So I watched part of Into the Forest tonight. I say part, because the second the creepy dude walked out of the forest and tried to rape one of the protagonists, I turned it off.
Rape isn’t a plot point.
Why was it in this movie at all? Sure, it’s an apocalyptic movie. That means bad things happen, right? And rape is bad, right? So of COURSE rape has to happen. Right?
Rape is often used in novels, shows, and movies, as a way to make sure we know someone is BAD. It’s used to motivate a main character. It’s used to make an awful situation scarier. It’s rarely written into a novel in order to explore the consequences of sexual violence, to show its impact on the victim, to shine a light on all the crap society lays on the person who dared get raped.
Into the Forest seemed to be an interesting post-apocalypse story about two women who have to rely on each other to survive a global blackout that leaves them without power and stranded in the forest. It could have been about the power of family, the importance of being with people who love you, the way that trials and tribulations bring people together.
And then Stan, the creepy guy, strolls out of the woods.
Do you know how awful it is to watch a movie or read a book and always, in the back of your mind, worry that your favorite character might be sexually assaulted? Do you know how exhausting it is to fear for the female characters’ safety constantly? Even when it’s not a horror flick, there’s always the chance the writer is going to write in a sexual assault scene.
Think of Game of Thrones. Think of Sansa. There was no other way they could think of to show us that Ramsay Bolton was BAD? They hadn’t already established that with his other heinous acts? We couldn’t have seen Sansa grow stronger through other tribulations? Really?
What does it say about our society, that the de facto terrible thing we think of to visit on women is rape? What does it say about our perception of women? And men? Why are we constantly telling the same stories over and over again and then complaining because nothing ever changes?
I’m not saying there should never be sexual violence in a movie or show or book. But it happens often enough that I cringe whenever I suspect it might creep into the story. There are very few stories I’ve read or shows I’ve watched that treat the assault as anything more than a thing that drives the characters forward. It’s rare when it doesn’t feel gratuitous–a violent titillation that serves to gratify sick voyeurs. Why else would Stan come creeping out of the forest? Why else would we see two ominous men standing by a car on the side of the road? What were they doing there? Who did they have in the car? We can guess, can’t we? The sexual violence was implied, just as it was when the motorcyclists surround the car with Dad and the two girls in it. “Well, look what we got here,” one creep mutters.
Sexual violence isn’t about sex. It’s not sexy–but you wouldn’t know it by the portrayal of the violence in our entertainment. In reality, sexual violence is about power and control. It’s awful and devastating and affects victims for the rest of their lives.
For the love of all that’s unholy, don’t include sexual violence in your stories or your movies if all you want to do is showcase how BAD your bad guy is. Don’t make it sexy. Don’t downplay its affects. Because if you do, I won’t read it. I won’t watch it. And I will find something better to spend my time on.