Remember when it was too scandalous for married-on-TV-couple Rob and Laura Petrie to sleep in the same bed on The Dick Van Dyke Show? Yeah, TV shows and movies have come a long way since then. As a reflection of modern culture, it’s great to see reality on the big and little screens, and not just in reality shows. But sometimes entertainment takes things too far. Some series and films—many of which are aimed at teens—are unknowingly, or completely knowingly, reinforcing abusive stereotypes.
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Whether it’s a drama’s use of rape for shock value, or a comedy reusing the persistent male character who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, examples of rape culture, issues with consent and sensationalized abuse are out there.
Does this mean we have to stop watching TV and movies all together? Only you can decide what’s appropriate for you and your family. Websites like IMDB.com and Kids-in-Mind.com provide some details about potentially objectionable content if you’d rather avoid watching something that perpetuates these issues (although with issues like consent, you really have to read between the lines in their reviews). Another service, called Vid Angel, allows you to rent movies with violent and questionable content eliminated for a small fee.
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Most importantly, just being aware of rape culture in pop culture, and being willing to have frank conversations with those around you if they’re watching—is important.
10 TV, Video, and Movies that May Cross Your Line
Below, 10 examples of gender-based violence being perpetuated in popular movies, TV shows and music. Blurred Lines: This super-sexy music video from Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell Williams featured nearly naked women and raised consent issues with lyrics like “I hate the blurred lines. I know you want it.” 50 Shades of Grey and 50 Shades Darker: These two bestseller-based films aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they have created both positive and negative passionate discourse. Some domestic violence groups have boycotted the films, seeing Christian Grey’s need for complete relationship control as abusive, while other viewers see the behaviors as fully consensual. Game of Thrones: This HBO series has depicted more than 50 rape and sexual assault scenes, but it was a Season 5 episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” that portrayed Ramsay raping his wife Sansa on their wedding night that caused the most viewer outcry. The criticism led the series’ producers to change its depictions of sexual violence. Girls: One controversional episode of Lena Dunham’s HBO series depicted a scene between characters Adam and Natalia that explores the role of alcohol in rape culture, and the idea of “gray rape,” defined as not consensual, but also not necessarily prosecutable sexual assault. Gossip Girl: In Season 1, bad boy Chuck Bass tries to rape character Jenny on the rooftop at a party. Later, he emotionally and physically abuses his girlfriend Blair, and sexually assaults her in Season 2. Mad Men: Sure, things were different in the swinging ’60s, but that doesn’t make sexual assault acceptable. In one episode, character Pete Campbell sneaks into the room of the German au pair who lives next door and has sex with her; in another, Joan is raped by her finacé; and in yet another, a teenage Dick Draper is raped by a prostitute.Passengers: Disguised as a sweet space love story, this film features a male character who wakes up 90 years too early during a long space journey. He selects a woman to pull out of hibernation so he’s not lonely. After several months of having sex, she finds out and tries to escape him despite his relentless pursuit.Superbad: A coming-of-age movie about teens trying to lose their virginity before graduation, the main characters use alcohol to try to make it easier to have sex. The results lead to tricky consent issues with both male and female characters making inappropriate power plays.Twilight: Vampire Edward Cullen’s aggressive protection of and obsession with Bella meets many of the textbook definitions of an abusive partner: control and power issues, jealousy, manipulation.
Parents: Need direction to help your teen—or yourself—navigate the nuances of consent? Resources like The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds
from Massachusetts General Hopsital and Planned Parenthood
can help start the discussion. Talking about examples you’ve seen together in movies and TV shows can help make the conversation about real-life consent a bit easier. Some basics to bring up: “Yes” means yes, and “no” means no. And the yes must be freely given, not pressured or manipulated. The only way to get a clear yes or no is to ask—every time. If there’s any doubt, you don’t have consent. It’s OK to change your mind, and giving/getting consent once does not mean the answer won’t be different next time.