06 November 2009

Difficult Thoughts

I've been watching the American TV show "Mad Men" on DVD (and also, cheatingly, on iTunes -- but I have to stop that; it's very expensive). I like "Mad Men" a lot - I like the clothes, I'm vaguely interested in the characters, and I like the acting. The show is set in an ad agency in the early 1960's, and I think what I like best of all is the way they all speak, more clearly and precisely than we do now. I think the actors and creators must have made a conscious decision to have the characters speak this way, perhaps to be true to the time, and I like it so much that now I'm trying to speak that way myself.

This is all neither here nor there, because what I want to talk about has nothing to
do with speech, or with clothes. What I want to talk about is the episode of the show I watched earlier this week. In that episode, the beautiful and very voluptuous secretary who is the sexpot of the show got raped on the floor of her boss's office by her fiancé.

When I was a teenager, the state I lived in had no marital rape law. In fact, I don't think many American states did. The issue was under review in my state, though, and because it was thus drawn to my attention I've always been aware of it. Spousal rape is a curious thing, because (as prosecutors know) if it isn't violent rape but rather "simply" non-consensual overpowerment it's hard to prove. Also, at least one argument goes, since sometimes women have sex in marriage or relationships when they don't really want to, how do you draw the line between sex you have reluctantly, and rape?

Well, let me tell you, if you'd watched this episode of "Mad Men" you would not have asked that question, and you would never ask it again. The woman in this episode is essentially overpowered by her fiance; it's what we would now probably call date rape: "You know this is what you want." And as he's having sex with her the camera focuses on her face - an obligatory shot, of course, but the woman playing the secretary had such a look: not of pain, nor of anger or sorrow, but simply of humiliation. There was no obvious forcing going on, in the sense that no one was slapping anyone or gripping anyone or even really doing anything that wouldn't happen during consensual sex (although I couldn't help thinking to myself that she must have been dry, and that they weren't showing that discomfort), but that look of shame, of having betrayed the essential self, was terrible enough. And I thought to myself, naively I suppose, that anyone who's ever wondered why that should be a crime, or even just why it's unforgivable, doesn't have to turn to the realm of rational arguments: they just have to see that look. The inner experience that produces that look look makes it unforgivable.

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