WARNING: This column is in response a scene in Sunday’s episode of Girls which many victims of sexual assault found triggering. Please read on, or not, accordingly.
Sunday’s episode of Girls has lots to cringe about. Marnie’s ill-advised Kanye cover (the secondhand embarrassment almost ended me, you guys). Hannah’s whole butt cheek sliver/Q-tip fiasco (WHY).
But the most painfully uncomfortable moment came right before the end with the scene that was seen around the world. A scene that left many people wondering if what they saw was a rape scene. (Real headlines: Was That a Rape Scene In Girls? and Did HBO’s Girls Just Show a Rape Scene?)
I find it SUPER DEPRESSING that we’re WONDERING what rape looks like now.
Here’s what happened: Adam and new GF Natalia have sex for the first time at the beginning of the episode, and all is adorably giddy, fumbly and first time-y. Natalia is explicitly clear about her likes and dislikes (“soft touching tickles and takes me out of the moment”). Adam praises her for being so clear.
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Things take a turn after Adam, an alcoholic, falls of the wagon after an awkward encounter with Hannah. Natalia and Adam go back to his shitty apartment — the creepy, nail-strewn, back alley workshop from your nightmares, in stark comparison to her well-lit bedroom, replete with neatly made bed and throw pillows. After some kissing, Adam, looking absolutely feral, asks Natalia to get down on all fours and crawl to his bedroom. She looks at him, smiling blankly, clearly confused but goes along with it. This is her boyfriend after all. He begins to go down on her, despite her protests. “Look, I didn’t shower today,” she begins. “Relax,” he says. (SHUDDER). When he eventually jerks off on her chest — after she protests, yet again, “not on my dress!” — she has to look away. When it’s over, Natalia says, “I didn’t like that. I, like, really didn’t like that.
Hmm. I’m pretty sure what I watched was a rape scene. But we don’t call it that. We call it “bad sex.” We call it a “grey area.” We call it a “misunderstanding.” We say that it was consensual because she didn’t say the word no.
But here’s the thing: she did say no — by my count, three times. But Adam didn’t bother to read her blatant non-verbal cues. Natalia was visibly, painfully not down with what was happening to her (and I use the word “to” very deliberately, here). Her wants or needs were never considered, not even afterwards, when Adam continued to make it all about him. Never once did Adam ask, ‘Does this feel OK?’ ‘Am I hurting you?’ ‘Do you want to stop?’ when, as her boyfriend — a person she decided she trusted enough to have sex with in the first place — he really should have. But because she never outwardly said ‘NO, STOP, RAPE’ and, I don’t know, blew a whistle, we call it ‘bad sex’?
And, of course, blame and responsibility default to Natalia. SHE should have said no. SHE shouldn’t have gone home with him. When, in reality, HE should have picked up on her less than subtle cues.
He isn’t the only one. While I believe Lena Dunham, who wrote and directed this episode, was attempting to spark this very discussion about the climate of so-called “implied consent” that so many of us sex-having ladies have to deal with on the regular, many mainstream reviews completely glossed over it. Slate’s Guys on Girls column tellingly used the following phrases: “Borderline assaulted,” “exceedingly uncomfortable sex,” to describe that scene. The Rolling Stone recap, meanwhile, barely acknowledged it. Maybe because we’re so used to seeing it.
WELCOME TO RAPE CULTURE. AIN’T IT GRAND?
Jen Zoratti is a Spectator Tribune columnist and freelance music journalist. Follow her on Twitter @JenZoratti