Women as conniving, or as infantile, creatures that aren’t quite at the same level men are. Women as sex objects. Women getting fucked, beat up, abused, used, murdered, robbed, enslaved, kidnapped or worse.
In other words: women being victimised or victimising others – often while getting the shit beaten out of them, and often while they’re naked.
We all know these tropes are disgusting. And we all know all of the above can be found on Game of Thrones. And on The Walking Dead. And Mad Men. And… well, way too fucking many TV shows.
I’m sorry but not sorry if my language offends you. Crass as it is, it’s nowhere near the level of obscenity of the levels of violence depicted towards women on television today. Films have long been known for stomach-churning – at best – violence against women, but TV is just as bad, if not worse, thanks to the profusion of channels and the rise of “premium” outlets like HBO and AMC.
The violence is not only mind-bogglingly gratuitous, but very, very realistic.
And that’s the problem – for several reasons.
The effects of TV and other media on young people – especially very young children – have long been known. What do you think will happen if young children glimpse a woman, like Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones, being raped, with almost no context? Needless to say, they could very well grow up viewing women as lesser human beings – or, if they are girls, feel as though they have no self-worth.
And then there are the effects of such violence on real survivors of violence. Seeing such violence on TV can be intensely triggering.
Sometimes the violence can be used to make a point, like in the Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan-starring British programme The Fall. The violence against women shown in the series is utterly appalling and enough to chill a person to their very core, but has a sense of self awareness – “why are you watching this? You sick fuck,” Dornan’s character at one point challenges the viewer – while refuting a few age-old misogynistic tropes along the way (“the media loves to divide women into virgins and vamps, angels or whores. Let's not encourage them."). And the aforementioned rape of Sansa in Game of Thrones sparked a worldwide discussion on social media and in real life about consent. Still, does the violence need to be so graphic? Can’t it just be implied?
Sometimes TV can also make important points and offer some inspiring moments. One of my favourite programmes is Star Trek: The Next Generation. During one 1993 episode of the series, there’s a moment when one of the main characters complains that a uniform he is forced to wear “looks like a dress.” His male commanding officer instantly rebukes him by shouting, “That is an incredibly outmoded and sexist attitude!”
Of course, Star Trek is far from perfect (one 1980s episode is known as one of the most sexist television episodes produced ever, and for good reason), but at least it doesn’t show women being mutilated. What purpose does such violence serve?
That’s the question we have to ask ourselves.
We then need to ask ourselves why we watch such programmes. Is it the plot? The escapism? The actresses and actors in it? Then ask yourself this: would you still watch it if it didn’t have graphic depictions of violence against women?
If the answer is no, it might be a good idea to ponder on that further.