rape

I can’t not talk about Aziz Ansari

[CW: this post talks about rape with varying levels of detail and specificity. Most links have the potential to be very triggering as well.]

Of all the celebrity-predator revelations this year, this is the one that’s made me feel the need to write again. I have… So. Much. I want to say here, I’m afraid I’ll make a mess of it all, but here we go.

I know exactly what every moment of that date must have felt like, because I have been in that same position. More times than I can count.

It’s a complicated thing, being assaulted by someone you’re actually kind of into, someone you actually kind of want to get it on with. Because you don’t want them to stop wanting to get it on with you, you just want them to pay attention and slow down, and actually show some sign that they are interested in your enjoyment, and not just following a script for their own pleasure. You just want them to let you catch up.

It’s even more confusing when they keep telling you they care. When their words tell you the things you want and need to be true, when you trust, or at least trusted and want to keep trusting, that this person is good and does care, that they’ll realize how uncomfortable they’re making you and stop, that any moment now they’ll stop doing these weirdly awful, uncomfortable things and maybe you’ll actually be able to both get on the same page.

But their actions? Their actions are relentless. Their actions barely even pause while they promise to give you time to relax, while they promise that they care about your comfort and enjoyment.

It’s a merry-go-round of emotions, and it’s a hard one to get off of. Grace escaped before “”real”” “”sex”” happened, I guess? But if you somehow think that makes any of it any better, I don’t think your worldview is salvageable.

I could have written this story, with another man in Ansari’s place. Except, fuck, I believed my rapist *loved* me. He believed it, too.

I also could have written this story. If you don’t quite get what was wrong with what Ansari did, read this piece, too. It’s important.

Also, read the application of the tea and consent analogy to the story.

I could have written these stories.

And, a few years ago? Reading these stories would have shattered me into a thousand pieces. Left me dissociated for weeks, quietly rolling through or fending off flashbacks while maintaining a calm exterior. Going through the motions of my routines without actually being productive in any aspect of my life.

Reading about Ansari, Sunday morning? I was upset, I can tell you that. I was angry, but productively so.

I have found myself reminded of weirdly specific moments in my relationship with my rapist, but I haven’t been overwhelmed by them.

I also didn’t immediately use the word rape when I was talking about it.

It wasn’t until I was a half a dozen comments deep, correcting some dude who was talking about awkwardness and suggesting that Ansari had ‘gotten himself into’ an ‘awful situation’. It did seem like our differences were actually semantic, and he was quick to acknowledge that yes, Ansari had absolutely repeatedly assaulted this woman, and that yes, it was clear that the only thing he cared about was getting laid, that he didn’t care about this woman at all beyond that and did not care to see her as a fully realized person with her own thoughts and feelings.

He was still framing Ansari as the only relatable character in the story, practically erasing the woman as much Ansari had himself, and that rubbed me the wrong way. Eventually, I said:

you’re using a lot of words to say ‘he clearly prioritized getting his end in above all else and doesn’t care whether he rapes people to get it.’ That is literally description of a rapist. He is a rapist. You can just say that and be done with it and not worry so much about the awful situations rapists get themselves into (the poor misguided dears)

It wasn’t until that moment I’d felt ok using the word for this situation. And I know that there are people who still aren’t comfortable with it.

Why? Because his penis never made it into her vagina? Really? After his penis had been forced into her hands over and over again, after she’d put his penis in her mouth without wanting to, after his fingers were shoved down her throat again and again, that’s the thing that’s going to tip this experience over into something violent and traumatic?

Really?

It’s particularly telling to me that people who subsequently turned up in that thread to question my use of the word ‘rapist’ never objected to my repeated use of the word ‘assault’ to describe his actions. He assaulted her sexually, repeatedly and in various ways over the course of more than an hour, and yet somehow we all still hesitate to cry ‘rape’.

That’s the power of rape culture, right there. That is how we are silenced.

And I guess that’s why I needed to write about this.

I’ve been… pretty quiet about rape for quite some time. I haven’t written anything here about #metoo, or about the cascade of outed predators in Hollywood in the ensuing months. I also haven’t said much (or anything?) about it on my personal facebook page.

It’s not that I’ve been totally silent. I’ve participated in comment threads and conversations in other places. I just… I don’t even know. With #metoo, I was unreasonably flummoxed by specificity of it being about women, and though I know many non-binary people who rightfully found spaces for themselves there, I wasn’t comfortable with doing so for myself. I also just….

Look, I have done this. There are post on this blog that were incredibly painful for me to write. There are details and stories about my own experiences that I have shared even when doing so made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. When every word coming out of fingertips felt like it cost me dearly, but I knew that not getting them out would cost me more.

I’ve cut myself open and shown you all my insides. I guess I did so a few years too early? But I’ve also healed from it. Because of it. And I don’t want to keep reopening those wounds.

I don’t mean I want to forget or stop talking or caring about these things. I guess I don’t really know what I mean. I’ll keep writing about this stuff when I have the energy to, I guess. And I won’t sweat it when I don’t.

But if you come away from this post with anything, please let it be an understanding that this story about Aziz Ansari is the story of a rape. And that anyone who does those things is a rapist.

Every now and then, something new shakes loose

[CN: this post mentions but does not directly describe or go into any detail about abuse and rape]

There are just so many weird, little ways that my abusive, rapist ex continues to have na impact on my life and my brain, that eight years later I am still finding new ones.

The thing about my ex is that I knew him for years before we ever dated. We were in the same social group. We were probably friends even (this is hard for me to determine for a bunch of reasons, but most notably because it is only in the last five years or so that I’ve actually managed to convince myself that anyone really sees me as a friend, and also because I instinctively avoid thinking about that or him and because I don’t know how to parse memories I have of him from before I understood what an awful human he was.)

Which, that latter point is what’s messing with me today. Because I realized I have no idea what to do with that entire period of my life anymore. My high school years and memories are tainted. I still have a photo album full of pictures of me and my high school friends and my rapist. I have so many (generally good!) memories that, whenever I start thinking about them, I have to stop, because suddenly there’s his face, there he is in my brain where I don’t want him to be.

I can’t write him out. He was there. And I don’t know what to do with his presence in those places in my brain, the ones I would like to keep parts of.

On the one hand, I am much better than I used to be, than I was when I started this blog. None of this is causing me sleepless nights anymore (I have new, less traumatic reasons for those now! :P); even when a new random anecdote of awful that I don’t think I’ve ever shared with anyone bubbles to the surface – just another puzzle piece of memory that never quite completes the picture – it doesn’t make me feel like my guts are trying to claw their way out of my throat anymore; I can sit quietly with those memories and be at peace.

But I don’t want that to be the only way I can engage with these other memories, the good ones with friends, during a time when I was only just beginning to figure out who I was. Right now, there is just this 7-year gap in time where I don’t tell stories about my life – if we’re close, you’ll hear about when I was a kid, and about everything since I finished my bachelors degree, but those formative years of adolescence and young adulthood are mostly a big no-fly zone.

Really, this all brings me back to a point I’ve made before: I hate, hate, HATE so much that one person’s actions, which have no consequences for themselves (unless you count me eventually breaking up with him, which is pretty minor in a grand scale) have had such a far-reaching, damaging impact on me. I am permanently altered by the things he did to me. And the ugliness stretches across a huge part of my life, and it always will. And I, when all I did was survive, am left with the exhausting work of fixing it all myself. Or really (more often than not), of finding ways to work around the scars, of ways to cope with what can’t ever be fixed.

It is not my fault. It shouldn’t have to be my responsibility, but it does. There is no one else’s it can be. And I will never not be angry about that.

Why does my brain do this? The difficulty of recognizing first-person experiences of abuse and mental illness

I know this isn’t just my brain. I know it is an absurdly common experience. But still, I can’t believe my brain continues to do stuff like this.

Me, at many points in the past: “I have lots of badfeels about this past relationship and there were issues with having my boundaries respected, but it’s not like I was raped or whatever”

Actual facts: this past relationship involved me being repeatedly bullied into doing things sexually that I had set as hard limits. My ‘no’s were next to meaningless. He did sexual things to me when I explicitly told him I didn’t want to.

For the record, I know I was raped. I just still have trouble with saying it.

Me, very recently: “I don’t think I have PTSD

Actual facts: Although it’s been a while now since this last happened (I may have mostly recovered), I have experienced repeated, vivid, uncontrollable flashbacks to the aforementioned relationship. On more than one occasion during these flashbacks, even though it was years later, I have been momentarily genuinely scared that I was still in that situation, and that the intervening years had all been a weird dream. That’s how real they were.

I don’t have a diagnosis of PTSD. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get one now – though I do still sometimes have the sorts of trauma-related dissociative symptoms I described in my post on being triggered, I think the diagnosis would be different. But yeah, that was a thing my brain was doing for a while. And yet at the time I never made the connection between that and PTSD.

Why is it so much easier to give credence to and put weight on other people’s experiences of these things? I think it especially applies to all forms of abuse and definitely sexual violence. It also seems to apply to mental illness, though – so often people will describe textbook symptoms and follow up with “but I don’t think I’m really…” or something else that suggests they don’t think they deserve to be taken seriously. People will say “I don’t think I was really abused, but…” and then go on to describe clear-cut, textbook, and/or often outright extreme instances of abuse they have experienced.

Why can’t we be kinder to ourselves? Why can’t we believe our own experiences of these things, and trust in our responses to them? Is it just that the idea of being an abuse survivor, or living with mental illness, is just so othered in popular narratives that it seems impossible it could ever apply to us? I suspect the logic often goes something along the lines of “the way I feel isn’t the way I imagine abuse/rape survivors (or PTSD sufferers etc.) feel, therefore that can’t be what my experience is”.

Or is it something else entirely?

“Consent is sexy” is an insidious message

Look, I get the point of saying “consent is sexy”. I get that it became a thing in direct response to naysayers of the importance of consent who insist that asking before touching someone (especially sexually) is somehow inherently unsexy or a turn-off. I also get that we are living in a culture that seriously does sexualize and eroticize female non-consent and just violence against women generally, and that it is important to try to fight back against those forces as they continue to form so many people’s sexualities, sometimes in very dangerous ways.

“Consent is sexy” is and always has been at *best* a band-aid solution to some specific aspects of rape culture. And it has always been clear to me that we shouldn’t need to sell consent in this way, or call it anything other than right, or the only non-evil way to interact with other people. The fact that anyone thinks that the message is necessary tells us how much work still needs to be done, if nothing else.

But. It needs to stop now. We need to stop actively promoting the idea that consent is sexy. Because there are ways in which it is actively harmful and helps rapists.

I don’t think it’ll be surprising or revelatory to anyone if I point out that many people (read: most women) feel an awful lot of pressure to be “sexy” in accordance with what their culture tells them is sexy, regardless of whether they enjoy those things, or particularly want to have sex. Heck, women are told they need to be conventionally attractive in order to be perceived as professional (or, y’know, even just worthy of being treated with the most basic respect), as if those things have anything to do with one another.

Women are taught to model the behaviours that the culture they grow up in declares to be sexy. Naturally, as the idea that consent (and especially enthusiastic consent) is sexy gains more traction, this means that women are feeling and will feel more pressure to model the appearance of said enthusiastic consent regardless of their actual desires.

By framing consent as “sexy”, we are making it harder for people, and women especially, to feel like they have the freedom to decide whether to consent or not. Not because it’s bad to find consent sexy – I do still agree that finding consent sexy should be and will be a sign of the death of rape culture if that ever comes – but because we are still living in a misogynist world, and because we are still living in a rape culture, and this particular attempt at combating that culture is far too easily turned against itself.

Consent is necessary and important, regardless of whether it is sexy. It is mandatory even if it is inconvenient, even if it is a turn-off. And deciding not to consent to anything, at any time, is not unsexy, either.

“Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about power”… except for when it really is just about sex

[TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of rape, both in abstract generalities and of my own specific experiences]

I was amazed recently to see the responses to this article about rape, and the idea that for many rapists, the fact that they know their victim doesn’t want to have sex is the turn-on. Which, this just seems obvious to me.

But, on facebook where I saw it shared, comment after comment poured in to correct the author on their understanding, because obviously “Rape is NOT about sex it’s about power and control.” Some people couched this in somewhat more nuanced ways, such as claiming that “It’s a sexual crime that is not sexual in nature,” or that “It is very much sexual. But it has nothing to do with sexual pleasure.”

The message here is: rapists don’t rape because they enjoy it sexually, or because doing so turns them on. They do it to feel powerful and/or to enact the power that they already have in society. And the thing is, sometimes this is exactly what rape is: when it is used as a tool of violence in war, very often when it occurs in prison, and also very often in abusive interpersonal relationships, rape is a symbolic way of claiming ownership and control over another human being, and often a way of communicating that that the rapist doesn’t consider them to be human, and sometimes that is the primary motivation for rape. And it is important to acknowledge this aspect of sexual/sexualized violence.

But that doesn’t even begin to cover the full range of non-consensual sexual activities. It completely elides the fact that we live in a society that does actively sexualize violence against women, and that generations of men have grown being taught to be turned on by sexual violence, just as the Ms. Magazine article describes.

In fact, the description of rape as always about power doesn’t even remotely apply to my own experience of rape.

There are some things that I’ve only just recently put together in my head, that explain my own experience of rape and how it happened in a much more solid way than I have ever before been able to articulate.

The thing about my abusive ex? One of the main things that I led to things going the way they did with us? His primary sexual fantasy was for one person to start off not wanting to have sex, but to change their mind once things started and wind up enjoying it.

Like, he told me this at one point. And I’ve only just now realized just how strong a thing this was and how much it coloured so many of our sexual interactions.

Because the thing that this did, in our relationship? It meant that if he wanted to have sex and my initial position was a no, not just that he didn’t accept that answer (which is the first and most obvious problem), but that he was actually *more* turned on once I’d said no, because this was now a chance for him to enact his fantasy. From his perspective, when I said no, the stakes actually got higher.

I didn’t realize this at all at the time, but it makes his behaviour make way more sense to me now. Not in a way that makes it somehow less reprehensible, for the record; just in a way that makes it easier for me to remember things more clearly, because the motivation tying together his actions has made the narrative easier to hold in my head.

This also explains some other things that for years left me confused and unable to name my experiences as rape. The thing about it all is that my rapist isn’t a person who got off specifically on non-consent – he doesn’t quite fit the model described in the Ms. article that started me down the road to figuring this out. What he was looking for wasn’t violent all the way through. It was slightly murkier than that.

And so there are facts like, I learned how and when to vocalize fake enjoyment to make things go faster, and to get him to finish more quickly. Because, of course, his fantasy wouldn’t be complete without it.

Though, I also have to admit that it’s not as if me never coming around to vocal enjoyment ever stopped him, either. It just made things take longer, and often involved him tapping into his other major turn-ons, which were just generally more physically demanding for me – though I also knew to pull them out when I didn’t have the energy for play-acting (you see how I gave myself the illusion of choice and control, there?)

The truth is, my abuser was a deeply, overwhelmingly selfish person. He was entitled, in ways that pervaded all of his interactions with other people, and the ways he would push to get his way in all things. But his impulses were never intended to be violent. He didn’t really understand what he was doing to me, but that doesn’t make it any better for me that I went through it.

For him, it was definitely, unquestioningly, and always about sex. About his sexual fantasies, and turn-ons, and pleasure. And he failed to see the implications of his actions, and he failed to really care about my boundaries, ever. It wasn’t ever really about dehumanizing me, or anything remotely like that.

But it was definitely rape.

So, to the people who insist that rape is never about sex: you are allowing your political position and perhaps your personal experience to override and delegitimize the lived experiences of many rape survivors. Your shitty hard line stance made it harder for me to identify my experience as rape and has made my healing process unnecessarily difficult. Stop it.

The things I did while in an abusive relationship, (but no really, what the fuck was that, even?)

I’ve been having a resurgence of thoughts about my past experiences of abuse lately, for some reason. I think it is just that my life is at a major turning point right now, and things are unstable, and that is making me reflect on all of the things that have come before.

I am struggling to articulate more complete and cogent thoughts about boundary-setting, and my developmental history around that, and the ways that my experiences of abuse have developed strange coping mechanisms that sometimes work amazingly and other times are the literal worst possible thing I could do.

But for now, I just want to get a story out of my head (again apparently. I realized after writing this version that I already wrote this story down more briefly in this post. I’m going to post this one as well anyway, because it’s already written, and because I hope that seeing that I’ve managed to write the some thing so similarly more than will help remove my generalized sense of unreality from the whole thing. Because it’s something I still don’t really even understand, and I can barely believe happened.)

It’s one of the moments where I first started to admit to myself that this shit was fucked up. It’s a moment where I did something to prove it to myself, even. And it’s surreal as fuck.

[Trigger warning: abuse, rape]

By the time my abuser and I had been dating for a year, I had already given up the ghost. I no longer bothered thinking about whether or not I wanted to have sex with him, let alone what kind of sex *I* might want if we did. When it became clear that was where things were going, I had a solid auto-pilot mode that I could run through the things I knew he wanted, so that I wouldn’t need to actually be present for any of it. I could just vacate my body while he got what I owed him for simply existing in a way that made him want to do those things.

I didn’t even think about it really. It’s just what started happening, all the time. It wasn’t worth it to try and figure out what I wanted, because I had already learned it wasn’t worth it to try and stop what he wanted from happening, anyway.

But there is this thing that I did, I think twice (maybe three times? Definitely not more than that, but definitely more than once), in the middle of him having sex with my body.

I said “No.”

Specifically, I said “no no no no no no no”. I don’t know how many times. Maybe about a dozen times, on each occasion.

I said it without affect, totally dispassionately, without any intention of making him stop. I didn’t move or do anything else different from our usual pattern. Just this inexplicable word, coming out of my mouth. Rhythmic gibberish. Or it might as well have been. He didn’t react at all, just kept at what he was already doing. Nothing changed.

I did it twice. Or three times. Over the course of less than a week, probably. And then I stopped doing it.

It came up at some point, in a conversation/argument about something or other, months later. All he had to say about it was that it had made him ‘uncomfortable’, apparently.

I didn’t say anything about it, really, I don’t think.

I remember deciding to say it. It wasn’t involuntary. I don’t know where the idea even came from. I just remember being vaguely curious about what would happen. And I remember needing to do it again because I didn’t want to believe that the answer was “nothing”. I remember deciding not to do it again, too. Because it was too painful. Because it made it harder to stay outside of my body. Because it threatened my ability to keep a distance from what was happening. Because I was not yet prepared to face up to the reality of that “what was happening”, of what “him having sex with my body” really was.

And I still have trouble calling any of it rape. Somehow I can know it’s important to include the word in the trigger warning without internalizing it as an actual description of my experience.

But these things are real. They actually happened.

And this leaves me with the question I ask myself over and over:

“So what the fuck was that, then?”

I really don’t have any answers, still. But it doesn’t seem to matter as much how I categorize it specifically, as long as I can hold strong to the fact that whatever it was, it was fucked up. It was not ok. And I didn’t deserve it.

And I’ll write it as many times as I have to, I guess.

“Hidden” sexual violence in the media: or, this is one of the reasons it is so hard to get people to see rape as rape

[This piece was originally written for a online course I am taking at Coursera, “Understanding Violence” (hence the noted difference in tone to my normal writing here). It relates back to a post a wrote a long time ago about scenes that turn up in movies and tv that are clearly intended to be innocent or seductive, but that actually portray coercion, assault, and/or rape. Trigger warning for descriptions of fictional scenes of sexual violence.]

In the media today, sexual violence is often portrayed in ways that are not intended to be sexual violence. That is to say that quite frequently, I see scenes in movies and television that are intended to be non-violent sexual content, but that in reality portray sexual violence that goes unrecognized by the writer and much of the audience. Moreover, the ways in which this happens differs significantly depending upon the gender of the person against whom the sexual violence is being perpetrated.

A very common trope in supposed seduction scenes in movies and television is the portrayal of men ignoring women’s displeasure with their advances, of continuing to behave sexually toward women despite their protests, until eventually the women suddenly change their minds and decide they want to have sex after all.

One of the most blatant examples of this trope is in the movie Blade Runner. The ‘seduction’ of Rachael (Sean Young) by the protagonist Deckard (Harrison Ford) plays out as follows: Deckard kisses Rachael. She responds with discomfort and tried to leave. He physically forces her against a wall, and commands her to kiss him. She complies. He commands her to tell him to kiss her (i.e. he coerces her into giving false verbal consent, or to falsely express desire). She does so. They continue to kiss, and now Rachael appears to begin to enjoy herself.

In this case, it is unclear whether the scene was intended to portray dubious consent. It should be noted that Rachael is an android, and that she was in fact designed to serve humans wants and needs, a detail which complicates the story and raises questions about the meaning of consent, and some people have argued that this scene is made to be deliberately ambiguous on this point. What is clear, however, is that regardless of the director’s intent, many people who watch the movie do not see this scene as coercion.

There is a long-standing debate on Wikpedia, for instance, on whether this scene is more accurately described as rape or seduction. The “Rape/Seduces” section of the “Talk” page about the movie opens by very clearly stating “[Rachael] does consent” (“Talk: Blade Runner” 2013). Although these is rich discussion about the issue, the actual Blade Runner entry shows that the consensus on the issue is that this scene portrays Deckard “forc[ing] her to acknowledge and trust her feelings” (i.e. that he forces her to admit that despite her protests she secretly does want him.) This is an extremely dangerous way of discussing the use of coercive force in sexual encounters, to say the least.

A more contemporary example of this form of coercive ‘seduction’ appears in Tyler Perry’s Temptation. This movie includes a scene in which Harley (Robbie Jones) expresses a desire to have sex with Judith (Jurnee Smollet). She does not reciprocate. He physically grabs her, and she resists, repeatedly telling him “No.” He appears to become even more turned on, and pauses only for a moment to reassure her (“Okay, now you can say you resisted”) before continuing the physical assault.

At no point in this scene does Judith give any appearance of consenting to this activity. What is shown is very clearly a sexual assault. But later in movie, this scene retroactively cleaned up in a flashback sequence that confirms that at some point Judith changed her mind and stopped resisting, and the couple made love.

Generally speaking this scenes are considered to be unproblematic and entirely acceptable, because ultimately the women succumb and consent to the men’s advances. However, regardless of the fact that the women change their minds, during the period of time that the men continue to pressure the women, and continue to try to kiss or undress them against their clearly stated wishes, up until the point where the women begin to consent they are committing sexual violence.

There is a serious misunderstanding in these scenes about what constitutes consent, and at what point you need to have consent in order to not be committing sexual assault. Of course, in reality, you need consent for every part of the interaction, from the first kiss or touch, onwards. And if at any point that consent is not present, than sexual violence is occurring,
I do think it’s important to note that in these fictional scenes, the women in question are not harmed, and end up having (presumably) fond memories of the encounters. What is concerning about these portrayals, more than anything else, is the message they send to men that if you keep pushing back against women’s resistance to your advantage, they will eventually change their. When men in real life attempt this tactic, they can and do frequently wind up committing sexual assault or even rape, depending on how committed they are to continuing to try to “seduce” a woman who does not want to be seduced.

To make matters more disturbing, it is important to note that part of the mechanism that creates such a preponderance of scenes of questionable consent in the mainstream is the ratings board. There are numerous reported cases in which filmmakers have been required to remove evidence of female sexual desire and pleasure in order to avoid an R rating.

A recent example of this is the movie Sucker Punch. The movie originally contained a brief, fairly tame sex scene. Emily Browning’s description of what happened to the scene speaks volumes. According to her report, in order to get a PG-13 rating, Zack Snyder reportedly had to edit the scene in a way that ultimately eliminated any sign of agency or desire on the part of the female character. Rather than replace a consensual sex scene with one that played as an assault, Snyder decided to cut the scene entirely.

What is extremely important to note here is that while the ratings board was ready to slap an R rating on a consensual sex scene, they were willing to drop that rating to a PG-13 is the consensual sex was changed into a coercive ‘seduction’.

In the same vein, Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Pierce has spoken at length about the problems she had with even acquiring an R rating for her movie (it was originally granted an NC-17). To be sure, Boys Don’t Cry deals with a great deal of sensitive and disturbing subject matter – based on a true story, it follows a short period in the life of Brendon Teena, a trans man trying to escape his past a forge a life in his male identity. He briefly finds love, before his girlfriend’s family discovers that he is trans. This revelation culminates in his being gang raped, (when he reports the rape to the police, he is subjected to further humiliation), and eventually murdered.

But none of this is what bothered the ratings board. As Pierce reports it (you can hear her telling of the story in This Film is Not Yet Rated), in order to get the rating dropped to an R, she was required to repeatedly trim down and re-edit the consensual sex scene in the film. This scene is not explicit, and shows no nudity. It was simply a long shot of Brendan’s girlfriend’s face showing clear sexual pleasure. And this was repeatedly deemed unacceptable.

The brutal rape scene however, garnered no comment, and required no editing.

In part because of the lesser cultural hang-ups around portrayals of male desire, the ways in which the media seemingly unconsciously portrays and normalizes sexual violence against men is very different than the treatment of women. Rather than displaying a poor understanding of consent, or a preference for coercion over portrayals of genuine female sexual pleasure, there is a disturbing tendency to completely disregard altogether the concept of male consent (or, rather, the possibility that a man might refuse to consent to anything.) Consider the following examples from popular television shows.

In the first episode of the show Californication, the protagonist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) has sex with a number of women (always with their clear consent). However, there is this extremely strange and disturbing thing that happens in one of the sex scenes. When he is in the middle of having sex with one of these women, very suddenly and without warning, she hauls off and punches him in the face. He is clearly shocked, though not upset. She punches him once more before simply leaving him, bewildered. For the remainder of the episode, he has a black eye from this encounter.

Now, as in the examples of sexual violence against women, Moody is not particularly upset by this incident, and his feelings about it seem to lean more toward bemusement than anything else. Regardless, it is very important to look objectively at what happened here – a woman physically assaulted him apparently for her own sexual gratification, without first acquiring his consent to do so.

A more extreme example of this occurs in the fifth episode of season five Doctor Who. In this episode Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) attempts to seduce the Doctor (Matt Smith) in much the same way that the men in above examples try to seduce women. She kisses him, and when he pushes her away, she continues to advance, kissing him more even as protests verbally, and struggles and to get away from her. She tries to remove his clothes, while he continues to try to stop her. At no point is it implied that there is anything wrong with her behaviour, and in fact it is played for laughs – as if the Doctor is somehow oblivious to her desire, despite the fact that it is clear that he knows exactly what is going on and does not want it.

The main difference between this scene and the male-driven seductions described above is that the Doctor does not change his mind, and eventually simply escapes. It is clear the Amy had no intention of stopping and things would have only gotten worse if he had not gotten away. And yet somehow, this scene is still generally considered a light-hearted one.

Once again, here, the male character’s lack of consent for the sexual activities the woman forces upon him is apparently irrelevant. The clear message is that male non-consent does not matter, is not important, and somehow doesn’t count.

The people who write these scenes that unintentionally portray sexual violence, when they seem to intend only to depict sexual seduction, display a clear lack of understanding of consent, and of sexual violence itself. And this lack of understanding is reflected in the ways in which audiences tend to receive these scenes (largely they read in the way the writers intended them to, as seduction). Ultimately, this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, wherein these kinds of images and behaviours are normalized and not recognized as sexual violence by audiences (which include future screenwriters, who will re-enact these problematic models of seduction for the next generation).

In many ways these kinds of unintentional, and largely unrecognized, forms of violence in the media are more dangerous than the overt depictions, which are more often accompanied with some sense of immorality. Thus, the way in which some kinds of sexual violence are portrayed as acceptable and even normal is one of the most disturbing trends in media today.