Hypervigilance or Humanity: Rape Scenes in Film

By Meg Grant, Age 21

I wish that I could just watch any old TV show or film and enjoy it. Instead, I find myself overanalyzing the characters and plot for possible feminist failures. As if I could even articulate what exactly a feminist failure is… I guess that’s one of the problems I face in being a feminist: I see injustice everywhere. Maybe it’s because I was conditioned during my entire undergraduate career as a Women’s Studies major to look for subliminal misogyny in literature and film, or because I have seen such hate that I now expect it to pop up in the least likely of places.

Either way, my hyper vigilance totally cramps my watching style- and that of those around me. It’s at the point now where my friends don’t want to watch movies with me because I mutter angsty feminist opinions during the film. Sometimes, I even annoy myself with my own comments. I think: “Meg, calm down. It’s just a show… it’s only pretend… this isn’t how the world actually is.” And with that, maybe I can shut myself up for a few scenes. But inevitably, something happens that I just can’t ignore, and I don’t understand how any human can endure such viewing. You may be thinking to yourself, what type of scene induces that intense a reaction? And the answer is a rape scene. I honestly don’t see the need for rape scenes. WHATSOEVER. Yes, there are many survivors of sexual violence, so I can understand wanting to portray a character who has survived that trauma, or a character who experiences or witnesses such trauma. But there are ways to do so that does not involve vividly re-enacting a coercive sexual interaction.

And is it just me, or are there an increasing number of films and shows that do just this? Again, maybe it’s just that I have a heightened awareness for such violence; but, it does seem to me that some people have conflated advocacy against sexual violence with awareness of how the violence happens. Really, it is not very relevant how someone is violated – all that matters is what their needs are resulting from the incident. Look at The Hunting Ground for example. While it is non-fiction, the entire movie is about sexual assault and rape but you won’t be able to find a full-blown rape scene anywhere. There are so many other ways to bring attention to this issue without sensationalizing it through scenes with gratuitous sexual violence.

When I reflect on genres of film and TV series that have some of the most offensive scenes, I conclude that many are set in older times- the Victorian age, medieval times, etc. Do producers really think that placing these scenes in those older time periods normalizes their violence? Yes, I understand that women were exploited throughout history and that unfortunately; they were seen as property and taken advantage of. However, do I need to see every single time that they were taken advantage of by their husband? NO. Do I need to see how royals had incestuous relations to keep bloodlines pure? NO. Do we really need to have films that reinvent the sexual violence that so many have worked to combat?

I thought that writing shows and films was an expression of creativity; but lately it seems to me like it is just another symptom of the perverse rape culture that we live in. I think I will just stick to the shows I watch now- yes they’re definitely problematic, but at least they don’t have rape scenes… and the fact that I consider that a ‘win’ in the 21st century shows that our film culture has a problem. So, the next time you experience this internal conflict, ask yourself: Are you hyper vigilant or just human?

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