There is nothing sexy about sexual assault. In fact, it’s not even sex. Think of how punching someone inside a ring is boxing, but punching someone in the streets is assault. Sex is often perversed by people who have no respect for other people’s personhood. That’s how we get nonsensical terms like “unwanted sex.” There is no such thing as unwanted sex. That’s called rape.
The Oscars proved to be a significant night for the conversation on sexual assault. Vice President Joe Biden introduced Lady Gaga with a moving speech urging viewers to visit ITSONUS.ORG and take the pledge to step in for others when consent has not or cannot be given. Lady Gaga performed “Til It Happens to You,” her Oscar-nominated song for The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses from the perspective of a rape survivor. She was joined on stage with fifty sexual assault survivors.
Now add two movies that also dealt with sexual assault. The Room, a story about a woman held captive with her child and repeatedly raped. Spotlight, a movie about the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting team as they delved into the sexual assault done by priests. And of course, Mad Max picked up a plethora of awards. This movie showed rape survivors kicking ass while not having a single rape scene in the movie.
It was a magical night. It almost felt like Hollywood, and by extension, our society, had finally accepted the seriousness of sexual assault and was ready to talk about it. But is that true? Not quite.
The Drudge Report ran a story claiming that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Revenant is raped by a bear. While he is attacked by a bear, it is nowhere near a sexual assault. The error became more of an internet gag and the movie earned DiCaprio the long awaited Oscar. The problem? There actually was a rape scene in The Revenant, a movie that has become synonymous with rough, dirty manhood. The rape was of a Native-American woman. In a movie with already few female characters, the rape scene stood out significantly. Yet, no one talks about this scene. It’s alarming how people are more willing to discuss a nonexistent scene of bestial rape on Leonardo DiCaprio, than the very real rape scene of a female minority. Especially when the rape of a woman happens a hell of a lot more often in real life than that of a bear raping a man.
The Oscars came a week after the singer Kesha lost her court case for a preliminary injunction so she wouldn’t be contractually obligated to create music with the man who sexually assaulted her. And two days after the Oscars, ABC News announced that Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case was “indefinitely postponed.” The entertainment world has a long history of disregarding sexual violence. In fact, some predators, such as Roman Polanski, Sean Penn, Sean Connery, and Rick James, are even glorified.
It would seem that the arts are ready to move forward in the conversation about sexual assault. Lady Gaga inspired people to share their sexual assault stories through her music. We had four movies that dealt with sexual assault in some way nominated for Oscars. Kesha’s refusal to create music with her attacker and going through the emotional and public ordeal of a trial is an artform within itself. Now we, the audience, have to match that level of discourse in real life. We are simply not there yet. It’s going to take more than one magical night at an award show to undo the glorification of sexual predators and the abhorrent way we deal with sexual assault victims, or don’t deal with them at all. We can’t do that by discussing internet gags like a fake rape scene between a bear and our favorite Oscar-winning actor. We move forward by listening to sexual assault survivors, to their songs, to their movies, to their speeches and asking ourselves how we can help.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, RAINN and Not Alone are two great resources. Someone is always there to help you.
Gem Blackthorn is QMT's sex editor.