I would call it a spoiler alert if we didn’t all know that it was coming. It’s not so much a spoiler alert as it is a given. Which is depressing.
I should preface what follows by saying that I did not watch the recent Game of Thrones episode wherein yet another decent character gets raped. I didn’t watch it for the same reason that I have not watched the show so far: because I have already done enough harm to my psyche by reading the books. Why on earth would I want to watch again the unsatisfying non-conclusion of hours of torture and severing of limbs and heads and moral compasses? At least a book doesn’t let me hear every excruciating detail of what is being described to me.
It was around the time when Reek came on the scene that I had to put down George RR Martin’s endlessly tormented series and never pick it up again. I did this for several reasons. First of all, after reading four books in the series, I was starting to get really irritated by the torture that was going on, both emotional and physical. Second of all, the description of what was happening to that poor man was egregious and overwhelming in so many ways. It was easily the worst thing that I had read in the series. And finally, and most importantly, I knew there wasn’t going to be any pay off.
Now I know what you’re thinking, we don’t always need a Hollywood Ending where the Hero gets revenge on the Dude Who Wronged Him. And I agree with you. And denying the hero that chance is fine. It’s good, even. Challenging the easy outcome in works of fiction is a really good, powerful thing to do. My problem with GRRM is that he has written over 5,000 pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, and the chief theme seems to be that the bad guys are going to just kill and fuck up everything that you like with no discernible consequences. I mean, yea, they might kinda be worse people afterward? But they still have money and power and they still keep using it to destroy everything that you love. And after 5,000 pages, that tactic is draining, disheartening, and honestly makes me never want to read a word written by the man ever again.
Needless to say, the combination of GRRM and rape-happy HBO did not leave me thrilled at the prospect of the television series. I watched the first episode or two because I, like many people, could not resist the lure of the lush fantasy world I had invested so much time in being projected on a screen so that I could really see it. I will also admit to being drawn to garbage television, because that is a very real thing in my life.
Needless to say, I was not surprised in the least when they decided to rape Sansa in the show. I mean, how else were they going to make sure that she suffered? Having her father beheaded in front of her and his head paraded around by her sadistic and insane fiance wasn’t bad enough, clearly. Neither was being publicly beaten and humiliated by that fiance. Or being accused of murdering that same dude (which, to be fair, I totally would have actually done). Or having her uncle creep on her. Or being nearly thrown to her death by her insane aunt. Nope. A real strong female character is made strong by the introduction of a man’s penis forcibly inside her. Nothing more, nothing less.
The problem that I have with rape as a plot device is that it feeds into this idea that women need to suffer a specific type of trauma in order to become heroines. They cannot be considered serious contenders unless they have been broken and dehumanized by other characters first, which is, to me, totally unacceptable.
On top of this entire pile of issues with rape as a plot device, the idea that a woman has to be changed into the best version of herself after being brutally violated by a man lights my blood on fire. Like oh, wait, she can’t have just gone through some serious shit, she needs to have a dick inside her before she really decides to play the game. It all goes hand in hand with the idea that women are somehow fundamentally changed – and by “changed,” I mean “devalued” – when they lose their virginity. Which is, of course, horse shit of the highest order.
And if rape isn’t being used in order to destroy a woman enough so that she can be justified in her role as a cut throat contender for The Big Plot Thing of a given story, it’s being used in order to motivate a male character to kill other men so that he can be a contender for The Big Plot Thing. So women are either raped into being cutthroat contenders, or raped as a plot device to anger men enough into making change happen.
Good. Great. Glad we covered all of that. And you wonder why we need feminism.
TL; DR: Rape as a plot device is lazy, played out, sensationalist, ratings-hungry bullshit.