Why do we have trouble recognizing even fictional accounts of rape?

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about the TV show Girls and their was that rape scene? a month ago. I don’t watch the show, so I can’t comment intelligently on it. I am, however, newly obsessed with Once Upon a Time, which also featured a was that rape? moment.

In the episode, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, the Evil Queen rips out the Huntsman’s heart, tells him that she will control him forever and that he will be her pet, then tells her servants to take him to her bedchamber. In present-day Storybrooke, Regina and Graham (their alter-egos) are in what appeared to be a casual sex-type relationship.

To me, it was a pretty clear, yes this is rape! And, maybe more importantly, the writers didn’t put this scene in by accident. It wasn’t a case of miscommunication between the writers and the actors. Everyone involved wanted this fictional rape to happen.

Yet it appears as though fans are split regarding what they saw. Reading the comments there are pretty interesting. People are saying, well, we don’t know what she did to him in her boudoir. She could have just laughed at the skid marks on his underwear. Or asking if we can blame her because the Hunter was such a hotie.

I’m disturbed by this. I wasn’t disturbed by the episode. I generally have a strong stomach for fiction. I’m disturbed that 42% of fans didn’t see that as a rape. This isn’t a court of law. We don’t need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what Regina did (though circumstantial evidence can be proof beyond a reasonable doubt) to form an opinion. Even so, I think the trouble, or what’s troubling me, is rather that people don’t understand what rape is.

I think people don’t understand that rape isn’t about sex. The Huntsman was not raped because he was so attractive that the Evil Queen couldn’t control herself. He was raped because she wanted to control him.

I think people don’t understand that women can rape.

I think people don’t understand that people they know and are friends with can be rapists (thus Regina can’t be a rapist! I love her character!). Rapists are not some mythical being like a troll under a bridge. I don’t agree with the idea that nice men rape too (I think if you’re a rapist, you’re a bad person), but I think it’s important to know that rapists (before we learn what they are) aren’t social pariahs. They have friends who like them and family who love them. (Did I tell you the story of my doctor, the mother of a kid I knew from high school, bragging about her son? Who, by the way, [rumor has it] participated in the gang rape of a drunk student? Sound familiar?) The kids from Stuebenville probably didn’t have goat legs and a tail. I’m not saying they are good people. I don’t think they are. I’m saying that their friends probably think they are. I’ve seen enough criminal trials to know that almost everyone has a character witness to say what a swell guy and family man the murderer is.

I think people don’t understand that rape is non-consensual but that doesn’t always mean stranger violence. Maybe the Huntsman didn’t say no, but he didn’t have to because it was clear from the context that he didn’t consent. If someone is passed out drunk, drugged, asleep, or doesn’t have a heart, that person can’t consent.

If you watch the show, what do you think: rape or not rape? Show your work.

About emmawolf

I'm a freelance writer living in Baltimore with my husband, son, and two cats. I'm working on editing my first novel. I love reading, traveling, and the cello.
This entry was posted in Feminist issues, television and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Why do we have trouble recognizing even fictional accounts of rape?

  1. I watch the show. It’s rape. It might also be sex, too, but definitely she is controlling him, and therefore he does not have the ability to make a consensual decision. Remember in season one, when left to his own devices, he went for Emma. And Regina killed him.

    • emmawolf says:

      I feel like it was really clear that it was rape in the magical world: she utterly controlled him and threatened him with death. In Storybrooke, I’m willing to see an argument against it, but I’m not buying it yet. She still controlled him (even though he didn’t know it) and could *make* him give his “consent.” It reminds me of Sidonie in Kushiel’s Mercy, if you’ve read that. In both cases, a character had their will taken away.

  2. I really enjoyed this post! I am also a fan of the show, but am disturbed by how few people understand that this was an instance of rape!

    • emmawolf says:


      It was disturbing to me when I asked my husband about it and he said no. I made him rewatch the relevant portion of the episode. Now he agrees with me. So I’m wondering how much of it is people shutting off their brains when they watch TV.

  3. djiril says:

    I think it was pretty clearly rape.


    I also think it is interesting that this is where people draw the line when she also murdered him. You might like Regina as a character and sympathize with how she got to be the way she is, but you also have to accept the fact that she has been a very bad person for a very long time.

    • emmawolf says:

      For me, this was the moment in the show that hooked me. I had thought the show was kind of bland before, but I was surprised when they went there with the rape. And I’m even more surprised that other people didn’t have this moment.

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