Trigger warning: rape/sexual assault
Note from the Editor: We publish this article with the firm acknowledgment and understanding that sexual abuse and rape happens to ALL genders, especially trans/nonbinary people, and especially trans/nonbinary people of colour—and that not all perpetrators of sexual abuse are men. This article was chosen to be republished from another source and was not written specifically for ANTIHEROINE.co.
Sitting in a very sophisticated PGA screening room on the Fox Lot on Tuesday night, wincing my way through Jennifer Lawrence being sexually assaulted for the third time (of five) in Red Sparrow, I wondered in a striking, heart-chilling moment, how many more times I’d have to sit through something like this.
I closed my eyes and waited for it to be over, listening to Jennifer Lawrence quietly strip herself with my eyes averted, not feeling capable of watching her character's trauma one more time in the course of an hour.
The moment had passed.
I breathed again.
My palms dried.
I calmed down.
An hour later, the credits rolled, and we clapped. Easy-peasy.
Coats were put on. Seats were retracted. Everyone around me seemed relatively nonplussed as they filed out.
To be honest, I was nonplussed, too. I was thinking about the parts of the film I enjoyed, wanting to know my boyfriend’s opinion, wanting to talk about the interesting parts—after all, we’ve seen this before, right? On-screen rape. It’s okay. She triumphed in the end! “Shake it off, Sasch. She got what she wanted. It’s over.”
But as I stood in the Los Angeles nighttime chill, I realized: It wasn’t really over, was it? Jennifer Lawrence was asked to be stripped, fucked, raped, manipulated, and physically assaulted, just to do her job as a movie star.
Did she triumph in the end?
Is that experience over, for me?
The movie doesn’t end for women—to one-third of the women in the world, these aren’t plot points. Rape is a reality. And “Dominika,” Jennifer Lawrence’s “hero” character, who, despite her moment of revenge at the end of the film, lives a life of misery and entrapment at the hands of powerful men around her from start to finish in the film—did she win? Was it even possible for her to?
Is making her story into a movie a triumph? For anyone?
Why are we making stories like this at all?
Male-written violence against women in television and films is endemic and sickening. It’s everywhere. Literally.
And I do mean physically sickening.
I assume that male filmmakers aren’t aware of the heart-racing, wincing, nauseating trauma that they put women through by putting violent rape scenes, verbal assault, incest, and domestic violence in their films, or they wouldn’t do it, so male writers, let me be the first to tell you:
It is traumatizing.
One third of us have been raped, by people who look like you.
These scenes make me hate you.
They make me hate your film.
You have no right to tell stories like these.
They aren’t yours to tell.
Red Sparrow was interesting, visually beautiful, well-paced, and engaging—but it was also, at its core, a fuck/torture fantasy that put Jennifer Lawrence through absolute raging hell because its writers were lazy and didn’t want to motivate a woman out of something born out of her heart and soul. Instead, they chose to motivate her by abusing her and taking away her options.
Is this the best you can do, writers? Are you serious?
It’s hard to imagine Joel Edgerton, Red Sparrow's other lead, agreeing to play a role where he was stripped, raped, required to appear fully nude, costumed in skimpy swimsuits, victimized, and demeaned, all while making no decisions about his own life or destiny. But of course not—that’s just something we reserve for Jennifer, right? After all, this is a movie about female empowerment! What else empowers women, aside from assault by men?
MALE WRITERS: Wouldn’t it be more empowering if your female lead wasn’t assaulted multiple times in the first place? (And P.S.: Have you talked to many rape victims? I have. I can’t avoid it. I’m a woman. It’s a part of our collective grief, and I don’t get to buy out, like you do. I don’t get protected like you do.)
So let me help: most rape victims aren’t vigilantes, hunting down their rapists in the middle of the night to exact violent and cathartic revenge. Most of them are shattered, embarrassed, hushed up, and made to feel responsible and ashamed. Or, on the other hand, they are seeking justice through a court system that re-traumatizes them, exonerates their perpetrators, and calls them whores.
There is no catharsis for rape victims. That’s not a thing that actually happens.
So who are you trying to prove things to, here, men who write these films? Who actually feels good seeing these men “getting what they deserve” in films?
You do. Men, I think it’s you.
You who feel guilty, you who shirk responsibility, you who think that by showing a rapist getting his comeuppance at the hands of the woman he dehumanized—YOU don’t have to look in the face at all at the ways you are responsible for what happens to women.
And you are responsible, by writing this role for a woman, for one—writing a role where she has to be fully naked, withstand multiple assaults, pretend to fall in love with a “good guy” male spy who questionably fucks her—rather than writing her a story where she is respected, where she is in control of her life, where she contributes positively to the world, where she has agency.
You are a part of the problem when you write stories like this.
By elevating this story, male writers, you are elevating rape.
I know you don’t think you are.
But you are.
Movies are powerful. Pop culture is responsible for the choices we make and the things we believe.
By showing these graphic assaults in environments of glamour, emotion, catharsis, and climax, you are normalizing them, glamorizing them, and encouraging them.
Do better with your power, please.
There is so much more that can happen to a woman than her getting raped by a fucking man.
Women can build world-changing companies, women can create inspiring families, women can have deep, complex, difficult relationships with other women, women can heal generational wounds, women can launch political campaigns, women can grieve, women can teach, women can revolutionize industries, women can lead companies, women can make jokes that make you laugh so hard you think about them for years and years.
Women aren’t just about you.
They aren’t just about your dicks.
I am tired of being a paying audience member who is asked to find the rape, torture, victimization, sexualization, and domination of people who look just like me to be acceptable and entertaining. I am tired of it.
And guess what, male writers?
You need me. You need my money.
You need to do better, because women won’t support these films. They aren’t telling stories about us. They are telling stories about you.
Women can be and are the authors of their own stories.
Why don’t you try talking to some of them first before you write something next time?
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