Mad Max: Fury Road Makes Your Rape Arguments Invalid

This post contains:

SPOILERS FOR: Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Mad Max: Fury Road

HUGE TRIGGER WARNING FOR: Discussion of rape, also brief mention of torture, murder, imprisonment. But mostly for rape.

Also a lot of words. But that’s a good thing!

Recently I saw Mad Max: Fury Road (Our extremely positive review is here). Mad Max: Fury Road, which I’ll henceforth refer to as Fury Road, involves women escaping from sexual slavery. Meanwhile, during the week that Fury Road opened, Game of Thrones aired an episode called “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” during which a major character, Sansa, was raped. During the same week, Jamie, the hero of Outlander, was raped and tortured during the episode “Wentworth Prison.”

 

Medicinal Puppies are Medicinal
Medicinal Puppies are Medicinal

 

I have not seen either the rape of Sansa in Game of Thrones nor the rape of Jamie in Outlander. I have no opinion on the scenes themselves. I don’t always think that it’s a bad thing to depict rape and without having seen the shows, I can’t comment on how well it’s handled. What I do find interesting is that whenever rape is depicted, many people offer reasons for why they think that it is not only desirable but also necessary to include it, and of course with two shows in one week featuring rape people were quick to proffer the usual defenses.

This prompted a mind-blowing tweet from author Saladin Ahmed:

Note: FURY ROAD is an R-rated movie w/ a sexual slaver villain yet Miller & co. didn’t feel the need to include a rape scene.

Mind. Blown. It actually did not occur to me that Fury Road does not contain a rape scene, and now that Ahmed has brought it to my attention I can’t stop thinking about how powerful it is that it doesn’t. I do not always think that showing a graphic depiction of rape is a bad thing, but I do think that it’s over-used. Moreover, Fury Road shows why some of the most common arguments in favor of including rape scenes in fiction are flawed.

The plot of Fury Road is very simple. In the future, the world is a wasteland. A warlord, Immortan Joe, has five “wives,” women he keeps captive. He forces these women to have his babies – their only value is their fertility. Another woman, Imperator Furiosa, rescues the women with the goal of spiriting them to “The Green Place.” Max, a wanderer who is also trying to escape from Joe, allies with Furiosa. The entire movie is a road chase in which Immortan Joe hunts Max, Furiosa, and the wives in an attempt to reclaim his “property” (Joe’s word).

A shot of Fury Road captioned Hey Girl - toxic masculinity is killing us, too. Can we ride with you?
This moment of awesome brought to you by feministmadmax.tumblr.com!

If ever a movie seemed tailor-made to include a rape scene, it’s this one, an R-rated movie with rape at its core. Yet the director, George Millar, who has included rape in his earlier Mad Max movies, did not show a single scene of sexual violence in Fury Road.

Why not? Let’s look at some of the things people say in defense of rape scenes and explore how Fury Road deals with them. Again, this is a criticism of arguments in favor of rape scenes, not a criticism of any specific scene or show.

  1. “It’s important to show rape because it’s historically accurate (or because it would be realistic given a certain setting).”

Fury Road is a science fiction movie that features a guy in long underwear on a giant truck made of speakers who plays a flaming guitar while hanging from bungee cords, so if ever a movie might be allowed a “realism” pass, it’s this one.

Dude in red longjohns holding a flaming guitar against a wall of speakers with the words ANYWAY HERE'S WONDERWALL captioning it. It's hilarious.

Still, the movie is realistic in suggesting that this is a world in which most power is wielded by men who rule by fear, and therefore rape is very much a part of this world. However, while rape is omnipresent, we (the audience) don’t have to see it. In fact, it’s BECAUSE it’s so omnipresent that we don’t need to see it occur. Of course it occurs. We know that rape exists in this world because the entire plot revolves around women trying to escape from rape.

Often, rape is used as shorthand for, “This person is vulnerable.” This is a criticism I have of Outlander, a show that I admire in many other respects. There are scenes of sexual assault in both the book and the TV show that are pivotal to the story and that arise organically from the characters and their surroundings. For instance, I have not seen the rape of Jaime so I cannot comment on how it is handled in the TV series, but I do understand why they chose to include that scene. In the book series, the rape and torture that Jamie experiences at the hands of Black Jack Randall is the outcome of a long character arc and has serious practical and emotional repercussions for everyone involved for years to come.

Rape is a problem in Outlander when it is used as an easy way to indicate that Claire is vulnerable. Yes, Claire is vulnerable to being raped. But that’s not the only way in which she is vulnerable. She has no money, no family, no clan nor connections. She has no way to travel or to provide for her own most basic needs. She doesn’t know the customs of the time and she doesn’t speak Gaelic. Sadly, the show tends not to explore these issues. Instead, every time Claire starts to think she’s got a handle on things, she’s threatened with sexual assault AGAIN.

The Devil’s Mark” was something of a relief because it explored a historically accurate way in which Claire is vulnerable that did not have to do with rape. When, at the culmination of being tried for witchcraft, Claire is publicly stripped, her partial nudity is shocking and upsetting because it is an organic part of the story we’ve seen unfold. This scene was so upsetting to me that I stopped watching the show, but I didn’t find it gratuitous or offensive. It was SUPPOSED to upset me and it worked in a way that several “Claire in Peril” scenes did not because it was a seamless part of the story that combined the various characters, the setting, and the plot in a way that felt horribly inevitable instead of shoe-horned in.

There are so many reasons why the “it’s historically accurate” argument doesn’t hold water that I could devote an entire post to this issue alone, but ultimately the question of accuracy is irrelevant. In fiction, the story is everything. This is not a documentary. Every single thing in a fictional piece has to fit the needs of the narrative. Does showing a character being raped advance the story? Is it a logical outcome of the characters’ decisions and personalities? If the answer to either of these questions is no, then it doesn’t need to be there, accurate or not.

In Fury Road, showing the effects of rape culture advances the story, but actually depicting rape would not, because it would be redundant and it would damage the flow of the movie, which relies on almost non-stop forward physical and narrative movement. Miller trusts the audience to get what has happened, in all its horror, without being walked through every step, which allows him to get on with making cars explode.

One of Jamie’s finest moments in Outlander. Please note the historically inaccurate teeth – not that I’m complaining.

 

  1. “It’s important to show a bad guy committing rape because it shows that he is the bad guy.”

Immortan Joe deprives women of freedom so that he can indulge in his own pleasure and procreation and he refers to them as his property. He tortures captives and turns them into eternal blood donors. He deprives people of water at his whim and distributes it wastefully so that everyone will cling to him in hope of abundance and stay weak because of deprivation. Also, see #1 – we know that he’s a rapist. Honestly, given the movie as it is, are you confused as to whether or not he’s the bad guy? Would actually seeing him rape The Splendid Angharad or Capable clear up some kind of ambiguity?

“Yes, I’m evil, but you have to admit that I look AMAZING,” says Immortal Joe from Fury Road!

In Game of Thrones, before raping Sansa, Ramsay Bolton flayed prisoners alive after they were promised mercy, tortured Theon, hunted a girl with dogs and watched the dogs kill her, flayed some other people, and said many horrible things. Some commenters have said in discussions elsewhere that we needed to see Ramsay rape Sansa so that we would know how awful Ramsay is. Really? After seeing him chase a woman through the woods with a pack of dogs, some members of the audience were still confused about his moral standing? I have more faith in humanity – well, most of humanity. I’m pretty sure the majority of viewers were clear on the idea that a guy who lets a woman be ripped to death by dogs is probably not a paragon of goodness.

Fury Road trusts the audience to come to conclusions without having their hands held.

More on that here:

  1. “You have to show rape so that the audience will understand how awful it is for the rape victim.”

Here’s where Fury Road most gloriously puts its faith in the audience and in the actors. How do we know that being raped was awful for the wives? We know because of their desperation to escape it. We know because of how they cling to each other, how Splendid risks her own life to save her sisters, how The Dag hisses at her pursuers, how Toast the Knowing learns to load weapons, how Cheedo the Fragile creates an opportunity for Furiosa, and how Capable allies with Nux because she knows all too well what it means to be seen as a tool and not a person.

Dag, who is a very fair blonde, turns toward the audience and holds her fingers about an inch apart - he's this big.
The Dag is so over this patriarchal bullshit.

 

The wives in Fury Road are not hapless victims. They have agency. While they lack the combat skills of Furiosa and Max, they find ways to make themselves useful. Rape has affected them, but not destroyed them. It’s important that they are all affected differently, because in real life there’s not one single, universal response to being raped. They aren’t faceless tributes to Joe’s savagery. They are people. We know what they endured was terrible because we know what they will sacrifice to move beyond it physically and emotionally. It’s their story, not Joe’s. It’s not the story of how Joe is a bad guy, and it’s not the story of how they suffered. It’s the story of how they survive.

 

Max captioned Hey Girl, I don't need to see the pain and humiliation you suffered as a sex slave. I believe you.
This moment of awesome brought to you by feministmadmax.tumblr.com!

In short (too late) Fury Road’s omission of a rape scene highlights how unnecessary many rape scenes are. We don’t need to constantly show rape because of “historical accuracy” any more than we need to have heroes and heroines who are missing teeth and who have lice and nutritional deficiencies. We certainly don’t need to use rape to establish historical accuracy in a story that chooses to omit those other markers. We don’t need to use rape to show that someone is a villain if we have already established, either by showing or by telling, that they have done bad things. We don’t need to use rape as the only way to show someone’s vulnerability – it is one of many dangers that women (and men) face, but not the only danger. We also don’t need to show the rape itself to convey the impact of rape on a survivor. Rape deserves to be treated as an event that takes place in a certain context and which has powerful effects on the survivor, the rapist, and the people who surround them. It doesn’t deserve to be treated as a short-cut, a device, or a trick.

There are times when showing a rape is going to be the most artistically honest choice. But for this to be the case, artists need to stop falling back on the same excuses to use rape as a short-hand for “this person is vulnerable” or “this person is bad” or “this place and time is scary.” By choosing not to include a rape scene in Fury Road, Miller demonstrates how powerful a story can be when you trust the actors, the storytelling, and the audience, and when you keep the focus not on the actual moment of sexual assault but on the culture that permits it and on impact it has on survivors.

Well played, Fury Road, well played.

Categorized:

General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    +3

    Ok, what I’d really like to hear is your thinking about the rape-in-the stairwell scene in “The Sopranos”???

  2. 2
    DonnaMarie says:
    +6

    Wow, Carrie. Just wow. And thank you.

  3. 3
    K.N.O'Rear says:
    +6

    So much yes! I’m with you in the fact that I don’t like on-screen rape or abuse of any kind unless absolutely necessary. I also really hate the “historically accurate ” argument and when it is used as short hand for vulnerable. Great argument.

  4. 4
    quantum entanglement says:
    +6

    Wow, awesome essay. Very thought-provoking.

    My most hated argument for including rape in fantasy is “but rape and the oppression of women is just realistic!”. UH, what? Are dragons, magic and frost zombies realistic too? No? Okay, great.

    A really good counterpart to the “rape-is-realism” crowd also is the video game series Dragon Age. It’s a very dark, Game of Thrones style world. There is a lot of death, darkness, oppression and things getting progressively worse for the world. Also, obviously, dragons! What’s so great about Dragon Age, though, is that the most powerful people in the game world are women. The head of their church, the most powerful institution they have? A lady. All the priests? Women. The most powerful monarch in the world? A lesbian woman who is pretty openly out. The lore of the games, while still “gritty” and “dark”, has developed a world where women and men are considered equal. Rape is referenced/implied, but never shown, and the main characters who experienced rape/rape attempts are consistently shown in the context of “this how they survived and went on to be even more awesome.”

    SO. It can be done. The show runners and creators just have to WANT it to be done.

  5. 5
    Lostshadows says:
    +5

    This.

    Rape seems to turned into a lazy shorthand/titillation for too many people. We need to show a character is evil? Rape. We need to show a woman in peril? Rape. We need this female character to have growth? Rape.

    I was kinda shocked the other week, while rewatching a movie, to realize that a scene where the main bad guy was preparing to torture a female spy he’d captured, that there was no implied threat of rape. He was going through the same process he’d gone through before torturing a previous male captive.

  6. 6
    +5

    *standing ovation*

    THANK YOU.

  7. 7
    Pangolin says:
    +4

    I read a similar analysis by a SFF writer recently, that hit a lot of these same points and had a few more to offer: http://swan-tower.livejournal.com/738223.html

    One of those additional points she made was about not including rape in a story if the point is to give a different character (usually male) something to be angsty/motivated about. If it’s a cheap shortcut for character motivation, then the author needs to use imagination and come up with a different plot.

  8. 8
    +4

    One of the Game of Thrones defenses I read when that episode first aired was that it would now motivate Sansa to fight back, kill her rapist, stop being a victim who needs to be saved by men.

    So far that hasn’t happened. While it would have been problematic to suggest repeated rape was part of her character development, the kickstart to her kickass, now I’m not sure why we needed to see it happen to her at all. Other than the show going for shock value. I think every female character except for the old/underage ones has either been raped or threatened with rape, and it’s burned me out.

  9. 9
    Leticia says:
    +3

    This is a great post. The other thing that I realized when having this conversation regarding Game of Thrones (and omg so many people hit me with the “historical accuracy” claim) is that people who were okay with the extensive use of this plot device in the show were probably people who only watch Game of Thrones. For real.

    I was reading an interview with Bryan Fuller in which he discussed his choice not to include sexual violence in Hannibal, where he calls the use of rape on TV right now an “epidemic”. If you think about the statistics, though, it might even be realistic to have so many women be sexual assault survivors, but that doesn’t change the fact that watching such a horrid act be used as a plot device over and over in what is usually a pretty lazy way is tiring and disturbing as fuck, especially when you consider this is a threat women have to deal with on a daily basis.

    So basically, it’s not that I want people to simply stop using rape as part of the plot, because it actually is important that these stories are told. It’s just that I will definitely choose which shows to continue watching and which to quit based on how they choose to portrait these stories. GoT is definitely a show I can let go of for these reasons, as was Reign. Mad Max was a great example of using it right, as you showed in your post.

    Outlander is a bit more tricky. I still think they finally managed to give sexual violence the weight it needed after they stopped using it as a threat to Claire’s well being every two scenes. Jamie’s rape in the finale was a horrible thing to watch, but it did convey the horror it causes to body and mind. His recovery (or rather the beginning of it) was definitely the main plot in the episode and it will likely continue in the next season. Yet the scenes were some of the worst things I’ve ever had to watch on TV and film. Were they really necessary? Should a rape scene be confortable in any way? I feel like the way male rape is often ridiculed in media makes a point for showing it as true horror, but I definitely understand anyone who chooses not to watch it. I’m still not sure what to think about the show, but I do know I prefer to watch absolute horror and *feel* absolute horror than see rape be used as it was in GoT, where it basically just made me shrug and think “of course the would do that”.

  10. 10
    Sophie says:
    +4

    There’s a long tradition of putting in rape scenes to titillate the audience. When women were first allowed on the English stage back in 1660, the playwrights were eager to show off their bodies. There were two main ways they liked to do this: having them in drag, so that the trousers showed off their legs, and rape scenes, so that they would be scantily clad. Obviously they showed a lot less of the rape than modern TV does, but it’s still the same idea. Even the women playwrights were doing it (yes, Aphra Behn, celebrated feminist, first woman to earn your living by your pen, I’m looking at you). Trying to pretend that putting in rape scenes all over the place is anything other than misogynistic, done because too many people enjoy watching it, is simply sickening. And as this article points out, you can often convey far more by showing less. Think of the first Alien film, where you only caught glimpses of the monster, and it was terrifying.

    Another point which never seems to be raised is that showing rape scenes is really distressing for the large number of people who have experienced rape or sexual assault. I had to stop watching the second season of Sons of Anarchy for this reason. It wasn’t just that it showed a gang rape early on. It was because after that, every single episode showed it all over again in the “Previously on Sons of Anarchy…” bit. It’s also a horrible thing to put the actors through, including the ones playing the rapists. James Marsters said that the attempted rape he had to perform in Buffy was one of the hardest things he’s done in his life.

    Then, of course, there’s the problem that GoT is chock full of paedophilia, and they had to raise the ages of all the kids when they made the TV series. And full of gratuitous torture. There’s an excellent analysis of it at Tiger Beatdown.

  11. 11
    Elinor Aspen says:
    +3

    I think most of the rapes on Game of Thrones are gratuitous, just as most of the murders are. The whole show is high-gloss torture porn. Outlander is a little bit different, but I think they overdo it as well (probably because such elements are now expected in a premium-cable costume drama).

    I’m not sure you can really use Fury Road to refute Game of Thrones, however, since the characters (and plot) in Fury Road are just shallow excuses for a visually stunning chase movie. The wives are secondary characters, and the film doesn’t care that much about their emotional journey. Game of Thrones at least includes emotional drama and clear character arcs, so the argument of showing the effect on the characters is more plausible (although I think it is refuted by the way the rape scenes are framed).

    As has been pointed out far more eloquently, if Game of Thrones was including rape for reasons of “historical accuracy” (which is rather ridiculous in a fantasy work), then male characters would also be raped and threatened with rape on a regular basis.

    I think the only acceptable reason to include a rape scene in a movie or TV show is to evoke a visceral emotional response (fear/pain/anger/horror) in the audience. I think the stairwell rape in The Sopranos was included for that reason, as was the rape scene in Deliverance. I think such scenes need to be very carefully handled so it is clear that they are not meant to be in any way titillating. I think Outlander failed in that regard, and Game of Thrones doesn’t even try.

  12. 12
    chacha1 says:
    +5

    So much agreement.

    I had only a hazy familiarity with the “Game of Thrones” precursor novels because I never was interested in reading them, so I haven’t at all missed seeing the adaptation; and after reading about all the violence (sexual and otherwise) I have no interest in ever seeing it.

    I had read the first Outlander novel, and that was enough for me. I read one Christina Dodd historical novel that highlighted a rape – one that was presented as seduction, but clearly wasn’t – and never read anything of hers again. I find rape to be, 99% of the time, just lazy writing. And I say that having included a marital rape in my own first novel.

    I feel the same way about certain types of violence. I ranted not too long about a couple of otherwise very good books that were ruined, for me, by graphic depictions of egregious violence against animals. It was, as pointed out so well above, TOTALLY UNNECESSARY. We already knew the perpetrators were horrible people.

    Maybe sometimes a writer gets an idea and thinks oh! that’s so gruesome people will talk about it and they’ll remember this work. Without thinking that the thing remembered will be the nausea and nightmares caused by the work, not the otherwise good writing surrounding the offending scene(s).

  13. 13
    Cynthia Sax says:
    +2

    I agree with Elise that the scenes should be very carefully handled and they should be crafted so they’re not in any way titillating. Rape is a violent act. It’s not sexy.

    I have a rape scene in Releasing Rage and I agonized over it (the victim is attacked, there’s a scene break, and then the love interest finds the victim). The scene was necessary for the world and for the hero’s and the heroine’s character development so it was either include it or not write the story.

    But I know some faithful readers will be upset. That bothers me. I can’t wrap my head around someone adding such a scene purely for shock value. George RR Martin must have received thousands of angry emails after the Sansa episode. Why would anyone want that if it WASN’T necessary?

  14. 14
    Mrs Fringe says:
    +2

    Brilliant post–thank you!

  15. 15
    Sandra says:
    +3

    AAAllllllll of this. I am so into all of this <3 Great article.

  16. 16
    +3

    The argument that always gets me is when rape is used to show how dangerous a time/place is because if we were being honest then every single contemporary novel or television show should depict rape. It isn’t as if thousands of women (and men, although presumably to a lesser degree) aren’t raped every day.

    Personally, I think that in featuring rape more prominently in historical novels and period dramas allows us to feel better about our current rape culture. It allows people to say, “well, at least things aren’t that bad today” despite the fact that it really really is. Over 200,000 people are sexually assaulted each year and only 2% of rapists will serve even a day in jail. Totally unacceptable, but we hide our heads in the sand and pretend that it isn’t happening, which is why when it does happen so many people don’t believe it and need to see a girl walking around her college campus and carrying her mattress to take notice.

  17. 17
    +2

    […] Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Carrie S. has some thoughts about the depiction of rape in fiction and how George Miller’s […]

  18. 18
    +3

    Great article. I’ve still not watched the movie adaptation of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because I didn’t want to see the rape scene played out. It’s one thing to read in a book where you can skim or sort of create a mental barrier, but the visuals can be so assaulting.

    A friend and I reviewed Outlander this season for theStake.org and we almost always ended up talking about the rape threats and threats against women. My friend quit reading the first book, but was compelled to watch the series after good initial reviews. The show is frustrating because it does so much so well, but artistically I would have preferred they showed only glimpses of Jamie’s assault. It was brutal. The threat against his sister shown in a flashback was as horrifying, even though the assault was stopped. As a viewer, I was tense the whole time and not sure what to expect. Though at least there is a fair amount of showing women in a positive light that kept me watching.

    I think I’m done with Game of Thrones. So much of the good is wasted with heavy-handed Boobs! and threats against women. IT’s not any one scene it’s all of it together. Historically accurate my ass THERE ARE DRAGONS. Go fact check that shizz and report back. So many times there are other creative choices that could have conveyed the same effect without stripping women down and showing them dominated and hurt. So done with it. And yeah, the men are tortured too, but after awhile it’s just a lot of torture and your favorite characters dying or being mutilated or whatever.

  19. 19
    +2

    Also on the Hannibal note, someone noted Brian Fuller’s statement to not convey rape on the show. The show is EXTREMELY violent, and the first two seasons involve a lot of “torture porn” imagery of dead and mutilated women. So, there’s that. Also, there is fantastic storytelling and a lot of interesting choices of what is shown and what is not. Some I chalk up to it being on network TV (which is almost unbelievable, really), but I also respect the artistic views the show angles for. The sex in Hannibal is actually sensual. You don’t see sex like this on TV. Curious that the most sensual scenes are with a killer. They play with that contrast a lot.

    And if you still have interest and haven’t seen the show, Gillian Anderson is amazing in it. Emmy-worthy awesome and so fiercely complicated. Also Gina Torres is great.

  20. 20
    giddypony says:
    +2

    I.disagree about their being no character.growth in Fury Road. We definitely.Italy see “the wives”.go.from hiding inside to being active agents in becoming free. Nux grows tremendously, and even Max changes a bit.

  21. 21
    marion says:
    +4

    Thank you! I gave up on Outlander because of its rape fetish. The last two episodes were nothing but disgusting torture porn and explicit and titillating rape.

  22. 22
    Jennifer in GA says:
    +4

    AMEN!!!!

    —“In Game of Thrones, before raping Sansa, Ramsay Bolton flayed prisoners alive after they were promised mercy, tortured Theon, hunted a girl with dogs and watched the dogs kill her, flayed some other people, and said many horrible things. Some commenters have said in discussions elsewhere that we needed to see Ramsay rape Sansa so that we would know how awful Ramsay is. Really? After seeing him chase a woman through the woods with a pack of dogs, some members of the audience were still confused about his moral standing?”—

    This is virtually the same argument I have made about Outlander with regards to Black Jack Randall for years! (And I said the same thing back on a Season One recap here.) WE KNOW JACK IS SADISTIC AN EVIL. WE GET IT. For god’s sake, Diana Gabaldon- and the show runner/writers- STOP with the torture porn already! Stop with the rape for rape’s sake! It is gratuitous annd unnecessary.

  23. 23
    Vicki says:
    +3

    Well reasoned, extremely valid, great comments. This is why I love Smart Bitches.

  24. 24
    Karen H near Tampa says:
    +3

    Another reader who felt that “Outlander” was largely torture porn (not just for Jamie and Claire but many characters) and was very thankful she got the book for free but a little sorry she actually read the whole thing. So, like chacha1, that was it for me and Gabaldon. I also haven’t watched the show for the same reason. I have been reading the posts after each episode but almost could not stand even reading about the final episode. My feelings on torture porn, especially since so much of it is depicted with women as victims, have also kept me from watching “Games of Thrones.” I was very gratified when my boyfriend, who picked up a season’s worth from the library, spontaneously commented that there was a lot of unnecessary female nudity and assault that didn’t really seem to help with the story. I also stopped reading one of the authors I used to read (initially interesting vampire stories and world) after three in a row where the hero was systematically tortured, mostly sexually, by one or more women, for no really valid reason I could determine.
    This post, and the linked swantower article, were much appreciated!

  25. 25
    Katinka says:
    +3

    /highfivesyou Well said & so very helpful! I’ve been struggling with this subject for awhile, especially since I read a lot of romance novels. I haven’t watched Game of Thrones since season 2, and after what I’ve heard about Outlander, I’ve had no interest in watching Outlander either.

  26. 26
    Sarah says:
    +2

    As someone who has watched the Game of Thrones TV show, it was necessary imo to show how Ramsay treated Sansa for the viewer yourself to feel what Sansa is going through in comparison with how Ramsay tortured Theon/Reek. It showed Sansa being horribly abused but shows her strength in the following episodes in how she is determined to escape her situation. Her rape directly involved Theon, as Reek, where he begins to break and cry. It was a first step to her leading Reek back into who he really is – Theon Grayjoy.

    There was nothing making the rape pleasant, as many of it’s critics say, but was characterization between Ramsay, Reek/Theon, and Sansa. Ramsay was forced to watch the rape. We do not see the copulation. We only see Sansa walking to her bed when Ramsay rips her clothes off. We then see Reek breaking and crying as he feels responsible for her suffering (since everyone thinks he killed her brothers) and hear her being beaten and hurt by Ramsay’s rape. This is the way Ramsay treats his own wife. This is what starts Reek coming back to who he is, Theon. It eventually leads to (spoiler) an unlikely alliance.

  27. 27
    Sarah says:
    +2

    Having said that, I fully agree with you on Mad Max: Fury Road.

  28. 28
    LauraL says:
    +2

    Great essay, Carrie S. So thought provoking. To me, also, some of the best stories are told without telling or showing us everything. I do not need a visual in my mind from reading or something appalling and violent to cross a screen to understand a villain is a bad person or a character had a bad past. So I add my kudos to the Mad Max team for choosing to tell the story of the escaped sex slaves instead of focusing on their past in Fury Road.

    I read Outlander when it first came out and remember recoiling at all the rapes and near-rapes. Diana Gabaldon pushed the envelope with a few other scenes and lost me as a reader after the second book. I watched the first episode of Outlander on Starz. I started thinking about what was to come, including Jamie’s rape and I was done. No matter how yummy Sam Heughan is as Jamie Fraser, I knew I couldn’t watch. No Game of Thrones for me, either, along with a long list of books, movies, and television shows. This girl has nightmares from that stuff.

  29. 29
    Tristan says:
    +2

    I don’t think fiction writers have a responsibility to be historically accurate, but they do have a responsibility to portray their characters and settings with consistency.

    (spoilers)

    Mad Max is a fun action movie with a (mostly) happy ending. If, however, Immortan Joe managed to capture his wives, do you think his character would continue to rape and abuse them? Including a rape scene in Mad Max wouldn’t fit the flow of the film because Miller wanted to create an entertaining action movie, and the story happened to resolve happily.

    Game of Thrones has had a much darker atmosphere from the first episode where a young boy is thrown from a window. Whereas another show would cut away before a horse gets decapitated, Game of Thrones has never tried to hide its ugliness. Their philosophy seems to be: if you’re going to show a person getting cut, show the blood; if you’re going to tell the story of a rape victim, show the rape. They don’t even show it in that scene, you just hear it happen off camera.

    If you take issue with the rape scene specifically, then really your issue is with the show’s philosophy in general.

  30. 30
    marion says:
    +2

    Any time rape gets explicitly portrayed in film, tv, etc. it just helps rape culture along. And rape stereotypes. Look at how erotic the Jamie rape on Outlander was filmed to look. They show him enjoying it. So that some very sick people out there can get off on it.

  31. 31
    Lostshadows says:
    +3

    “We then see Reek breaking and crying as he feels responsible for her suffering”

    I’ve seen this given as one of the biggest problems with the scene, it makes Sansa’s rape all about Theon’s reaction to it.

    I can’t comment on how well it works in the context of the show, since I bailed after Dany’s wedding night got turned into a rape. (The scene is kinda squicky in the book, given her age, but she gets to overcome language barriers to communicate with her husband.)

    Just based on the descriptions, I think I made a good choice. There may be a lot of rape in the books, but it always seemed to come off as ugly, rather than titillating, to me. (Obviously, YMMV.)

  32. 32
    Lostshadows says:
    +2

    Oops. Forgot the @Sarah in my last comment.

  33. 33
    Tristan says:
    +2

    @marion
    “Any time rape gets explicitly portrayed in film, tv, etc. it just helps rape culture along.”

    I’m sorry to say rape culture existed long before shows were even remotely graphic, we were just better at pretending it didn’t exist.

    If you want a worldwide discussion about rape, I don’t think two of the most watched shows confronting the topic is a bad thing.

    TV and movies have had a long history of avoiding serious topics like these in the interest of making more money and placating the more ‘sensitive’ viewers, allowing the ordinary person to remain complacently ignorant in exchange for their own comfort. Don’t prove them right.

  34. 34
    Tristan says:
    +2

    I’d also like to point out that obviously, real rape victims don’t get to skip through their experience to later in their story. They don’t get to start their movie after their escape, they don’t get to fade to black to the next scene.

    Telling the story of rape victims without depicting their rape is basically like saying “We want to understand and empathize with what you’ve gone through, just not that specific part, because it makes us uncomfortable, and we want our audience to feel good.”

  35. 35
    Dancing_Angel says:
    +3

    What a GREAT article and I TOTALLY agree. I bailed on Outlander in extreme rage when Jamie not only beat Claire, but enjoyed it. That book should have a trigger warning and I remain incensed at Diana Gabaldon for having a “hero” like that. Yes, historical accuracy, I get it, but I read books to get away from things the way they are, not RELIVE them. At the very least, her books should have a giant trigger warning placed on the cover.

    I also agree that this normalizes rape culture and titillates viewers who are into that sort of thing.

    One of the other tropes that I HATE is when a female hero is raped and abused to “cut her down to size,” and is only healed thanks to the Patient, Kind, and Gentle hero. The patience and kindness of the hero isn’t the problem – the problem is that the woman never becomes the person she was beforehand. If she was cold, she is now warm. If she was arrogant, she is now humble. If she was a career woman, she is now maternal. And so on – and on and on and on. It’s as if while the male hero goes on a journey to find his true self, the female hero’s journey is to be converted into his perfect woman and reward.

    Straying a bit far from the topic here, so I’ll round it out by saying that one of the thing that bugs me the most about that sort of thing is how, once an abused or raped heroine finds her Perfect Guy, she is able to enjoy sex with him and never is afraid of sex again. Or violence. Which just isn’t true.

  36. 36
    marion says:
    +3

    @Tristan – I know rape is awful and I knew this before I watched the rape porn on Outlander. The only “new” thing I learned from watching Outlander is that your rapist can make you enjoy being raped. Oh, maybe that isn’t such new thing either as many female rape victims have been told “just lie back and enjoy it if you can’t fight it”.

  37. 37
    Coco says:
    +2

    @ Tristan

    I’ve been reading the comments here all day, and trying to formulate my own thoughts on the matter, and you just said it.

    I don’t necessarily want to see more rape on television, I don’t necessarily want to read more rape. But if you’re addressing rape, I think you ought to address it, and not gloss over it, as it is impossible, or should be impossible, to gloss over rape in the real world.

    I have read rape scenes, and I have seen rape scenes, that have been portrayed in a way that is not titillating, and does not shy away from the horror that is rape. I think calling every depiction of rape gratuitous, or titillating, or even just unnecessary, is somewhat lazy.

    I don’t think that’s what’s been done here, but I don’t think the discussion has been complete in that area. This has been very much about these three instances of rape portrayal (or not). I have yet to see any of these, but I have seen rape portrayed badly, in a titillating way, for Man Pain, or worst of all in a way that encourages rape culture. Certainly these should be watched out for and avoided.

    On the other hand, a depiction of rape that is not intended to titillate, one that is intended to show how awful it is, a depiction of rape that is about an experience that a person has, and not about a plot device or Man Pain, a depiction of rape that discourages rape culture, these depictions, I think, are important and possibly necessary.

    As scifigirl1986 said, we are hiding our heads in the sand and pretending this isn’t happening. I don’t think that’s better than a bad portrayal of rape on television.

  38. 38
    Linette says:
    +2

    I agree that too many rape scenes are intended to be titillating or are gratuitous. There are times when telling is better than showing. That said, I watched Outlander’s finale and I’m surprised some viewers thought Jamie’s rape scene was erotic in any way. Personally I found the scenes horrific in that they vividly depicted just how much rape is about power and subjugation and not sex per se.

    I admit I was uncomfortable when the flashbacks began and wondered if the explicitness was really necessary. And then Jamie brokenly says *spoiler* “He made love to me” to explain why he feels so worthless and emasculated. I realized then that his statement would not have made such an impact if I hadn’t seen how Black Jack had systematically and insidiously ripped away his sense of worth and agency.

    And when he spoke of the relief of the pain being taken away (after Black Jack administered the oil of lavender) I could fully understand why he finally submitted. I don’t think he enjoyed the act so much as the respite from all the pain. And he also seemed out of it by then. Frankly, I was heartbroken for him in a way I might not have been if I hadn’t seen his pain and humiliation first hand or how in Jamie’s head Black Jack managed to twist what he’d done from rape to seduction (not quite the correct term but I can’t think of a better one right now).

    So in this one instance, I didn’t think the graphic depiction of rape was gratuitous or that the episode would have had as much of an impact without them. But the numerous rape and extended torture scenes in GoT? Yes, I could definitely do without those.

  39. 39
    Cat says:
    +4

    I always found it hilarious that Gabaldon makes such a big fuss over fan fiction when her own books are based on Highlander and her rape kink is blatantly obvious.

  40. 40
    olympiasepiriot says:
    +3

    Damn right. Great piece.

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