Easy A (2010) is an American teen comedy-drama movie directed by Will Gluck. The screenplay was partially inspired by the 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Easy A is narrated by Olive Penderghast (played by Emma Stone), who tells the story to her webcam. Olive is a witty 17-year-old who gets caught up lying to her best friend, Rhiannon, about a (made up) secret romance with a college boy. Olive ends up “confessing” to Rhiannon that she lost her virginity to her secret lover. Unfortunately, the conversation is overhead by Olive’s devoutly religious classmate Marianne. Marianne quickly spreads the false rumour about Olive’s secret lover, turning an innocent lie into a school-wide scandal. As the rumour spreads Olive opens up about the truth to her friend Brandon who in turn asks for Olive’s help. He asks her to pretend to sleep with with him so that he will stop getting teased for being gay. Olive agrees and subsequently gains a reputation as a “dirty skank”. Olive finds hilarity in her new identity and decides to embrace her notoriety. She begins wearing a scarlet letter “A” on her clothing–a nod to The Scarlet Letter. Olive goes on to help a myriad of misfits and outcasts by pretending to sleep with them to increase their social status.
I watched easy A as teenager when it first came out in 2010 and have re-watched it many times since. It is a movie I love for several reasons. Firstly, the movie does a fantastic job at shining a light on the preoccupation with virginity which is common in many high schools. Olive’s character pokes fun at this preoccupation in a witty and intelligent way. She goes from being invisible to being one of the most well-known girls in school simply by lying about sex. The students are so obsessed with who has or hasn’t had sex that they never question the validity behind Olive’s actions. Even adults get caught up in the ridiculous rumours. For example, the school guidance counsellor Mrs Griffiths knows the truth about Olive but refuses to vouch for her when Olive no longer wants to lie. This shows that it is not just teenagers who have sometimes flawed attitudes to sex and what is or is not deemed acceptable.
Another reason this movie has resonated with me for so long is the way in which it tackles double standards when it comes to sex. In the movie all the boys that Olive claims to sleep with are immediately considered popular. On the other hand, Olive’s reputation becomes increasingly tarnished. She gains “popularity” with the boys she but simultaneously becomes a seen as a pariah. While there is no doubt teenage boys face immense pressure when it comes to sex, particularly pressure to lose their virginity, girls often encounter an impossible lose-lose situation. This situation is iconically summed up by Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club: ‘If you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut. It’s a trap’. The backlash that girls face whether or not they have sex is something that is made especially clear in easy A. This is done through the juxtaposition between the way Olive is treated compared to the boys she is “sleeping with”. The boys gain social status from the lie, yet Olive becomes increasingly ostracized to the point where she decides to confess. In the end Olive takes control of the situation and tells the truth. In doing this she reshapes the narrative that has been built around her by others and reclaims her power.
Despite being ten years old I think this movie is successful in reflecting the doubles standards that exist in society today, be that in high schools or beyond. I think conversations and about sex and consent are becoming more open and I do believe attitudes are changing but we still have a long way to go. Ultimately, as Olive says at the end of easy A, what a woman chooses to do with her body is ‘nobody’s goddamn business’!
Girl Museum Inc.