Riverdale’s Archie and Miss Grundy and the worrying repeated sexualisation of student-teacher relationships

Image: Riverdale/ The CW/ Netflix 

Student-teacher sexual/romantic relationships are so common in media, particularly in TV that they are regarded as a trope of the genre. So it was unsurprising that the trope showed up in the latest teen drama on Netflix, Riverdale.

What is disappointing about this however isn’t the trope itself but how so far it is being handled. It was stated within the first episode that Archie (KJ Apa) and Betty (Lili Reinhart) are in their Sophomore year at High school. Now I’m not American so I had to do some googling to find out what age that actually is, and according to my findings that puts Archie and Betty at 15-16 years old canonically. Yet, the relationship between Archie and Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel) is heavily sexualised within the show, and depicted as ‘wrong’ but in the sense that the relationship is ultimately romantic. And it is society that does not understand the relationship, and the relationship itself is pure and ultimately acceptable.

And this is a common reoccurring theme when student-teacher relationships are presented on screen. Now, I mentioned the age of Archie before, which although is of importance in terms of consent laws in America (though I know this changes state by state); the real reason Archie cannot consent is because she is his teacher and in a position of power because of that. From the beginning of our schools lives we are taught to always obey the teacher, refer to them formally and treat them with respect. Teachers we are taught have authority over students. Consequently, Archie can never hope to achieve equal power status in their relationship.

In fact, this is shown to a disturbing degree when he stresses (*plot spoilers ahead*) that they need to go to the police about the gun shot they heard on the 4th July, as it could possibly help the police in the case of Jason Blossom’s (Trevor Stines) death but she stresses that they can’t because they’ll both get in trouble, not just her. He could get expelled she stresses. For what? Having an affair with a teacher? He is not the one to blame.

Archie and Mrs GrundyImage: Riverdale/ The CW/ Netflix 

Right from the first sexual encounter we see of them their relationship is treated as something sexual, hot and steamy, just like the windows of the car that fog up in the screen capture that Netflix uses to advertise the show. That this is the image that advertises the show is important. Netflix has done extensive research on what images inspire someone to click on a show, as artwork in a study Netflix conducted in 2014 was revealed to be the biggest influencer to a member’s decision to watch content. It seems pretty obvious why Netflix thinks this image would attract an audience: sex sells. Even sex that in my view would constitute as a sex in a relationship where one half couldn’t fully consent.

One thing I will say in defence of Riverdale is that they make it clear that this relationship cannot last, just like Miss Grundy’s place in Riverdale. However, she manages to escape with no consequences other than losing her job. Although her leaving scene where she smiles at two members of the football team through red heart sunglasses (ironically very reminiscent of Lolita) hints that maybe this is not the first time she has pursued such a relationship, and subsequently that the relationship she had with Archie was not fair to him.

I do really hope that the show will pick up what they have hinted on, as the show has been refreshingly transgressive in other ways (though you’d hope by 2017 this still wouldn’t be something I’d have to call transgressive) with the way they exposed the football players ‘playbook’ and highlighted the very real and scary slut shaming that still happens in schools today (on that note if you haven’t already watch the Netflix documentary Audrie and Daisy do so). Also, the way they handled Archie writing songs for Josie and the Pussycats and the discussion that Josie (Ashleigh Murray) brought up surrounding race, and how although Archie thinks he can understand, but he never can fully relate because he has not been a victim of racism, was brilliant.

Josie RiverdaleImage: Riverdale/ The CW/ Netflix 

Ethel RiverdaleThe playbook storyline also featured Shannon Purser (famous for her role as Barb in Stranger Things) as Ethel. Image: Riverdale/ The CW/ Netflix .

However, in regards to the troubling storyline between Archie and Miss Grundy I am not the only one to think this about the show. Internet superstar, Felicia Day tweeted about the storyline saying: “If the sexes were reversed on Archie and Ms Grundy no one would be ok with this storyline”, followed by the hashtag #callthecopsplease.

Source: @feliciaday/ Twitter 

But in TV world this is not necessarily the case, as you only have to look at the relationship between Aria (Lucy Montgomery) and Ezra (Ian Harding) in Pretty Little Liars. Now, I haven’t watched every season of Pretty Little Liars to know where they end up in their relationship but I’ve seen how their relationship started.

In the TV show at least Ezra mistakes Aria for a college girl (which Aria lets him do), they hit it off, and ‘hook up’ in the bathroom of a bar. However, at school Aria then walks into class to realise the person she ‘hooked up’ with is in fact her English teacher.

Now, as stated this relationship started with Ezra not knowing who Aria was, however, they later end up rekindling their relationship with Ezra knowing full well he is her teacher now. Although, I know he later breaks up the relationship again in what is a bit of a cycle and quits his teacher position so they can have a relationship (ending the teacher-student power dynamic issues); however, that doesn’t change the fact that the added student-teacher part of their relationship is treated like ‘forbidden love’, and something romantic because of the danger behind it.

Romanticising these encounters is dangerous as it makes student-teacher relationships a desirable fantasy in teenager’s minds. Regardless, of what you want to argue about how the relationships I’ve talked about may occupy a more ‘grey’ area; the people watching the show might be in a completely different situation and use the show’s example to justify it.

Now, let me be clear I fight against the standpoint that films and TV cause behaviour we wouldn’t commit without their example. Horror movies in my mind do not a serial killer make but there is a difference between showing violent acts, and condoning the behaviour and making it something desirable.

And student-teacher relationships should not be depicted as desirable because it is a couple that can never hope to have equal footing in their relationship (regardless of any other age issues) and these relationships should not be treated as ‘forbidden romance’ but an unfair, and unequal illusion.

Picnic Ms Grundy ArchieImage: Riverdale/ The CW/ Netflix 

Rewatching The Craft: Why it’s still important

Image: The Craft/ Columbia Pictures 

I was first introduced to The Craft by one of my friends who was just as obsessed with all things 90s and loved the aesthetic of  Buffy the Vampire Slayer as much as I did. Of course, I fell in love with The Craft, one because I have a weakness for 90s fashion (along with 80s- someone please send help), but because of the way it tried to more than just your standard ‘teen’ film. The Craft touched on serious topics and refused to shy away from them.

Last year in fact was The Craft’s 20 year anniversary (I am not enjoying all these 20 year anniversary’s at the moment- they make me feel old, even though I would have only been about 1 years old for most of them!), but I think it’s as good a time as ever to take a look back at all the topics that The Craft covered, and in my opinion tried to show a honest portrayal of.

Before, I start though I think it’s important to mention that the witchcraft elements of the film were realistic, as the scenes were filmed, “with Pat Devin, a Dianic Elder Priestess, on board as technical advisor”. Therefore, “the four main cast members can be seen practising proper Wiccan rituals throughout the movie”. Fairuza Balk who played Nancy, also is reported to have become a practicing Wiccan due to the film. In 1995 she bought the store Panpipes Magical Marketplace after filming (though she no longer owns the shop).  However, in the interview with The Huffington Post, the director Andrew Fleming said that at the time of filming, “she was a practicing Pagan”, something I have seen repeated in other articles about The Craft. Either way, Fairuza out of all the cast members was involved the most with the witchcraft side of the film in her personal life.

Also, the God, Manon, they reference in the film is not real, and according to Fleming in the same interview with The Huffington Post this is, “because it might have been offensive to people if we had used people’s real gods”.

Whether the God they reference is real or not (and I actually agree with their thinking that it is better not to talk about someone else’s God); many credit The Craft for spawning a new generational interest in being a Wiccan, which I think is pretty awesome. The film also made it be cool to different, and standout, or as Nancy infamously says, “We are the weirdos, mister”.

giphy
Source: giphy.com

The Craft then is one of the cult teen films, and this is largely because of the way the film covered several issues that affect teenage life today, and were unapologetic about them.

Racism 

Rochelle (Rachel True) in the film is seen to be the victim of racist bully, Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor). This is significant because it is Laura who is shown to be in the wrong for her horrible behaviour (though Rochelle’s magical revenge is also shown to be the right path to go down), and Rochelle is shown to be just as beautiful and talented as she is (perhaps even more so). At the time of filming True was just happy to actually have a part, which contained more than one line: “A lot of times, the roles I played, I literally say the words “Are you OK?” So this time I got to play a character who actually had something going on”.

This is depressing in itself, however, it gets worse. Although Rochelle was as much a lead  as Neve Campbell’s character Bonnie was, she recalls that she was not treated the same by the studio during the press junket: “There was a publicity junket that they were only going to take the other three girls to. At the time, 20 years ago, I was like, “Oh, it’s me, it’s me, it must be me.” And now I realize it wasn’t me — it was marketing. They didn’t really think it was going to get a black audience is my guess”.

Therefore, while the film did break boundaries for the time by having a black woman as one of the leads (though its upsetting in itself that this was something boundary breaking), and did give her an actual role instead of make her a side character; it’s important to note that she was not treated the same way by the studio higher ups.

The Craft Bonnie and RochelleImage: The Craft/ Columbia Pictures 

Self harm

The lead character of the film, besides Nancy (Fairuza Balk) is Sarah (Robin Tunney), who reveals to the other girls early on in the film that are scars are from her attempting suicide.

Teen suicide in the 80s had become a epidemic in the media, yet the subject was still not really talked about. Instead, teenagers were lectured on to just say no to suicide (famously satirised by the film The Heathers), but never actually listened to. In the 90s suicide almost became glamourised, along with other dangerous trends such as the ‘heroin chic’ trend for models.

It is refreshing however to see in The Craft that it is not. What we see instead is that Sarah has gone through real pain, but yet she is determined to keep fighting. Cutting becomes something nightmarish, and is the way in which Nancy attempts to kill her. There is nothing glamorous about it. Perhaps, this is why the film has such a large cult audience, it does not attempt to lecture teenagers but actually tries to authentically connect with what teenagers are going through.

The Craft Sarah

Image: The Craft/ Columbia Pictures 

Horrible home life

Nancy is truly the most tormented of the girls. It’s revealed she has a horrible home life in which her mother is an alcoholic and her mother’s boyfriend also appears to be a deadbeat (but actually leaves them a lot of money through his life insurance policy that surprises both Nancy and her mother).

However, even the death of her mother’s boyfriend doesn’t help, as Nancy’s mother remains as frantic as ever. The only happy moment we see between the two of them is when they learn the news about the money, and even then it is tarnished by Nancy’s guilt as she knows she is the one who killed him.

NancyImage: The Craft/ Columbia Pictures 

Toxic masculinity

The film also talks about High School and its damaging culture that means men are still encouraged to date as many women as possible and keep a tally (or play book) of all their conquests. In the film we see Chris (Skreet Ulrich) invite Nancy on a date, which they go on, and he then invites her back to his place, which she refuses. Nevertheless, the next day he tells everyone they had sex, despite it not being true.

The scene very much reminded me of Netflix (and CW)’s Riverdale in which Veronica (Camila Mendes) learns that her date, Chuck Clayton (Jordan Calloway) has been slut shaming her to the rest of the school. She confronts him, but he refuses to stop, so Veronica teams up with the other women in the school to find evidence of the shaming.

This episode also features a character called Ethel who is victim of the slut shaming by the football team, who is played by the awesome (Shannon Purser) of Stranger Things fame. Yes, that’s right Barb! There’s also a little fourth wall shout out in there (seriously just go watch, Riverdale).

What I think is interesting about The Craft in particular is that they make it clear that Chris’s behaviour is largely due to wanting to be accepted by the other guys, as they goad him on, and give him weird looks when he is under enchantment by Sarah so does whatever she says.

They also show that despite his horrible behaviour Sarah still wants his attention (until it gets too much under the enchantment); showing the sad truth about how these cultures operate.

The Craft Skeet UlrichImage: The Craft/ Columbia Pictures 

Female friendship

If Mean Girls taught us anything (though of course time line wise it came after The Craft) it is that as women we shouldn’t pit ourselves against each other.

Or as Ms. Norbury puts it:

“You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

It’s true that you’ll often find harsh criticism about women from other women, though I am happy to say that I am starting to see a culture developing more and more where women support and prop each other up instead of tearing each other down.

It was nice then to see actual female friendship and loyalty between the girls. That is however, until they ultimately turn on Sarah, after she disagrees with them. This was the main part of the film that I wish could have been changed, as it was so refreshing and lovely to see women on screen empowering each other, and supporting each other.

However, it’s not to be because as Sarah deftly puts it in the film what they had however was ultimately not friendship:

“I disagree with them once and they turn their backs on me. It’s not friendship”.

Female friendship The CraftImage: The Craft/ Columbia Pictures 

I only hope that The Craft remake keeps these themes, and makes something as unique and  different as the original. This is a film that most of the crew are bewildered got made, but it did and there is a reason it a cult classic- the characters felt real and were not impossible to live up to.

Hopefully, since it has been revealed that The Craft remake is less of a remake and more of a continuation there is hope. As the director, Douglas Wick told UpRoxx it’s feels more like it’s set, “twenty years later”. He also said, there will be, “callbacks to the original movie, so you will see there is a connection between what happened in the days of The Craft, and how these young women come across this magic many years later”.

It will be interesting then to see if any of the original cast are in the film. Since Fairuza Balk responded on Twitter about the event saying that: “Personally I don’t care for the idea of remakes”.

Source: @fairuza

Source: @fairuza

I think it is fair to see we can probably count Fairuza out, though it is hard to imagine anything associated with The Craft without her. All I can say then for the remake is that they have some big black boots to fill…

black boots the craft    Source: via giphy.com

For anyone interested in reading more about The Craft here is my round up of all the articles mentioning The Craft that I found interesting/ inspiring:

For all of you obsessed with the fashion of the film like me: http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/30973/1/creating-the-cult-fashion-that-defined-the-craft

Background information about the making of The Craft (including an interview with Andrew Fleming and Robin Tunney): https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/mar/01/how-we-made-the-craft-horror-movie-interview

Fun facts and trivia about the film:                       https://www.buzzfeed.com/leonoraepstein/10-weird-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-the-craft?utm_term=.lebA1BjEL#.pr7MQlaRP

Interesting article talking about the significance of each of the filming locations of The Craft (including what has become of the locations now): http://www.laweekly.com/arts/revisiting-the-la-filming-locations-of-the-craft-20-years-later-6870417

Feminist Reading Journey: Sady Doyle ‘Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear…and Why’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

So as mentioned in my last post, this year I set myself the challenge of reading for pleasure again, which quickly turned into what I have termed as a feminist reading journey: a chance for me to explore what I define as feminism and learn more about other women’s experiences instead of limiting myself to my own.

The second book that I read as part of my feminist reading journey was ‘Trainwreck: The Women we Love to Hate, Mock and Fear…And Why’ by Sady Doyle. However, I actually cheated a little with this book as I had already read it, as I received it as a christmas present from my boyfriend’s mum. I did though read it again the week I posted about it on Instagram. In fact, I was actually reading it as it was relevant to the essay I was writing for my Masters course (which I am anxiously waiting for my mark back for).

Sady Doyle TrainwreckImage: April Wilson 

‘Trainwreck’ is a powerhouse of a book. For anyone who has ever read women’s magazines, or was brought up on them (I read everything I could get my hands on) you’ll understand the narratives that Doyle is bringing up that these magazines (along with mainstream media) constantly recycle for famous women.

When I was growing up something always made me uneasy about these magazines, and I always gravitated to the fact that maybe it was because they weren’t deemed as very ‘high culture’, and I was someone who enjoyed literary classics (how could I enjoy both?). First of all, I know now that people should stop making these distinctions. You can enjoy whatever you want. Sometimes, we all need to read and watch something that we aren’t completely thinking about the whole time as well (to cool down our brains if you will). Secondly, I think the reason I was uneasy about these magazines was also how they made me feel. Like no one could ever be good enough. You were either too fat or too thin. Rarely, one of the women would be that perfect ‘size’ where they were just right, but they could easily have a big meal or a light lunch and end up swaying into a different category the next week. As someone who had little to no self confidence with the way they looked, especially regarding their weight, these magazines I know no did nothing to help. Unsurprisingly, they just fuelled my obsession making me more addicted to them (I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been in this cycle).

However, I want to make it clear that Doyle’s book does not blame the media solely for turning women into trainwrecks but our patriarchal society that allows women to only exist as binary opposites: the ‘good’ (silent) woman or the ‘bad’ (mad) woman.

One of the reasons I love ‘Trainwreck’ so much is that it talks about how these women shouldn’t be blamed or ashamed for what happened to them (so many times have I heard that Paris Hilton is a spoiled heiress who leaked her own sex tape for fame- everyone seems to ignore when she says how she felt betrayed when the tape was leaked).

Or as she put in her own words, with an interview with Piers Morgan:

“I didn’t want to be known as that, and now when people look at me they think that I’m something I’m not just because of one incident one night with someone who I was in love with. People assume ‘Oh, she’s a slut’ because of one thing that happened to me and it’s hard because I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life and explain it to my children. And it’s something that’s changed my life forever and I’ll never be able to erase it.”

She also described it, as,”the most embarrassing, humiliating thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”

I also love the way in which the book uses examples from the past, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, and Bille Holiday to show that this is not a new phenomenon; turning women into spectacles and trainwrecks when they become too vocal is nothing new!

In fact, I love this book so much I’ve actually talked about in an article before, in which I discussed the ways in which I believe Beyoncé by choosing to spread the news that she is pregnant herself on Instagram is showing that she is in control of the way she is viewed- she will not become a part of the media’s narrative- she makes the narrative.

When sharing the article on Twitter I was even lucky enough to get a reply from Sady Doyle who not only tweeted the article, but quoted it (I am beyond honoured she took the time out of her day to read this).

I am also so grateful that the lovely Caroline from The Kawaii Collective (who has been providing me with lovely illustrations of the authors I am reading along with my favourite quotation from the book) illustrated this beautiful drawing of Sady Doyle, surrounded by the women she refuses to let the media demonise (how many of these women can you recognise?).

This drawing, along with all of my other collaborations with  The Kawaii Collective was originally inspired by Kimothy Joy’s collaboration with The Huffington Post!).

Be sure to also check out Caroline’s Etsy shop if you like what you see and want to purchase her art work!

Sady Doyle

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

So I urge you to read ‘Trainwreck’ and then think about the famous women you have seen that are demonised by the media, and think about if the same narrative would still be in place if they were male?

The book I am reading this week is Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’.

Maya I Know WhyImage: April Wilson 

Next week I will be reading Rupi Kaur’s ‘Milk and Honey’.

If you have any suggestions for what I should read next please comment below.

If you are interesting in collaborating with me on this project as well please let me know. My inbox is always open!

Feminist Reading Journey: Carrie Fisher ‘The Princess Diarist’

Image: Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope/ 20th Century Fox 

This year I set myself the challenge to start reading for pleasure again. After doing a degree in English Literature with Film, I kind of lost the time to simply read books for myself, rather than for a particular module. In fact, I’d lost a lot of the enjoyment that reading had previously brought me and since I am at my core a book worm this was unacceptable for me.

I decided to set myself the challenge of reading a book a week because I’m totally crazy and it seemed like a good idea at the time. The first few books I read had no particular theme to them, but then I started seeing more and more books I wanted to read that had a particular theme to them: equality and feminism. So I thought why not make that my theme? Especially since I already wanted to do some more reading around feminism because I consider myself a novice at best, and I feel like reading is the best education.

Also, I know I have a lot to learn, and there are still so many women that have remained hidden to me for me to discover. I don’t want to just rely on my own very limited experience of being a woman, as everyone’s experience is different depending on where you are from, and unfortunately in the world we live in, what colour your skin is, along with your sexual orientation and a lot of other factors.

I know, for example that I as a white woman have had privilege that I did not even realise I had until I started talking to other women in my Masters class about how they have been treated on holiday, or in the airport compared to the way in which I have been treated (of course the different ways I have/ will be treated is not just limited to this example!).

My sexuality is also important here, as I am heterosexual, so have never faced the prejudice that people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community have (I do consider myself an ally of the community, but it would be wrong to say I have had to deal with the same experiences that people who identify as a lesbian have for example), so I need to read about women from this community too. As well as read about the experiences of trans women as well. I want this community to be accepting, and for all of us to fight for equality together, and how can we do this if we aren’t inclusive?

Now, I know a lot of people are ready to attack me for not mentioning men yet, but of course I do not think they are exempt from the discussion. Men are affected by the patriarchy too, of course they are. It makes them think that have to be a real ‘man’ and confirm to the twisted system that is toxic masculinity, and not be able to express their emotions, their sexuality or truly be themselves. Feminism is about equality not women hating men (that is misandry), so men need to be a part of this dialogue as well.

So I want to learn, and for me reading is for me one of the ways I can learn. I started with Carrie Fisher’s novel ‘Princess Diarist’ not out of any preconceived sort of plan but because I realised when Carrie Fisher died that I never had read any of her books, and that was an injustice that she deserved better than.

Carrie Fisher The Princess DiaristImage: April Wilson 

For each book I read I am also excited to announce that I have teamed up with the lovely Caroline from The Kawaii Kollective who will be providing me with lovely illustrations of the authors I am reading along with my favourite quotation from the book (inspired by Kimothy Joy’s collaboration with The Huffington Post!).

Be sure to also check out Caroline’s Etsy shop if you like what you see and want to purchase her art work!

Kawaii Kollective Carrie FisherImage: The Kawaii Kollective

Since I am a bit behind in posting about this here is a list of the books I’ve read so far:

  • Carrie Fisher, ‘The Princess Diarist’
  • Sady Doyle, ‘Trainwreck’
  • Helena Kelly, ‘Jane Austen: The Secret Radical’

Also, I probably shouldn’t be announcing it yet but I’ll announce it a day early just this once, this week’s book I will be reading is Maya Angelou, ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’. If you have any suggestions for what I should read next please comment below. At the moment I was thinking of reading ‘Milk and Honey’ by Rupi Kaur next week!

If you are interesting in collaborating with me on this project as well please let me know. My inbox is always open!