Wonder Woman and Boogeymen

There was a moment at the beginning of Wonder Woman where I cried.

No, it wasn’t the terrible accents.

No, it wasn’t the fact that the Amazons had shaved armpits. (Come on, Hollywood.)

No, it wasn’t the inexplicable missed opportunity for casting Lucy Lawless as Hippolyta.

It was when I realized I was not going to have to watch a woman — any woman — get graphically raped onscreen.

I was sitting next to a nice, dorky man who told me that his wife and kids were out of town so they bought him an Alamo gift card for Father’s Day. We joked with the server about him paying for my drink. This man and I were not going to have to cringe uncomfortably beside each other while a woman was graphically raped onscreen.

Next to him, there was a father with his two little girls. They squealed “AWESOME” every time Gal Gadot did something cool and “no no no no” during the kissing parts. This man was not going to have to wonder how long it was going to last or whether they should get up and leave while a woman was graphically raped onscreen.

I was so grateful that I cried.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie where a woman character kicked ass and all of us didn’t have to pay the price for that by first watching at least one woman be violently dehumanized before us.

Now, I realize there was mass rape in the background of the story of the Amazons, but it was implied, it wasn’t graphically depicted. And Diana herself experienced no personal trauma that set her on a path of revenge — her motivation was an outraged sense of justice and a belief that it was her duty to help others in need. Like, you know, male superheroes usually have.

I think there is far too much rape in entertainment. I am obviously not the first person to say this. We all say it; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t say it. And yet, despite the fact that none of us want to watch it, there it is anyway. In everything. Who is driving this?

Not all the rape stuff serves the same mechanism in storytelling. Some of it is character background, an emotional trigger, a motivation (the Strong Female Characters out for revenge). Some of it is pornographic titillation dressed up as socially acceptable concern — your Law & Order SVUs, your real life docudramas. Some of it is a thin excuse for survival puzzles: the “how will she get out of this one” movies where women are trapped in an elaborate web and have to extricate themselves with few resources, like Outward Bound for the rapeable. And of course, there’s rape as plot device — the ‘nothing’s happened in awhile, can we rape one of these women to shake things up’ move (Downton Abbey).

Rape is so multipurpose! You can use it to kick off a thousand different types of stories. Rape is so ever-present that I’ve even heard people complain about the lack of realism when some movie or TV show omits it (“come on, in that situation, there would have been a lot of rape”).

Side note: did you know that at $150 million, Wonder Woman was the biggest budgeted movie ever directed by a woman? Previously, Patty Jenkins’s biggest movie was Monster, which was an independent film with an $8 million budget. (That one did have rape in it.)

As we all constantly consume all this entertainment, all these thousands of rapes, it’s little wonder that women are pretty obsessed with the constantly looming specter of rape. Rape avoidance comes up constantly in conversations among groups of women. It’s not always about rape qua rape, but it’s about safety management, the rituals and precautions that we all perform in any situation to ward off the threat of pending rape.

Of course, no one ever shares their own rape in such a conversation, which doesn’t mean that no one involved ever experienced rape. In fact, it’s likely that at least one person has. But it’s less likely that anyone there has been attacked or raped by a stranger, which is what these conversations are about. These stories are about the friend of a friend, a rumor, a news story, a near miss. The violent and random stranger rape is both a more ominous and a less emotionally charged threat for women than the far more common and less talked about abusive relationship. The stranger rape is a ghost story. The boyfriend rape is an intimate and prosaic living nightmare.

Short digression: did you know that the woman who plays Artemis in Wonder Woman, Ann Wolfe, is a retired professional boxer from Austin? You might not have noticed that there was an Artemis, because she had no lines, but she was the enormously ripped black woman. I googled her because I was so impressed with her physique and found that she is a single mom of two daughters who was homeless for a time before discovering boxing and becoming a triple champion.

But back to rape. Women do get randomly raped by strangers, and serial killers do exist. I’m not saying they don’t. I don’t want to minimize these crimes, or their victims, or the steps that women need to take to make themselves safe. But serial killers are extremely rare. And random rapists in alleys are pretty rare! Not as rare as serial killers. And you probably know at least one woman who was raped by a total stranger, which makes it difficult to argue that they are so rare we needn’t worry much about them.

Still, most child and adult victims are raped and beaten and murdered by men they know, often by men they love — their fathers, their husbands, their boyfriends, their colleagues, their best friends, their dates. At least I think so, based on the statistics that are readily available, which are few. According to a study cited by the CDC, 18.3% of women report experiencing rape at some point in their lives, and of those, 13.8% report that their attacker was a stranger. In other places I’ve seen this as high as 25% of female rape victims and as low as 7%. But going by this one study, that would mean that 2.5% of American women reported being raped by a stranger.

I think? This probably isn’t very accurate! And that’s because the actual factual data behind the frequency of this sort of crime turns out to be difficult to find. And I mean, 2.5% is not nothing, obviously — it’s pretty damn high (although I’m assuming this includes particularly vulnerable women like sex workers? I don’t know, it doesn’t say).

But the percentage of storylines where women are raped by strangers is closer to 95.9% (I just made that up), and the percentage of time women spend worrying about getting randomly raped by a total stranger is similarly disproportionate. Based on how often we tell this story to each other, to our daughters, to everyone who will listen, you would think that it was common as car accidents. You would think it was taking women down like heart disease.

Many of our country’s most notorious serial killers targeted boys, but we would never in a million years try to make our sons fear that they might be violated whenever they step out the door. From the study cited above, while a much lower percentage of men reported experiencing rape (1.4% to women’s 18.3%), a greater percentage of those reported being raped by a stranger (15.1% to women’s 13.8%). But we would never dream of infringing on male autonomy by suggesting they habitually modify their behavior based on the prospect of stranger danger.

This fear mongering is pure misogyny, and we are all participating in it.

Back to Wonder Woman: many of the Amazons were scouted athletes. In addition to Ann Wolfe, they include an Olympic pentathlete, a heptathlete, martial artists, and CrossFit champions from around the world. Says Madeleine Vall Beijner, champion Swedish kickboxer who holds two World Championships, on acting for the first time, “I know what real pain, like getting injured in battle, feels like. I may not know what it feels like being cut by a sword or shot by a German rifle, but I don’t have to pretend that I know what if feels like to have someone snap my collarbone, crack my ribs, or bust my nose.”

It’s tempting to tell ourselves that we continually frighten young women (and ourselves) with rape stories in order to protect them. But by encouraging them to feel helpless, dependent, vulnerable, and constantly targeted, we’re making them more susceptible to the very men we seek to shelter them from. In reality, your daughter isn’t going to meet a rapist when she’s in the middle of a forest by herself. She’s going to meet him when she’s gone out to dinner with him. She’s going to meet him when he’s in a position of power, when what she wants is on the other side of him. And whether or not he is able to harm her doesn’t depend on whether she let a nice young man walk her home (he very well might be that nice young man). It doesn’t depend on whether or not she arms herself, because no one shoots their date or their friend. No one shoots the man who made their heart melt just one week ago.

Instead, they try as hard as they can to convince themselves that what happened didn’t happen, that it was something other than what it was, something normal, something fine, something that was their own fault somehow. And they usually succeed until the next time it happens.

Violent men hunt for frightened women, so if we truly want to make young women safer, we shouldn’t try to make them feel vulnerable and weak and dependent every time they do anything. Instead, we should support women’s independence and strength and self-worth. We should listen to them, respect their autonomy, trust that they are capable, and most importantly, believe what they say. If we support every woman this way, misogynists of all stripes will be a historical footnote. They’ll have nothing to feed on, so we’ll starve them out entirely.

So the next time a young woman you know and care about tells you that she’s taking a trip somewhere by herself, here’s my challenge to you: don’t say “be careful.” It’s going to be on the tip of your tongue, it’s right there, it will be so hard to swallow it! But swallow it! You don’t need to say it.

So don’t. Don’t make her start her amazing journey with a rape scene. Instead say, “That’s so exciting! Where will you go? What will you see?”

In Wonder Woman, Diana’s family worried about her entering a war. Throughout the movie, Steve Trevor wrung his hands about her charging into conflicts. But all of their worry for her was ludicrous. She was untouchable and invulnerable.

She was an actual god and she lived forever.

 

 

48 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Revelry Reverie and commented:

    I love this entire post, and wish I had written it. The stories we tell so often they become accepted and acceptable need to change.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is the most amazing post. It’s required reading for everyone, in my opinion.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. YES! Wonder Woman is exactly what kids need to see. Rape has become a part of the entertainment industry if we like it or not. Instead of using it to raise awareness that for instance males can also be victims of rape, they use it as an excuse for unnecessary revenge plots. I think that’s why I enjoyed ‘The Perks Of Being A Wallflower’ so much. It showed that a) it was a little boy being sexually abused and b) it was his aunt (aka a close relative) who did it. I think the movie also did a wonderful job of depicting the psychological effects this can have. I am sick and tired of seeing a movie where at least one woman is degraded in such an awful way, yet it’s treated as though it’s nothing noteworthy.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. What a post! Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This post was great… A lot of people need to see this and learn from it… And I totally agree with reconditioning the minds of our women…

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Very true! A great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I’ve been reading Wonder Woman comics from way back. She’s one of my favourite DC heroes. Glad she’s getting more exposure on-screen.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Reblogged this on Tales of a Female Human and commented:
    This hit me hard in the chest. Having read through many heartbreaking stories and contributed to the #lifeinleggings movement, this struck a deep chord with me.

    Wonder Woman – a woman empowered then shattering the coupled reigns of limitation, coming in to self to physically and emotionally conquer war and her own perfectly flawed being. With ultimate rejection of both revenge and helplessness, a tamed pure earnest for justice led foremost by love is uniquely featured.

    Elizabeth Urello certainly lifts the veil on common practice and passionately questions creative mindsets at work behind the scenes.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post. One thing to keep in mind is that rape has always been a favorite trope of tales and is found under many names (raptus, ravir, ravissement) since stories and myths began. It has a known format in many languages: the serranilla (Spanish), the muwashshah (Moorish Arabic), the pastourelle (French). It is found in tales from Celtic to Latin, from Italian to Hebrew. It was even considered unacceptable behavior at times, including the “chivalric” period. Clearly it’s a plot device that still holds great fascination, especially for men. So it’s no wonder it finds its way onto the screen so often, given that it’s been a reliable favorite through history. Hopefully this will change as more women have creative voice in productions. (Credit must be given to Bruce Holdinger’s “A Burnable Book” for some terms above.)

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    1. Sorry, that’s supposed to be “acceptable behavior”!

      Like

  10. Wow! amazing post.

    Like

  11. Well, damn. The moment my wife leaves the house, or has to close the shop alone before coming home, I always say, “okay, baby, be careful.” I wonder if I should, for the very reason you say I shouldn’t … I don’t want to plant the seed. I try to empower her, support her, and celebrate her individuality every day, but now … I think … I’m doing it wrong.

    This was a wonderful piece. I saw it shared by Discover and, being all about superheroes myself, I was immediately drawn to it. What does she mean “Wonder Woman and the Boogeyman”? Oh, I see. She means THAT boogeyman.

    Well, let me tell you, from a guy who’s seen too many plot twists based on rape, I always cringe. I always root for ANY other plot twist. Another commenter said it was always been thus, and she was right. She was also right in hoping that it will change. It’s lazy. It’s demeaning. It’s time to move beyond.

    Ironically, I haven’t seen Wonder Woman (or Spiderman, gasp!) yet, because my summer has been full. But I will. Now more than I ever, I’m looking forward to it.

    Great blog. Great advice. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m guilty of the exact same thing, Tom. In fact, we have a daughter due in November and the awful, worst-case-scenario thoughts are already swirling in my head. I never thought I could be passively perpetuating this stuff… the real world isn’t black and white and these things are difficult to figure out.

      The real reason I have refused to watch Wonder Woman is because I hate superhero movies, not female empowerment or dismantling rape culture. Eff me, how are those movies still making money?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. First off, congrats on the girl! I’m not a father, so I can’t speak to the many fears a prospective (or current) parent must face, I can only imagine. I think it’d be quite impossible, personally, to not worry sick about a daughter out there in the world, alone, in any environment. Those of you who face that, especially with courage, I commend you.

        I’m a huge superhero buff, and so is the missus. It’s almost inexcusable we haven’t seen it yet. To be corrected, soon.

        By the way, I stopped by your site and was impressed. I’ll be checking it out more later. Keep up the good parenting, badparent!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Your feedback and praise are invaluable to me and my fragile ego! Thanks much and I look forward to further conversation. Let me know if you wind up in the precarious situation of being a parent. “It’s tricky, tricky, tricky, trick-ay!!”

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh, I know! As the youngest of 7 I’ve had the distinct pleasure of watching and participating as my older siblings all raised children … I have felt their trials and triumphs!

            And, likewise! The conversation has only just begun! 😏

            Liked by 1 person

  12. Absolutely love this post ♡ I will say, though, I tell male friends as well as female to text me when they’re home so I know they’re safe… I think purely because I want to know they’ve got home safely! This could just be me though as I am a bit of an oddball 😉
    Such an important post and amazing to see a major film like Wonderwoman inspiring so many young girls to be their true tough souls 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Not odd – I do the same thing with all of my friends – especially if the weather is bad and they’re driving!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do this same thing. I think I am a product of my environment. As an ER RN I know what can happen on a simple drive home and want to make sure my friends have arrived safely.

        This post is amazing and so important. Are we making ourselves a product of our environment? Why should I be subjected to the horrific images of what I have seen in my ER? It’s amazing that I actually leave my house at all, knowing what disasters could be waiting, yet that’s not the majority of the population. I just am “lucky” enough to see the worst of the worst.

        Although I will be more mindful of the words I choose to support my female counterparts, I won’t stop asking my friends to text me when they’re home or that I love them, every chance I get!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Rape is certainly a legitimate problem for many women, but especially in developing countries. I don’t think that it should be whitewashed or covered up, but constantly seeing it is contributing to rape culture. Watching a graphic and explicit rape scene desensitizes people in my opinion. Violence shouldn’t feel normal. It’s disgusting and vile for many reasons, but rape is extra special messed up because the reasoning behind it is to basically say to women “See, this is all you are good for. I’m going to force you into it because I am bigger than you and you can’t stop me.” Even male on male rape is used to strip away their manhood. This is not okay and it’s not entertaining. I’m not saying that it should always be censored, but using it for shock value alone is sloppy writing at best and socially irresponsible at worst.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I feel I won’t be saying anything that wasn’t already said…so I’ll echo how much I loved this post – and the movie for the same reasons and more. Great job!

    Like

  15. What a fantastic post… you had me giggling from the beginning with the shaved armpits thought. Great read!

    xx

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  16. Let me start by saying – I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m glad it empowered you. I’m glad you saw the movie as a milestone for women around the world.
    However, how did the whole rape obsession come into play? Never once did I think about rape when I was watching this move.
    People say “Be careful” to anyone, because they might slip on a banana peel, or they might be struck by lightening. Not only because of the possibility of rape. So while, I see your point, it is not something we should consciously be trying to change.
    The movie was very much forgettable for me, but opinions vary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with this sentiment. I haven’t seen WW yet but I don’t start watching strong female lead movies immediately wondering if they’re going to be raped. I think you may be overstating the use of rape as a trope in film, because it’s actually really controversial and hard to deliver a story if its thrown in casually.

      Also have to agree with the “be careful” statement. I say it to anyone traveling, regardless of sex, because I want them to know someone is thinking of them and to be mindful of their environment (not just sexual assault).

      Liked by 1 person

  17. This post was awesome!!!

    Like

  18. 👏🏻amazing post

    Like

  19. It is shameful that gratuitous violence against any person, let alone rape, is used as entertainment. I feel sickened that a show like Downton Abbey would use it to spice things up. I have never watched the show, and definitely won’t now. We might even become more desensitized to violence if it is fed to us on social media and the Television.

    Like

  20. There seem to be some people who seem to be more focused on rape than others. I can’t remember the last time I watched some thing that even hinted at rape, let alone used it as a plot point. Maybe i’m watching the wrong things? I think the Downton reference was a bit disingenuous. It wasn’t for me a case of ‘nothing’s happened in awhile, can we rape one of these women to shake things up’. It explored the attitudes and behaviours of that time period, approaching a subject that is discussed pretty freely today in a period where it wasn’t and carried much more stigma within an environment that reflected varying social classes and backgrounds. That’s not to say it is never used as a disingenuous plot device but I think this was a poor example.

    As a male, I too make sure I take precautions not to put myself in dangerous situations, I pay attention to walking down certain streets/neighbourhoods. I worry about my son as much as my daughter and probably warn and advise my son more, as I think my daughter is more capable of looking after herself than he is. Its not misogyny, its wanting my loved ones to be safe. That is not to reduce what anyone else may feel about it, but it is not an attitude exclusive to females.

    “Don’t make her start her amazing journey with a rape scene. ” Wow. That’s a bit much. When I say “take care” I want my family to be aware so that they dont get runover by a truck, get the right train, eat right, dont lose their money, dont get their drinks spiked, watch out for people on mopeds who might attack them, dont do anything dangerous or stupid like diving into shallow pools, and of course look out for potential dangerous situations. While rape is of course a possibility to anyone in this world, and naturally I would not want it to happen to anyone, I am not obsessed enough with it to let it dictate my entire attitude. There ARE some bad people out there. Thankfully they are few and far between, and we all need to “be careful” to some extent and I will continue to say it to the people I love regardless of gender, and its intention is not based on a fear of rape or to instil fear or vulnerability but to instil common sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thanks for writing this post. I’ve often commented to male coworkers about women’s roles in film, art, and literature in general. I won’t go into the details of my observations on this topic, but will simplify by stating that it is RARE to see female character kick ass without being sexualized. I haven’t seen this film yet, but I’m hoping it will amaze me. I imagine that as a superhero, she will be somewhat objectified, and likely have a male love interest, but having her be a badass without a vendetta is a push in the right direction for archetypical roles.

    Like

  22. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for writing this.

    Like

  23. Ishita Ghosal

    amazing blog!!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Excellent post. I remember going to a SFF author’s meeting once and commenting to a male author that I liked a book about a strong woman character but regretting that the author felt they had to prove she was a strong woman by having her get raped in an early chapter – the book would have stood without it. The guy I was talking to just looked perplexed. What if we had to prove that James Bond or Spiderman was strong by having him get raped and overcome it? Please.

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  25. Wow. Well written and so many points I hadn’t thought to connect. Thank you!!!!!!!

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  26. An interesting article, I agree with you on the issue of rape. I don’t know why some people don’t take rape victims seriously whenever they summon the courage to speak up. I’m also of the opinion that most rape victims were raped by those they actually knew. If you were raped by a friend/boyfriend, it becomes quite difficult to even accept such actually happened. You make excuses for them. Or blame it on your dressing or behavior prior to the incident. If it was a date- you begin to wonder what signal you sent subconsciously to him during the date to cause what happened to you. The thing is- it’s easier for any of these scenarios to happen than being raped by a total stranger- on some dark alley.

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  27. You said it all human (dunno if it’s a man or woman)

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  28. […] via Wonder Woman and Boogeymen — Accismus […]

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  29. I’m a bit over ALL of the superhero/DC/Marvel flicks as I have raised two boys and sat through so years of these sorts of films with nary a one from a female point of view. I had no true desire to see Wonder Woman, but based on some Gal Gadot interviews and your excellent essay, I have changed my mind. This is a thoughtful piece that i really enjoyed reading. Thank you.

    Like

  30. I loved this post. I love a kick-ass heroine. I am so tired of rape being used as a character building element! I see this so much in books and I am at the point now that I will stop reading most of the time. We can be really strong or heroic and amazing without having had some traumatic experience such as rape to explain how or why we are so strong. It automatically assumes that being a strong women is an anomaly.

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  31. I didn’t understand until reading your post exactly why I loved this movie so much.
    Wonder Woman kicks ass without victimization being the main motivation.
    Feeling and being strengthened by honor and integrity, and acting on those beliefs, is not a strictly male way of thinking.
    Women, especially our daughters, want to believe they can be super heroes too.
    Belief has powerful consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. +30 Likes.
    If I could like this post 29 more times, I would.

    Like

  33. Every word! I was watching magic city and my stomach tightened as I prepared for the rape…they cut away. Now later a woman has consensual sex while her disgusting murderous husband watches and that felt like rape, they always find a way. Thank you for the thoughtful essay

    Like

  34. This is a brilliantly written post. I loved the way you handled rape culture in movies. Wonder woman was an extremely well made movie… It left me with goosebumps, with so much joy in my heart to see that the young girls have finally found their action hero. Yes, we need to make our girls stronger, mentally and physically.

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  35. :/ . and very insightful blog post.

    Like

  36. Fantastic post. Yes, there is far too much rape in the world (and in movies). And I strongly suspect the male rape figures are very underreported.

    Like

  37. Loved this post! I’m definitely going to repost it to my page. As a victim of rape, I definitely understand where you are coming from. Especially when it comes to Wonder Woman. I love movies, games, books, etc. that have a strong female lead. It truly inspires me to be great as a woman. I feel that way partly because there isn’t enough of female empowerment shown in today’s society. The other part is because there are SOOOOOOOO many movies that show women being weak, especially prior to a traumatic event. As soon as that woman has been “hurt” (whether rape or serious loss),she gains the motivation and strength need to continue. Yes, as a victim and survivor of sexual assault, it in some way has made a stronger person but not in the way I feel like movies/society depicts. I am stronger not because I was weak then, but because I know more than I did before. I’m smarter. Wiser. I’ve also never actually looked up the statistic but have always told people (especially when it comes to the transgenders raping people in bathrooms) that sexual assault is more likely to happen by someone you know. More people need to know those statistics and do away with irrational fears. Please continue to spread awareness of this highly overlooked and undermined topic. Sexual assault (like racism) still happens and is very apparent in today’s society. People like you who spread the positive messages needed to be learned about those topics are the ones who are helping stop the cycle.Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Side note: Wonder Woman was AWESOME SAUCE!!

    Like

  38. Reblogged this on The Writings of D. Symone and commented:
    I am able to relate to this in so many ways. I wish more people would could to terms about how women are being depicted in today’s society. It’s not far off from how minorities are depicted.

    Like

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