Your favorites are problematic.
The rape culture in America is ubiquitous, and the best and most popular media isn’t exempt from this. In America, nearly one in five women have been the victim of rape or a rape attempt, as have one in seventy-one men.
And it’s entwined with other kinds of privilege and oppression: Multiracial women and queer women, especially transwomen, are some of the most vulnerable to this form of violence and dehumanization, just before Indigenous women and then black women, as well as prison inmates and those who are homeless.
And while it’s unclear just how many, most survivors know their assailant. It’s a prevalent issue, and you don’t need to know these statistics to understand that. Just turning on the television or going to the movies makes it clear.
We romanticize women losing the ownership of their own bodies. It isn’t subtle, but it’s difficult to notice without learning how. Some things are just cute and sweet and adorable, and it’s difficult to notice when something sweet is actually abusive.
And his romantic interest is nearly always female. Heteronormativity is sustained by gender roles; men are traditionally cast as strong and aggressive while women as supporting of and enthralled by male violence. “Women like bad boys.”
If you’re a (cis)woman you must love a (cis)man, so your consent is essentially redundant. That’s rape culture. If your consent is redundant, your refusal is alluring.
This leads to token resistance. In general terms it’s called flirtation, and it relies wholly on the idea that if a woman says no then she means yes. Ciswomen specifically, for women of color the issue is amplified, and transmisogyny complicates the issue for transwomen.
Token resistance is a favorite in romantic comedies, and it’s Robin Scherbatsky and Ted Mosby’s entire dynamic in How I Met Your Mother. Every time she points out that she and Ted don’t want the same things and don’t work well together, he insists until she gives in.
The blue trumpet, the rain dance, and every time he tries to convince her that she does, in fact, want children, even guilting her for being independent are evidence of token resistance.
That last part is important. He doesn’t want her to be happy without him, and his guilting her is treated like it’s romantic when it’s really romanticizing women being dependent on men. This is because it’s a cultural staple, not because it’s a single instance.
Even The Amazing Spider- Man is guilty. After being so celebrated, it was both surprising and not surprising when Peter Parker leans forward to kiss Gwen Stacy and she turns away or pushes him or says no, he uses his super-amazing magical strength powers to force her.
He physically puts himself in her personal space, corners her, holds her there and kisses her despite her protests. Ah, young love.
The audience might think it’s sweet since it’s accepted at face value that Spider-Man loves and respects Gwen, and if he loves and respects her then it’s not non-consensual, it’s token resistance.
We’re supposed to witness these scenes knowing that Gwen wants it no matter what she says or how hard she fights. But when does he respect her? All he does is lie to her and ignore her, and still they end up together at the end of the movie and it’s adorable. Or it’s supposed to be.
And how is this different from Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”? How is “I know you want it/But you’re a good girl” and “Must wanna get nasty” any different from what Peter does?
He’s assuming that if Gwen is a good girl, then she’s only play-fighting him and actually wants to get nasty and that he knows what she wants, better than she does. And as a character, he does, because men forcing themselves on women has been so romanticized and women so silenced, that when it’s put onto paper and onto film and acted out with human bodies, no one is made uncomfortable.
Peter has super strength so it’s cute, by some divine order Robin belongs with Ted, and women must be dripping off Thicke’s arms because he’s decided that they do.