“On All Fours” Girls Re-cap: Why is no one talking about this??

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Last night’s episode of Girls marked a new and decidedly dark turn in the series, as Hannah continued to struggle with anxiety and OCD, Marnie reaches a new low with a public singing stunt, and Shoshanna grapples with the guilt of cheating on Ray. And then there’s Adam. In this episode we watch Adam navigate a new relationship, lose control over his alcoholism, and have really terrible, painful-to-watch sex with his new girlfriend Natalia.

I’ve been waiting all day for an article that addresses this scene directly, but so far I’ve been disappointed. Slate Magazine’s re-cap describes the sex scene as “exceedingly uncomfortable” and goes on to say that the lingering shot on Natalia after the act “was about her disgust and, what may be worse, her crushing disappointment.”  Disappointingly, Bitch Magazine’s re-cap barely scratches the surface of the complexities of the scene, and even goes so far as to applaud Natalia’s vocalization of her displeasure (“I really didn’t like that”) as a model for talking about sexual boundaries with partners.

People have all sorts of opinions about Girls, and that’s partially why I like it. I like shows that push buttons. I like shows that make people uncomfortable, that expose flaws both within the characters and within us as viewers, and that challenge us to turn a critical eye toward issues in our society.  Good stories don’t always wrap up into convenient bundles of “happily ever after,” but good stories do always evoke emotional responses. Which is why I’m surprised that there’s not more emotional responses to the “On All Fours” episode. It seems like all of the TV critics just sort of cringed at that scene and moved on to easier topics to discuss. Where is the outrage? Where is the discussion of consent (or lack thereof) in this episode?

A lot of people may be reluctant to put a name on it and seem to be tiptoeing around the issue, so let me break it down for you:

What you witnessed in this week’s episode was rape. Period.

Just about everything about that scene screamed nonconsensual. And committing a sexual act with/to someone without that person’s consent is rape. Period.

Here’s where it gets tricky, however. The episode portrayed a lot of other factors that complicate my above statement. Adam and Natalia had already had consensual sex earlier in the episode. Natalia up until this point had been very open about her preferences. Adam up until this point had been respecting those boundaries. Throw in the mix that Adam is a likeable (if bizarre) character, that he generally means well, that he was drunk, and that his drinking was triggered by an interaction with his ex-girlfriend Hannah earlier in the night, and you get a whole lot of…confusion.

I’ve already heard critiques from several friends that Lena Dunham’s inclusion of those factors has given Adam an “out” of sorts—that it’s easy to blow off all of what happened as a result of his alcoholism. I don’t think so, however. I didn’t read any of these factors as excuses, but rather as explanations. It’s not Dunham’s style to create a pointed argument about an issue; instead, she exposes its existence, peeling the layers of a generation buried in complex interactions and social codes. Because let’s face it—sex is complicated. And though many people beg to differ, so is consent. You can have had sex with your partner in the past and not want to in that moment. You can want to try something new at first and then change your mind halfway through. You can like and trust a person, and a person can like and trust you, and still you can wind up in sexual situations that leave you both wondering what exactly happened, or who went wrong where. There is a sticky point in relationships between compromise and coercion that all too often slips under the radar.

How many women have found themselves in Natalia’s shoes at one point or another? Far too many. So let’s not go on ignoring that icky feeling in our stomachs as we watched Girls last night. Let’s face that feeling head on. Let’s talk about the rape culture in our country and the ways in which it can manifest in even seemingly healthy relationships. Let’s talk more with our significant others about consent and what it looks like or doesn’t look like. Let’s discuss safe words. Let’s discuss boundaries. And most importantly, let’s not look the other way when examples of sexual assault are brought to the table.

 

Written by Sarah Mintz

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6 thoughts on ““On All Fours” Girls Re-cap: Why is no one talking about this??

  1. Colinda says:

    THANK YOU! I really was disgusted, outraged and disappointed and I think LD is irresponsible in putting this out there and giving Adam any sort of out and portraying not ONE woman with a backbone but someone who merely after being raped says: I didn’t like that! Shame on her self loathing, self pitying entitled bratty pain as art bullshit…I see through her and I think anyone who can create this is deeply troubled and doesn’t care what she is putting out there and how many present and future victims just this one episode is likely to create because we just turn a blind eye and normalize it! LD is a piece of shit!

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  2. Jenna says:

    I really appreciate this post. Though, I don’t watch the show I can still relate to the message. I feel like as a society we are afraid to call out rape and sexual assault when it happens (in shows, movies, music, and in our actual lives). Maybe we are trying to protect people? Or maybe we are afraid of the heavy baggage that goes along with the phrase? Maybe we only think of rape in the most extreme cases, like the violent rape by a stranger, when we know that most rape happens between people who know each other. I feel like when we avoid talking about it, victims of rape and sexual assault have a more difficult time identifying it. I agree, we need to talk about it more.

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    • epsiegel says:

      I think this is a great post, and as much as I’m disgusted by the episode, I have had multiple important conversations about consent and rape culture since it aired.

      I think Jenna is right that we as a society only think of rape as violent, stranger rape. Our culture’s muddled interpretations of what constitutes rape ultimately cause us to have a high threshold for what we consider “real rape.” The gray area that most rape and sexual assault exists within is what we struggle with the most because if it isn’t “real rape” than its somehow less of a problem.

      For another post about this episode: http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/girls-adam-natalia-rape-scene. Its also a good piece that is both critical of the events of the scene and also the media response.

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  3. Watched the episode tonight — so now I feel I can contribute. Thanks for the post (a little jealous you beat me to the girls post 😉 just kidding) I’m caught in the middle with this. I feel conflicted with my thoughts regarding the scene. Part of me agrees completely and the other part takes into consideration the societal messages and starts making excuses making Adam okay. It was a disgusting scene, but I’m very thankful there’s a show that’s bringing things like this to life. What would it mean if ‘Girls’ labelled Adam as a rapist in the episodes following? What would Hannah do? — I think there’s a lot of complicated things that could come from this, including the really difficult discussion around rape and what rape is. This could be a really amazing opportunity to showcase that rapists aren’t always these serial raping violent monsters, but that there is something going on because of all the women getting raped, we know the men that are doing it too. We need something to change because if and when people can’t define rape and agree on what this is, things get ignored and repeated. As much as I believe it vital to have consent, I know that there are too many cases where it’s not there but it’s not denied and that gets overlooked all the time. As Jenna and Elena point out, rape is definitely not always violent stranger rape, but often moreso someone crossing the line one night — why is it so hard for us to believe this? I also think about all the guys I hear talking about how many fake claims girls are making because they regret sex later on, and I wanna say, if you’re worried you think the girl that you’re having sex with will accuse you of rape.. how about you make sure it’s something she wants to do! What I wonder is if Natalie (the woman in the scene) will consider herself a rape victim. Thanks again for the post!

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  4. […] where Adam forcefully has sex with Natalia could be considered rape. Some articles, like the one at Real Life Athena, say yes, because it wasn’t consensual, she tried to say no, and was physically intimidated […]

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  5. I completely agree and just posted a piece on date rape.. I do think the key is in educating young women and men alike on situations that can be considered as rape.. you are so right in saying many of us find ourselves in Natalia’s position, but we are left scared and confused, not even sure if we should call it ‘rape’. Great post btw!

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