When I watched the final episode of Apple Tree Yard, a BBC drama in which a woman lies in a court case about being raped in order to exact revenge upon a man, it did not leave me in carnival mood. Then when I heard about The Handmaids Tale I was not only offended but angry. If you have so far not seen this programme let me introduce you to Gilliad; a dsytopian version of America where people dress in one colour to display their hierarchy in society, old testament values are brutally enforced by men with machine guns in order to save the dying planet and oh yeah I almost forgot, they rape women with the help of other women so they can ‘save the human race’. I did not wish to endorse the very thing that I detested by giving it my time of day so refused to watch it and thought about something else. Then last weekend I had some time and someone else’s sky box on my hands so I thought fuck it and watched the whole thing to see if my opinion had changed.
The Handmaids Tale is an incredibly well produced piece of drama. The cinematography is breathtaking, the performances are truthful and the story lines are utterly gripping like when you drive past a fatality on the motorway and can’t help but look out the window to try and see some blood. What saddens me the most about it is that I am finally watching a female dominated programme, prime time, scores of parts for women and they are being controlled, divided, manipulated to fight against one another and passively raped with no possibility of release except suicide or death by toxic waste. Or they can be unpaid prostitutes, there’s always room for prostitutes. Apparently in 2018 we are so desperate to watch this inequality, so excited to watch these women constantly try and fail to overcome their captors (amidst frequent rape scenes) that it has soared to critical acclaim winning several Emmy’s and writing it’s own second series extending the original authors dark idea into a complete and utter shit show. What is worse? A world in which all these horrifying things happen or one where we watch it for entertainment?
Gripped like a crack head to a pipe I did manage to switch it off at one point and went out into the world even angrier than before. It’s as if the writers wrote a list of the most horrifying things you could do to a woman and put it all in one programme. I don’t know what disappoints me the most; that this despicable world was ever imagined or that it was imagined by a woman. How much more responsible can we be for our own demise than creating a literal living nightmare for all womankind in which you are either an unpaid sex slave denied any enjoyment from the fateful act you must endure or a resentment filled onlooker forced to participate in your partners soulless act of potential reproduction (rape). Then again is it any surprise that this was imagined by a woman? With a long history of oppression and submission and a collective pain body that can only rival ancestors of the slave trade it is not unusual for women to get caught up in the continuing progression of their own pain by recreating it through bad relationships, negative sexual encounters and poignant, brutal story telling. Maybe the writer of this piece had an awakening of some description in mind when creating her frightening world? Maybe she wanted to teach us all a lesson? But when doing this I question if she considered how damaging the actual image would be. For a woman to imagine and then depict another woman being raped with the added implication that she is able to withstand such brutality without crying out or even changing the expression on her face is irresponsible, dangerous and somehow normal. We don’t even notice that we are teaching young people that they can treat a woman as a doll. We are so immersed in the drama we have become desensitised to what we are actually watching.
I am sick to the back teeth of watching women being abused on screen. Everywhere I look it’s another rape scene, another woman lying (usually about rape just to make it clear that most of the time women lie about rape) or another advert for violence against women. Then we look to the news and what do we see? Women being raped or little girls being abused, sold as sex slaves, genital mutilation and not only are men getting away with it (Brock Turner) but other women are coming out and stating that it doesn’t even matter (Germaine Greer). Happy Valley is yet another example of a BAFTA winning drama in which instructions for rape are basically laid out on the screen to the viewer. That’s right lads all you need is a wrap of heroin and a couple of spliffs and you’re off. Are we so drawn to struggle that we choose to imagine women in the most horrific scenarios possible so that we can revel in watching them claw their way back out?
There is an argument that showing women overcoming such brutality is an expression of their strength. That we are communicating to the world, the patriarchy and factions of malice that as a sex we will never give up. That you can do whatever you want to us and we will go on fighting. I’ll say it again slower;
THAT YOU CAN DO WHATEVER YOU WANT TO US
When will we imagine a world in which sexual violence against women is not normal? Why do we feel it necessary to constantly demean ourselves? With programmes such as these covering our screens it’s almost as if we are asking for it. When we constantly send into the universe an image of women struggling against the patriarchy it’s no surprise that that’s where some of us still live.
There is another argument that Gilliad is showing us a snapshot of what we may become. That we should see it as a warning against extremists, right wing Conservatives and destroying our planet for a love of creature comforts. Make no mistake our world is not a million miles away from Gilliad. We live in a world in which we are blinded every day by global corporations churning out our sugar laced rewards which we would rather enjoy than pay attention to everything that is wrong with the world. Refugees fleeing puritanical regimes show up on our doorsteps and we complain that they are filling up our housing estates, taking our jobs and benefits or making our capital city look untidy by begging for change. We ignore the bombing of Palestine by apartheid Israel and Syria (by apparently everyone) as thousands are slaughtered amidst the rubble they call home. We breed and slaughter millions of animals a day so that we can enjoy a momentary taste sensation when it’s pretty much common knowledge now that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming. We would rather build weapons than houses in case the boogie man comes over from Russia or North Korea to destroy us. We dehumanise other nations for the sake of preserving a way of life, skin colour or ancient dogma that offers us salvation from ourselves. And when a woman is raped we do not believe her, we blame her and we expect her to carry on as normal and not make a fuss about it because that is what women do. Then we sit back and watch a programme about a world that is somehow worse than ours and it makes us feel better. It softens the blow of the news reports because at least we can still (pretty much) fuck who we want when we want. Does it tone down the danger level of where we are now and warn us not to become like that or is it another clever ploy by the 10% who hold the power, property and money to ignore what they’re actually doing?
I believe in freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom through art and I understand that the human mind can be a dark place. Bad things happen in this world if they didn’t we wouldn’t have the capacity to imagine such horrors; I am not denying that or stating that we should not be allowed to show certain images because they are unpalatable. Sometimes we have to go to our darkest corner in order to find the light. But in the struggle for equality must we always come at it from the bottom up? For women to truly appreciate and accept our own female power we must stand up and clearly state for the record that we are equal, we are on top and any implication that we are not makes that inequality more powerful. A woman’s phenomenal gift to heal and recover through and after trauma is not a reason to persistently imagine it. Surely the aim is to live past this trauma not within the memory of it. The paradoxical fact that so many women relish watching the consistent abuse of other women simply shows the level of abuse we are used to withstanding. I want to live in a world where we promote a more positive image of ourselves and our existence in order to create a better one. This doesn’t mean no sex, violence or strong women on TV but there’s definitely room for a female dominated critically acclaimed award-winning show that doesn’t contain a rape scene.
Womankind will thank us.
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com