Is Rape Always Necessary for Female Character Development?

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

When Red Sparrow came out, I was excited to see Jennifer Lawrence playing a different character than her usual giddy self.

Katniss playing as a spy for the Russian government? Sweet!

My excitement turned to pure disappointment as I finally watched the film. Lawrence’s character became one of the many female characters in entertainment to go through the “rape initiation.” I’ve seen it before with Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Game of Thrones’ Sansa Stark.

What the Heck is Going On?

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Is rape always necessary for female character development? It doesn’t happen to Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones (yes, they’re male) to further the plot.

Actress Keira Knightly mentioned in an interview with Variety about modern female characters who can’t seem to escape from rape situations. She prefers to play roles without the hot mess.

“I don’t really do films set in the modern-day because the female characters nearly always get raped.” She says. “I always find something distasteful in the way women are portrayed, whereas I’ve always found very inspiring characters offered to me in historical pieces.”

Jessica Chastain had also noted on this issue when GoT premiered the episode with Sansa’s rape. She tweeted:

“Rape is not a tool to make a character stronger. A woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly. The little bird was always a Phoenix. Her prevailing strength is solely because of her. And her alone.”

Now, rape shouldn’t be banned forever from the entertainment industry. How else is society supposed to know sexual violence is an ongoing issue needed to be addressed?

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) has reported 1 out of 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Meanwhile, 1 out of 10 men are victims of sexual violence.

Laurie Halse Anderson wrote about a high schooler speaking out about her rape in the 1999 book Speak. It was later adapted into a film in 2004 starring Kirsten Stewart.

“Speak Trailer (via Youtube)

Rape here was not used for “shock value,” but to address a real-life issue. Out of 1,000 sexual assault incidents, three out of four go unreported. Some in fear of retaliation or others, sadly, don’t believe the event was significant enough.

Finally, there’s the female character trope where women are abused for the sake of a male protagonist’s motivation.

As a theatre student back in college, I studied most of Shakespeare’s works, including the gruesome Titus Andronicus. Long story short, Titus gets revenge for his daughter Lavinia’s brutal rape.

Lavinia can’t do much since her rapists cut out her hands and tongue. Eventually, Titus kills her because she has “lost her chastity.”

Titus, my man, you could’ve done better.

In this day and age, rape can be used better in movies and television. A woman can be a kickass character without going through an unnecessary sexual assault to justify her strength.

Photo by Daniel Eledut on Unsplash

Have you seen Captain Marvel, Leeloo from The Fifth Element, and or Xena: Warrior Princess (miss this show)?

Movies and TV these days can do better. I know the writers can do better. It can’t be incredibly difficult to create a great female character.

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