TW/CW: For discussion of rape and spoilers of recent shows
Hey so if you read my blog (hi there, thank you) you may have noticed that I recently shared an insightful post that was entitled “Game of Thrones Can Go Fuck Itself; Or, Why Rape Is Different From Other Onscreen Violence”. This blog post was written by a dear friend of mine and discussed the myriad of reasons why adding yet another rape scene to the TV show that was not present in the books was an awful decision (3rd one, for anyone counting). That post is no longer present on my blog and I am about to tell you why.
First of all, the post pointed out (and I’m paraphrasing here) that unlike be-headings, being burned at the stake, or death-by-snow-zombie, rape is a form of violence that almost every single woman on Earth has either experienced firsthand or knows a woman who has. Sexual violence against women and girls is a literal epidemic and by portraying rape irresponsibly you are contributing to the culture that allows it to continue. I would like to be able to remember the rest of the post but I can’t, because she ended up removing it. If you have to ask why she made the decision to do so then I can safely assume you are not a woman who frequently expresses her thoughts and opinions online.
The reason she removed the post was because after posting it she received a torrent of online abuse, and she made the decision not to endure it. As a pop-culture junkie, I post, tweet, rant, etc. quite a bit about many different television shows. Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Supernatural, Doctor Who; the list goes on and on. I post my reactions all the time, both positive and negative. As to the negative, I have complained about many things: The uneven writing in this past season of Doctor Who, Maggie uncharacteristically forgetting she had a missing sister for like, 3 straight episodes in the last season of The Walking Dead, the added rape scenes in GoT, and most recently, the utterly horrible decision to kill off Charlie in Supernatural. Out of all of these reactions that I have posted on multiple forums- can you guess which was the ONLY ONE to be met with a barrage of excuses, insults, and abuse? Go ahead, guess.
There is a veritable army of men online who are poised to strike the second any woman dares to complain about rape being trivialized or glamourized- whether by a TV show, a movie, a politician, or a stand-up comedian. They jump in instantaneously to tell you exactly why that rape NEEDED TO HAPPEN. This is rape culture. This is a culture that tells women to sit down and shut up about their experiences. Tells them that they are at fault for whatever sexual abuse or violence happens to them. Tells them “it’s just a joke” and to “grow a sense of humor” when the issue was never the fact that someone made a rape joke, but the fact of who was the butt of it. This is a culture that writes entertainment based on the assumption that the best method of making a female character more “interesting” is to have her raped.
Do not mistake me, rape is very much a part of our reality and this should not be ignored. Portrayals of or allusions to rape and sexual violence on TV and other mediums is absolutely, in and of itself, important. Many stand-up comedians have delivered brilliant jokes that deal with the subject of rape (your John Mulaneys, your Louis CKs, as opposed to your Tosh.Douchebags) in which the victim is not being mocked, but the culture itself.
As far as television shows go, the question is this: How is it presented? Is it from the point of view of the victim? Does it tell her story? Are the consequences to her life addressed? Does her characterization evolve and do we see her deal with it, again, from her point of view? Or did you throw it in there solely to evoke an emotion or reaction from a male character? When GoT had the wonderful character of Sansa raped, it was shot in such a way that the camera is focused on her once-surrogate brother Theon, and we see the pain in his face as he is forced to watch. This is not okay.
I am down for watching all kinds of horrific shit if it is in the service of an amazingly well-crafted story. My sensibilities, they are not delicate. But when something horrible happens to a woman in service of nothing whatsoever beyond giving some dude a second of man-pain it is beyond insulting. You are essentially flipping off half of your audience and telling them their stories only matter in the context of how they affect a male character’s development.
I am going to contrast the GoT rapey rape-fests with an arc from an unlikely show: Sons of Anarchy. Although the show went completely off the rails in the later seasons, the season in which Gemma is gang-raped was handled incredibly well. The scene, the aftermath, the fact that it wasn’t treated as something that could be fixed within a few episodes by her “boys” going out and defending her “honor”…no such nonsense occurred. It not only made sense that it could happen in the context of the plot (and thus did not feel gratuitous) but it was dealt with from HER perspective, and how she healed and obtained vengeance was entirely her own journey. She fucking flipped the script and she did it on her own.
[Again- none of this applies to what the show later became. SOA ended up bringing new meaning to the word “gratuitous” in subsequent seasons when dealing with rape. How a show could fall from such greatness to such utter crap is beyond me.]
Was it hard to watch? Yes. Was it hurtful and gut-wrenching to see our beloved (at the time) matriarch have to go through such an unthinkable experience? Absolutely. But this shit happens in real life all the time and people shouldn’t pretend that it doesn’t. But the trick is writing and portraying it in such a way that humanizes and enlightens as opposed to basically making violent rape-porn à la Game of Thrones. It’s harmful, and it’s lazy. At this point I can’t help but feel as though they must be getting off on it, as I can see no other reason for turning two consensual sex scenes from the books into rape scenes and then straight-up adding another one.
(This is a serious and depressing topic, so I am using the SOA discussion as an excuse to insert a Jax Teller gif as a palate cleanser. Let’s all take a quick break…
…Okay, back to the bullshit)
There are shows that actually cut rape scenes from the source material because they recognize that they were gratuitous in the original content and did nothing to serve the story. The Walking Dead removed the scenes where Michonne and Carl were raped and I will forever be grateful to them for doing so. Seeing a powerful warrior who is not only a hero to many but more importantly, a black woman, be sexually brutalized would have sent a powerful message, and not a good one. And child-rape? NO THANK YOU. I appreciate that the producers of the show had the insight and intelligence to realize that a zombie-apocalyptic hellscape where family members and friends are killed off horrifically left and right is plenty traumatizing enough to move character development along. On top of that, they had the decency to not include them just for shock value. They had a ready excuse, right there in the graphic novels, but they chose not to. Now, one could certainly argue that they had more cynical reasons, such as fear that it would alienate too much of their audience, or maybe AMC wouldn’t allow it, but no matter what the reason- WE WERE SPARED. Meanwhile the GoT show-runners read the already extremely violent books and were like, “You know what this is missing?? MORE RAPE. Rape-ier please!!!”
IF THE STORY HAS ZERO FUCKING REASONS TO HAVE A RAPE SCENE THEN MAYBE DON’T.
Basically I am so very tired of supporting shows that shit on every well-developed, complex, interesting female character they manage to create. If any show-runners feel that they need to brutalize or kill off these characters, it is not too much to ask that it be done for a reason other than to upset a male character. I love the fantasy genre with all of my heart. I love Tyrian, Arya, and Jon Snow. I love Sam, Dean and Castiel. I shouldn’t have to sit through so much sexist, nonsensical bullshit just so I can enjoy the good parts.
Man, it’s been a rough couple of weeks to be a fan of fantasy/sci-fi and also a female person.