You are a felon
by Aimée Lagos
“You are a felon.” Those were the words texted by one high school kid to another after the boy bragged via text about raping an unconscious 16 year old girl in Steubenville, Ohio. The phrase was echoed again on Sunday when the verdict was handed down – guilty. “You are a felon.” It is a powerful phrase, an accurate phrase and we are undeniably caught in its crosshairs.
The case came to light through social media – images of a passed out girl being dragged from one party to the next to be violated. Real time text messages gave a moment-to-moment account of the atrocity witnessed by countless teens. One of the rapists sent a text describing his victim as “a dead body.” Yet the girl’s level of intoxication ended up at the center of the trial – the determining factor in whether this was rape or not. “How drunk was she?” And somehow, even asking that question sounds stomach-turningly similar to “what was she wearing?” The text says it all, “a dead body.”
When I read that phrase, “a dead body,” images instantly flashed through my mind – snippets of scenes I’ve seen on screen a million times. Rape scenes, sex scenes, violence passed off as sex – a limp body beneath a thrusting male. It was all too familiar.
“You are a felon.” The boy who sent that text knew that what had transpired was a felony but the two young boys who committed the act, the complicit teenage onlookers and countless permissive adults see it in a completely different light. Boys will be boys. Where are these kids and the bevy of enabling adults getting the idea that committing sexual acts on a body of a young girl who is less than fully conscious is anything less than a crime?
My thoughts turn to those scenes that flashed through my mind – movies I can’t even remember the titles of, but the scenes are clear as day. So many of us want to make movies because we want to have an impact, we want to tell the stories that inspire people, the stories that help people feel less alone in the world. But if we see ourselves as having a part in inspiring others to do good, we must also see ourselves as having a part in encouraging and normalizing bad behavior as well.
I think it is undeniable that when it comes to the depiction of women and sex, Hollywood has a lot of issues. It seems that everywhere you turn there are stories of “rowdy boys” and sex starved girls that love having horrible things done to them. This fantasy that we see play out over and over again in the movies, that men can treat women horribly and that the women actually like it, seems inescapable.
One of the horrific visuals that flashed through my mind was from a small movie that was released a couple of years ago – it’s a long story as to why this particular film ended up in front of me and too inside baseball to go into here, but it was a boys on vacation type movie geared toward a youth audience. The film was called “Donkey Punch” and for those of you not familiar with the term, brace yourselves. The term refers to a man having sex with a woman from behind (or having anal sex) and in the midst of the sex act punching the woman in the back of the head so her muscles tighten and she often is knocked out. You can take a break from reading this to go vomit now. The movie is just as its title suggests – a story about a group of young vacationers living out this sickening sex fantasy and ultimately killing one of their victims in the act. The movie is rated R – not NC-17, not X, just an easily attainable R suited for any 17 year old’s impressionable eyes. You can get it on iTunes – no age verifying ID required. The DVD cover reads “The sexiest, most shocking thriller of the year.” Violently knocking women unconscious while having sex with them is considered “sexy.” Killing women while having sex with them is considered “sexy.”
So, where do these boys who rape and the adults who defend them get the idea that rape is sex? Where do they get the idea that women are to be abused and violated against their will and that is called sex? Where do these visuals that flashed through my mind come from? They are from the movies we make, the stories we’re choosing to tell. We tell it with a smile in raunchy comedies about men on missions to screw as many women as possible. We tell it with adrenaline rushes in horror movies, we tell it by the fact that nearly every procedural drama on television ends up with at least one episode located in a strip club. We tell it every time we degrade women to nothing but a body to conquer and dominate. We tell it in mainstream films, we tell it in indies. Even if in the third act the offending men learn the error of their ways, we’ve told the story and somehow made it a little more ok.
I know the issue of responsibility in Hollywood is a touchy one – gun violence and sexual violence are often at the center of that debate. But if we allow ourselves to believe that movies can make a difference in a positive way, then we must admit that they can make a difference in a negative way as well. So let’s take credit for the inspiration and take responsibility for our part in the rest and the next time we’re choosing which script to champion, story to write, or project to attach ourselves to, let’s remember that we have a choice. And for the sake of our sons and daughters, that young woman in Steubenville and all the girls just like her, let’s choose well.a dead body, Aimée Lagos, Donkey Punch, Hollywood, Sexual violence in film, Steubenville, You are a felon