A propos of the other day’s post on “The Bletchley Circle,” here’s a question what often comes up. Blamer Michelle writes:
Are portrayals of rape on TV and in movies unavoidably misogynistic? I watched the Stieg Larsson movie awhile back – the Dragon Tattoo one — and was infuriated by the portrayals of sexual violence… then had a heated debate with my partner about whether or not they were gratuitous. I HATE portrayals of rape in fiction – in print or on screen – that are even mildly explicit, because I think they reek of salacious, prurient voyeurism. But rape happens in life. Should it be censored in fiction? This issue hits my fury nerve, but I’d like to be able to make some reasoned arguments.
It’s all a matter of tone, isn’t it? The view around Spinster HQ is that talented writers and directors, if they aren’t knuckleheads, are perfectly capable of expressing tone with some precision. Depictions of human degradation on film are not all created equal. Scenes wherein slaves are beaten, for example, are horrible to watch, but when they’re used to, say, illustrate the indomitable human spirit of the oppressed — you know, through the proud, defiant glint in the slave’s eye or whatnot — it’s not just gratuitous violence. It actually says something useful about something.
Rape scenes, on the other hand, rarely do anything but provide an opportunity for plot-driven pornography. These scenes may be used to illustrate the evil of the antagonist, but the tone never suggests jack about the victim beyond “she’s a pitiful dominated half naked sexy lady; look!” If a rape scene is necessary to drive the plot — which, by the way, it isn’t — it certainly isn’t necessary to film it pornulationally. The Greeks always committed their dramatic murders off stage.
Women are the sex class, right? The ridiculous proliferation and popularity of TV rape scenes — there’s a sexual assault about every 10 seconds on television — is proof enough of that, as if you needed it. When TV rapes women, if there is ever any underlying high moral purpose serving Truth and Beauty, I have never seen it. Popular writers and directors almost universally choose to throw the mighty weight of their office behind the goddam GAGFUW. All media serve and perpetuate our misogynist world order.