Female revenge stories and courtroom dramas, Promising Young Woman, Pink, and Anatomy of a Scandal talk about women's sexual harassment that stems from society's POV of women!
There are particular scenes in Promising Young Woman, Pink, and Anatomy of a Scandal that aptly define the idea on which these films work. In Promising Young Woman, our protagonist, a woman named Cassie is walking with disheveled hair, her shirt and skirt improperly done, heels in one hand while eating a burger with dark red sauce dripping all over the other hand. When a couple of construction workers on the other side of the road catcall her while she's on her "walk of shame", she turns and just stares at them for a long time until they start to feel uncomfortable. This scene right at the very start of the film hints at what's to be followed - a female revenge story.
Cassie is not your typical woman who went through a traumatic event and ends up taking violent revenge on her harassers. This is a woman who has a traumatic backstory full of guilt because it happens to her best friend and she does take revenge on the people who were involved in it but in the most non-violent way. But she is also tired of this "he-she says" debate and wants to teach the entire world a lesson, especially men. She goes from bar to bar to pick these so-called "nice guys" that speak of feminism and equality, who when seeing a drunk woman only want to take her safely home until they're trying to take advantage of the situation. "After all, she is so drunk, what will she remember, right? Technically she is consenting." That's precisely Cassie's play here; she acts drunk until the man in question is busy taking advantage of the situation and makes his moves toward having sex with her. This is when she reveals that she's actually quite sober, taking the guy by complete surprise. And she applies the same ploy of trickery to take revenge on each person, from the harassers to the people who enabled them by making it personally scary for everyone. Because as they say until something doesn't really happen to us everything feels okay, right?
The entire film is about calling people out on their behavior, from biases against a woman who drinks and sleeps around too much to men who think that they are "nice guys" and end up committing a mistake or two when they are young and when a woman behaves like "she is asking for it". This reminded me of Pink's dialogue, "Alcohol is just dangerous to a man's health but for a woman, it's an entire character sketch". The film works on the same principle as it deconstructs why a woman injured a man so badly. With courtroom drama, every layer of what society thinks of a woman is peeled off to get to the point of why men think that it's okay for them to behave in this way with women.
The scene where Taapsee is put on the stand and is questioned about her virginity and where it is established that since she has already done it, there's no harm in doing it again, as she is already a woman with questionable character and her saying in 'NO' doesn't make a difference! Because she was okay to come inside a room, have drinks, hell even offer to make one for the guy, so where is the issue of consent here? The film aptly portrays the invisible book of code of conduct that we have established for what is "supposed" to make you a "good woman" vs a bad one! Because this in turn decides how a man is "supposed" to behave with you, as, if you are a woman who lives with roommates not parents, goes out for parties, smokes, drinks, has late nights, wears certain types of clothes, also invites guys home, you are the "type" of girl who is okay with everything, even with sex, even if it's not consensual!
This, in turn, drives me toward Anatomy of a Scandal which deconstructs the idea of consent in terms of "assumed consent". Like an aroused man is owed by a woman as she is the reason behind it so she needs to take care of it. It's a six-episode mini-limited series where a minister in the parliamentary cabinet of London is accused of rape by his junior who was in an extramarital affair with him earlier. It's a courtroom drama that borders literally on "he-she says" as we first hear the same story from the accuser's POV and then from the accused's. The series draws on the difference between how a particular act of intimacy inside a lift is perceived from a woman's angle vs a man's, making you realize how consent is rather complicated especially in this series since the woman was in an extramarital affair with the man which gave room to 'this wasn't the first time she was having sex with him'.
The best scene that really defines this series is where the accused, James Whitehouse is finally brought on the stand and the prosecution counsel, Kate Woodcroft questions him. In the back and forth between the two of them where they discuss his life and the incident, a portrait of a "privileged man" is established who merely jumps at being accused of rape. This is where you can see where James' "don't be a prick tease" narrative towards women arises from as he has never heard a no in his entire life for anything, and everything that he's desired, he's got by hook or crook. He thinks that whatever happened between him and the woman in the lift was consensual, and not actually rape, in spite of the woman constantly trying to push him away because if she is willing to kiss him or give him a "hard on" then she might as well take care of it.
Each of these titles will connect to one another and tell you that the entire world isn't so different when it comes to being a 'woman'. Because at the end of the day, men's behavior is always brought down to be a woman's fault because she's the one asking for it! By wearing that dress, or being drunk or in an extramarital affair, or inviting guys into their homes, or kissing them, and the list goes on. As women who fall under the category of "good girls" behave as defined by the so-called invisible book of code of conduct. Or otherwise don't blame the "nice guys" if something happens because god forbid men who rape, harass, are domestically violent, and all sorts of things, have a certain "look". That is not “men” who have a status in society, an image, are married, or have a fiance, even a girlfriend. And speaking about this is how these titles break down the stereotypes that society attaches to genders!
Promising Young Woman, Pink, and Anatomy of a Scandal's unique approach to mirrors the society we live in, and how it fails women at every point. This is what makes it a frightening yet honest experience since it showcases the dark-ugly side of things that all of us know about but want to turn a blind eye towards. Each frame, dialogue, scene, character, cast, costume, production design, BGM, is so carefully crafted and thought of that it touches you deeply and motivates you to do something about it. They don't utilize a women's trauma for a testosterone-heavy narrative, rather they paint a realistic portrait of the patriarchal world that all of us inhabit and somehow survive through it. It also leaves us with this question - why do we need a Cassie, Nina, Kate, Olivia, Minal, or a 'Nirbhaya' for us to do something about these things?
These are stories that were much needed to be told because as much I love brave, bold women who are tough enough to go through anything, it's the vulnerable, messy, hurt ones who are still finding themselves that speak to us in more ways than one! Hell, I became a better woman who didn't blame myself for things that happened to me and healed while facing everything head-on after watching these. I could not recommend them as they are truly an experience to be lived and breathed!
Promising Young Woman and Anatomy of a Scandal are streaming on Netflix while Pink is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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