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‘How To Get Away With Murder’ Takes On The Issue Of Gender Stereotypes

Hit TV series, How to Get Away with Murder, has never shied away from addressing weighty topics. And the 13th episode, Mama’s Here Now, was no exception, as HTGAWM took on the way ingrained ideas about gender can be used to justify acts of sexual violence – and silence victims.

The episode’s emotional center rested on Annalise’s relationship with her mother, Ophelia, played by Cicely Tyson. During a heated conversation where Annalise brings up the sexual assault she suffered at the hands of her uncle, Ophelia says, “Men were put on this planet to take things. They take your money, they take your land, they take a woman and any other thing they can put their grabby hands on. That’s men. Women? We’re made to give love, to nurture, to protect, to care for.”

Her words echo popular notions about the “inherent” differences between men and women which, besides being scientifically unsound, are often used to justify the inevitable nature of sexual violence against women. According to the lore, men are naturally aggressive and violent. Women, the more submissive sex, need to take precautions to protect themselves from these uncontrollable male actions. It’s the same line of thought that upholds approaches to sexual assault prevention, which put the onus on women to prevent assault, rather than on men not to rape (something that simultaneously makes it even more difficult for male victims of sexual violence to come forward).

But instead of accepting her mother’s outlook on the world, Annalise immediately laughs in her face: “What have I ever nurtured? What have I ever protected, cared for or loved?”

In the world of “How to Get Away with Murder,” where characters of different genders, races and sexualities all have their own unique mixes of aggressiveness, docility, confidence and fear (just like real human beings), Ophelia’s comment rings obviously false. Annalise isn’t naturally nurturing — just as men aren’t naturally, unavoidably violent.

The episode goes on to address the suffering caused by a culture that is built around these damaging belief systems. Annalise still experiences the psychological and emotional fallout of her childhood sexual assault, which was never acknowledged by her family (let alone a court). And though by the episode’s end, Ophelia discloses that she took justice into her own hands, she initially frames the assault as just another part of life to quietly accept.

“Men take things,” she says. “They’ve been taking things from women since the beginning of time. No reason to talk about it and get all messy everywhere.”

By “talking about it” on network television, “How to Get Away with Murder” exposes the gaping holes in the point of view that sees men not as agents of sexual violence, but as victims of their supposedly wayward nature. Putting stock in the idea of innate male aggressiveness only stifles both female and male victims of sexual assault into silence.


About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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8 comments

  1. Now,time for my Nigerian brethren to know that they are not superior to the women folk.

  2. I need to download this series! Good morning walter. .

  3. Well, I watched that episode too. The show has so many talking points and arguments ..Even the case of sexual assault on that gay-guy that was finally found out to be false.. but my point is when the case came up, the expression on their faces, people immediately brushed it aside.. Lol.

  4. I’m patiently waiting for the completion of season 2. HTGAWM made me see through lines that were blurred to me in the past.
    I still think there is more happening that should be tackled in the later part of the movie…
    The relationship between Analisse and the tall black guy is something that I want to look into.

  5. This show generally is feminist in nature, in a tongue-in-cheek albiet.
    in other news this show is totally the bomb. if you haven’t seen it, you should!!

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