#criminalminds #meanwomen #violence – another collection of personal musings whilst conducting research of the #davidfosterwallace archive at the Harry Ransom Center, UT, Austin, TX (Day Four)

I watched Criminal Minds for the first time last night, a favourite of my sister’s. She’s part way through whatever season and so I’m picking it up and being filled in as we go. The opening to the first episode (four episodes per DVD) begins with a woman screaming – the screen is blank, so there are no visual clues to start with: “No, oh God, no, please, no, oh God, no, please.” As it turns out these are the screams of a woman giving birth, producing life (wonderful, I hear you say). As soon as she has given birth the baby is taken away from her by a man we later find out has a thing for kidnapping, raping, and impregnating his victims before killing them most brutally (not so wonderful, I hear you say).

My thoughts on this arise from those screams at the show’s opening, where, by their very nature, we as viewers are programmed to expect male-to-female violence, the suggestion of which is then made more explicit as we see flashes of the woman’s face, twisted in fear and agony. This portrayal of ‘every woman’s worst nightmare’ is obviously such a standard trope in our society that the show’s makers can subvert it, albeit briefly with the joyous moment where the woman gives birth, and still we as viewers are conditioned to expect a scene of rape, mutilation, and degradation – standard male-to-female violence.

My question then is how do such examples influence thinking and behaviour in our society in general? A very simple answer, using just one example, is that of an ‘essay’ at the back of Time magazine, February 9, 2015. In it, Susanna Schrobsdorff writes about the fear of letting her daughter go off to college, where she imagines, and not without good cause, her daughter may be subjected to a higher likelihood of sexual assault and/or rape. I have never read, heard, or been made aware of an article where a parent invests the same amount of fear in thinking about their son’s impending college years. Does the fact that mediums of popular culture rely so heavily on examples of male-to-female violence (and usually sexualised forms of violence) actually make the situation worse by pre-empting fearful behaviour in women?

An interesting shift in such thought occurs around the notion, borne out of a study of this issue conducted amongst groups of students, that ‘showing videos depicting violence against women disempowers female students, even when those videos are shown in the interest of critique,’ and that worryingly, ‘male students ‘‘manage their behavior’’ according to these depictions.’ Furthermore, the ‘authors [of the study] have developed Mean Women, a collage of scenes from popular films in which women physically assault men for defense, revenge or fun,’ with the purpose being that instead of subjecting women to the standard tropes of fear as set out in the Criminal Minds example above, women are allowed to ‘imagine the female body as subject to change, as a potential agent of violence, and object of fear.’[1]

Do we then need more examples like Kill Bill (and give Tarantino his due, he doesn’t restrict himself to binary thought where violence is concerned) and Resident Evil (Alice being the supreme example of female agency in popular culture)? What would that world look like, and who would be the ones screaming, “No, oh God, no, please, no, oh God, no, please”?

kill-bill-vol-2  2949362-3304154748-RE5_0

[1] Taken from Kelley Anne Malinen’s ‘Thinking Woman-to-Woman Rape: A Critique
of Marcus’s ‘‘Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention’’,’ Sexuality & Culture (2013) 17:360–376




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