boys don't cry, cape fear, deliverance, flowers of war, gone with the wind, it's a wonderful life, monster, Pandora's Project, prince of tides, RAINN, rape, rape in movies, rape of nanking, saturday night fever, violence, Voices and Faces Project
I’m very sorry to do this to your Sunday, but I would like to talk about rape. Specifically, rape in movies. I know – unpleasant. I can see you pointing your mouse toward the Back button.
But I think of this blog as a space where we can discuss issues that affect women, without judgment or cruelty or the concerned glances of people who only want to think in terms of butterflies and sunshine. If you agree, please proceed with me. I hope not to write anything triggering; I can’t know everything that may trigger a victim, however, so please proceed with caution.
I also want to point out that I’m an incredibly privileged white girl who has never been raped or sexually assaulted. It is estimated that 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. I know how lucky I am.
On Friday night, I watched the movie, The Flowers of War, about an American mortician who helps schoolgirls during the invasion of China by the Japanese Army in 1937-1938. This period in history is also known as “The Rape of Nanking.” So. The movie was fiction, though grounded in historical fact, and – despite being about such an awful invasion – it had only one scene that I thought was disturbing.
But that’s all it takes. One disturbing scene, and I will be haunted for days, sometimes weeks.
I’ve always known this about myself. I can’t watch Boys Don’t Cry, an apparently excellent movie, because I know there’s an awful rape scene in it. I could barely finish Monster for the same reason. I will not be seeing Deliverance or Cape Fear. I thought Prince of Tides was supposed to be a love story when it came from Netflix. And let’s not discuss the “fun” disco movie of the 70s, Saturday Night Fever.
I’m similarly affected by violence against children and animals. Every year without fail, I cry when Mr. Gower beats little George Bailey’s bad ear in It’s A Wonderful Life. When Scarlett O’Hara makes her way back home to Tara after the war in Gone With the Wind, she beats a horse to death on her way there. I know I’m supposed to think, “Gosh, what a determined lady! She does whatever it takes to get things done. Look at that beautiful curtain dress!” Instead, I just think, “You are lower than a fecal stain,” and then I stop liking her. Dresses whirl, cannons fire, Rhett Butler has dimples, and I can’t stop thinking about that horse’s last moments.
Prior to watching The Flowers of War, I knew vaguely about the Rape of Nanking, short on the actual details. After finishing the movie, I decided to learn more, to see what I could handle. So I visited the Wikipedia page for Nanking. The details are, as you might already know or expect, severe.
I went to bed afterward, unsettled. I couldn’t sleep. At around 2 a.m., I got up. I sat on the bathroom floor and let the floodgates open. I wept for about half an hour, thinking of all the women and children who suffered in Nanking. I don’t consider myself naïve, but I’m often astonished at human cruelty. The worst part of it was that it had already happened. It was over, and I could do nothing.
Too sensitive? Maybe. This is not the first time a movie or thinking about an event in history has made me cry like that in the middle of the night. I’m not apt to change at this point. I don’t want to. I don’t want to lose sensitivity toward humanity or become cynical in the face of injustice. I will probably continue to watch movies that will disturb me – knowingly and unknowingly. I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me because I cried on the bathroom floor.
Here’s what I do want to change, though: I don’t want to feel powerless against violence. It might make me cry, it might make me avoid watching movies, but violence is not allowed to make me blind. I cannot cry and then be done with it. I cannot be haunted by it and then do nothing.
So I’ve decided that every time I feel this way, bothered by a story, a movie, an historical event, I will use my money and my time to volunteer or give back in some way to the great organizations and communities that help victims of rape and sexual violence. Some of those organizations are:
National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (to find something in your community)
This isn’t solely about making myself feel better, though selfishly I know the side effect is that it will. It’s about being accountable to ourselves.
Friends have told me that they feel similarly about seeing rape or violence in movies, so I know I’m not alone. I hope this solution is one they can adopt, too.