It’s Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month and, as a youth activist, I’m all about these kind of conversations throughout the month (including any day ending in “y”). But while I get to talk about these things as a public speaker and advocate, rarely do I get to talk about it as a fangirl of scifi TV and popular culture.
Pre-release of Marvel’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. brought in some of the Asgardian heavies including Lady Sif and Lorelei, long-time enemies on either side of the Thor story arc–one, a loyal soldier of Asgard, the other a power-hungry seductress who can sway men with her sexy, sexy voice. (Cue the eye-rolling and Little Mermaid parallels, but let’s go on.) Without giving away too many spoilers, it’s no surprise the Lorelei manages to snag some of the agents under her spell, including the utterly forgettable Agent Ward (pardon the side commentary but I keep having to actually look up his name because it’s such a yawn-worthy stock character, but I digress). Under her spell, he does whatever she says, including bringing her to Caesar’s Palace, as befits her rule, and have sex.
And this is where things could get interesting.
“Interesting” for the writers seemed to be exploring May’s reaction and the subsequent fallout, ending their side affair and revealing he actually has the hots for someone else on the team (gee, I wonder who?) but what *I* find interesting is that we could have had a real conversation about rape and sexual assault from a man’s point of view.
It was 100% clear that Ward wasn’t interested in Lorelei under normal circumstances and ended up having sex against his will/under the influence of Asgardian magic mojo, but it might as well have been ruffies. He didn’t say “no” (or have even the ability to say “no” under these conditions), and the fallout for him, personally, and the relationships he has professionally were profoundly affected by it. And yet not one word about how he felt about this. And herein lies my point: in the misogynistic rape culture that we’re all raving about lately, there is a dual assumption that is at work here, 1) that any excuse for sex is fine by men & 2) that men don’t get raped. I disagree. Strongly. And, by failing to talk about it, we become part of the problem.
According to the Rape Crisis Center, 1 out of 33 men have been the victim of rape or an attempted rape in their lifetime, accounting for about 3-10%, somewhere between 93,000 and 140,000, according to the CDC. (By the way, this accounts for about 10% of reported cases; do the math–the rest are female–and an estimated 60% of rapes go unreported). No one likes to be coerced, no one wants to have their choices taken away or forced into anything–from sexual contact to eating their veggies–and guys have the extra, added bonus of a homophobic, victim-blaming culture that adds another ton of shame-based meaning onto an already degrading and horrific crime heaped on a person. How often do we get the chance to talk about such things in popular culture? A lot of conversation came up about the rape scene in the Divergent movie–and whatever you’ve got to say about it, it got people talking! And here was the chance to have that kind of important look at something a lot of men don’t want to look at and here it was, staring them right in the face…
And they didn’t.
I admit, I was disappointed. Although no one seemed to notice or even react much when I pointed it out in my geeky conversations with friends and *that*, more than anything else, made me want to write this post. Maybe I expected more from Whedon, but I was actually surprised that we didn’t go down this road–one that he explored in Buffy often enough–from casual sex to rape to failing to give permission first–and the entirety of Dollhouse was basically based on the premise, but this time, it wasn’t even sniffed at. What a lost opportunity!
And why? Because it was a guy. And we presume guys are okay with this.
I, however, feminist that I am, still believe in everyone’s basic humanity–that guys, just as girls, have every right to have boundaries of trust and comfort, that they know what it’s like to feel betrayed, have their feelings hurt, to avoid wanting to be debased or humiliated and not have sex used as a weapon against them. The difference is, even while it’s hard to talk about women’s issues in a male-based society, it’s sometimes even harder for men to talk about these issues for themselves. Was this the cause of the oversight? Shame? Maybe, but I think it’s more the fact that this premise doesn’t even show up on most people’s radar that’s the real underlying problem. Most guys would feel something after being drugged, manipulated and abused–even if it was sex with a hot alien chick–unless they’re as 2D cardboard as Agent Ward (sorry). But we don’t go there. We don’t talk about it. And we should.
In our writing world, please check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak for RAINN15 Campaign and if you or anyone you know is a survivor of sexual abuse, please reach out for help and support at the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE.