Rape as Device in Media

April 21st, 2017

Content Warning(s): Rape, Sexual Assault, Abuse, Harassment, Bullying, Rape Culture, Game of Thrones

Day twenty-one! April is Sexual Assault Survivor Month! This post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. A final caveat: these are written from my limited perspective as a bi woman who was raped. I don't have all the answers and I'm still working through my own journey. There are many other kinds of sexual assault and abuse that are relevant this month. Take time to consider the needs of your diverse fellow survivors. Speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves, but don't speak over them. Thank you!

In a previous entry regarding triggers, I mentioned that something that bothers me that non-survivors don't always understand is that when I want to be warned about content, I don't want anyone to censor things on my behalf. That is, if the topic of a television show or film arises and you say, "Oh, but you wouldn't want to watch that because there's rape," it means that you're assuming what I can and can't "handle" before you allow me to experience the work for myself. I'll be appreciative if you mention that there IS rape, but not the assumption that I wouldn't want to see it. In fact, if I'm in the right headspace (which, dispelling the myth, is actually most of the time), I prefer to experience the work to see HOW they portray the act, how characters handle various aspects of it, and whether or not it perpetuates the harmful culture that silences survivors. Think about it this way: if survivors don't see and give feedback regarding how works portray them, how are the myths going to be dispelled? How are works going to be more accurate in their accommodation if they don't know what we want or need from a work with that caliber of trauma?

That said, unfortunately a lot of media mishandles the way rape, sexual assault, abuse, harassment, and bullying is portrayed. It's often framed as simply something that happens; by not seeing the characters BOTH enthusiastically consent when they have a sexual encounter AND consequences for the offender when the encounter is not consensual, rape becomes normalized. When nobody is shown calling out the offenders, it's a tacit support of offenders, whether it was intended or not.

I dislike seeing rape portrayed in any media, but when it's not exaggerated or the only dimension to a female character (as in, her sole motivation for character development), it lessens the blow. For example, I enjoyed watching Jessica Jones on Netflix because the show appropriately framed and addressed the elements of nonconsensual sex that happen to the main character (though admittedly in an interview of the actress that I saw later where she slut-shames other superheroes, this enjoyment faded somewhat). Being raped did not DEFINE Jessica Jones as a character nor does it define her growth, though it does affect her deeply.

And then there are times when rape is added as though it enhances the work, but doesn't actually lead the larger conversation toward a focus on survivors' needs in real life. I'd like to point your attention to this wiki page for Game of Thrones that delineates not only each case of rape in the show, but the controversy surrounding how this HBO show handled the public's reaction to scenes that weren't written into the original novels. It's a fairly comprehensive documentation that can give a clearer picture than I can. Possibly the most confusing circumstance of rape in the show was when an encounter that was described as consensual in the book was changed to rape in the show for unclear reasons. It's my personal opinion that adding scenes of rape without providing equal measures of support for people who ARE survivors of rape, assault, and abuse (domestic or not) is tasteless, unnecessary, and something I don't want to support.

I wonder what it might be like if we started assuming sexual acts portrayed in the media was nonconsensual until explicitly proven consensual by the characters?

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow's topic will be about how there is no such thing as "legitimate" rape.


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