Editor’s note: This column contains spoilers for “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You.”
If you’ve been on Netflix lately or talked to anyone who knows anything about pop culture, you’ve likely heard that the sequel to “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” hit the internet earlier this month. It’s been a smash hit, not generating exactly the same kind of hype as the first film — because truly, you can’t replicate that — but still being lauded as a solid sequel to a beloved first.
The primary takeaway from the film is its love triangle. Lara Jean, our introverted protagonist who simply loves love, is with new boyfriend Peter Kavinsky at the start of the film. Kavinsky is the athlete she pretended to date in the franchise’s first installment until they, you know, actually fell in love. But now, Lara Jean has run into another one of the boys she wrote a love letter to — John Ambrose, an old flame who’s volunteering at the same old folks’ home as she.
Discourse surrounding this film is of the “which team are you on” variety, pitting Peter against John Ambrose — who should Lara Jean have picked? Spoiler alert — she ends up picking Peter again. Fans are divided based on the outward facts — John Ambrose is kinder than Peter, arguably smarter than Peter, more in touch with his emotions and feelings in an adult-like way.
While I agree with all the above points, we’re ignoring the real issue of how the double standard of slut shaming is handled. Peter didn’t stand up for Lara Jean when an ex-best friend of hers posted a sexual video of Lara online without Lara’s consent — thus he is canceled, y’all.
Peter knew that his ex, Gen, who was also Lara Jean’s former childhood best friend, took and posted the video of him and Lara Jean in the hot tub in the first film. Peter knew this and lied to Lara Jean, saying he didn’t know who took the video, even though he knew Gen took and posted it.
At first glance, the video isn’t too risque — Lara Jean’s back is to the camera, and she’s pretty covered up by the water and her swimsuit. But Lara Jean herself calls it an accidental “sex tape” in the first movie — and really, it doesn’t matter the degree to which it was risque. Even the hint of sexuality there caused widespread school ridicule, with a screenshot from the video printed out and hung on her locker. Someone wrote under it “it’s always the ones you never expect!!”
As Lara Jean’s boyfriend, Peter really dropped the damn ball here. For a guy who claims to care about her, his response and handling of Gen and the video were miserable at best. Things that happen online are serious — posting that video was in no way cool. But a “sex tape” that could be argued to be revenge child pornography? You, Peter, are just gonna sit back and not call out Gen for that, only saying once in the halls that “nothing happened in the hot tub?” The entire school at this point thinks Lara Jean and Peter had sex and Lara Jean’s being slut shamed about it, and Peter has no more to say on the subject. Weak sauce. No. No, no no.
When Lara Jean finds out that he lied to her in the second movie, the exchange goes really poorly. Peter admits that he knew Gen posted the video. Laura Jean calls him out for denying it, and he says he didn’t tell her because he didn’t want her beef with Gen to grow.
Peter goes on to say he didn’t tell her to “protect” her. That, my man, is not what protection looks like. Protection would’ve been ratting Gen out. Protection would’ve been not talking to Gen after that. Protection would’ve been standing up for Lara Jean. Sexual videos posted online can ruin lives — especially for young women, as the slutshaming that follows can tear down even the most confident. Peter was way too blase about this, not thinking for a second about the consequences of his or his ex’s actions.
Slut shaming is now easier than ever, with phones making it possible to put pictures and videos online and incite ridicule with the click of a button. These videos aren’t just pranks that can be ignored, minor trivialities of surviving high school — a double standard exists regarding how online content is received and talked about, especially if that content is of a sexual nature. And it plays out exactly like this in the movie. Lara Jean herself notes that she will receive a negative response, but that guys don’t face the same kind of backlash when it comes to leaked sexual footage.
For many young girls and women, slut shaming can lead to increased psychological distress. This distress can lead to disordered eating and self-harm practices that follow women into adulthood, along with depression and anxiety. The bullying that follows being slut shamed, the continuous cycle of it, the wrongful reputations that begin to form, this can even lead to suicide.
Peter does not step outside himself here — he does not empathize even a tiny bit. As a man, this type of thing doesn’t hurt him. He’ll be lauded for it, given pats on the back. For Lara Jean, that isn’t the case. For Lara Jean, it could have ended way worse than it does. The movies and books don’t go down that route, but the reality of a situation like this is clear. Peter doesn’t seem to understand, at all, the implications of such a horrible act. Gen put Lara Jean in a position likely to cause her extreme distress, as it does, and Peter still protected Gen’s identity.
While I agree that John Ambrose is far more mature than Peter Kavinsky, that he’s kinder and softer and lovely and plays the piano, oh Lord, that isn’t really what matters here. Peter sided with his ex-girlfriend when she posted a revenge video of Lara intended to harm her. Peter didn’t defend Lara Jean from the slut shaming that the video caused. Peter did not empathize the way he should’ve. John is the obvious choice simply because he never — and would never, I’d like to believe — put Lara Jean in a position like that. Peter loses by default. The man is cancelled.
I hold no bad blood against Lara Jean for choosing Peter — in fact, I think her choice really showed her autonomy and ability to stick to her gut, and it’s important for young women to see that. If you’re not attracted to a man, even if he is the better option than your current squeeze, you are never at fault for that.
But at the end of the day, we as viewers need to be smarter. I love comparing the hotness of two dudes as much as the next lad, but let’s not ignore when there are glaring inconsistencies in how fictional men talk and act.
Peter Kavinsky may have great eyes and a great laugh, but he fundamentally misunderstands the impact of slut shaming and how terrible Gen’s actions towards Laura Jean were. Throw the whole man out.