A Grimm Look at Writers’ Impact on Rape Culture

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As a writer, I am painfully aware of what I am doing at every stage in writing conflict between characters. I am aware of the symbolic meaning of their actions, so whenever I am striding into allegorical rape territory (behavior mimicking aggression, dominance, or positioning, though there is no actual sexual contact), I am intentionally choosing to write it that way for a specific reason, to make a statement about that character, and to increase a sense of anxiety in the reader.

So, whenever other writers use rape symbolism in their work, I tend to think they too are aware of what they are doing; yet, at times, I wonder why they choose to do it, particularly if it reflects negatively on their “hero.” Maybe in some instances, it is purely unintentional and they are oblivious to the broader connotations, but I doubt it. Most of the time, this kind of behavior is bound to the antagonist, or the villain, and used as a way to make us hate, fear, and distrust that person even more. And, it works.

So why on earth did Grimm have Nick do it?

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Nick is unquestionably the hero of Grimm. He is the lead. He’s a great guy, a cop just trying to do the right thing, who has qualms about his job (killing things that go bump in the night and … err, eat people) and who is, overall, a compassionate, good-natured, forgiving man. It’s downright hard not to like him. He’s solid. The good guy. Someone of moral integrity. There is nothing dubious or distrustful about Nick.

Yet, in season one, the writers have him engage in a knock-down, drag out fight with a witch, whose arms he pins to the ground. He climbs on top of her and kisses her, against her will and without her consent, forcing her to bite down on his lip and ingest his blood, which removes her powers. Nick allegorically rapes her; he exerts control over her, takes away her ability to resist, and strips her of her magical abilities, forever altering her mentally and physically. He damages her and makes her unappealing to the man she loves. The act and the aftermath was written, staged, and shot to be reminiscent of a sexual assault, right down to the forced trading of bodily fluids. Afterward, devastated, Adalind cannot believe what he has done to her; “You’ve killed me,” she whimpers, before going home to be brutally rejected by people she expected to offer her sympathy. Her mother blames her for it (her snarling accusation of “How did he get his blood into you?” equates to “What did YOU do to cause this? It must be your fault somehow!”) and Renard — the man she loves — dismisses her as no longer useful / desirable, because she is tainted because of what Nick did to her. The implications write themselves.

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It is tempting to dismiss this as simply being powerful symbolism, used to emotionally sucker punch the audience (did anyone not feel sorry for her?), but … it also makes a statement about Adalind in the mind of the writers. Nowhere else in the show is an assault staged in a manner intentionally reminiscent of sexual violence; none of the other characters are treated this way, nor do their scenes of violence hint at sexual force on the side of only one participant. Even the show’s more controversial scene, of Juliette and Renard violently reacting under the influence of a lust spell, intentionally avoids making him the sexual aggressor. Both are fighting their lust, alternating between passion and pushing each other away, but Renard is resisting more than Juliette. The writers protected Renard from audience fall-out with Juliette, but not Nick with Adalind. There was any number of ways Nick could have gotten his blood into her, but the writers chose to have him pin her down and forcibly kiss her. Why?

I think it is because they did not fear any backlash toward Nick, because his actions are justified within the narrative. I also fear it is because of an unconscious message that Adalind was asking for it. She flaunted and used her sexuality to hurt Hank, in order to force Nick into giving her what she wanted… and she is punished for it, in a very physical way. The implication seems to be that bad girls deserve what is coming to them; those who use their magic (sexuality) for evil deserve to have it forcibly ripped away from them. Is this approach a subtle condemnation of this kind of thinking, or is it buying into that mentality, and asking the audience to support a much-hated, sexually-aggressive and manipulative character being paid back in kind?

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Grimm is not the only show to use allegorical rape; Heroes played this angle between Sylar and Claire (like Adalind, her reaction to both of his violent but non-sexual assaults was that of a rape victim — and in one of them, he uses telepathy to pin her down so he can forcibly kiss her and strip information from her mind). Allegorical and literal rape is a theme frequently abused on The Vampire Diaries, where compulsion removes a person’s ability to resist or consent. Vampires often compel others to do their will (including self-harm and murder), or borrow another person’s body and use it without their consent. Caroline spent an entire season under compulsion to Damon, with whom she had a sexual relationship framed by abuse. That has never been fully addressed, and never will be, because the writers do not see it as rape.

And that is the problem. Writers often shape social views and have a great deal of impact on the culture. When writers use rape, allegorically or otherwise, as a plot device without addressing its ramifications, having characters take responsibility for their actions, or condemning these behaviors, how can we expect society to break free from its wrong ideas about rape? These wrongful preconceptions abound and are often propagated by the media: men cannot be sexually assaulted; rape is about lust, rather than power and control; some people deserve what they get for being “slutty”; a sexual assault must be more than a forced kiss; having sex when you are not mentally able to consent is not rape.

Sadly, many of these lies have turned up in many of my favorite shows and gone unaddressed. And it’s a shame.

 

16 Replies to “A Grimm Look at Writers’ Impact on Rape Culture”

  1. I think a significant part of this problem comes from a lack of understanding/empathy of writers who have had the good fortune of not knowing anyone close to them who has been raped, or have not been raped themselves. I am reminded of a very naive male friend of mine back in high school who thought because sex felt good rape could not be that bad. Thinking about that conversation makes me think that many writers may have similar thoughts about rape.

    All too often, the rape victim just bounces right back. Like they just got a cut or something, and a band-aid along with a little bit of time would make it all okay. Or, worse, they just shrug the rape off like it meant nothing. Or they try to make the rape ‘fun’, ‘funny’, or ‘harmless’ by using something like mind control. I have read several bits of fiction that have people engaging in sex with mind controlled victims (who are made to enjoy it, or even think it was their idea), and the only time I have seen the repercussions dealt with realistically was in (SPOILERS!) Patricia Brigg’s Iron Kissed and Bone Crossed novels. What sickens me most about mind controlled rape, though, is not the author’s take on it, but the fact that many of the fans/commenters (many of whom will say they hate rape/rapists in other contexts) will buy into the idea of it not being ‘real rape’. I find myself asking these people how they would feel if someone took control of their thoughts, made them have sex with someone they would not, otherwise, have had sex with, made them enjoy it (pursue it even), and then when it was over and they had control of themselves everyone else treated it as a joke because the victim orgasmed. It sounds like a horror story to me.

    That more people don’t seem to get this makes me despair for humanity.

    1. Yes.

      I don’t think the writers are THINKING things through (obviously not… given all their cliches, plot holes, and problem areas with this series), because if they did, they would stop to consider how mind-rape leading to actual rape might not be something they want to romanticize or gloss over.

  2. I can see how one person may think how you do, but this is a fictional show. Nick didn’t kiss her for his own pleasure. A Hexenbiest automatically does that. Renard dogged her because she didn’t get the key. Plus, ok in season 2 Adalind says under different circumstances Nick and her could of have a lot of fun. There are many angles you can look at it and come up with an argument. I just see the show as entertainment…In my opinion there are far more concerning things than some supernatural show writers….

    1. I am well aware of the distinction between fantasy and reality, but I do think fellow writers bear a moral responsibility in what they right, because like it or not, entertainment DOES have an influence on society. If it did not, there would be no such thing as advertising.

      Also, whether or not Nick “kissed her for her own pleasure” has nothing to do with it — that, and you justifying that in a different time and place, Adalind and Nick could have “had some fun” comes dangerously near to hinting that rape culture is okay. Why? Because … in another time and place, she would have LIKED it. This statement implies that a) sexual assault must involve some kind of sexual pleasure on the part of the assaulter (untrue), and b) under different circumstances it would not be assault.

      I’m NOT accusing you of anything, just showing you how a statement like that can be perceived from a different perspective.

    2. Whether we want to think it or not, a show is never just a show for entertainment purposes. It’s a statement of beliefs that can and will affect its viewers, just like film and literature. From what I can tell, rape culture is very popular right now hence the tragic number of them on college campuses, due in part to the influence of our so-called entertainment. What people watch, read, and listen to does have an affect on their opinions about social issues. This type of scene in a tv show embeds itself subconsciously if the viewer lets it, perhaps even altering how he/she treats others sexually. Nothing is ever just a “fictional” show.

  3. I totally agree with this. I haven’t thought about that episode for a long time–probably because I’m only bouncing back to Grimm when I remember that there’s a new episode, and I’m not immersed in the entire storyline. I was uncomfortable with that scene. I remember wondering what one would do on the spur of the moment, (if in Nick’s shoes). How many people would just go to the extreme–I didn’t like the “kiss” at all. With all of the creativity in the show, surely they could have invented an “injector gun”. Surely Rosalee would have had something. And yes, even with all the “hype” about treatment of women nowadays, there is so much unaddressed in modern television. Perception of what really constitutes is skewed. But–that’s one reason I’m always saying I intend to get into making films. I want to wake people up. Make it to where they can’t ignore things–at least, make it harder to. Those determined to be blind will be blind.

    Great job on pointing this out. This was a really, really good post.

    1. I just re-discovered the show a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve been binge-watching all the episodes… twice. You can say I’m immersed in it. Obsessed, even.

      Injector Gun. Scratch his arm and get blood on her. Have a vial of blood. Have her bite him somewhere else on his lip.

      Though someone elsewhere made a good point; that the show has almost been a reversal of roles for its hero and its villain. Renard started out cold, domineering, and a murderer and gradually through his interaction with Nick, has become more forgiving, compassionate, and considerate. (Consider his huge shift between the first season and his treatment of Adalind to how he’s responding to her now — with restraint and suspicion, but genuine empathy too.) Nick, meanwhile, started out as a stand-up guy and has been growing darker progressively through the seasons. He opened up the series feeling bad about shooting someone and lately, has engaged in murder, kidnapping, manipulation, extortion, and blackmail.

      Is it a conscious choice that Renard is becoming more heroic, and Nick more amoral or is this just a coincidence? Did this downtrend start with how he forced Adalind to take his blood? Hmm… questions…

  4. Great post. I don’t think people talk about the ramifications of rape enough in our society and now we’re being lulled into a complacent acceptance of it through films, books, television programs, and music. I’m disappointed that Grimm’s hero headed down this path, albeit briefly. That type of violation should never be the act of the hero, in anything. Because then we start to make excuses for it. Violation comes in many different shapes and forms. Anything that makes a man or woman feel sexually unsafe, be it a kiss, a touch, or the actual act of sex, is an intimate violation of that person.

    I haven’t seen Grimm as you know, but I’m not surprised that they went that way. Even Teen Wolf has its moments. Derek is prone to intimidation tactics that take power away from others. He’s the alpha, and at the beginning, he doesn’t hesitate to make sure everyone know it, like his intimidation of Stiles. Those are some freaky moments because Stiles is not in control of his own destiny at that point. Derek could have snapped in half. Then again, later on, Derek is in the same position, when that uber alpha pack is in town. He has no power and they can do whatever they want to him. If they’d wanted to dominate him sexually, they could have and he wouldn’t have been able to stop it.

    I hope I’m never not uncomfortable when power is stripped from someone in a sexual manner. I don’t like it when someone is forced into a kiss or is forcibly touched. I imagine how violated I would feel if that ever happened and how someone could argue that it was the cut of my blouse on that day or the height of my skirt that made him do it. How does that have anything to do with anything? A guy can be turned on by a girl in ratty jeans and a gnarly old sweatshirt. Guys have to be stronger than their sexual urges, just as we must be. It’s not oh, “boys will be boys” or “girls will be girls” mentality. No, it’s about taking control of yourself and not forcibly taking control from someone else. Urges are meant to be tamed, not let loose in a violent rampage.

    1. I’m always appalled when it comes up in entertainment and people are not horrified by it — and when I say that, I’m not talking about allegorical rape, but the real deal. They either act as if it is meaningless or they take great pleasure in the rape victim coming back and slaughtering / torturing / mutilating the person who did it to her later on (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Our culture is … sick.

      But it starts with using rape as a plot devise on television, and allowing the characters to get away with it. Like … Damon and Caroline. He was mean at the start and all throughout the first season, but once he started falling in love with Elena and was shifted into a position of being a love interest, all his former crimes went away unaddressed — and Elena has the gall to be annoyed with Caroline for not wanting her (Elena) to be involved with Damon. Gee, Elena, you think it might have anything to do with your best friend having been in an abusive, non-consenting relationship with him for several months?

      You will have to watch at least one episode of Grimm. I won’t chose that one. I’ll stick you with royals in Portland instead. 😉

      Derek is indeed sexually aggressive, although the show doesn’t explore it much. (Remember him recruiting what’s her name at the hospital? … it’s back on by the way, in case you didn’t know.)

      Arguing that how you dress dictates whether or not you get raped is exactly the kind of nonsense I am talking about. It goes back to the belief that rape is simply about sex; it isn’t. It’s about dominating another person, about exerting control over them. A random rape on the street might be about lust; but in situations where the person knows their attacker, it’s almost always about exerting CONTROL.

  5. I completely agree. It’s one reason I think that the book 50 Shades of Gray is doing so well. Rape has been changed in people’s minds, and it’s still “okay” to blame the victim. When I was a kid, I said I didn’t want to have kids because of the kind of world we live in, and sometimes I still don’t want my girls to grow up and leave my house and live in this scary and perverted world.

    1. I have spent much time pondering why that book is so popular. I think for one, it is because pornography is becoming so acceptable and accepted in our modern society that now women feel comfortable admitting to reading it. (Unlike those cheap trashy smut paperbacks of yesteryear.) I also think it buys into our female desire to be … well, sexually desired by a man. And, I think our culture has become so pervaded with smut that it takes a great deal to “excite” us anymore, so we have to descend to the depths of perversion in order for a book to trigger our erotic responses. So, instead of good, old-fashioned bodice rippers, it’s now handcuffs.

      Your girls will be fine. You’re a good mother. You will teach them right and wrong, and what God believes about the human body and sex, and they will go out into the world protected by your prayers and His grace. 🙂

      1. Yep, I agree. The more you stray, the more it takes to excite you. So while regular sex or a dirty movie once got you off, eventually it won’t be enough anymore. So you have to get dirtier or more violent, and once you open the door, it’s very difficult to close it. And even if you eventually stop watching (or reading) porn, those images are forever in your mind. I know that watching or reading things in my past have never really left me. And whatever you put in your mind is bound to come back out.

        Thank you for your comments on my girls. I don’t want to make my girls prudes, but I don’t want them to be too free. It’s a fine line.

        1. I got nothing more to say in response to your first paragraph, since you said it all, other than, “Amen. Preach.”

          I think you’ll do fine with your girls. Teach them morals and they’ll have appropriate boundaries. I’m neither liberal nor a prude when it comes to sex. Or maybe I am a little bit prudish. I see smut on previews for things and think: “LAME! RUINED IT! BEGONE!” LOL

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