Part 7: Films and Rape Culture

By December 19, 2013Uncategorized
In this continuing series, guest blogger Toria helps us consider rape culture and how better to “do justice” for women.
Rape and assault in a less-than-condemning light is pretty common in movies and TV shows, and has been for decades. [In part because the industry is full of powerful predators]. Here are examples I have found in which rape or expressions of non-consent is either dismissed or portrayed in a positive or comedic way:

James Bond (1962–2012) as a character has sexually assaulted several women, raped at least one woman, and unsuccessfully attempted to rape yet another. Sean Connery’s Bond assaulted a woman in nearly every movie. This is all excused by Bond being a “womanizer”and the fact that these movies were made “in a different time.”

In an episode of Bewitched (1960s), Samantha is assaulted by one of her husband Darrin’s clients while hosting a dinner party. When she tells Darrin about it after the fact, he tells her that “a housewife should know how to deal with things like that,”  and she shouldn’t have been surprised because of how she was dressed (in a knee-length cocktail dress with a modest neckline and her shoulders covered). He ends with telling her that she’s just a wife, while the client is a livelihood.

In the song Summer Nights from Grease (musical written in 1971, film made in 1978), Kenickie asks Danny if Sandy ever “put up a fight” while they were dating. This is meant to be a joke.

In an episode of M*A*S*H (1972), Pierce and McIntyre trick another man into going into the tent of Major Houlihan (who is female), with whom he’d had a relationship in the past. When he sees her, he assumes that she wanted to meet him there to have sex, so he grabs her and repeatedly tries to kiss her. When she screams at him, protests and tries to fight him off, he says that she must have wanted this, because why else would she be there? All of this is accompanied by a laugh track.

Japanese director Yasuharu Hasebe released a movie called Okasu! (“Rape!”) in 1976. The main character, a woman who had been raped, realizes that she enjoys being sexually assaulted and offers herself up to multiple “attackers” while looking for the first man who raped her. This is particularly disturbing because it suggests that it is possible for women to enjoy being raped, which by definition is untrue; it is possible to fantasize and enjoy the idea of being raped, but by definition, rape is non-consensual. Enjoying rough sex and having rape fantasies is in no way the same as enjoying rape itself. This also reinforces the idea that some women are “asking” to be raped, which is dangerous.

Cult classic The Evil Dead (1981) shows a young woman being raped by a possessed tree. There are shots of branches exposing her breasts, spreading her legs, and penetrating her (implied). This movie was made as a horror film, but because of its campy nature, this scene is often seen as comedic.

In Silent Rage (1982), Chuck Norris’ character repeatedly touches a his ex-girlfriend in suggestive ways after she agrees to drive him home. She stops the car and angrily tells him to stop, saying that she doesn’t want to get back together with him. The movie then cuts to a scene with the two of them in bed together, shown in comedic light. (Many movies do this, which sends the message that a person can be “persuaded” into changing her or his mind after refusing to give consent to sexual advances.) Later in the movie she breaks things off with him, then gets back together with him again, playing into the stereotype that women never know what they want but somehow always want sex.

Vampire’s Kiss (1988), another cult classic, portrays a man who has a psychotic breakdown after believing he has been bitten by a vampire. He chases down his terrified secretary to an isolated section of their office’s basement and threatens to rape her — for absolutely no reason — along with obscene gestures. This movie is also considered a comedy by many because of the “protagonist’s” antics, including the ones portrayed in this scene.

In a scene in nearing the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), the Sheriff of Nottingham forces Maid Marian to marry him. Immediately afterward, he tries to force himself upon her, thinking that the child he wishes to conceive with her will be “pure” since they are married. A shot of her trying to keep her legs together while he forces them apart is used for comedic effect.

In Pulp Fiction (1994), two men are taken prisoner in the basement of a shop, which looks like an S&M dungeon. One of the captors rapes one of the prisoners while the other captor watches. (I honestly can’t remember what for; I had a lot of difficulty paying attention to this particular movie.) Uma Thurman said in an interview earlier this year that she was hesitant to take a role in the movie because of that scene. The scene itself is very quiet and seems to only serve the purpose of inciting more violence in an already violent film.

In an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2002), vampire Spike is obsessed with title character Buffy; they had a sexual relationship in past episodes, but she ended it in a previous episode of the same season. Buffy is injured in a battle and is at home running a bath, wearing only a robe. Spike comes into the bathroom and assaults Buffy, trying to force himself on her while telling her that he knows she feels the way he does and that he loves her; Buffy cries and tells him to leave throughout. She is only able to fend him off because she is stronger than the average human. While not portrayed in a positive or comedic light, this event triggers a plot arc for Spike in which he “reforms” and tries to better himself, while Buffy is almost completely unaffected emotionally after the end of the episode. In the following season, Spike becomes one of the
people Buffy trusts most, despite his assaulting her.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Elizabeth Swan is kidnapped by pirates and locked in the captain’s headquarters. In one scene, two crew members tell her that the captain has requested that she join him for supper wearing a gown he chose for her. When she refuses, one of the pirates says, “He thought you’d say that. He also said if that be the case, you’ll be dining with the crew—and you’ll be naked.” The implied threat of assault is clear but this scene has a comedic tone when the men are disappointed that Elizabeth chooses to dine with the captain instead. Later in the film, for ‘taking advantage of hospitality’ and needing to “return the favor,” Elizabeth is thrown to the pirate crew who immediately grope her as she screams in protest.

In both the Swedish and English film adaptations (2009 and 2011 respectively) of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and I presume in the book, but I haven’t read it, admittedly), there are scenes of a man forcing a young woman to perform oral sex on him and then raping her. While this is bad enough, the young woman later gets the upper hand in the encounter and anally rapes the man with an object to punish him for what he has done to her. Both acts are reprehensible; rape is never an acceptable form of punishment, but the films depict the
“revenge” rape as something to be applauded.

In a recent episode of the adult comedy cartoon Archer (2013), title character Archer discovers that a former colleague had had sex with him while Archer was unconscious (drunk or drugged). The timing of the joke in which this is revealed made even me laugh before I had processed what I heard. There are many, many more instances of rape and assault being played off as being funny or inconsequential, but I think you get the idea.

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