Trigger warning – This post discusses rape.
Further – it contains spoilers for the Divergent book and movie. It probably will make no sense to you unless you have read/seen both.
Note: there are some words in here I don’t like to use, so I have used *** to indicate.
So I just got back from watching Divergent. I also finished the first book today. This is not a well-written post. I am angry and I am tired.
Let’s set aside the terrible dialogue and the plot holes big enough to turn your ankle in and the questionable casting and all the ways the movie betrays the book. I want to talk about something far worse.
I want to talk about the rape scene.
I was not prepared for a rape scene. Maybe I should have been. In my opinion (others differ) there is one scene of sexual assault in the book (when Tris is kidnapped). And there is another scene that could be called attempted rape (when she overcomes her fear with Four), but that wasn’t how I read it at the time.
What I read was a young girl who was afraid of intimacy. I’m pretty sure she uses those exact words. This is the one part of the book that I felt was totally and utterly credible. I was so fucking pleased to read a book aimed at teenagers that addressed the fear and nervousness I had about sex at Tris’s age. Yes, of course I worried about being sexually assaulted. I’m a woman. But I also worried about intimacy.
And why wouldn’t she be scared of intimacy with Four? He’s older, her superior, and far stronger physically.
She’s afraid of intimacy because that means letting her guard down, and with someone who previously betrayed and humiliated her. She’s afraid because she’s inexperienced. She’s afraid because, her whole life, touching was not normal or encouraged.
In the simulated scene where she confronts this fear, Four tries to force himself on her. He overpowers her while she kicks and screams. He taunts her (and this is the bit that upset me the most, actually, more than the physical stuff) by saying he thought she was dauntless – ie, trying to goad her into “being brave and having sex with him. Trying to suggest that what a brave girl would do is have sex.
That hits very, very close to the bone because that’s exactly what a rapist would say and do. And it’s a codified myth that was prevalent when I was a teenager. Apparently, the “cool kids” were the ones having sex, and if you didn’t, you got called fr***d. (And if you did, you got called a s**t, but that’s another discussion).
She “wins” the scene by kneeing him in the balls, and then wakes from the simulation to cheers. The people around me in the theater were laughing. I was sitting terribly, terribly still and quiet.
I guess they were laughing because a guy got kicked in the balls when he tried to rape a girl.
This could be read as being about consent, and celebrating women who fight back, and showing young girls that Four’s behaviour is unacceptable, and it’s a good thing to say NO. Showing also that, even if you’re in a relationship with someone, you don’t have if you don’t want to, you don’t to have sex to be loved. And that’s great. But that’s not how I felt.
Here’s a piece that praises the film for being about consent.
But that piece suggests that Tris’s fear is of sexual assault. I disagree completely. In the book, her fear is intimacy, not assault. And that was what I was expecting to see in the film. Clearly, I was expecting too much. The issue of intimacy is I guess too complex for an action flick. It’s easier to show a shocking rape scene, the conclusion of which encourages the audience to laugh to diffuse the tension.
Not to mention, when Tris wakes up, and asks Four anxiously if he had seen what occurred. She’s embarrassed. Why? Because she’s afraid of intimacy? Because she’s clearly thought about having sex with him? Because she fought back when simulacrum-Four tried to rape her?
Ugh, ugh, ugh. *indiscriminate noises of anger and upset and despair*
I’ve talked before about how I can’t see anything with blinkered eyes anymore. I’m a feminist, right to the bone, and I’m a survivor, and I just cannot watch something like this without getting furious. Any sort of violence against women makes me sick to the stomach, and this film has it in bucketloads, not just in this particular scene.
I don’t understand how we’re supposed to find Four such a dreamboat when he A) is shown attempting to rape her, B) beats her up, C) ritually humiliates her during initiation, and D) – in the final scene, Tris is running to jump on the train. Four goes to help her, and she says “no, I got it.” She’s fine. She’s totally capable. Despite this – he picks her up anyway.
This should probably not make me as angry as it does. It’s nothing in comparison to the rape. But, you know what, it is something. It’s another example of absolutely codified typical behaviour. An entirely capable woman says they are fine, the man might or might not acknowledge that she’s said that – and then, either way, they step in anyway. And we’re supposed to be grateful. We’re supposed to say, ‘Aw, isn’t he sweet, helping her – he must really love her.’
No. I don’t buy it for a second. Sorry.
Tris is strong. She is tough and she is brave and despite her being the main character, all the posters for the book and the movie show Four front and centre.
There’s two things I want. One, I want to see a movie where the strong female lead is actually allowed to be just that.
And two, I want trigger warnings on movies (and books) that have rape scenes. I could have done without that image in my head.