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  • Writer's pictureThe Feminist Times

A Dysphoric representation of Feminism in Euphoria

Euphoria, a new obsession amongst teenagers, follows several

struggling, dysfunctional teens centering around Rue, a 17-year-old

drug addict grappling with multiple mental disorders. While the show

promises a diverse representation of today’s youth, it blatantly fails to

capture the essence of what it means to be a teenager with its highly

sexualised and problematic depiction of activities like drug abuse,

porn trafficking, and child porn.

As the curtain lifts, the show wastes no time in painting three horrid

scenarios in the first episode itself: The statutory rape between Jules

and Nate’s father, Maddy and Tyler having sex in the swimming pool

to make her ex-boyfriend jealous( the true horridness of this plotline

only reveals itself in the episodes to come), and lastly, the show's

introduction of Cassie through her leaked sex tape. Later, we see how

her boyfriend forms an opinion of her based on what he had seen in

the video his friends had circulated. As he throws her roughly on the

bed, imitating the guy's aggression in the tape, Cassie is caught by

surprise. This, however, is not where the show strays from reality. I

have heard of boys WhatsApp groups that exchange nudes of women

they've been intimate with. As they exchange accounts with words

coloured with sexism and shame, they title girls like Cassie to be sluts.

Euphoria does present the reality, but it hardly ventures to do anything

more. Cassie's categorisation as a 'slut' is seen as a fact, and not even

her boyfriend cares to refute it. Rue’s voiceover does attempt to talk

about how the porn industry that teenagers are fed on has indoctrinated

its viewers. The unrealistic porn that focuses on male pleasure can fool

the malleable generation into having unrealistic expectations in bed.

As porn glorifies violence and aggression, it encourages underaged

teenagers to put themselves in vulnerable situations seeking the sexual

satisfaction they have been taught to want. Even though Rue's voiceover is meant to be a sort of a critique, the show's inability to portray that in their plotline leaves the viewer questioning whether Euphoria is any different than porn. For Euphoria too shrouds problems like child pornography, fake allegations, peer pressure, drug

abuse, Madonna- whore complex with a tint of titillating sexual

temptations, fooling teenagers into confusing vulnerability as a ground

for sexual conquest.

The trope of presenting women in radical and vulnerable situations as

sexually empowering feminist decisions finds its culmination in Kat's

journey from an insecure teen to a Camgirl. Early on, we get a peek at

her insecurities as she is eager to lose her virginity, for she believes it's

the one thing that's keeping her from entirely relating to her sexually

active peers. As she sheds off her clothes for the McKay twins, Kat

though visibly uncomfortable, gives in to the need to fit in and be seen

as the accommodating 'Cool Girl'. The twins give her an ultimatum:

she must either be 'a prude'; or 'a slut'. Instead of criticising this

patriarchal dichotomy, Euphoria follows Kat as she chooses to be the

latter, as being a 'slut' will give her more social currency. Euphoria

trips over the fine line that exists between a young woman believing

she’s making an empowered decision about her body on her own

terms and that of a woman sidelined by conventional patriarchal

notions of beauty, who is eager to do anything to feel desirable, thus

making a decision that is not her own but is one that is manipulated by

the power dynamics in place.

After realising Kat's sex tape was uploaded on Pornhub by one of the

twins, Kat tries in vain to get it off the internet. In the end, She signs

up for a Pornhub membership to become a cam girl, seeking to turn

the narrative around. Euphoria does not talk about how Kat can never

truly take charge of her story in the online world where people are

eager to comment and control women's bodies. Euphoria fails to

sensitise its viewers on social media and cyberbullying intricacies that

Kat can be increasingly subjected to as a minor. At several points, it

feels like the characters of Euphoria, due to ignorance, foolishly think

they have the upper hand on topics that are far more adult than them.

Euphoria becomes unbearingly challenging to watch at multiple points

because of the paedophilic imagery that runs throughout. An instance

of this would be in Nate’s, the white jock that stands for toxic

masculinity, description of the ideal girl. He stresses the absence of

female body hair as a characteristic of 'perfect femininity'. Often,

what the show characterises as femininity- innocent, submissive,

petite, smooth skin, and no body hair are also descriptive of childlike.

How can the ideal marker of femininity by the lack of body hair when

it is the growth of it that is seen as a physical marker of a girl child’s

transition to that of a woman?

On the other hand, the absence of body hair is only natural in

prepubescent girls. Pedophilia’s iron grip influences these standards,

which is now so normalised we hardly bat an eyelash. This

normalisation of pedophilia is also prominently visible when Rue, in

her voiceover, says that Maddy lost her virginity at the age of 14 to a

man who was “like 40”. Rue adds, “Which in retrospect, seems kinda

rape-y and weird, but honestly, she was the one 'in control'. In seeking

to portray strong women characters with sexual agency, Euphoria

ignores the fundamental fact that no minor can be 'in control' in any

relationship with an adult.

Euphoria runs rampant in portraying a flimsy, “bad ass bitch” kind of

feminism that puts vulnerable teens amid pedophilia, child

pornography, and slut shaming. Adding to this mixture their

insecurities, trauma, and mental disorders, it stirs a concussion of pure

unadulterated triggering and problematic content that fails to

communicate its ideas safely to the targeted audience that remains

easily impressionable.

-Kasturi Dev Choudhury

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