Who Cheers For the Other Woman: Olivia Pope, Kitty O’Neil and Ornamental Women

I’ve been watching Scandal since it first went on air last year. This year, Shonda Rhimes has added new fans and followers of her show and its heroine, Olivia Pope. I wonder if that’s an appropriate title for Olivia. If you haven’t caught the show yet, Scandal airs on Thursdays at 10PM on ABC and stars Kerry Washington who plays Olivia Pope, leader of Olivia Pope & Associates, a crisis management firm.

Let’s cut to the chase, Olivia Pope is romantically involved with the President. There’s no easy way of saying it, but it’s the truth. She still has strong feelings for the President and is still struggling with how to cope with those feelings. What surprises me the most is our reaction as viewers to Olivia’s behavior; it’s almost as though Olivia is getting a free pass to dilly dallying in the Oval Office… with a married man.

In addition to Scandal, I’ve been following Boss since last year too. This show airs on Starz on Fridays at 9PM and stars Kelsey Grammar as the mayor of Chicago. Independent of Kelsey’s role as Tom Kane, the mayor of Chicago, is his former aide, Kitty O’Neil. Specifically, there is Kitty O’Neil and the current State treasurer, Ben Zajac, and their romantic involvement in the first season which continues to linger in some ways in Season 2. However, viewers’ reaction to Kitty’s behavior is alarmingly in contrast to that of Olivia Pope’s. Kitty is seen as a home wrecker, gross, and detestable; a consummate whore whom as a viewer we feel very little compassion for given her situation. Olivia’s character is empathized and given several excuses for her actions although each character is involved with married men in positions of power.

Although I believe that there are racial factors at play, Olivia is also positioned on Scandal as being a woman in power. I believe this contributes to the drastic differences in the way both Kitty and Olivia are perceived, but it’s still alarming.

Actually, it was last week’s episode that made it crystal clear why people empathize with Olivia and despise women like Kitty. It’s the married men’s wives. This quote shook Twitter and Facebook…

No one elected you! You’re not the president! You don’t weigh in on foreign policy! Your opinion doesn’t matter! You are the first lady. Your job is to plant gardens and decorate rooms and let them blog about your clothes. You’re ornamental, not functional. So, don’t come into the oval and try to use your brain because no one cares.

We asked Michelle how she felt about this quote last week and she said, “I wish Obama would like a kitchen cabinet. TWO TERMZ!”

The reality of the situation is that no one cares about ornamental women. If you evaluate any situation where infidelity enters a marriage, the public rarely cares about the ornamental women. They care about the functional women. Don’t believe me? Answer these two questions:

  1. Were you more satisfied that Kobe was about to lose half, or sympathetic that Vanessa spent her entire life with a man who continuously cheated on her? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
  2. What about Tiger? Let me just grab a seat while you guys figure it out.

Now, Ben Zajac’s wife on Boss is very functional. She served as his campaign manager and is also at the dinner table discussing and formulating strategies for his political career. While both herself and the First Lady on Scandal are very well aware of their husband’s infidelity, the caliber of these women is very different. Nobody likes to see the functional woman who dedicates time and effort into the success of her husband’s career experience the type of suffering that comes from infidelity in one’s marriage. However, if we have written off the woman as naïve, a figurehead or a trophy, we care a whole lot less. We tend to side with the woman who makes the better option, not necessarily the more moral option.

That’s confusing to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Olivia and Kitty are both very functional women. Nothing about those two women is ornamental at all. They both have power and garner respect. I just view them both in the same light as women, which results in me feeling a certain way about others’ view on them as well. Each time I hear someone call Kitty “gross” but refrain from calling Olivia out for her actions, a part of me takes away from that viewer’s credibility in television and also in life. I just don’t get why one is okay and the other isn’t.

Provided you watch the show, what are you all’s thoughts on the two characters? If you do not watch Scandal or Boss, what are your thoughts on why some women get passes for threatening to break up marriages and families and others do not? Do you feel that race plays a part in the way these women are portrayed on television? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

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  • Young Heaux

    I don't watch Boss. But I do watch Scandal. And I sympathize with Pope firstly because the producers make her a likable character. The other reason is that the President and her clearly have a genuine love for each other and it's sad to see that they can't do anything about it. Also, to me, it's not that the First Lady is "ornamental," it's that her character is sort of vile (ie faking a miscarriage to for political gains) and you can't really empathize with her ESPECIALLY when she's practically encouraged the affair.

    I really don't think it had anything to do with giving anyone a "pass" for any particular reason; it's just a story and it's told from Olivia's perspective so you see the humanity in her and that's why most people will empathize even if they don't agree.

    • Teyana

      I agree with what you say here, but i have a different take on this. I dont watch Boss, but with Scandal- i quite like the First Lady. She may come off as manipulative and vile- but i see her as a girl who sees the bigger picture and will not let ANYTHING blur her view. She knows what she wants and she will get it regardless of the cost. I also like her because she can compartmentalize issues, her husband cheating but there is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water! Its important to be in control of a situation- whether good or bad, just make sure you are getting yours!
      If she isnt going to get the love of her husband- she will get the love of the people of America using her husband. Plus she is super patriotic; carrying America's baby! lol…

      • Young Heaux

        I like her too. She has a lot of potential in the show, and I definitely think they could expand her character more cuz the b*tch is cutthroat!

  • CHEEKZ Money

    First off the Michelle Obama quote is beyond ignorant. People ask the first lady about foreign policy and you are mad that she answered? Also no one in the executive staff is elected other than the president. Top 5 first lady dead or alive. Eleanor Roosevelt. Hillary. Nancy Reagan. Michelle. Betty Ford. No love for Jackie, can't make my list just for being good looking.

    I think the fact that Kitty is on starz plays a major role. People are going to have less respect for her b/c the show is more "cable." First off the actress who plays her has a great body and they are not scared to show it off in season one. Also the type of aggressive humiliating public chex that Zajac and Kitty were having def plays a role in the way women view her. Lastly, Kitty is an effing traitor. I don't want to ruin anything but eff her.

  • MsLoni

    I agree with Young Heaux. The first lady on Scandal is manipulative, vile and has encouraged the affair. Also, didn't they reveal in the 1st season that she herself had an affair? I don't have Starz so I've never seen Boss but I love Scandal. What I got from Scandal is that the Fitzgerald marriage was a political, loveless marriage where appearances are the most important aspect of the relationship and both 1st lady and the prez got that euphoric feeling of love and passion outside of one another. This is why Olivia's behavior doesn't bother me as much as it probably would if the husband/wife union were better. Should Shonda Rhimes bring in a male character to play the first lady's side piece, I probably wouldn't be bothered by him either.

  • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com Tristan.

    I'm still catching up on "Boss" and "Scandal"…free Netflix and Starz FTW. What I will say in fiction and life, its really three factors: authenticity of the love, likability of the other woman, dislike of the wife.
    My recent post Today’s Word is… EMO

  • http://www.singleblackmale.org/author/WisdomIsMisery WisdomIsMisery

    Ok, I wasnt even sure if I could comment on the site. I was having all kinds of technical difficulties doing so in the past…

    Anyway, I haven't watched Scandal, so I really can't comment on that show. I follow BOSS. I can't contrast the two characters but I can speak on why women might not like Kitty.

    First, I don't think it's much of a race issue, because Kitty – as of yet – hasn't slept with any black men. If or when she does, that'll be a whole new can of worms. I think women (and some men) don't like Kitty simply because Kitty is portrayed as a bad person. She lies, cheats, manipulates – through sex and other measures, to get what she wants. I like Kitty as a character, because she's dynamic, but if I knew her in real life, like Mayor Tom Kane, I wouldn't trust her further than I could throw her.

    In general, what I do find confusing about women – and it's even shown in the first two women's comment on this very post – is their ability to have such fluid morality and outrage. They forgive Kitty Pope for sleeping with the President of the United States because "she's a likable person." That makes less than sense. Would you forgive a woman for sleeping with your man because she's likable? I doubt it.

    This is/was my outright confusion with women defending the actions of Kitty Pope, which since I don't watch the show I am only aware of because of Twitter. Women were going out of their way to defend her sleeping with the president because "it's love." Yet, these same women will preach to the high heavens about how wrong infidelity is. Honestly, this makes me wonder if these women would justify sleeping with another woman's man if she believes – rightly or wrongly – that he loves her and does not love his wife. I'm sure quite a few men have exploited this quality in women to the detriment of both the wife and the mistress(es). In my opinion, infidelity is wrong all of the time – not some of the time based on an ever changing likability ranking.

    • 2cool4school

      On fluidity of outrage:
      You to your friend: "my brother is F***ing my wife" BFF: O that's the most horrible and saddest thing I've heard this year
      OR
      You to your best friend: "my brother is f***ing your wife: BFF: Imma kill that muthaf***a
      -Paul Mooney

      • Dr. J

        This is so true it ain't even funny. I love that standup by the way.

      • Bree

        This…..Exactly right 2cool, at the end of the day nobody really cares, as long as it's not their s/o.

    • Bree

      "Honestly, this makes me wonder if these women would justify sleeping with another woman's man if she believes – rightly or wrongly – that he loves her and does not love his wife."__Wis many women justify sleeping with married men, their sisters man, their cousins man, their friends man, their mothers man, their daughters man, and men with girlfriends all the time because " he loves her and does not love his wife."__Unfortunately many a womans hope is built on a mans words, actions, and her wants, but not on the reality of the situation.

  • Bitchujusmad.com

    I don't sympathize with Olivia. I like her character, but I love Mellie and I think Olivia and Fitz are terrible for their insatiable affair. I am also a stay at home wife/mother though. So that's as ornamental as they come lol. I agree though. We do not value "ornamental" women. I also think its a mistake to think of women without paying jobs as "ornamental" so it creeps me out to type this, but for the sake of replying I will.
    My recent post He’s Been Around

    • Streetz

      I pointed out this same thing on here somewhere last year and women came out with capes in tow defending Olivia Pope. LOL I asked if she was a ho on Twitter…. yeah THAT ended well!
      My recent post #30in30 Day 30: Achievement Unlocked

      • BlueSteele

        "I asked if she was a ho on Twitter…. yeah THAT ended well!" #StraightComedy

  • The Analyst

    Last year, I pointed out the same thing. And you know what happened?

    Black women swarmed into my mentions with anger.

    The funny thing is, I knew it was going to happen. And I did it on purpose? Why?

    Because people have this issue with damning behavior for everyone else but letting it slide when it comes to themselves of people they know.

    I love Olivia Pope. She's awesome. She's beautiful. She's wonderful. But…she's a side chick. A glorified, smart, beautiful one…but a side chick nonetheless. And not to mention, she's the WORST kind of side chick, because she didn't play her position and fell in love. Granted, she didn't try to take anything from the President, but she basically broke every side chick rule you'd have in place for this kind of situation.

    Nobody's talking about that though. But you know. Whatever.
    My recent post #30For30 Day 18 – The Clinic, Part II

  • BlueSteele

    Never watched Boss so I can't comment there. I can't sympathize with Olivia Pope at all because honestly she's just a well-dressed, highly educated and efficient SIDE PIECE! (Having a "yeah I said it" moment). If she were my friend, I'd respect her work ethic, borrow her clothes, use her connections and hide my man-just saying. However, when the wife is a) encouraging the affair and b) only in the marriage for her own political gain, how outraged can I really be? The entire relationship is a hot mess IMO. I think I'm equally bothered by the fact that Mellie and Fitz take marriage so lightly as to politicize their union as I am about Olivia Pope being the side piece. (C'est la vie)

    As far as the "ornamental" piece; I think we (society) empathize with these women less because there's a feeling that they knew the likely risks and signed up for the rewards in spite of them. Ex: As a wife of an athlete you see and amazing, financially-abundant life ahead of you and are willing to accept that lingering thought that he'll likely step out…often. Add the fact that everyone knows when their mate is up to no good, it's hard to care as much for women who deal with repeated indiscretions of powerful men because again, they've chosen the benefits of the lifestyle over their own self-respect. Why then, should I be saddened over their situation for longer than it stays in the news?

  • BlueSteele

    Never watched Boss so I can't comment there. I can't sympathize with Olivia Pope at all because honestly she's just a well-dressed, highly educated and efficient SIDE PIECE! (Having a "yeah I said it" moment). If she were my friend, I'd respect her work ethic, borrow her clothes, use her connections and hide my man-just saying. However, when the wife is a) encouraging the affair and b) only in the marriage for her own political gain, how outraged can I really be? The entire relationship is a hot mess IMO. I think I'm equally bothered by the fact that Mellie and Fitz take marriage so lightly as to politicize their union as I am about Olivia Pope being the side piece. (C'est la vie)

  • BlueSteele

    ^Not sure why that reposted…blame it on the mobile device?

  • Bree

    Doc J I don’t see why this surprises you with the mentality that folks have. This is very common in real life and has been going on since the beginning of time.
    People in general and society give passes all the time to the prettier, smarter, wealthier, more charismatic, powerful people. They get away with more because of what the represent and who people perceive them to be, and their looks. The more surface, and shallow traits a person has, the more they get away with. I don’t watch these shows, but based on your description of them, it simply sounds like one woman is given a pass because not only is she attractive, but she contributes to that mans life in a more fundamental way than the other woman.
    One woman is seen as little more than eyecandy, while the other provides more support and is seen as more intelligent and possibly part of an elite group and has more status than the other woman. All these things account for how these women are viewed.

  • bellatrice1

    I don't watch either show, but based on this post and the ensuing discussion, I think I'll start!
    My recent post Are Men Less Concerned About STDs?

    • cynicaloptmst81

      …I'll join this line, lol.

  • Brat

    Hmm…interesting point. I guess the same can be said about Alicia Florrick on "The Good Wife" everyone was rooting for her and Will (her boss and managing partner at the lawfirm where she works) to be together because her husband (who was also the State's Attorney) was a philandering s.o.b. lol Just my thoughts

  • Beef Bacon

    Dang….the person that wrote that twitter soundsbitter and jealous. I could be wrong.

    I don't watch either of those shows, however I wouldn't like either of those women because I am married and don't like people that purposely get involved with married people. There are too many single folk in this world to continue with someone already married. Even if you have fallen in love….so what….fall out. That's like some one breaking up with you that you love…you must and will move on.

    On a not related but wrong all the same note, I have been hearing too much news about daughters and fathers being married (3 this year)….do you think people care that they are 'in love'?

    As far as Olivia goes, since I don't watch the show…why won't the husband leave the lifeless marriage and just marry her? I know that seems too simple, but isn't life that simple until we make it hard.

    • Bree

      Cosign wit ya BB

    • http://twitter.com/undefined @undefined

      Cause the president of the United States can't just get divorced in the middle of his term & marry the side chick, it's the reason why everything is kept on the hush & why Olivia supposedly left.

  • Uncle Hugh, BP

    Interesting spin on things, Doctor.

    I don't watch either show, but I have no idea how Kerry Washington's indiscretions are defended by being likable or functional. Maybe the writers do a good job of making you empathize for her. But she's sleeping with a married man! What more needs to be said? It's a variation of the people booing the sluts on Jerry Springer, and their reply is, "Y'all don't know me!" You're enabling adultery, what else do we need to know? Your favorite color?

    • http://singleblackmale.org/author/WisdomIsMisery WisdomIsMisery

      You're enabling adultery, what else do we need to know? Your favorite color?

      Let the tears stream, Lord! *weeps*

    • http://www.aworknprogress.com Diana

      Lol smiley face!
      My recent post The Beauty and the Banter

    • BlueSteele

      #faints Hilarious

    • RocPrice

      Let the church say Amen!!!

  • Lilypickle

    I think it’s the way the affairs are portrayed. Olivia’s affair seems like its a forebidden love and its unfair they cant be together. Kitty’s comes across as lust, two people getting it in any and everywhere they can. Also they started off showing Ben Zajac as a family man with a wife and two young sons. The set up was to make you look at Kitty as a home wrecker. Neither is right but I feel for the overwhelming connection between Fitz and Olivia. It’s like we’re rooting for them to win!

  • http://twitter.com/OfficeDiva1 @OfficeDiva1

    I don't cheer for infidelity in real life or TV. But I dig the level of intimacy that Olivia and the Pres have on Scandal. Their connection is much deeper than sex (they haven't been together since he was elected or shortly after). But their stolen glances, pinky hugs, and late night phone calls are very sexy and seductive. Of course the forbidden fruit factor and the risk of getting caught adds fuel to the fire.

  • krystllyght

    Okay I have a confession. I only like watching some parts of Scandal. When the Prez calls her and she's like "23 people" I just change the damn channel. I'm not interested in that part of the show and honestly, it ruins it for me. The part I really like is when she's doing her job and that's it. I don't watch Boss so I can't compare but for me, this side of the show, although I think it adds dimension and what not, I could just do without it. Why can't she just be great? That's how I got caught up watching Person of Interest last season because I had to change the channel too dang much. Now there isn't a time conflict between the two so that's good I guess but now I don't have anything to watch buy Insanity commercials when she's being a mistress. I don't sympathize with her and I think it ruins her character.

  • Young Heaux

    I'm sorry but some of yall are reading way too much into this. So many generalizations about woman's "fluidity of morality" and the like…… we're discussing aspects of a tv show. I'm not defending infidelity, and neither is anyone else really. Just stating the facts which is that this particular tv show is MADE to make the MAIN CHARACTER (olivia pope) one sympathize.

    Am I also defending mass murder just cause I like Dexter? Give me a break.

  • Ms. Smart

    I think people respond differently to them because of how the men respond to them. The POTUS seems to be into Olivia while Zajac is just into any old random hole. And on some level, the way the men interact validates the woman's role in their lives and the amount of respect she gets. Olivia is more of an official mistress while Kitty is one of many jump offs. I don't want their to be a difference, but there seems to be.

  • Princess

    I watch Scandal and as a strong woman I can say this, We don't agree with the fact that Olivia is having an affair with the president, however affairs happen. She is portrayed as a fierce, strong woman who dominates in D.C But we don't want her character to be perfect. She has to have a fault. It makes her character more realistic. So if Scandal has to have a way to show the contrast of having her work life all together and her personal life screwed up(which let's face it most extremely successful people do) then I think this fits. It also shows how no matter how strong and powerful women are, we are still emotional creatures. I mean come on, would you all rather her character have a different fault like a drug problem!!

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