Last year taught us that everyone in Hollywood needs years of rigorous training on how sexual consent works, and some should be getting said training behind walls of concrete and barbed wire. But beyond the behind-the-scenes scandals, we should talk about how the movies and shows they make are so often crafted to appeal to the creepiest rape fantasies. That can’t be good for us, right?
And when it comes to this sort of thing, it’s possible that no genre is more insidious than fantasy/sci-fi, which has its own very specific collection of “Sometimes non-consensual sex can be fun!” scenarios that come up again and again.
Let’s rewind for a bit: If you’re a child of the ’80s, you remember when Revenge Of The Nerds was a huge hit, and you may even remember that the final triumph of the main nerd was when he put on a Darth Vader mask and pretended to be a hot girl’s boyfriend so he could bang her. This, as we have previously pointed out, is rape by deception, and here in the real world, it can totally get your ass thrown in prison. That, of course, does not happen in the movie, because once the ruse is revealed, the victim is delighted to learn that nerds are great at sex, and she rewards him for showing her the light. It should probably be noted that this movie was written by dudes.
20th TelevisionCreepy dudes.
Now fast-forward to Season 4 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, in which the titular character *spins wheel of fantasy cliches* switches bodies with another girl, Faith. Faith then impersonates Buffy and has sex with her boyfriend, Riley. It was Buffy’s body the whole time, but it was also still rape on Faith’s part, just like it’s still assault when someone makes you punch yourself with your own hand. The Buffy spinoff Angel built on that idea in the most convoluted way possible by having an ancient power possess the body of young woman and trick Angel’s son into impregnating her so she could give birth to her new human body (audiences cannot be weirded out by fantastical rape when they’re not totally sure what the hell they’ve just seen).
The show Orphan Black, on the other hand, didn’t bother with any possession nonsense and straight up had its protagonist impersonate her *spins wheel of sci-fi cliches* clone, then have sex with the woman’s boyfriend in the very first episode.
On Smallville, at least we can say the shapeshifting Tina Greer didn’t get further than kissing her bamboozled victim, technically making her crime sci-fi “sexual battery” instead of “rape” in the state of Kansas. It’s the same in the Stargate: Atlantis episode “Duet,” in which a female Marine’s consciousness is transported into the body of a male scientist, which she promptly hijacks to make out with two of their co-workers. One of them was the scientist’s love interest with whom he’d been way too shy. (See? All he needed was for someone else to take control and break through his pesky inhibitions!) The other was a male colleague, which is played for laughs, as the helpless heterosexual male being possessed reacts with disgust.
MGM TelevisionYeah, because the gay part is the wrong thing going on here …
Have You Noticed The Pattern? All Of The Offenders Are Women.
Maybe they thought these scenes were empowering or something? It’d be nice to think it’s that, and not a bunch of fantasy/sci-fi writers continually dreaming up more and more fantastical female rapist scenarios. Still, these are shows largely aimed at young males and overwhelmingly written/directed/produced by males, and the underlying message boils down to “Well, I wouldn’t mind if a hot girl tricked me into sex stuff!”
We get it. Society puts a lot of pressure on guys to be assertive, to always make the first move. Men get trapped in a spiral in which they’re told girls love confidence, but the only way to get confidence is to have some success. It’s the romantic equivalent of a new graduate realizing that every job requires experience. For that guy, the idea of a woman just taking control sounds amazing.
That’s how you wind up with something like the Buffy episode “Gone” (written by David Fury), in which Buffy *spins wheel* turns invisible, pins the vampire Spike to the wall, and just goes to town all over his body. She does let him know it’s her before they move to the bedroom, but before then, she still forcefully did stuff to him that would have gotten the episode boycotted if the genders were reversed.
20th TelevisionJust change the name to Buffy the Sex Offender and be done with it.
The same can be said about the famous “snu-snu” episode of Futurama, about a bunch of giant Amazons organizing a forced gang bang of three guys against their will. Well, technically, two of them were all for it (and since the women took turns, it was more of a reverse train than a gang bang), but one guy was still scared out of his mind about the whole thing. Reverse the genders (a group of huge men forcing themselves on a few smaller, defenseless women), and rather than a screwball comedy, it’s now something you can only watch by searching Tor for “Banned Futurama Episode That Got Everyone Fired.”
20th TelevisionComedy Central’s not saving anyone after that.
“But These Are Just Fantasies! What’s The Harm?”
Add all of this up, and it sends two truly awful messages to viewers:
A. All men want sex all the time, so there really is no such thing as raping a man (when Grant on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets brainwashed and raped by an Asgardian, he somehow ends up getting shit for it, despite being the victim).
B. There are some situations in which non-consensual sex winds up being harmless fun, or even beneficial for everyone involved.
It’s just so hard to say that this shit doesn’t have an effect when the shows get to write both the actions of the perpetrator and the response of the victim. To make such a plotline palatable, the consequences can’t be too serious — more mild annoyance than emotional trauma. The victims are usually OK with it.
Oddly enough, all of this effectively makes the British TV show Misfits one of the better examples, only because a male character is sufficiently weirded out when a girl uses her superhuman powers to make him lust over her. So there you have it: A series in which a guy accuses Ramsay Bolton of boning his own sister for a slice of cheese is probably the most respectful exploration of female sexual assault in the genre.