Warning spoilers and potentially triggering discussion of rape and sexual assault.
Since Beth Lalonde’s argument about the applause Tris receives is unfounded and the artificial Four’s attempted rape suggests she always needs to always be on her guard around Four despite evidence to the contrary, one could argue that the rape scene in the Divergent movie may instil a fear of rape in teen girls or may reinforce the same fear in the minds of teens who have already had that fear instilled in them by society. Are you wondering either how the simulated rape scene that is thwarted by Tris could instil the fear of sexual assault in teens or how our society could instil this fear in them? If you’re wondering, then you need to understand that this is the very essence of what has come to be known as “rape culture.” In an article printed in The Globe and Mail, Jordan Venton-Rublee defines rape culture as “the environment that puts the onus on the victim, not the perpetrator. It is the actions and attitudes that lead to the survivors of sexual assault being responsible for proving that they were in no way responsible for the crime.” Venton-Rublee gives a series of examples, which depict the ways in which survivors of sexual assault are reminded by society that the onus was always already on them:
Watch your drink so you don’t get drugged – not “don’t drug another person’s drink.” Don’t wear that, in case it send the “wrong message.” It’s the idea that a survivor’s testimony somehow becomes invalid if they, at some point talked to, walked with, or went home with the person who assaulted them. Especially if it’s night time. It is the comments that come out of sexual assaults that somehow because the survivor drank, they deserved what happened. It is the defence that mentions that the accused are “good boys,” or are “too attractive” – as if that excuses someone’s crimes. It is the fact that when an article about rape culture, sexual assault or even prevention is published online, it has to be patrolled. Otherwise, anonymous commenters perpetuate violence with comments such as “rape is a lie,” rape doesn’t exist because “women must want it,” that this is all part of some “feminist agenda” to hurt men.
In the case of teen girls who see the Divergent movie, it may cause them to be afraid, perhaps subconsciously, both that someone they know may sexually assault or rape them and that they may be forced to prove that it wasn’t – in any way – their fault, despite the that Tris is depicted as strong enough to fend off the artificial Four during the simulation. If you accept that it may, indeed, instil a fear of sexual assault in teen girls, then one could further argue that it actually maintains the status quo of rape culture in Western societies rather than does away with it as Lalonde argues. Why? Well, quite frankly, because rape culture teaches young girls how not to be raped, rather than teaching young boys not to rape. While the movie may deter young boys from attempting to sexually assault young girls, if only to avoid a powerful kick to the groin, it also, simultaneously, teaches young girls that they have to do everything they can to avoid being raped, from screaming and saying “no” to hitting or kicking their assailant if and when he doesn’t listen or respect them, like the real Four does. It teaches them, which is admittedly statistically true, that they are more likely to be assaulted by someone they know than by a stranger, but it also shows that they can only applaud themselves if they actually fight off their attacker. Which leaves me wondering, what would teen girls think about themselves if, in a similar situation, they couldn’t stop their attacker(s) either because they were too afraid to say “no” or to hit them or because, despite trying as hard as possible, they couldn’t get away from them?
Despite everything I’ve written here, I am glad that Beth Lalonde could see the Divergent movie’s rape scene in a positive light. I am glad that she could “we[ep]. Openly. Vocally. Because [she] had been there, in that bedroom, with someone [she] liked, and [she] had been too afraid to hit back. Too afraid to say no.” And I hope that other young and adult-aged survivors, who have seen the Divergent movie already or who are planning to see it opening weekend or in the coming weeks, can view the attempted rape scene in a positive way because they feel healed and/or are experiencing healing. While I hope for these things, I can’t help but point out that by rewriting Veronica Roth’s novel and transforming Tris’ fear of sexual intimacy into a fear of sexual assault and rape, the Divergent movie suggests that Tris, in particular, and young women, in general, shouldn’t feel safe with the people they chose to express their sexuality, no matter whether that is limited to a kiss or extends to any other type of intimate expression. It tells them that they may not be able to trust their instincts about people over these things. It says that they should always be a little bit afraid because they are women, and therefore, they should learn to protect themselves physically. It even maintains the status quo of rape culture when it reinforces the stereotype that only women can be forced into doing something sexual that makes them uncomfortable and that only boys and men can be the aggressors of sexual assault, even when 10% of 11th grade boys surveyed by CAHM admitted to being pressured into doing something sexually that they didn’t want to do. And it means that while I enjoyed the Divergent movie overall as you can see from my Divergent movie review, I wish the filmmakers hadn’t made the choice to change the scene in Tris’ fear landscape from what Roth originally intended, even if it wouldn’t have translated well on the screen, and even if it would’ve required a voice over to show what Tris was thinking. And most importantly, it means that even though some viewers will see this rape scene and the entire movie as “important,” we still need to recognize where boundaries exist that could use a little (or a big) push.