(TW: discussions of fictionalized depictions of rape)
I think that one of the giant markers of rape culture is the ways in sexuality is portrayed in the media. Ok, duh, yeah. But in this case I want to talk specifically about scenes in movies and television that are actually rapes or sexual assaults, but that are never identified as such by the people writing, directing, producing or acting in them, and that generally aren’t recognized as such by mainstream audiences.
A friend of mine recently wrote a review of sorts about the movie Killer Joe. In his review, he discussed a scene he described as “the rape scene”. Based on his description of the scene, wherein the (potentially brain-damaged?) daughter is tricked into going on a “date” with a hired killer, as the killer’s retainer for a job her father and brother want him to do. There’s this really creepy scene where he orders her to change into a dress in front of him, and then they “have sex”. The only problem I had with my friend calling it “the rape scene” was that he didn’t call it “one of the rape scenes,” since there is a scene later in the film where another woman is forced to fellate a fried chicken leg. But at the same time, I got a gut feeling based on the description that the people involved in the making of the movie wouldn’t call it rape.
So I googled around, and yeah, almost all of the instances where the word rape comes up in the context of Killer Joe, it’s with respect to the chicken scene, with two notable exceptions. The Girl With The Film Blog has a great, thought-provoking review that covers most of what I feel about it. And I also found a quotation in which Juno Temple (who plays Dottie) expresses confusion at the idea that the scene might be described as rape.
The thing is that, taken completely out of the context of the rest of the film and everything we know about Joe and what he’s capable of, the scene (starting from after Dottie gets coerced into stripping for him – the context-removal has to be downright surgical) seems to be trying to be about two sort of emotionally stunted people who probably aren’t capable of consenting to adult sex acts, but who are on the same level in a way that makes their activities kind of appropriate, and sweet in a really uncomfortable way. Juno Temple, who plays Dottie, describes the scene as a sort of love scene that’s weirdly sweet.
I obviously don’t buy it. The whole movie seems to be about these three men in her life (father ,brother, and Joe), and the ways in which they make decisions about her fate without any thought to consulting her. And Joe is the same guy who breaks a woman’s nose before forcing her fellate that chicken leg – the scene was unwatchable for me, and just went on and on. And he is a contract killer, after all.
So in context, that scene, and the continuing relationship between Dottie and Joe through the rest of the movie, are sort of a manipulation 101, wherein Joe has tricked Dottie into loving him by playing the part of someone sweet and innocent (while simultaneously only talking about her to her male relatives in terms of payments and retainers.) And ultimately, even if Dottie appears to have consented to the whole relationship, it’s just as clear that she didn’t actually have any real choice in the matter (or rather, the choice was “consent, or get raped” which, well, isn’t actually a real thing that can be called a choice). And there is nothing ok about any of it.
Of course, this isn’t the only place this has happened. I continue to reel from the fact that so many awesome feminists are brimming with Amy Pond-love, when one of the first things she does when she sees the Doctor as an adult is sexually assault (there’s a prolonged scene where he’s desperately trying to stop her from kissing him, and she keeps trying to take his clothes off while he tries to stop her. Can we please acknowledge that this is a thing that happened, and it’s not even a little bit ok?) No really, though, check it out. I’ll wait.
(Jump to about the 35s mark)
Wikipedia (known for the editors’ resistance to attempts to name rape for what it is) describes this scene as Amy’s “[attempt] to the seduce the Doctor.” (For reference, the questionable scene is Killer Joe gets glossed over as follows: “Joe ‘dates’ Dottie and then appears to be staying over at the trailer and having sex with her regularly.” …Right.)
There’s actually people who are trying to push back against this mainstream refusal to acknowledge the rapey-ness of so very many mainstream “sex” scenes. I tried to google around to re-find them, but actually wound up finding all kinds of lists of the best “spicy” rape scenes in movies, with compilation videos and playlists, and I had to stop. Seriously.
My point is that … well, I’m not sure what my point is. I was going to say that you can point to these kinds of scenes as evidence of rape culture, but that will only work for people who are already aware of rape culture, since other people could just as easily try to use these scenes to prove that these kinds of behaviours aren’t rape/assault (“look, Amy did it to the Doctor, and they’re friends! There couldn’t have been anything wrong with it!”/”Dottie really loves Joe! it’s all ok!”) I think my point is that this shit pisses me right the fuck off.