When rape is used as a plot device

Written by Yong Hui, Change Maker

[Warning: This blog post contains discussions of sexual assault.]

Just a few weeks ago, the TV show Game of Thrones sparked a massive controversy over a certain scene in one of their episodes – that is, the scene where (spoiler alert) Sansa is raped by Ramsay as Theon is forced to watch.

As The Mary-Sue puts it aptly:

“The show has creators. They make the choices. They chose to use rape as a plot device. Again.”

gotFor anyone who’s so much as heard of Game of Thrones, it’s probably of no surprise to find out that one of the most distinctive elements of the show is its gratuitous use of violence. Unfortunately, this also incl udes sexual violence against women, and even more unfortunately, Game of Thrones definitely isn’t the first or only use of sexual violence as a storytelling trope in mainstream media. Just check out this TvTropes page for a small taster.

And guess what? This phenomenon isn’t solely confined to Western media. Yes, the innocent Channel 8 dramas we all know and love are guilty of this as well.

Does anyone remember The Little Nyonya? That show back from 2008 that everyone used to be obsessed with? I was eleven when I watched that show. Apart from the ridiculousness that was casting Jeanette Aw as two consecutive generations of women who just happened to look exactly alike, one particular plot line remains clear in my mind:

littlenonyaHuang Yuzhu, played by Joanne Peh, is a young girl born into an affluent family. She is kind, helpful, bubbly, and generally a pretty nice person.

Her most prominent plot line is getting raped, being married off to said rapist, being physically and emotionally abused by him, being forced into prostitution to aid his business deals, and as a result of this, ultimately going insane and being committed to a mental institution for the rest of her life.

This was a good seven years ago, but this practice of using rape as a plot device is still continuing.

The New Paper ran an article last year where Chris Tong, a Mediacorp actress, describes her role as a “long-suffering, docile housewife character” who is “repeated abused by her businessman husband”, and the arduous process of having to film six separate rape scenes for the period drama The Journey: A Voyage (aka 唐山到南洋).

channel8Clearly, local media has developed the very, very problematic habit of using rape as an easy and convenient plot device. And even more clearly, this has to stop.

The problem isn’t so much in the inherent fact that rape is being depicted on television – the problem is how it’s depicted, the motives behind choosing this particular plot line, and the very worrying frequency with which it’s used over and over again in different TV series.

Let’s start with the how. The problem lies in the depiction of rape survivors. Most, if not all of the time, they’re depicted as ‘damaged goods’, with irreparable damage being inflicted on them by their attackers. It’s terrifyingly common for rape victims to later go insane from the trauma. There’s never really any hope of recovery. And therein lies the problem – that women are depicted as powerless agents, that we have quite clearly done a terrible job of telling the narrative of a rape survivors. Where are the narratives of women overcoming the trauma? Of recovery and rehabilitation? Well apparently they don’t exist. Once the deed is done the woman is forever broken.

As to the motives, it’s quite obvious that rape is being used purely to titillate viewers, and for the pure shock factor of it instead of reflecting the severity of the crime and the (real, actual) consequences on the victim. Rape is often nothing more than a plot device used to generate sympathy/ire at the victim/attacker.

The fact that this problem is so pervasive, the fact that a rape scene can even be shown on a primetime television slot at all – and has been shown, over and over again – reflects very poorly on Singaporean society as a whole.

It’s clear that we still have a long way to go – so where do we go from here?

The best way I can think of is to make some noise. Make yourself heard. Tell people about this problem – it’s so insidious and so normalized and some people may not even realize that it’s a problem in the first place. Educate people.

Be loud. Take a stand. And maybe one day we’ll get there.

For now, though, I like to just turn off my TV and go watch some good old Orphan Black instead.

About the Author: Yong Hui is currently a J2 student in an institution which shall not be named. She’s a huge fan of Broadway musicals, and spends far too much time on Tumblr reblogging gifs of said musicals. When she’s not busy being a Changemaker, she’s probably trying frantically to make change to her dismal Econs grades.

This article was edited on 23 June 2017


The Friend Zone

by Kimberly Jow, Change Maker

Just Friends posterYou hear stories of the Friend Zone all the time. Guy is friends with girl, guy falls for girl, he is rejected and they remain friends, though he is often resentful and upset at this turn of events. The story follows Guy and his adventures in dealing with heartbreak, and often a happy ending is when he finally manages to get the girl. This sounds like a great movie pitch, and I would send it into Hollywood, who is on my speed dial, but it’s already been done.

The pity attached to the phrase “the Friend Zone” is automatic; the man’s rejected advances are to be mourned, and the girl is immediately at fault. Her friendship is taken as a consolation prize, as a hurtful and unintelligent thing to offer in response to a Nice Guy who just wants to ask her out. Her friendship is not enough, and it is laughable that she thinks of him as “just” a good friend. She is seen to be blind, to be picky, and to have terrible taste in men.

I have heard many people say that the Friend Zone is without negative connotation. The “women who put them in the friend zone” is merely a category of women who have rejected their romances and now are friends. I don’t think that holds true. First off, the specificity of this category is problematic. Is a woman’s friendship after a rejection different from the friend zone memenormal friendships? If there were no negative connotations, why does it have to be in this special category of friendships? It almost seems as if the Friend Zone is an excuse to shame those women by putting them in a box and giving them a generalised name, attached to a series of traits they are expected to have.

Secondly, the fact that the phrase “the friend zone” mostly comes in a sentence like “Amy put me in the friend zone” suggests a fair amount of blame. Despite the fact that a person’s liking for Amy was unrequited, she is still the one playing the active role in “putting” him in this zone. You don’t hear people say, “I put myself in the friend zone with Amy”, because Hypothetical Amy is the one perceived to be at fault in this situation.

My main question would be, “Why?”. What is the purpose of this specificity, of this blame? I am not denying that having one’s affections rejected is painful, but the whole Friend Zone seems like one huge guilt trip. One feels entitled to a woman, and uses the all-mighty Friend Zone to shame her for exercising her right to choose. It’s sexist, and also heteronormative. One assumes that a man who has a female friend automatically wants to have a romantic relationship with her. Assuming otherwise is an insult to his masculinity, and it assumes his heterosexuality.

Daniel Radcliffe on the friend zoneMore worryingly, however, the strong need for men to shame women into having relationships with them seems to stem from some kind of patriarchal expectation. There is a strong pressure from Singaporean families to get married and have children, which explains a desire to have a romantic relationship in order to prove their relevance and membership in society. For many people, a relationship is seen as a mark of success, a flag of victory. What many don’t see is that this illusion of the perfect relationship is not essential in one’s emotional and psychological well-being. The Friend Zone can be seen as a harmful and sexist attack on women’s rights, but it can also be the product of incessant pressures to be “with someone” and harsh patriarchal rules.

I cannot pretend to be able to solve this deeply complex issue. I acknowledge its tangled and deeply seated place in the large mass of sexism, and realise that my solutions could only scratch the surface. This will not stop me from trying. It is time we see a relationship for what it is – two people liking each other and both getting what they want from it, instead of an item on a checklist to be a functioning member of society. It is time that we fully understand the term “Friend Zone” in all its harmfulness, and stop using it in day-to-day life. And maybe it is time to admit that our society has exaggerated the healing properties of a relationship, and reassure ourselves that it is fine to get into relationships only when we are ready, instead of using harmful tools to get our way.

About the Author: Kimberly is a somewhat ambitious NUS undergraduate who has always dreamed of writing her own About the Author section. She retains much hope for eventual equality, and is willing to fight the currents to get there.