I read scripts for a living. I write reports about which characters sucked or ruled, how they can be better, why the story is flat, where the setting disappears and leaves a few talking heads, all of it. I love story. I love dissecting story and finding ways to reinvent plot or subvert expectation, and more than anything, I want to be free to do my job without having to think about “rape culture,” and yet that is completely not possible.
The reason? I’ve read 30 A-level scripts so far this year, and here are my breakdowns:
• 13 successful or attempted rape scenes
• 18 scripts featured a female character whose only purpose was to have sex with the protagonist
• 1 sex scene with the words “love,” “care,” “meaning,” etc., and this was between 2 gay men
• 1:12 ratio of female to male characters
• 1 script with healthy, but tumultuous female-male romantic relationships, but all 4 female characters saved by male counterparts
I’ll stop there for stats, but there’s a whole lot more I could include. For now, just look at that first stat. In 30 A-level scripts (these will get made), there are 13 successful or attempted rape scenes. Keep in mind that some of these scripts have multiple rape scenes in one story, but I don’t know if that makes it better or worse. What I definitely noticed about these scenes, though, is A) the rapist was always a fat, greasy guy (villain) who took his belt off VERY slowly, while the woman screamed/cried/begged/was held down by his friends, B) the rape was used as a plot device to advance the male protagonist’s storyline, and C) these scenes were all written by men. I’ll cover these in order of appearance.
To my male screenwriter friends, this is not what most rape looks like. One of the biggest problems we have within rape culture is our inability to see that most rapists are regular dudes who’ve never been called out for their behavior and who’ve grown up thinking that rape is only rape if you’re a big ugly villain holding a girl down while she screams. So I’ll clear this up and remind everyone that rape most often occurs when a woman or man is unable to consent, because of intoxication, mental illness, physical incapacity, or because they are underage and not yet mature enough to make such decisions. No consent. That’s it. It’s broad and encompassing, but that’s where the bulk of sexual assaults lie, not with a greasy pig-like Southern man who takes his belt off very slowly (please stop writing the belt thing into scenes, guys).
Second up is “Rape as Plot Device,” which is the title of this post and one of the most disconcerting things I’ve seen, because it trivializes two things I love greatly: WOMEN & STORY. I can live with a hundred offensive things if the story is good enough. I hate saying that, but I do love story that much. The very last script I read had our “heroine” in the position to be raped no less than 7 times (I only included 2 of these in my count). And every time someone tried to rape her, the rape itself was motivation for the male protagonist to act and do something heroic. I’ll repeat that: There were no other catalysts for the man to act outside of the motivation of his woman being raped.
I’m one of those weird women who actually has a sick fascination with “rape revenge” movies, but there’s a distinct difference between a rape-revenge film and a rape-as-plot-device film. Rape revenge traditionally features a female protagonist who is brutally or carelessly raped within the first 10 minutes of the script. Initially, her will is broken, but by the 25th page in the script, she’s already up kickboxing and figuring out knife tricks like a master, because she will avenge herself. A rape-as-plot-device film, on the other hand, features a male protagonist who bears witness to the woman’s suffering and goes after the bad guys, though his is not a mission to reclaim the woman’s strength. No, his is a mission to punish the rapist, and then we never hear about the raped woman again. I should mention that I’m not condoning rape-revenge films for everyone, but as a genre, something about them still feels empowering in a time when only like 8% of rapists are ever punished at all. As a side note, I wonder what a rape-revenge film written and directed by a woman would look like. I may make a feminist version of one some day.
And speaking of punishment, there was one scene where I actually had to put my head down on the table for a second, because it featured a villainous woman being raped and was very clearly written in a way that the audience was supposed to cheer this on…We were supposed to cheer on a rape. Wow. The weird part of this was that the woman in question was already made to be a sex addict who frequently had sex with her twin sister in front of the other villainous men, so…I guess it’s at least saying that even if you’re cartoonishly promiscuous, it doesn’t constitute consent…I don’t know, though. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intention. The intention was to punish this woman. The worst possible punishment? Rape. Yet, when men are punished in movies, none of them have to give a blow job to someone before their brains are blown out. But then we get to the third part of this discussion, where all of these rape scenes are written by men. Hell, I’ve only read 1 script written by a woman this year, and she was the co-writer, because it was based on her novel.
Anyway, this signals to me something problematic, because it seems through the use of rape as a plot device of evil that we have all agreed that rape is one of the biggest evils you could ever inflict upon another human being, yet–as stated above–we have people who have no idea what it’s like for a woman to be raped constantly perpetuating the “ideal” rape. And I mean constantly perpetuating. Why are so many men writing rape into their screenplays? Why are so many men writing what I’ll call The Slow Southern Belt Removal? What might be even more strange is that these men are often writing these scenes for films that play for a mostly female audience as well. You know how we always make fun of Lifetime Network movies victimizing women? MOST OF THEM ARE WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY MEN. Take that in. Men are writing the deeply personal films women consume, and they are terrible. It’s no wonder that the projects they make that are written by women (THE BURNING BED) become the classics.
While I do have an appreciation for a man who’s willing to tackle a tough subject like rape, I think it’s time that we start looking deeply into why those scenes exist in our films. Representation of women in film and TV is a far larger problem than just this, but for this prong of the argument, I think we should demand realism and identify how these false perceptions are sensationalizing a very real and very wrong act of evil committed on a daily basis. If we’re talking about rape culture and why the problem is so interwoven into everything we consume, here’s one facet that clearly needs more analysis.