Rape culture is everywhere, but most of the time we don't even notice it. As Senior Editor Liz Plank wrote here back in January, rape culture and sexism is a constant part of our favorite TV sitcoms, so it would make sense that it would also be present in some of our generation's most popular movies.
Many examples of this type of entrenched societal bias can be found in that most innocuous of Hollywood genres, the romantic comedy. It's amazing how some of the most familiar of supposedly romantic narratives are framed around unhealthy behaviors like stalking and harassment. As Feministing's Senior Editor, Chloe Angyal tells Mic, the danger in this narrative is that it teaches young women that they can't trust their own judgment. "You don't know what you want. You aren't intelligent enough to know what you want," Angyal said. "If I'm nice enough, then this dumb woman with terrible judgment will give in and date me."
These behaviors become even more problematic when we reinforce the notion that no doesn't actually mean no. As advocates work tirelessly to change the way we talk about and define consent in America, it's important to point out how warped our notions of traditional male-female romance has become.
"We don't notice it in fairy tales either," Angyal said. "We always teach our children that persistence is admirable and desirable and you should be willing to do anything to get the person of your dreams. It's not going to register as a violation of consent. We are always taught that a man can be tamed or changed by being loved by the right woman."
With sexual offense reports on the rise among U.S. colleges, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the battle to end rape culture must be fought among the younger generations, not their parents. This is why it's also important to remain vigilant about the kinds of messaging disseminated by one of our most accessible forms of entertainment: the Hollywood blockbuster. Let's take a look a few popular films over the years and analyze why they reinforce rape culture across generations.
I have to confess that Say Anything is one of my favorite movies. But the film's most memorable scene is actaully rather cringe worthy.
When John Cusack's character, Lloyd Dobler, shows up at Diane Court's house in the middle of the night, boombox in hand, it's not romantic. In fact, it's stalking.
After a brief summer romance and before she is expected to leave for Europe for a fellowship program, Diane Court has rejected Lloyd in an attempt to make the break easier on him. Instead of accepting her "no, I don't want to go out with you anymore," Lloyd rides around town obsessing over Diane, refusing to give up on their relationship. In the middle of the night, Lloyd's attempt to win Diane back is, taken out of the Hollywood romantic comedy context, creepy at the very least.
This is a guy who literally wakes his (now ex) girlfriend up in the middle of the night, stands outside of her window, and plays their song. It's a moment that has become an iconic symbol of young love's steadfastness, but if anyone showed up at my house and stood outside of my window, I'd think I was on a real life episode of Criminal Minds, and call the police.
In this romantic comedy, starring Steve Carrell and everyone's favorite heartthrob Ryan Gosling, one of the subplots revolves around Carrell's son and his babysitter.
Throughout the movie, Robbie Weaver tells the 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica Riley, how much he loves her and constantly attempts to woo her with such "grand gestures" as a series of adolescent love notes. Not surprsingly, Jessica says no. Repeatedly.
Simultaneously, Jessica does the same thing to Carrell's character, Cal Weaver, who she has a crush on, at one point going so far as to take naked pictures of herself to give to the father. As luck would have it, these boudoir shots ultimately end up in the hands of the pining son.
Robbie is only an 8th grader, so his persistence in winning the romantic interest of his 17-year-old babysitter, while she is herself attempting to win the romantic interest of Robbie's dad, Cal, is a lovely, full circle representation of an unhealthy power dynamic. But even worse, as a reward for his persistence, Jessica ends up giving Robbie the naked pictures of herself pictures at his 8th grade graduation. Since when do people get rewarded for stalking?
Although rape culture is often on display easier to spot in action-heavy films, one of the more obvious examples of rape culture in modern cinema can be found in the The Fast and The Furious series.
As a huge lover of action-packed films, it's always a huge disappointingment to tune in and see how the women in this franchise are treated as props, just like the cars they are (sometimes) allowed to drive. In the epicly-long series' most recent installment, as in the previous five, cameras have a funny way of gravitating between shots of female butts to thighs to shiny rims and back.
Why is this important? More than just bad cinematography, this type of blatant objectification of women's bodies perpetuates the idea that women are something less than human, toys to be ogled, sized up, and, therefore, much easier to abuse them.
The problem with many action films is that women are not included in the story to advance the plot, they are simply there for decoration or typically the damsel in distress. Fast and Furious at least attempts to include women who are strong, smart, and fierce, but much of this is canceled out by the dozens of others who appear in the films as accessories for the tricked out cars they are draped over.
Reminder: Women are people, not objects.
A frequent theme in Tyler Perry's films is the way successful and career driven women are punished for being, well, successful and career-driven — as well as sexually sentient — characters. And that's precisely what happens to Jurnee Smollett's character Judith in Perry's 2013 film, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.
The plot of Temptation revolves around Judith being "tempted" to have an extramarital affair with Harley, a rich businessman she meets while working as a therapist. Harley's advances are at first rejected by Judith who repeatedly says no, a common issue in romatic comedies.
Is it wrong that when Judith repeatedly says no, Harley continues trying to seduce her? That isn't enthusiastic consent, it's not consent at all. But it's still celebrated as the modern-day equivalent of "wooing," also known as "wearing the woman down until she has no othe choice than to say yes." Slightly less elegant.
Also there's a really problematic subplot surrounding the villification of HIV victims. Winning on all fronts, isn't it?
After the tragic shooting massacre at the University of Santa Barbara, women took to social media using the hashtag #YesAllWomen to detail their personal stories of harassment and sexual violence. Eliot Rodger's manifesto was plainly misogynistic, and in the search for answers some people looked for connections between his main talking points and potential cultural factors.
Washington Post columnist Ann Hornaday noted specifcially the way Roger's misogynistic thinking seemed anchored in part by the idea that women are objects to be won, not people to get to know. This idea is commonplace in Hollywood, with Hornaday focusing on one recent example, the Seth Rogen and Zac Efron vehicle "Neighbors."
Typical of a Rogen feature (think "Knocked Up"), the film's plot features Rogen — a nerdy, awkward, scrub — ending up with the super attractive partner. As Rogen himself notes, it's all about "getting girls."
"How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like 'Neighbors' and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of 'sex and fun and pleasure'?" Hornday wrote. "How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, 'It’s not fair'?"
While this argument is purely theoretical — of course, it's not Seth Rogen's fault that Elliot Rodger went on a deadly rampage — it makes an important point about male entitlement, especiall in Hollywood where men reign supreme, no matter their appearance.
As Arthur Chu noted in the Daily Beast, nerds like him are "force-fed" a script wherein they expect to expected to lust after unattainable women, with "our only hope was to be unyieldingly persistent until we 'earned' a chance with these women by “being there” for them until they saw the error of their ways."
Predating Seth Rogen's prominence in the comedy genre, the American Pie series centers around the proverbial basics of the American male experience: drinking and finding a girl to hook up with. The goal, if these masterbutary masterpeices are to be believed, is to sex. Failing to achieve this goal, if you're a man, is nothing short of an epic embarassment. Meanwhile women who refuse sexual advances are often labeled prudes.
Feministing Senior Editor Chloe Angyal points out that American Pie's insistence on this trope perpetuates a toxic form of masculinity wherein "punishments" for the straight, white hi-jinx loving male characters are meted out through sexual witholding. In other words, "the punishment for the guy, is that he doesn't get laid and is sad."
There is no societal push back that says it's unacceptable to get girls drunk to manipulate them into sex, however. And that's the root of the problem.
Dispiritingly, the franchise appears to be getting worse, not better. In the latest iteration, "American Reunion," the old gang reunites, but with less concern for female bodies than before. As the Guardian's Allison McCarthy, a self-described "American Pie" fan, writes: "I couldn't believe my beloved Pie had been reduced to rape-culture humour."
A fan favorite, Will Smith's Hitch was Hollywood's attempt at redeeming the pick up artist. (If that term is setting off red flags for you right now, it may be because Elliot Rodgers, for one, was known to post hateful screeds on a website devoted to disillusioned former followers of such pick up artists, called PUAhate.com.)
As Chlor Angyal wrote in Reuters, "Men like Hitch exist in the real world, too, and they’re far less charming than Will Smith ... Pickup artists, the snake oil salesmen of social interactions, offer no end of books, workshops and websites aimed at other men who believe themselves to be trapped in the friend zone." Angyal adds that pick-up artists, along with their advisees, view women as mere obstacles to sex, even if it means manipulating or coercing them to engage.
Even the existence of a "friend zone" is problematic because everyone should be free to have or not have sex. The fact that women are consistently seen as putting a guy in the "friend zone" until one day he's worn her down to change her mind, is unhealthy manipulation and yet another violation of consent.
Although this example is fairly obvious, the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast is, at its heart, a textbook story of abuse. In the film, the svelte Belle must fall in love with the abusive and violent Beast in order to turn him back into a prince.
But the cursed prince imprisons Belle inside of the castle, effectively centering the plot of the movie around her Stockholm syndrome as she develops "feelings" for the beast.
Don't let the dancing teacups fool you — this narrative is part of a dangerous cycle playing itself out in relationships nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 10 percent of teens report being slapped or hit by a romantic partner. In addition, research shows that 1 in 3 girls will be emotionally abused by a romantic partner.
Maybe we should rethink the way Disney has transformed glorified servitude into a love-conquers-all fairy tale with a Prince Charming ending.
Everybody's favorite romantic drama, and a movie that I admittedly enjoy, The Notebook features some of rape culture's most notable characteristics. Sorry, Internet, but everyone's favorite feminist meme Ryan Gosling's character, while seemingly noble, manipulates Rachel McAdams' character from the moment they meet.
Gosling's chracter (Goz) threatens to commit suicide in the pursuit of his conquest on more than one occassion, including the time he hangs off of a Ferris wheel while begging her to go out with him. Over at Jezebel, Lindy West describes how the film reinforces some of the most problematic elements of rape culture. "For their big first date, Goz knows he needs to turn the romance up a notch, but he kind of shot his creephole wad at the carnival. Finally, though, he gets it. What's hotter than a suicide? How about a double suicide? (Math: It is literally TWICE AS HOT!)."
According to the CDC, "1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime." But domestic abuse comes in multiple forms, including economic and psychological. I love Ryan Gosling as much as the next person, but if a guy threatens suicide on your first date, it's a red flag that he's got a very serious problem with emotional manipulation.