So I have this friend. She’s a sweet, generous person, but what she’s not is politically active. (Or as into film as I am, but up until The Dissolve, I was used to being the only person really “into” film in most of my social circles.) Still, I think that, if you asked her, she’d agree that she’s a feminist. And the other day, she posted this article about The Revenant. This is a movie I haven’t seen, but I think the last movie I saw in the theatre was Ant-Man, so it’s been a while. Anyway, the article observed that, while we’re all busy joking about bear rape, there is an actual rape in the movie, and the author never hears anyone talking about that.
A friend of my friend started going on about how there was no reason to talk about the rape, any more than there was to talk about all the other, non-sexual, violence against men in the movie, because we all knew it was there. Leonardo Di Caprio’s being raped by a bear would at least be something unusual. There was a time and place for the conversation about rape, but why did it have to be about this movie?
Few people, at least few people that I listen to, deny that there are some important conversations to be had about sexual violence in the media. It’s just that, somehow, that’s never the conversation we should be having at any given moment. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a conversation about rape in a movie and about media’s treatment of sexual violence that didn’t involve someone telling me that it wasn’t time for that conversation at that moment. And I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to find out that my friend’s friend is male.
Oh, I know the odds aren’t quite a hundred percent. I’ve known women who don’t want to have the conversation. On the other hand, they’re seldom likely to point out that there are acts of violence against men that aren’t being discussed in the same work, especially when the whole conversation started in the first place because people thought there was an act of sexual violence against a man.
It doesn’t matter what starts the conversation, though, because the upshot is that it’s never time to have the conversation that everyone agrees needs to be had. When a woman had the temerity to write an open letter suggesting that maybe Pixar might consider a female main character who wasn’t a princess, we were told that it was an important conversation—but not regarding Pixar, which is a great studio that’s just making the movies they want to make, the movies they identify with. (This is harder to justify given that Brave, that movie with the princess, came after Cars 2.) Also, movies with boys in them are universal, and you don’t want Pixar to make movies just for girls, do you?
So then, okay, we try to have the conversation about why people believe that. And this is where I get stonewalled the most, because I know people who don’t even understand that question. I mean, it’s just true, right?
Let’s also not forget that the conversation also sometimes turns into “why do girls need special movies?” (For “girls,” insert “black people” or “mentally ill people” or “gay people” or minority of your choice.) As in, why do people feel the need to see representation of who they are onscreen? Why aren’t they happy watching movies about middle- to upper-class white men? Cis het, of course, because is there another kind? And I’ve been in a conversation about that with someone who literally did not see that he expected to see entire crowds that look like him despite the fact that he was saying that crowds that didn’t look like him were weird.
I’m not saying that cis het middle- to upper-class white men don’t have valid perspectives. I’m just saying, you know, we know them. We’ve been seeing movies mostly about them for well over a hundred years now. I’m not saying stop making those movies. I’m saying, you know, listen when people tell you different perspectives. Goodness knows they’re not all valid; I’ve known some utterly nonsensical perspectives. But a lot of them are, and a lot of the time, the nonsense has its roots in frustration. It gets easier and easier to start believing they’re all out to get you when they don’t even hear what you have to say.
Side note—I did a Google Image Search on “Revenant rape.” I got a lot of pictures of bears, a lot of pictures of Di Caprio, and a lot of pictures of headlines. A lot of pictures relevant to real-world rapes, including one of Bill Cosby. But none from the scene that started this whole thing.