shows on TV right now.

 

 

What Prince Charming Teaches Women

Most of us grew up watching the classic Disney movies: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Lion King, Mulan, etc. As young children, these fairytales were fun to watch, entertaining us for hours. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve slowly become aware of just how sexist most of these Disney movies actually are.

In nearly every Disney movie (although, the company is making some improvements with more recent films), there is a Prince Charming. He does not get a name- he is simply Charming. This shows you just how shallow this character really is. In none of the movies does the Prince develop a complex character, or think for himself; rather, he sees a woman that he desires and decides that she must belong to him.

While that is certainly problematic, the main issue with Disney’s films is that the main female character’s sole purpose in the story is to find a man. Let’s take Cinderella. She slaves away in the house all day, but instead of dreaming of getting out and running her own business, for example, she dreams of finding a prince. Another case: Sleeping Beauty literally will never get to live out the rest of her life unless her “true love” finds her.

What this is teaching young, impressionable girls is that they should strive to get a man’s attention. Very few Disney movies focus on the female character’s brain, or personality. In my evaluation, nearly all of these characters are horrifically vapid; they have no personality, and the sole point of their story is to find their prince and live happily ever after. We tell girls that they should work hard, not to do well in life and be successful on their own merit, but to get a prince to marry her. These stories continue to reinforce the message that a woman needs a man in order to have a “happy ending.”

Now, there are some Disney movies with redeeming qualities. One example that comes to mind is Mulan. She dresses up as a man (incredibly progressive for the time the movie was made), and fights in the army. She saves her country, and gets national recognition. While certainly an inspiring role model, even SHE ends up seeking the approval of a man.

I’m not saying no one should watch Disney movies. There are certainly appealing qualities to them- they are fun, they make us believe in magic, etc. But while watching them, especially when our children are the viewers, we have to be aware of this inherent sexism at play. We want to make sure that young women know they have more to aspire to than to be the wife of some “prince.” They are not required to get their happy ending the Disney way; any ending is happy, as long as the woman is satisfied.

The VMA’s and Cultural Appropriation

Last night’s VMAs drew a lot of attention, for numerous reasons. Whenever there is an awards show, the media focuses on what celebrities are wearing. One celebrity, Miley Cyrus, garnered a lot of attention for wearing what hollywoodlife.com called “amazing blonde dreadlocks!” The music star was praised for wearing a traditionally black hairstyle. Some might ask, what’s the problem? It’s just a hairstyle.

The thing is, dreadlocks aren’t just a hairstyle. They are an important part of black culture, worn traditionally by women of color. Instead of being praised, they are insulted. Just look at what happened to Zendaya when she chose to wear dreadlocks on the Oscars red carpet: A Fashion Police reporter, Guiliana Rancic, said that the young star must smell of “patchouli oil and weed.” When women of color choose to wear their hair in traditional hairstyles, they are shamed, made fun of, and sometimes ejected from groups (workplaces, the military, etc.) When Miley Cyrus chose to wear dreadlocks, she got all the fun of a “funky”, “eclectic” hairstyle without all the insults from the rest of society. That is cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation happens all the damn time. Another example would be when teenagers dress up as native americans for Halloween. They get to put on a costume, without understanding the culture behind it. They do not have to live with the history of the Native Americans, being pushed off their land and losing important parts of their culture. This is what makes cultural appropriation a problem. When someone who isn’t part of an oppressed group wears part of their culture, they are participating in that group’s oppression.

Now, cultural appropriation isn’t when you go to a friend’s wedding or other celebration and they invite you to take part in their culture. It isn’t attending a Native American ceremony and wearing a headdress when asked to. It’s about respecting that group’s culture and beliefs and history, and not using it to get compliments or a quick 15 seconds of fame, like Miley Cyrus did.