Anyone who doesn’t understand rape culture, how the patriarchy normalizes sexual assault, and/or the ways that men can be so incredibly awful in their pursuit of women should watch this episode of Southern Charm. The behavior of Shep and the other men as they tried to excuse what is simply inexcusable behavior shocked me repeatedly. My jaw dropped to the floor and then it dropped lower and lower each time he talked about his incident with Chelsea at a bar, so low that my jaw has now traveled all the way through the Earth and is currently inhabiting a one-room apartment somewhere in Shanghai.
The story is that Shep went out drinking with Austen and Chelsea. Shep previously had one night of making out with Chelsea, but then he moved on and she moved on to Austen. Chelsea and Austen have been dating for several weeks, though not in an official relationship. Okay, the scene is set. Shep, Chelsea, and Austen are at the Commodore and Austen leaves them alone to get drinks. According to Chelsea, Shep grabbed her, took her outside, and repeatedly tried to force himself on her by kissing her even though she made it clear his advances were unwanted. That, in and of itself, is gross. Chelsea is there with another dude, ostensibly a friend of his, and he tries to put the make on her in the back of the bar? She obviously doesn’t want to be with him. What kind of girl does he think would want to do that?
Chelsea tells this story to Austen and I really wish that the cameras had been there so that we could see some objective footage of what happened. (Why the hell weren’t they there?!) Instead, we have to rely on what Chelsea and Shep say about the matter. That is also a good primer for what it’s like in a real-life allegation of sexual assault. As usual, I tend to believe the woman, especially because Shep admits that he was so drunk he doesn’t remember.
We hear this story again when Austen does the right thing and confronts Shep about his awful behavior. Shep doesn’t even deny it! Not for a second! He doesn’t think that he’s even done anything wrong. “It was a test,” he says. “I was doing it on your behalf.” I would like to do that annoying thing and say that I just threw up a little bit in my mouth, but in reality, I actually threw up everywhere and now all of the storm drains in a ten-block radius are clogged with chunks of the entire box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch I ate for lunch.
Then it gets worse. Craig, a law-school graduate who does not know the meaning of the world Lothario and thinks you are ridiculous for thinking he would know what that word means, tells everyone that Shep tried to sleep with Naomie the first night he introduced them. Yes, this is a pattern. Craig later admits it’s so prevalent that he just had to accept that Shep is always going to try to sleep with his dates. That grosses me out more than thinking about what the drain looks like after Josh Gad manscapes in the shower.
In this instance, Whitney is really the awful enabler. After hearing this story, he says, “It seems like late in the evening, [Shep] made an inappropriate advance, but not really and like you’re overreacting.” Wait, wait? Is he saying that a man who moves a woman out back and repeatedly tries to kiss her after she expresses she isn’t interested is an inappropriate advance … but not really? But not really? In what disgusting “Penthouse Forum” world do these guys live where they think that is actually appropriate? Ugh, that is grosser than a quiche made out of dick cheese.
Austen is by no means overreacting. His “friend” just tried to make out with his girlfriend when he got up to get more beers. I think he is exactly the right level of mad and I think that we need more men like him to stand up to jerks like Shep if this behavior is ever going to stop. Especially when there are people like Whitney telling him to just drop it because God forbid Austen upset their disgusting world order of privilege.
The conversation that Cameran and Chelsea have about this incident is totally different from the one the guys have. Chelsea tells Cameran what happened and she believes her immediately — not only because everyone who has ever been close enough to Shep to smell the day-old hops on his breath knows he is probable to behave that way, but also because she is a woman in America and has probably been in the exact same position more than once. “I know so many guys who act like that and are entitled because of the way they’ve grown up and at some point that can’t happen,” Chelsea tells Cameran. She is 10 hundred billion percent correct.
Luckily, Cameran is the kind of southern belle who is strong enough to blow a rape whistle in Shep’s face until he understands why what he did was wrong. However, this was the worst of all the conversations. This is when we see the monster behind the mask. Shep tells Cameran the reason he did it was because he was wasted. “That is a problem. If you can’t calm that primal urge of yours, you need to stop drinking,” she tells him. Amen, sister. Amen. A rosary of amens. A mole of amens. (I don’t remember what that is, but from chemistry class I remember that it’s a lot.)
Shep then blames Cameran for getting in his ear about how Shep and Chelsea should be together. He’s not wrong, she should have let that bullshit drop a long time ago, especially because it is clear that Chelsea doesn’t seem to be interested in any relationship so Cameran shouldn’t be pushing her on anyone. But that is no excuse for Shep being a total asshole to her. “That’s entitlement. You’re not entitled to go kiss any girl you think is hot,” she says. Wow. How am I agreeing with Cameran? How is she the one who is standing up for women everywhere? How is it that a crappy Bravo reality show is the best thing I’ve ever seen about white cis male privilege and how it erodes everything in its wake like a tooth left in a bottle of Coke for three weeks? This is not even happening.
Then we finally get to the Access Hollywood tape of it all. “It usually works,” he says to Cameran about just kissing any girl he thinks is hot. It usually works. Luckily, there isn’t any Cinnamon Toast Crunch left for me to barf up. What’s sad is that he’s right: We live in a world where dudes think this is acceptable and they don’t even know any better. They don’t even know that it’s wrong and that makes me want to rip off my eyelids and feed them to a brontosaurus. It takes all of the Chelseas and the Camerans and especially the Austens of the world to stand up to these guys on an individual case-by-case basis to tell them that it doesn’t work, it is wrong, and there will be consequences if they keep behaving like that. That is how we dismantle rape culture. We rip it apart by watching shows like this where we see it, we say that it is awful, and we let the world know that no woman should ever be dragged into the back of a bar and be beset by a drunk, privileged man who expects to walk away blameless.
There is a lot that happens in this episode — Kathryn’s ridiculous photo shoot, J.D.’s ridiculous bow tie, Landon’s ridiculous tears over her ridiculous website with its ridiculous name, Craig and Naomie’s ridiculous attempts to try to save their doomed relationship, whatever the hell sad store where Kathryn goes shopping — but it’s so rare when reality gets real. It’s so rare when there are these moments, these small little incidents that show who all of these people are and expose them for the monsters (or victims or heroes or attackers) that they really are. We need to honor those moments. We need to listen to Chelsea, believe her, and be willing to stand up for her and what is right. We need to tell Shep that no one will ever sleep with him again if he keeps running around thinking he can just grab women because he’s famous. Every day, thanks to pop culture like this, more and more people are willing to stand up and fight back, and thank God we’re finally in a time when that happens.