I don’t watch a lot of TV. I don’t have cable and I will often go weeks without turning on the TV. But recently I saw some clips of a show called Outlander and wanted to check it out. I searched until I found the remote. I re-hooked up the roku. And I settled in to enjoy what I thought was going to be a cool series.
Initially, I liked the show a lot. I liked the premise. I think the acting is good. The story lines are interesting. But I gave up on the show after eight episodes, during which there were four separate sexual assaults and attempted rapes of the main character.
Let me say that again: there were four attempted rapes in the first eight episodes. It was appalling. I refuse to watch any shows that use rape for entertainment. Nothing about rape is entertaining.
This is not the first time I’ve stopped watching a show due to repeated use of rape as a storyline. But I have to wonder: why is TV so rapey?
I watched Game of Thrones for a while….rape, rape, rape. Periodically I’ll start to watch a detective show….rape, rape, rape. Even one of my all-time favorite shows, Downton Abbey, inexplicably left their mostly sweet story lines to introduce a rape story. Why?
We get it. Rape happens. It happens a lot. Maybe some writers think they’re bringing awareness to the issue of rape by including it in their show. In that case, let me tell you every woman is “aware” of rape. We think about it pretty much every day. Almost every woman I know has a story of a time they were sexually assaulted, or in a situation where they thought they would be. And if they don’t, they have friends and families with those experiences. I wrote another post on this very topic. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the link: https://rosebakenterprises.com/2018/10/18/womens-fear-and-mens-obliviousness/.
Perhaps the dearth of women as writers, producers, studio heads and other influential positions contributes to the use of the rape trope. Transparent’s Jill Soloway did a presentation where she called on women “to call out these fucking storylines on those procedurals that are meant to work as public service to educate us about rape, but are actually just more rape.”
Rape as a plot device is re-traumatizing. It’s misogynist. It glamorizes and sanitizes what is an ugly and horribly traumatic experience. It creates a sense of numbness and indifference because it’s used so much.
It’s also lazy and lacking in creativity. Is there really no other story to tell about women in a show besides falling in love, having a baby and/getting raped? Because it feels like that’s pretty much it. I haven’t done a scientific study but I’m betting those three experiences cover 90% of all women’s story lines on TV – maybe more. News flash: women have much more diverse lives, with many other things — good and bad — that happen to them. Let’s show some of that instead.
Until then, I’m going to continue to avoid shows that use rape for entertainment. I hope you will too.
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