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?
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.
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?
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.