The one where Joanie's fiancé rapes her.
By Bianca Reagan on October 25, 2008
The scene below is from Designing Women, Season 3, Episode 20, “Stand and Fight”.
Mary Jo: If kicking a man is such great defense technique, how come you almost never see that on TV? I mean, you’re all the time seeing women get raped, but you almost never see a man get kicked there.
Charlene: Oh, I can answer that. Because the TV network censors won’t allow it. I mean, at least that’s the way it used to be.
Mary Jo: How do you know that?
Charlene: Well, because Rhonda Fay Knuckles, who graduated high school with me in Poplar Bluff, is in fact married to a network censor. Which in itself is incredible since Rhonda Fay had the filthiest mouth of anyone I ever knew. I mean, she would even answer roll call with, “None of your damn business.”
Mary Jo: That’s incredible.
Charlene: I know.
Mary Jo: No, no. That they can show a woman being raped on TV, but they can’t show woman defending herself by kicking a man in a certain . . . sensitive area. You know what gets me even more is that twisted ankle business. That is so annoying.
Suzanne: What twisted ankle business?
Mary Jo: Oh, you know how they always show some young, blond thing in high heels with her bosom popping out of the dress. You know, running away from some monster or killer or something. And she’s doing pretty good, she’s making pretty good time, until [Mary Jo snaps] she twists that ankle. And then she just lies there till the monster polishes her off. I mean, I guess that’s what you get for having big breasts and running around on three-inch stilts.
Suzanne: What do you want her to do, Mary Jo? Stand up and beat the tar out of Frankenstein?
Mary Jo: Yes! I want a movie where some woman stands up and beats the tar out of Frankenstein. Or Jason or Freddy Krueger or whatever, and does it before her friends get killed. I want a movie where a woman with a gun knows how to use it, and doesn’t let some man wrench it out of her wimpy little wrist. I want a movie where the hero is Charlene, not Charles Bronson.
Charlene: I kinda like that idea.
I really like that idea. I am tired of seeing women attacked in my media. I was so upset when I was watching Mad Men earlier this week. You can see clips from the episode, "The Mountain King", explained by Creator/Executive Producer Matthew Weiner here. Or, you can watch the entire episode here. The AMC website describes the scene as such:
In Don's office the same afternoon, [Joan's fiancé Greg] asks Joan to "pretend I'm your boss" and forces himself upon her despite her protest that "this isn't fun." He pins her to the floor, saying, "This is what you want, right?"
Way to euphemize, AMC. Apparently the network has no problem showing a rape on screen, but heaven forbid they put the word "rape" in print.
After the scene aired, I could barely finish my breakfast, and breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I quickly remembered the following study that I found earlier this year on Feministing:
A recent report by NOW-NYC's Women and Girls in the Media Committee (WAGM) uncovered the startling fact that a number of films in circulation today fail to accurately warn against the sexual content they contain. The Motion Picture Association of America is in charge of assigning detailed and precise ratings to films. And they are not doing their job.
In response, WAGM spearheaded a campaign aimed at the MPAA and its failure to include warnings of rape and/or sexually aggressive behavior in movies where these abominable acts are clearly depicted. The committee compiled a list of 144 films released between January 1996 and March 2006 that had received either an R or NC-17 rating with mention of sexual content, but no specific mention of rape or sexually aggressive behavior (which we have defined as any non-consensual sexual contact/behavior that does not result in sexual penetration). Of the 144 films screened, 31 depict rapes or attempted rapes, and 66 contain characters that are victims of sexually aggressive behavior.
I read the actual media report, and what troubled me was that many of the 31 films that depicted rapes or attempted rapes were mainstream R-rated films, like Con Air, The Good Girl, The Craft, and Disturbing Behavior. One could argue that these films reflect the American culture of rape. However, I am more concerned about these films--and television shows and videos and commercials and advertisements--normalizing rape and perpetuating the image of women as victims.
When I saw Joan's fiancé smashing her face into the carpet as he attacked her on screen, I felt demoralized. I saw the physical act of slut-shaming: Joan's fiancé was angered by 1) Joan's numerous past partners, and 2) the fact that she likes to be on top. So he attacked her.
I doubt that Matthew Weiner consciously knew he was doing this, but he effectively punished the show's strongest female character for owning her sexuality. In the process of attempting to elicit the viewers' sympathy for Joan's tragic situation, the show also reinforced the message that eventually, women who enjoy sex will always get what's coming to them. And not in a good way. :(
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