Friday, August 23, 2013

A reader letter regarding my post on rape scenes

I wrote a piece earlier this week on rape scenes.  I know this is a theme that we return to at least once or twice a year on this blog, but given how often I see this abuse in stories, I think it's warrented to keep addressing this ground.  For one thing, I can tell that each new post reaches people who had not seen the earlier posts.  At the very least, it makes some writers give particular scenes a little more consideration, I feel it's worth it.

After that post, I got a very nice note from a reader named Diana.  With her permission, I'm sharing it with you in its entirety:

Two Giant Thumbs Up on this blog entry/topic and your comments. Really important conversation that I hope will be an on-going one. Especially appreciate your pointing out the all too unfortunate occurrence of male writers "writing rape scenes that feel like they were getting excited while writing it." I'll tell you, as a woman, reading those kind of scenes (in books or scripts) freaks my shit out. And what is equally disturbing is that those scenes can come out of the nicest guys! 

I remember a foreign film way back when about the brutality of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and its affects on women. (can't remember the title). It showed the lawlessness during that time, and the resulting roaming gangs of men. And the violence that was regularly perpetrated against women. It showed a brutal gang rape scene (that must have lasted at least a full 5 minutes of film time!) of two women in their home. It included the act of anal rape. It was riveting. Horrifying. Visceral. And realistic. It was not sexy in the least. And it was not done for shock value, though it most certainly left most of us in the audience in shock. 

And as it turns out, no superhero guy (or hubby/boyfriend) appeared in a fit of rage in that film to avenge the violence against these two women. After the rapists left, the women were simply left alone with their physical injuries and their shattered psyches. And their own rage. Of which they had plenty. 

And I think therein touches on another part (I think actually it's the crux) of the (inherent) problem with these many rape scenes of women penned by men: It is that the man (boyfriend/husband/superhero guy) gets to feel the resulting rage for the violation. And to act on that rage. Not the woman who was violated. 

Rape happens to women. A lot. So not ever showing rape of women would be sort of a denial of this horrible reality. And aside from the reality that some male writers might write such scenes a little too (disturbingly) gleefully,it's not even (just) the fact that the aftermath of the rape on the female victim is never really shown-- such as, say, the woman/girl sobbing and stuff. Or being an emotional/psychological wreck. Or even being terrified in the aftermath--maybe of men, maybe of just going outside. Whatever. No, it's not even just about those things. What's it's also about, maybe even more so about, is THE RAGE. And who gets to have it. 

Rage-- the feeling of rage-- is damn powerful. It can act as a driving force--- to address/counter feelings of powerlessness-- which a lot of male writers know, as they use it to drive the superhero protagonist (and yes to get us, the audience, all engaged, and to let us feel along, too, that something is being done to avenge this wrong). Unfortunately, the women (the victims) of these rape scenarios almost never get to benefit from this powerful feeling of rage-- and the possibility of acting on it-- either during, or in the aftermath, of their own violation and powerlessness. Nope, that all still goes to men. So they are left not only victims. But doubly so. 

As as you point out in your post "Let's talk about rape scenes", these scenes of rape/beatings of woman aren't being used as spring-boards for a female character's development. They are used so that-- I'm taking the liberty of loosely paraphrasing here a little-- the male protags gain strength from it (so they can dig down deep) and take (effective) action. Pretty f**ked up if you think about it. 

I wonder what would happen, if only as an experiment (maybe a year?), men (and yes, it's predominately men who write these scenes) took it upon themselves (as in required of themselves) that every time they penned a rape scene of a woman, the script would necessarily include the victim/woman herself getting to feel the resulting rage of that violation, along with getting to be the one to act on that rage. I can't be sure, but I'd say it's a safe bet you'd see a hell of a lot less rape scenes being written. 

So back to the Yugoslavia film. And how that brutal/shocking gang rape scene was eventually dealt with in it. As it turned out, at the end of the movie one of the two women who had been brutally raped comes across the 'leader rapist' in a refuge camp. Before he notices her, she slowly creeps/stalks up behind him and slits his throat (with a knife she'd just been using to cut an apple). It was plain and simple revenge. It wasn't particularly sexy. But it was very gratifying, I must admit. 

Anyway, thanks again for broaching this issue, and for your comments.


  1. Thanks for posting. Agree with the thoughts expressed above.

  2. Both post on this subject were well written. Im so glad to see people discussing this.

  3. I think this goes back to the "getting out from behind a computer and into the real world" syndrome that's being discussed in various posts and comments. And yes, I think most women would agree that they would be incredibly pissed off and plotting every moment to kill ther rapist. I would.

    And....I have a friend who teaches an excellent self-defense course for women...and I just want to scream at the movie screen during rape scenes "Roll backwards and start kicking him where it hurts! And poke out his eyes. DO SOMETHING!"

    Along the lines of getting's a prime example: People were always surprised when I told them that quite a few patients in the Med Center went around pissed off. They don't cry when they get bad news, they start making threats or acting badly. We would have security come into the clinics on a fairly regular basis. We had a doctor shot in the back. And then when the ER doctor I worked with didn't raise some guy from the dead, the brother of the DOA made death threats. So we had to travel with not only all our camera equipment, but a bodyguard and the doctor packed a 9mm (which made me try to hang back and see how many large objects I could put between me and possible crossfire)....

    When people get a diagnosis, I always ask if they are pissed off....and they are so relieved to know that someone understands---and that's it's a normal reaction seen every day in hospitals. It'd be great to see the full range of emotions in movies, instead of ones just made up by someone who "thinks" they know the scenario.

    Thx, Bitter, for lettin us all chime in! end/rant

    1. Follow-up on this: a friend of mine is a doctor, who primarily works in trauma and palliative care. She's also a screenwriter.

      Recently I directed a rehearsed reading of a thriller she's written, in which a couple witness the (faked) murder of their 3 year-old daughter.

      The audience's feedback was the parents didn't react realistically to their parents death, because neither burst into tears.

      They parents didn't speak to anyone, let alone comfort each other, before arguing bitterly and blaming each other for their daughter's 'death'. One became violent to people who tried to comfort them.

      The script was written by a doctor who has to speak to the families of the just deceased multiple times a week. If anyone knows how people react to the death of a child it's her. But the audience wouldn't accept any other reaction from those characters apart from crying, because that's how characters in films react to death.

      Bitter: Another good post on a subject that deserves attention. I just hope the people who enjoy writing rape scenes read these topics, and think about what they're writing.

  4. AND thanks for the Women in Refrigerators trope! Have sent info on this to all my online women's groups! Maybe we can spread the word and stop the misogyny!

  5. I almost wish someone would show movies like these at the theaters in my state. Not because I wish to view some horrible things; I'm just sick of seeing nothing shown but movies about superheroes, vampires, zombies or robot cars.