Warning! This post contains spoilers!
Mellie Grant is my favorite character on Scandal. Despite all of the characters and their chaotic backstories, Mellie shines as a stunning example of the unique struggles women face. A successful lawyer who gave up her auspicious career to advance her husband’s political future, Mellie frequently sacrifices her dignity to maintain her standing as First Lady.
Not only does Mellie bring serious balance to the dramatic show, but she offers unique philosophy for viewers who choose to dig deeper than superficial conflict. Scandal is a great past time, but straying far from the political drama it once was, and into the never ending world of soap operary, Mellie provides viewers an opportunity to expand into intellectual horizons regarding feminism.
Is Mellie a symbol of 21st century feminism?
Here’s Mellie’s very intricate backstory: she was raped by her father-in-law while her husband, President Fitzgerald Grant III, was Governor of California. The rape may have resulted in a pregnancy. In the early stages of their plans for the White House, she gave up her professional career to stand beside her husband and his precarious political career. She was supportive during the strenuous campaign, and even lied about a miscarriage to boost political capital. And during all of this, her husband was having an affair with Olivia Pope… an affair that has continued ever since. A heated affair that she learned of once in the White House. In season 1, an audio of the affair surfaced. She lied to the public and said it was her on the recording. She then conceived a child to gain the public’s sympathy.
That’s a lot to take in. Mellie compromised her integrity to remain a sizable political force. She is quick-witted, and frequently masterminds a plethora of schemes to solidify her social standing. Everything she does is in pursuit of power and influence, oftentimes, at her own expense.
Played brilliantly by Bellamy Young, Mellie is the sole character that challenges our beliefs about established gender roles. Quick to take things into her own hands, Mellie does not fit into the mold of the perfect political wife. However, she does offer the support her husband needs, even if he doesn’t recognize it. She provokes us to impugn the historical caricature of womanhood.
It’s hard to dislike Mellie without feeling remarkable sympathy for her. During the first two seasons, she was easy to dislike. She was cold and abrasive, especially as the show catered to the love between Olitz. But, in this current season, through a series of flashbacks, we gain a contextual analysis of Mellie, and how she encompasses unique hardships women face.
For one, there is the eternal question career-driven women must wrestle with; to be a staple in the family or to pursue a profitable and successful professional future? Many women have difficultly answering this question. Mellie, who graduated first in her class at Harvard Law, answered this question, and its unclear if she made the right decision. Sure, she’s FLOTUS, but at what price? She witnesses a painful affair, she is berated by her selfish husband, and she has to maintain order in a corrupt and hectic White House, all with a smile.
And then there’s the rape. A harrowing and brutal crime, she suppressed this experience all to maintain a standard of normality. She clearly deserves our sympathy as a victim of rape, but she does not victimize herself. Instead, she wielded it to promote her husband’s political career. Such a situation is rife in patriarchy; not only is rape is crime of patriarchal design, but she used it to further legitimize her husband, who regularly degrades her with his infidelity and emotional abuse.
And then, there is the adultery. The show hinted that Mellie had an affair with the recent Veep pick, but we later learn, in a condescending exchange with Olivia, that this is untrue. That Mellie did not succumb to his advances, although they were made in sincerity. Mellie overpowers Liv, and makes us impugn the white hat that Liv claims she wears. Mellie provides us another option for the ultimate heroine in the series; a woman who never disrespected the sanctity of the marital bedroom.
I believe that feminism is a celebration of women deciding for themselves the lives they want to live. On the surface, Mellie is an embodiment of an empowered and ambitious women who determines what she feels is best for herself. However, like most empowered women, we make compromises due to the overarching patriarchal system in which we live. These compromises can be brutal, oftentimes resulting in our stigmatization, but we persevere. Not all of Mellie’s decisions were made at her sole discretion; many are a response, a survival mechanism, to a society dominated by aggression.
Mellie is the most dynamic character on the show. She gives us hard questions to answer about the appropriate course of female action. She reminds us that women host a complicated array of responsibilities that often run counter to our predetermined gender roles.
Mellie shows us just how intricate feminist expression is.