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Why Married Women Love Olivia Pope

I teach a writing class on Thursday mornings, all of my students are moms, most of them are married. We gather, we have some tea, and then we get to work. Inevitably, someone brings up Olivia Pope, then the chatter ensues about her style. I don’t mean just her creamy off-white pantsuits. After all, these women are bright and opinionated. What they can’t get enough of are Ms. Pope’s righteous, detailed monologues.

Having only seen the show once, when a friend of mine was on it and Kate Burton stabbed her husband with a letter-opener splattering blood on the chintz-covered lampshades and furniture in her office, I was curious to see what made my students such devoted admirers of “Scandal.” It didn’t take me more than two episodes to figure out what my married friends were so enthralled with.

Olivia Pope, God bless her smooth self, is always right.

I’ve been married for 13 years, and the one thing I may finally be getting is that, if you want to stay in a real marriage and be happy about it, feeling you are right and constantly expressing it is an impulse you have sacrifice like the biblical baby lamb at the altar. Even when a spouse is 5,000 percent right, it serves no one in any marriage to launch in to a four-minute monologue laying out all the ways he or she is right and their life partner is wrong.

One of Olivia’s most watched moments in the history of the show is her speech “Earn Me.” It’s one where she rips in to the President (the leader of the free world and bad boy, played with a devastating inability to overcome the lure of Kerry Washington’s high glossed lips, by Tony Goldwyn) for thinking he can just summon her when he feels like it and have her back. Here’s an excerpt: "I am not a toy you can play with when you’re bored or lonely or horny. I am not the girl the guy gets at the end of the movie. I am not a fantasy. If you want me, earn me!" When Ms. Washington is done, you half expect the grips on set to break into applause. Given the popularity of this speech, credit “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes with hitting a nerve for women everywhere.

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I started imagining what would happen if I launched in to a similar Pope-inspired diatribe at my husband, say if I showed up late to something trying to get everyone out the door. Or if my car was ever towed again, like it was last month, because I was racing to swimming class with my youngest and didn’t read a sign right — a mistake that wasn’t exactly met by my husband with warmth. Of course, he was under pressure at work, work that pays our mortgage. But in the world according to Olivia that would be completely beside the point! Which is precisely why we love her. When he called back to find out where the car had been towed, I’d hit him with a Pope-inspired soliloquy. First I’d snap my neck to clear my perfectly blown out hair from the receiver, then I’d hit “accept.”

“What? Why are you calling me back? Do you think you can just call me back and, because you are concerned for 15 seconds that perhaps your wife and your son are stranded in Hollywood, I am supposed to just bow to you! Well I am not bowing to you, that is not happening! I have been up since 6 a.m. I have packed lunches, which means, because how would you know this, stuffing oddly shaped fried items in to a small baggie, a baggie I have ordered online because the regular baggies, the easy ones that are right there on the shelf, are causing global warming which, if you are a mother and you send your child to school with them, you can just wait to be ostracized by the earnest green moms at the next function where you show up and volunteer your time to make stupid hand-puppets made of felt and covered with glue and glitter — both of which get stuck under your nails so you are peeling it off along with some of your skin for weeks after. But you wouldn’t know anything about the humiliation of volunteering and then feeling disliked when you get there would you? Because you work for a paycheck, a pretty good one, and they buy you lunch where you all sit around talking about current events or your next job or who is screwing whom, which is actually highly interesting lunch conversation when you compare it to a discussion of whether the fifth-graders will enjoy laser tag for their graduation party or how many chaperones we need to get for their dance, which I am NOT saying isn’t important, it is important, but I am saying that stimulating isn’t a word I would use to describe it, so you can understand after a long day of being trapped in relentless traffic why a person might misread a sign that looked like some kind of hieroglyphics from the a cave, why a person under pressure to get her child in to his bathing suit amidst 40 other screaming children without being late for a class that only runs 30 minutes — so if you are late what is the goddamn point?— that she might misread this sign and then come out of the YMCA when it is dark, holding her seven-year-old son’s hand and not seeing her car and feel, powerless and scared and FRUSTRATED!! I am not a fantasy, I am a real live mom doing the best I goddamn can every goddamn day, and if you can’t find it in your heart to respond to my normal, human mistakes with compassion and love, then you will have to find someone else to warm your bed at night!”


I would cinch my white wool coat a little tighter at my tiny waist, grab my son’s hand and go get the job done. Impressive right? Telling my man what is up!

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Honestly, in a real marriage? Not so helpful. More like draining and provocative — but not in a good way. Look, I never had an affair with a married man, but I’m thinking that for people who do, always being right about the whole thing being wrong must be intoxicating. Hence, all the entertaining passion between her and The Pres. But what makes Olivia herself so addicting for women is that she’s right about everything. I now completely get the vicarious thrill of her righteous monologuing and saving the day. Even more than her inexhaustible supply of silk and cashmere and steamy stollen kisses, I can’t think of a bigger fantasy for a wife and mother. Fantasy being the operative word, because in a non-televised marriage, one you are hoping will run for many, many seasons, this approach does more harm than good.

I doubt I am the first to declare this, but Olivia Pope is a 21st century female superhero, which is fabulous. I’m just saying there’s a reason why she’s single.

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