I don’t watch rape media
Trigger Warnings: References to rape in the media.
I don’t watch TV or movies with rape in it. Period. End of story. That means I am very often disappointed.
I really wanted to like the TV show Vikings, but after the first couple of episodes, with the casual depiction of rape, and rape attempts, I stopped coming back. I hear there might be some sort of story telling point to all the rape, but it’s not something I’m willing to watch to get to.
Game of Thrones? Yeah, no thank you. I’m sure there are ten thousand ravening fans out there willing to tell me exactly how Game of Thrones needs rape in it, but I am not interested.
Hell, after a friend went on an on about how great the Netflix show named Hemlock Grove was I tried watching it. I asked them if there were any rape scenes in it, and was told no. Then I got to the rape-tastic parts. Apparently rape is so ubiquitous in media that they hadn’t really noticed, but were really sorry in failing to warn me.
I avoid rape media, and it’s not always easy because it is so damn prevalent. It’s not like depictions of sexual assault, usually against women, are rare. It’s everywhere. It’s so common, it’s not even announced or warned against sometimes. There is such a steady background count of this kind of media, it’s easy to become desensitized to it.
Even worse, I have to constantly explain this choice to avoid rape in the media I consume to all sorts of people. It’s like they find my extreme aversion to rape media to be a weird personality trait. I am often treated as if I am making too much of things, or that I’m being a bother when it comes time for communal movie watching.
Yet for me, rape and sexual assault isn’t a way to tell a story. It’s just one of countless insensitive stories using a very real problem in some trite excuse for writing. Even if you take out the horror of trivializing an act with such huge impact, I feel that media at large has been beating this dead horse for far too long. It seems like you can’t have a woman on screen without her being sexually assaulted. As if there aren’t any other stories to tell about women.
The worst for me, however, are the people who argue that this pervasive over saturation of rape media is something we should accept. These folks can look me in the face and tell me that this is fine, and I’m making too much of things. The arguments are so familiar to me, I can recount them in my sleep.
There is the argument that if we don’t show rape, then we are stifling creativity in our authors. For some reason the people who argue this with me always want to yell about censorship. That sexual assault isn’t that common, and if we can’t show rape on TV, then what will be left for character motivation?
Another argument that get’s trotted out is that in the time or place of the show, such as Game of Thrones, rape happened, and showing sexual assault is just a reflection of that world. Apparently, these people can envision a world of dragons, but not a world were sexual assault isn’t the inevitable end for a feminine character.
Then there is the media itself that downplays the rapes it depicts. How many romance novels show a woman being taken by force, only to fall for her assailant? This is showcased again and again. How absolutely perverse is it to show the idea that a person can be raped, and it’s justified after the fact because the victim falls in love?
It’s also used as a motivation for the masculine hero. His girlfriend, mother, or sister is raped, and he has to take vengeance. In this scenario the female character is often just a cardboard cutout for the masculine character’s motivation, taking away agency from the victim even further.
For me, it’s very weird that folks react like I’m the one with the problem when I say I won’t watch rape media. This is because I can’t understand why they aren’t sick of it, too. I don’t understand why they accept it, and put their time and money towards products that depict rape. I think it’s perverse to watch countless rapes in countless movies, TV shows, or read it in books. Perhaps even more so to be so jaded that it no longer registers as problematic.
Several years back, I had my fill, and I decided that no movie, book, or show that depicted rape or sexual assault was worth my time or money. I don’t feel I’ve missed a thing. In fact, I feel I’ve gained some valuable perspective.
I would urge an experiment for anyone that reads this. Try for one year to avoid all rape and sexual assault in the media you consume. It’s not forever, and you can always go back at the end of the year, but I guarantee you it will be eye opening just how ubiquitous it is.
Thank you for saying this! I don’t like sexual violence in my fictional media. There is way too much of that shit in real life. It is way too trivialized in real life. It is not entertainment, and I do not want to think about it when I don’t have to. People don’t get it. They argue with me when I say I don’t want to watch/read something because of the content. I’d love to hear what fiction you’re reading. It’s so hard to find stuff about women that doesn’t contain sexual assault.
I wish I had a handy safe list of things to watch, or read. For me, I keep doing this trial and error thing where I start a show or movie, then “NOPE!” out of it. We need a website like http://www.doesthedogdie.com for this. I just want to go somewhere and find out if there is sexual assault in the show, so I can avoid it entirely.
Here’s what I don’t understand: if you don’t consume media with rape scenes, how do you know things like, “How many romance novels show a woman being taken by force, only to fall for her assailant? This is showcased again and again.” If you haven’t watched Game of Thrones, how can you say, “Apparently, these people can envision a world of dragons, but not a world were sexual assault isn’t the inevitable end for a feminine character.” It seems to me that if you haven’t seen the show, you don’t have any basis for this critique, or the generalization that rape => inevitable end for a feminine character on GoT. That sounds like a projection of your belief about how rape narratives generally go in popular media onto a show you haven’t seen. Would you say that’s correct?
Nope. I would not say that’s correct at all.
I didn’t always have this personal policy. In fact I used to work in a book store. If you are not familiar with this trope in romance novels, you haven’t read enough ravishing bodice rippers. Being ravished mostly against your will, only to fall in love with your masculine man later when he shows his tender side is a definite theme in a chunk of romance novels.
I kind of knew mentioning Game of Thrones at all would instigate a response. My refusal to watch it because I don’t want to deal with rape in my fiction always comes down to this. There are simply fans that are irritated by my refusal to deal with it.
Also, Wasn’t it Feast for Crows, the book, not the show, that depicts a rape in every single chapter? Sure there are a few female characters that don’t end up raped in the series, but it’s a prevalent theme. I’m certainly not the only one that’s noticed Game of Thrones is a bit rapey.
I think you are kind of missing the point, which is there is so much rape in so many movies, books, and TV shows, you can’t escape it easily. Trying to avoid sexual assault of women in your media takes a lot of effort, and you are subject to endless criticism for trying.
Why should I have to be subject to media that has rape in it at all? Why does my refusal to watch sexual assault these last couple of years bother you?
I don’t care that you are trying to avoid rape in the media you consume. That’s your choice. But it was also your choice to write a blog post about your reasoning behind making that choice, and that seems to me to invite commentary.
GoT depicts rape, no question. I don’t think those were ever the goalposts. I haven’t read the books, so I can’t comment on them.
Seriously? Have you never heard of synopsis sites, reviews, and other forms of writing and discussion about media? Are you actually unaware that the rape-lust conversion trope in romance has been discussed with some fair regularity since the 70s? Ever heard of Google?
If you’re going to construct a straw man, you might want to try building one that is not so transparently stupid.
Neil, I approved this comment with some trepidation. Let’s keep things nice and civil.
I’ll go a step further than Wolsey. If you make a post like this again, you will be banned. You could have made the same point without the assholery. Please familiarize yourself with our commenting policy before posting again.
Actually Yessenia I just want to comment. As wolsey’s husband I have seen all of the HBO series and I have read all the books and it is incredibly rapey mctastic with a huge side helping of misogyny. Don’t get me wrong, some great acting (I love Peter Dinklage) but GRRM is in my experience the end all be all of rape and misogyny (especially if you read some of his other stuff as well). Also I think it is fine if other people watch it, but that is where wolsey got his information.
This week I was incredibly annoyed to discover that the new book I had purchased on Audible, which won a Hugo award and came highly recommended, featured rape as a major plot point. I did end up listening to the whole book (in large part because I had nothing else to listen to) and the story honestly would have made more sense and been much higher quality without it. Often, rape is used for lazy writing. It is used to make a female character more “interesting” or to explain why she might be hesitant to get sexually involved with some man (as if there are no other reasons). I HATE it.
My personal favorite author is Sir Terry Pratchett. I have read almost all of his books (there are well over 40) and I’m pretty much certain he has never included rape in any of them. Not even attempted as far as I can tell. His characters of all genders are interesting, deep, and complex. It’s almost like there are other stories to tell! /sarcasm
That’s the worst. I hate running into these things unannounced.
I’ve never read any Pratchett. I’ve had it recommended to me quite a bit, but haven’t done it. After June I’ll have time to read again, and I will have to check that out.
Greebo (for those of you who are not major Pratchett fans, he’s a cat) is described as a rapist in so many words. I don’t recall any of the relevant events actually being described, of course. Other than that I can recall one scene near the beginning of Monstrous Regiment where Polly winds up kicking someone in the testicles, but I don’t even remember if that was more than suggestive leering on his part. Those are the closest things to attempted rape I recall in Discworld.
You’re right about Greebo, actually. When he’s (briefly) human-shaped he’s pretty lecherous too. So I was wrong, and there is reference in Pratchett. But it’s rare, limited, not graphic, and DEFINITELY a punching-up joke.
Different if the subject is based in History rather than Fiction..
I enjoy Vikings because it re-accounts the tales of (with some artistic license) an actual person.
I love history so this show interests me. Rape and Pillage was synonymous with that culture during their raiding years. A point in time the show is portraying.
If you went into this show under the pretense that you weren’t going to see controversial subjects like rape..then that’s your own fault. Who watches a show about vikings and expects them not to broch on the subject of rape and pillage, something they were famous for?
Spartacus Blood and Sand is another show that I found awesome and depicts many shameless acts of violence and sexual violence, again part of the history. The Romans were notorious for the sexual depravity.
As for game of thrones, a work of fiction. This comes from an imagination (admit, twisted) of a man who wanted to create a world just as dynamic and not just black and white. With varying and many shades of grey. A medieval-esque fantasy world with a history just as visceral as ours on earth. A show that seemed steeped in bloody history much like our own.
Hi wolsey, have you ever had a look at IMDB’s ‘Parents guide’ for shows and movies?
Each show or movie has a Parents Guide that are user-edited, and list anything potentially objectionable that the show or movie includes. Sometimes the lists can be quite comical to read when you see what some people think children shouldn’t see, but at the same time it might be a good resource for someone like yourself.
For example, the Parents Guide for Vikings lists:
[ep. 2] A man begins raping a fully clothed slave girl by forcing her onto a table and standing behind her; he is shown thrusting briefly before the scene cuts.
[ep. 4] A man begins raping a woman in the same manner as in the second episode, but he is stopped.
and so forth. Full list here:
I understand if you don’t want to have to read through something like that to screen every potential piece of media you might consume, but I think it could definitely help the situation of getting halfway through something and potentially emotionally invested in it and then having to NOPE it
That is really brilliant, godless! I hadn’t known about it. Probably because I have no children and my husband and I were raised by wild dogs, ourselves.
It could be cumbersome to reference all the time, but it’s a great idea for a resource. I love it.
I agree with you that rape is something I don’t want to come across in my media, especially because it is almost exclusively used as a misogynistic, lazy plot device or character-building. But I feel you’ve set up something of a false dichotomy here. You’ve laid out two positions: people who do not consume such media because they abhore it, and people who consume this media and think those who don’t are “weird.” But there’s another position: people who consume media and recognize and acknowledge the problems with it. It’s possible to consume problematic media and enjoy it as long as there’s the recognition and discussion about why it’s problematic.
Also, pretty much any media we consume is going to be problematic in some way. The Walking Dead, for example, is rife with misogyny and racism (I can’t recall off hand if there’s been any rape or sexual assault in it off hand, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was consider the kind of fucked up shit the writers on that show pull). Do you avoid consuming media that has blatant racism in it? What about any kind of homophobia and transphobia? Sexism? Classism? Body-shaming?
I’m intrigued to see what a perfect piece of media looks like that has no problems with it. I am highly doubtful that such a thing exists. So, I think as long as we are willing to have the discussions, it’s possible to continue to consume and enjoy problematic media.
I did leave those folks out, but probably because I felt critical viewing wasn’t problematic in itself. Unthinking acceptance was the problem I felt like targeting. I’ll try to write more clearly next time. It was an oversight on my part to forget that section of consumers.
I don’t think there is a such a thing as perfect media. We all have our own inbound biases, and problems we project when we create anything.
Thanks for writing this, Wolsey. While Will raises some excellent points in his comments, I try not to consume media that portrays rape. I’ll also shut off media that portrays domestic violence.
Will – I’m curious, so I’ll respectfully ask: Do you draw the line anywhere with media? Or do you try to watch everything critically?
I certainly don’t watch everything, but I always try to have a critical eye for the things I do watch. I don’t give media a free pass just because I may enjoy some aspects of it. And I think a good example of a show I stopped watching due to its use of and approach to dealing with rape is Law and Order: SVU. I recently watched a couple of episodes to see where the show is at and, wow, it’s like an hour of rape apologia every episode! So, I do avoid media when it does things like that, but I don’t stop engaging with any particular media simply because it may have or do things that I don’t like and find problematic, unless there comes a point where I feel that it’s not worth engaging with anymore because the negative aspects of the media outweigh the positive.
A bit outside of usual consumable media, but I used to play a lot of table top role playing games (D&D, etc) back in college. With my close personal friends it was definitely a safe space, but sometimes when I played at cons the rape as character development trope came up unfortunately often. It’s so embedded in our culture that even when given nearly complete freedom of control over the story they still come back to it like it’s a good idea.
Wow. I hadn’t thought about it, but I was also a D&D player back in the day. (Pathfinder, GURPS, and Shadowrun, these days.) I had the same issue. When I first started out with a group, I was one of two female presenting D&D players in my entire town. Some GM’s felt rape story lines were the only story lines to use with my characters. It wasn’t until myself, and the other woman, complained, that things changed in our circle.
I think you are right. It’s such an overwhelmingly embedding concept, that the teen boys we played with just started replaying it without thought. To their credit, they stopped immediately when they saw how uncomfortable it made both of us. They’d just never had to think about it before.e
Certainly, someone’s wishes about what they consume in the media is their own choice. However, as they often say, art reflects life. For example, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou depict scenes of rape. They are often banned from schools because of their depiction of rape. I happen to think these books are wonderful and near necessary reading, so I don’t think that the depiction of rape in media is in itself something to avoid just because rape is wrong.
Also as far as the Game of Thrones series is concerned, a recurring these in the book is the way powerful people going to war causes terrible consequences for the people. Rape is certainly one of these consequences, but hardly the only one. I guess I would object to the idea that the depiction of rape is somehow worse than the depiction of other horrible things, such as torture, starvation, murder, etc. The Game of Thrones depicts all of these in detail, and while I can understand someone not wanting to read or watch the book or show, that is more about the reader than the writer.
Just curious, have you ever come across a story or depiction of rape that you think accurately critiques the problem of rape in our society? I think it would be wrong to say there are no depictions of rape in fiction that were artfully done to develop a story.
I am sure there are depictions that handle the issue with respect, and the appropriate level of care. However, I am very burnt out on the subject, which is why I don’t watch rape in my media anymore.