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In light of the latest step of sexual violence galore in Game of Thrones, with Sansa’s rape, I am among the many who are disgusted by the writers’ decision to go down this path. Since the third season, it has felt as if the writers must always bring sexual violence to the forefront, especially when it is against women.

I am by no mean saying that rape can’t be included in story lines, but the problem is that Game of Thrones uses it as a cheap trope.

I haven’t read the books but have talked with people who did and have educated myself in how certain scenes and story lines happened in the novels. I have been left shaking my head at how the writers turned scenes into rape since the first season when there was no need to. The two worst things have been Cersei’s rape by her brother in season 4 and Sansa’s in season 5. I can’t get why the writers went this way when they already had plenty other opportunities to talk about sexual violence.

Much has been said about these developments in Game of Thrones and it made me reflect on how other TV shows brought up the topic of sexual assault, which is a grave issue in our society.

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In the first season, Jack Bauer’s wife, Teri is kept captive with their daughter Kim. When one of the men looks into raping Kim, Teri offers herself instead. She does this to protect her teenage daughter. The rape scene isn’t shown but Kim hears what happens.

Once Teri and Kim are rescued and go to get a medical check-up, Teri asks the doctor not to tell a word about her rape to her husband.

Battlestar Galactica

The second season arc with the Pegasus‘s crew, led by Admiral Cain brings rape to the forefront. Both victims are Cylon women, who are considered less than humans by the female Admiral.

The first victim, Gina, is shown shackled and beaten up after having been assaulted multiple times, with Cain’s blessing. The other victim is Sharon Athena who is kept aboard the Galactica in decent conditions. Cain’s men accidentally alert Helo – who fathered the child Athena’s carrying – and Tyrol about how others are going to “have fun” with Sharon. The two men are able to stop the rapists as they’re assaulting Sharon.

Both Gina and Sharon must deal with the scars these assaults have left on them and Gina eventually kills Cain at the end of the Pegasus arc.

Gina Inviere. Source: Battlestar Galactica Wiki.
Gina Inviere.
Source: Battlestar Galactica Wiki.

Dollhouse / Stargate Universe

These two shows make little case of the notion of consent. In Dollhouse, the way men and women (mostly female characters are focused on) are blank slates to become whoever a client pays, including in terms of sexual activities, tosses consent out of the window. Regardless of how the “Dolls” don’t remember what happened to them, it doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

In a similar way, Stargate Universe presents body swaps as a regular plot device. Due to communication stones, two persons can switch bodies. Several times, characters get intimate while one of them is in someone else’s body. It isn’t a business like in Dollhouse and people don’t know what happened to their bodies while they were in another one. Yet, it is the same kind of abuse. Using someone’s body for sexual activities they didn’t agree to partake in tramples consent.

Farscape

In the fourth season, high ranked Peacekeeper Grayza captures John Crichton and sexually abuses him. Grayza’s pregnancy in the final miniseries, Peacekeeper Wards, never confirmed or denied whether John was the father of her child. Yet, it is a common theory given the timeline. Crichton gets tortured several times in the course of the series, but Grayza is the one who brings sexual assault to the table.

Once Upon A Time

This show isn’t graphic at all but still deals with psychological violence and abuse topics. Coercing someone into having sex like the Evil Queen did with the Huntsman or Zelena with Robin Hood is abuse. The same way, Hook admitting that alcohol helped with several of his female conquest, shows that consent didn’t always mean much to him.

Regina and Hook have been working on putting their dark ways behind them. It doesn’t change what they did but them addressing their dark past is a significant aspect of their story lines. As for Zelena, she has shown no remorse about masquerading as Robin’s wife. She did this so he would agree to have sex with her, which resulted in her getting pregnant with his child.

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This list isn’t exhaustive but it shows other options to depict and denounce sexual violence. It is important to talk about this problem. Depicting sexual violence must have meaning and not just become a pattern for writers who don’t know what else to do with their female characters.

What TV shows do you think have done a good job at fostering discussion about sexual assault issues?

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[SPOILERS for Avengers Age of Ultron below]

This post is the continuation of the discussion I started in my previous post about Natasha Romanoff’s portrayal in Age of Ultron.

Regarding the actual blooming romance with Bruce Banner, I found their discussion at Barton’s house extremely interesting and more egalitarian in terms of gender approach than I had expected. I am aware that this might be my own reading and I wouldn’t be surprised if the script was written with a less feminist angle than how I perceived it. The motif of Avenger as freaks of nature, as monsters, for the different reasons behind how they became to be who or what they are, is a recurring one.

The way we found more about Natasha’s past, both through the flashback/nightmare sequence (which was even more terrifying to me with the female educator involved, which reminded me of how patriarchy can be promoted by women too), and thanks to her conversation with Bruce. It is notable that he is the one bringing up how having a family, having biological children, isn’t possible for him. It isn’t Natasha who brings up this topic. Yet, it prompts her to react in telling him about how the rite of passage in how she was trained was to be sterilized. The female body, and especially reproduction, is often tied to the monstrous, in horror narratives, or related. This is an easy and limiting cliché, but the way Natasha talked about her being a monster as well, like Bruce is, didn’t simply resonate in line of her being barren. The monster label felt like encompassing all her assassin training, and the abuse she had suffered from, which gave her more depth than being simply victimized.

Source: MCU Wiki.
Source: MCU Wiki.

While women must never be reduced to mothers, or even wannabe mothers, the way both Bruce and Natasha address parenthood and how biological parenthood is impossible to them was something that made me think. To me, it must have been even more difficult for Natasha to know that she was robbed from this possibility, when she was getting regular reminders of this. Indeed, she is shown as involved in Barton’s family life, as “auntie Natasha”. Her interaction with the children and how the third one would have been named after her if a girl are testimonies to this involvement. Maybe this was written as a way to reduce Natasha as a potential mother, but I didn’t experience the scene as such. Motherhood doesn’t mean a woman has to stop working or being the individual she is. Dealing with the impossibility of having children when you might want to have one or more at an unknown time in one’s future, is a hardship. Natasha displayed vulnerability through this, because of her history. Her vulnerability wasn’t all centered on Bruce and their (im)possible romantic relationship. The wound runs deeper than this and understanding more about her history comforts her in how strong, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too, she is.

Natasha’s approach about getting the job done above all else shows even in her reunion with Bruce towards the end of the movie. After she kisses him, she pushes him off of where they are standing, knowing that it will force him to turn into Hulk. She says that as much as she likes Bruce, right now the situation calls for Hulk to help save the day. If all Natasha was about was pining over him, she could have waited to do this and/or agreed to leave to wherever with him. She did differently, proving her commitment as a hero, as an Avenger.

All in all, I agree that Natasha’s role could have been improved (though this isn’t the only part of the movie that could have benefited from such things). Yet, I found her portrayal had some great development, whether as an individual, in her friendships with Barton, Rogers and Fury (1), or her blooming romance with Bruce. It is far from perfect, and I still have problems with the actual writing but the delivery of the scenes, thanks to Scarlett Johansson

Now, I want to see Black Widow merchandising and a well done solo movie. What about you?

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(1) When the Avengers spend the evening at Barton’s house with his family and Fury, Natasha is the one who outright mentions that as much as she is glad to see Fury, she would have appreciate more information than what he is able to provide at this moment.

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[SPOILERS for Avengers: Age of Ultron below]

So, I went to see the new Avengers movie. I overall liked it. Some things I loved; some things I wish had been different. What I want to address now is how Natasha Romanoff was portrayed in Age of Ultron. Do I wish she had had more screen time? Yes. Am I still waiting for a Black Widow movie? You bet.

I have seen several people comment on how she was reduced to a damsel in distress pining over Bruce Banner. I see where these analyses come from and I don’t disagree with how some of Natasha’s role in the movie can be problematic (1), especially in how they might have been written in the first place.

Yet, I found there was much more to Natasha in this than a damsel in distress pining over Bruce Banner.

I first scratched my head when I found about the Natasha/Bruce angle. It felt weird, though reflecting on the first Avengers, I could see the reasoning behind this development, especially with how Age of Ultron hints at the time that has passed since the other movie. The way Natasha and Hulk work together for him to return to his human shape is a big testimony to it early in the movie, regardless of a romantic angle. It was clear that they must have spent a lot of time working on this. It didn’t happen overnight. So it wasn’t that different – for example – to how things had developed between Han Solo and Leia Organa at the beginning of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

To me, the most annoying thing about this romantic angle was how everyone seemed to see it and had to comment on it. This wasn’t a good idea and diminishes the subplot more than anything else. Such jokes and remarks should have been kept for a subsequent movie. (2)

Source: MCU Wiki.
Source: MCU Wiki.

Natasha’s role remained important in important sections of the movie, including all battles. And when she had been kidnapped, the rest of the group didn’t really are well in her absence, showing how division within the group, regardless of causes, provokes issues. They also didn’t seem to doubt her capabilities in standing her ground, despite heading not only to free her but also to take Ultron down. As Clint Barton expected, she also finds a way to contact them with what she can find. Of course, the fact that she was brought back basically where everything started is a bit obvious, but this doesn’t take anything away from how Natasha found a way to contact the other.

Speaking of Clint Barton, he had the damsel in distress and what can be conceived as a feminine arc in the movie. He was the one who almost died in the first fight and had to be evacuated. He is teased about his invisible girlfriend and is eventually revealed to be married with kids (which I really liked). I love his sibling relationship with Natasha and was glad that they didn’t go the romantic route for these two. Clint is invested in his family life even when he has to juggle with his Avenger’s duties. He almost gets killed a second time when reaching out to save a young boy, reacting in a very parental (or some may argue maternal) way. This behavior is also exhibited with Scarlet Witch towards the end of the movie, but not with her brother. In the end, Barton has to be rescued twice: once by his team and Doctor Helen Cho, and later by Quicksilver, who dies in the process.

So, it may be argued that if Natasha receives a damsel in distress’s treatment at times, she isn’t the only one. And even the whole damsel in distress aspect doesn’t summarize her involvement in the narrative. She remains involved, even when she might have considered fading away, along with Bruce, who is the one doing it at the end of the movie. Every time the possibility of going away is brought up, Natasha ends sticking around and continuing to serve among the Avengers, no matter what might happen. Even when the fate of the trapped city inhabitants seems sealed, she is the one saying that she doesn’t consider trying to escape. She is ready to die for what she believes in, for the life she has chosen as an Avenger, thus retaining agency. The same way, she takes lead with Steve Rogers at the end, to train the new group of Avengers, confirming that no matter what she may deal with, this is her choice to serve for the greater good.

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(1) Don’t get me started on my reaction when I found out that one of Tony Stark’s lines had been replaced to include a rape joke with “prima noctae”. Tony Stark can be immature and a jerk, but he has nevertheless come a very long way since he was introduced in this era of Marvel movies, which is also shown by how proudly he speaks of Pepper during the party. Including this joke was not only gratuitous and hurtful towards the audience; but it was also a disservice to the character’s development.

(2) There were several other occurrences of sexist and gratuitous moments meant to be fun when they weren’t, like Bruce/Hulk face planting into Natasha’s chest. This brings nothing to the story and adds unneeded sexism, when there are other ways to have funny moments, as the movie is able to show at other moments.