The Disappointments of Cinema Sex: Take Two, Consent and Coercion Really Aren’t That Different, Eh?

June 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

There is lots of pseudo-feminism in mainstream media.  There is nothing quite like watching a female lead kick someone in the face and seem “awesome” to trigger the scrunch my eyebrows make when I feel I am being condescended to by someone who is selling me a gimmicky version of women’s liberation.

Perhaps my very least favorite all of tropes, by which I mean the pseudo-feminism that gets a visceral, intense response from me, is the story of a woman being coerced by a man and then falling in love with him and having hot, consensual sex.  Witness, The Piano.  Or how about Game of Thrones.  There are more examples, I am sure, but these are perhaps the ones that made the strongest impression on me because people love them so much.

It’s like a slight of hand.  The calculation is:  rape is sex lacking female desire… so solve the issue by adding female desire!  It makes me shiver.  There is such a fine line between coercion and consent in the tangled up minds of those steeped in a rape culture a storyteller can suddenly have a woman’s feelings and experience “change” to become self-derived, positive, and hot.  And we’re supposed to believe that 1) this exists or is believable 2) the storyteller actually knows the difference between rape and sex 3) this character’s problem has been solved 4) it’s okay we were into the sexual tension being built by coercion and it is natural that we “knew” the female character would change her mind 5) the difference between men who have sex and ones who commit rape is the coincidental presence or absence of female desire, i.e. luck.

Three words for you:  Scary.  As.  Hell.

The idea that sex is hotter for men when women consent and get off too and therefore it is desirable as a general rule is quite simply not okay.  And it is something that exists in the real world.  How many women think they can solve “their issues with sex”, which really means the complex realities of oppression, by just wanting the sex they feel pressured to have?

Honestly, I cannot imagine anything worse for the cause of women’s equality than the coercion-turned-consent magical thinking of media representations of women “transcending” abusive relationships by conjuring desire for their abusers.

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§ 3 Responses to The Disappointments of Cinema Sex: Take Two, Consent and Coercion Really Aren’t That Different, Eh?

  • Rairun says:

    This kind of reminds me of Elevatorgate. Some people attacked Rebecca Watson for telling guys not to proposition to a stranger in an elevator at 4 am – and what was the response? WELL, SHE WOULDN’T BE SAYING THIS IF IT HAD BEEN GEORGE CLOONEY, WOULD SHE? SHE IS DISCRIMATING AGAINST UGLY, SOCIALLY AWKWARD GUYS. What astounds me is that a lot of people didn’t point out that it would have been creepy EVEN if it had been George Clooney, and even if she had in fact gone to bed with him. His actions don’t stop raising all sorts of flags just because he was lucky she wanted it too.

  • V. Bright says:

    YES! Thank you. I really like this post. This idea that the way to solve problems is for women to change what they desire and don’t desire, what they want and don’t want, what they consent to and don’t consent to…

    Rairun, I like your example, too!

    Hah! I got some amusement just now out of imagining the thought process that goes behind the Clooney-would-be’s of Rebecca Watson’s critics. I imagine that maybe the thought starts like this:
    “Men shouldn’t have to be locked into the Masculine Ideal, i.e. George Clooney!”—to which I say, ah, rejecting obligatory hypermasculinity! Huzzah! One step forward!

    But then that thought gets combined with this highly faulty premise:
    “As we all know, women desire coercive advances from men who meet the Masculine Ideal.”—to which I say, waaaait a second—

    And then it goes somewhere like this:
    “But we live in an enlightened age in which we see that it’s unreasonable to expect every man to meet the Masculine Ideal! Therefore the only way to move forward toward a fair and just world is for women to not only tolerate, but to actively desire coercive advances from both George Clooney AND ugly, socially awkward guys! So, y’know, fair and equal relations between the sexes? All on you, ladies.”—to which I say, oh dear…two steps back (or three, or four…)

  • Also, Twilight is another notable example—it’s written in the first person, so one can argue that the character is getting what she wants (and that’s empowerment, right?)—but the magical thinking that holds the Twilight universe together is pretty scary.

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