Editor’s note: This piece discusses sensitive issues of rape and sexual violence that may be triggering to some readers.
Outside of Law & Order: SVU, men being raped and acknowledged as victims seems to be a distant thought on television. Late last year, even a beloved show on television with a strong feminist following presented a very troubling depiction of a boy who was in a situation with a twisted dynamic. But for some reason, conversation on why it was alarming was never fleshed out.
In its episode “The Other Dr. L,” The Mindy Project highlights Lucky Bastard Syndrome when Dr. Leotard – played by guest star James Franco – is clearly blackout drunk and is raped. The ensuing conversation, though, doesn’t touch how he was unable to make the decision to have sex with a coworker’s ex-wife, and the episode focuses on the consequences of this action. There are eerie traces of victim-blaming throughout the episode. In one scene, Mindy leaves Dr. Leotard in his apartment hallway after she can’t find his keys. She kisses him, and he yells, “Woah, neighbors!”
[bctt tweet=”He then has to leave the workplace, though it was obviously not consensual.” username=”wearethetempest”]
She puts her hand over his mouth and says “Nothing happened, you liked it,” before leaving him there. In the following scenes, Dr. Leotard is heavily intoxicated and it is insinuated he has sex. He then has to leave the workplace, though it was obviously not consensual.
Men already under-report rape and sexual assault. And this is largely due to tropes like Lucky Bastard Syndrome and feelings of shame perpetuated by society. The National Crime Victimization Survey turned up a remarkable statistic in 2013. After asking 40,000 households about rape and sexual violence, the survey uncovered that 38 percent of incidents were against men. This is alarming and further substantiates why we need to be cognizant of male rape being dismissed or not viewed as rape in television, in one show after another. Popular culture shapes and is a reflection of our shared cultural norms and values.
[bctt tweet=”Men already under-report rape and sexual assault.” username=”wearethetempest”]
The show How to Get Away With Murder also featured a case in the episode “He Has a Wife.” A mother of two is accused of killing their nanny, Elka. Elka’s murder unearths a love triangle between her and two males in the family – including Cody, the teenage son, who apparently protracted an STD from having sex with her.
It’s never established that Cody was a survivor of statutory rape, and the lack of discussion makes light of the situation. Instead, the legal team regrets not discovering Cody and Elka’s “ relationship” sooner for their legal agenda. After a legal intern pulls the information from Cody, almost casually, there is zero discussion of the twisted power dynamic she had as his caretaker, or the age difference.
[bctt tweet=”Popular culture shapes and is a reflection of our shared cultural norms and values.” username=”wearethetempest”]
The narrative of sexual exploitation and abuse is entirely erased and normalized. A teenaged boy got an STD from someone meant to be his caretaker. It’s disgusting and despicable, but none of this is unpacked. Not a single member of the legal team or court bats an eye. Even Cody’s father reacts by killing Elka and framing his wife. His toxic masculinity was harmed because his son was “having sex with her,” in a jealous rage. This severe reaction was rooted in jealousy from another man in Elka’s life, instead of a realization that his son was exploited. This speaks to how toxic male sexual entitlement is.
We witness this recurring trend in pop culture and society, too. In real life, we have seen R&B singer Chris Brown fail to comprehend that he “lost his virginity” at an age far below the age of consent. Chris Brown was raped. At the age of eight, no one – no one – can consent to sexual acts.
[bctt tweet=”This speaks to how toxic male sexual entitlement is.” username=”wearethetempest”]
His lack of recognition of this skewed dynamic is a clear example of why sexual assault of men and boys deserves more than detached mentions. Teen boys who have sex with adult women are glamorized. It’s rarely interpreted as an offense, but instead a dirty little secret.
The prevalence of perspectives like that of Chris Brown also warrants a discussion on ethically dealing with boys who do not believe they were raped. The casual nature of this incident skirted around every aspect of this discussion and reinforced this harmful behavior.
[bctt tweet=”We witness this recurring trend in pop culture and society, too. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
It’s easier for us to recognize troubling dynamics when a girl is underage. However, there are times young women deny their assaults, similar to Chris Brown. The argument that boys and girls are not the same when it comes to statutory rape is dangerous. Statutory rape is normalized when an audience believes they were in love or that there was consent. It’s troubling, and yet is referenced often in popular culture because of the classic novel Lolita. We witness it normalized in the popular show Pretty Little Liars, where 16 year-old Aria is seen as consenting and mature in her relationship with her teacher from season one. She’s also minor and unable to truly consent. But that, of course, is predominantly erased.
Our entertainment should make us question how we gauge consent in pop culture. It would be wonderful to see enthusiastic consent on television. But the world is not one rooted in enthusiastic consent, so I understand that television depicts the nuances in life.
[bctt tweet=”It’s easier for us to recognize troubling dynamics when a girl is underage.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Television and literature often act as models for society. So for me, watching these storylines without seeing them be unpacked is troubling. I expected even an implied discussion of the ethical issues presented by sexual assaults like Cody’s. I was disappointed.