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rape is a tired trope that needs to be put to rest

May 20, 2015

After last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, the New York Times asks, “‘Game of Thrones‘ fans: How do you feel about the show’s depictions of sexual violence?” That’s a good question; one I think needs asking.

I’m to the point where I can’t stomach any rape scene, regardless of the context. I’ve seen arguments recently re: Game of Thrones, however, that lament the rape scenes but don’t seem to take issue with the vast amount of other forms of violence, from murder and mutilation to psychological abuse, which I find somewhat disturbing for a number of reasons.

My issue with one-sided arguments aside, as a quasi-period piece (loosely based on the War of the Roses), Game of Thrones mixes fiction and historical realism, and from that point of view, sexual violence isn’t out of the norm. Our history isn’t necessarily a pretty one. But the continued and often graphic inclusion of, and in some cases focus on, rape bothers me. Why do we have to continually have movies, music, literature, etc. that vividly perpetuate this form of violence, especially against women? Is it needed? More importantly, is it wanted? I certainly don’t think so.

An argument can be made that, at least in the past when they first started showing rape scenes on TV, it was bringing to light an issue that existed was but never talked about. As one person put it:

[Rape] was basically an unreported crime because women were afraid of being branded as unfaithful and ‘encouraging’ it. Sexism in action. The women that did, and stuck through the criminal litigation were often deemed encouraging and proved the scared women right. In the 70’s, Elizabeth Montgomery made a ‘made for TV’ movie about a housewife who was raped twice by the same attacker and the struggle that she went through to prosecute the man. Those scenes had a ‘purpose.’ It also brought awareness to the general populous that rape really existed and was a problem for ‘nice women.’

Fair point. But I don’t think that’s the case today; and I question whether there’s a need, or even a good reason, for the prevalence of sexual violence against women in pop culture. I also question whether there’s an actual demand for it from consumers or if it’s being gratuitously dumped on us from above by execs, writers, etc. (most of the male, I’d hazard to guess). They say sex sells, but even if that’s true, rape ≠ sex. It’s a violation, an act of domination and control that’s often meant to hurt and instill fear as much as give the offender (and us ‘voyeurs’) pleasure.

We don’t have to pretend like it doesn’t exist, but we don’t have to make it an intrinsic part of our pop-culture, either. This, of course, naturally brings up the issue of censorship. People really seem to hate the idea of censorship, but they also seem to fail to realize that things are censored and edited all the time, either directly through editors or indirectly through public opinion. Editors edit articles and books. Studios change movie endings if they don’t test well. And even in our own lives, we censor others. Parents censor their kids. Partners censor one another. The list goes on.

In this case, I’m not simply arguing that we need to censor Game of Thrones, but I’m strongly suggesting to all those who wonder why so many people are complaining about these rape scenes and the prevalence of rape scenes in general that they don’t have to include such graphic scenes of sexual violence; and they certainly don’t have to try to talk their way out of by saying things like ‘it’s sort of consensual’ (i.e., the scene with Jaime and Cersei). You can criticize rape, patriarchy, or whatever without graphically depicting rapes and/or trying to eroticize sexual violence against women.

It seems like more and more people are starting to say, “Hey, I’m getting tired of this. Just stop already, please“; and it’s my hope that writers, producers, musicians, etc. will start to listen. I think it’s high time we all start to say fuck rape, fuck rape culture, and fuck the perpetuation, even ‘artistically,’ of sexual violence.

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