First, I just want to make it clear that I don’t NEED a reminder from any source that I need feminism. I’m a woman who cares about other humans of all genders, and that’s enough of a reminder.
And I mean…I love Netflix. I really do. I’m not enough of a cynic to openly criticize it (although I am STILL pissed The Get Down didn’t get more episodes and I doubt I’ll ever be over it). But I spend a lot of time alone (which for me, is actually pretty healthy and enjoyable most of the time, to be honest). At least 30 hours a week, sometimes more, when I don’t have a social engagement planned, and J is at work, and our Boy is at school during the school months. So I listen to a lot of internet radio and I watch a lot of Netflix, because it’s commercial free. I like watching shows that don’t contain a lot of big, loud, surprises, because I’m anxious and I startle very easily, and I’m usually reading or writing at the same time, and whatever’s on Netflix is mostly calming background noise. I like documentaries. They are usually pretty subdued and passive, even when their subject matter is grim and disturbing. So I watched The Ted Bundy Tapes. I don’t glorify or romanticize serial killers (I am now, and always have been, a Good Guy kinda girl), but I do like documentaries of all kinds, and this was a new one. Unsurprisingly, it frightened me. But probably a little surprising is the scene (is it a scene in a documentary? Segment? I dunno…anyway…) that frightened me. It wasn’t when they were detailing some gruesome crime he committed or that he escaped law enforcement TWICE. Those things are obviously scary, but not the part that haunted me…which was…
A woman who was a new police officer in the area Mr. Bundy began committing crime in in the 1970’s was interviewed about taking and managing leads, and she was sort of nonchalantly speaking about a particularly good one they received. Her language and the relaxed nature with which she delivered the words are what I personally found most terrifying about the entire documentary series. To paraphrase, it went something like, ‘…lots of women called in to say they suspected their boyfriend of these offenses, but THIS woman’s boyfriend’s name was actually TED…’
What does it say that MANY women thought their significant other was capable of brutal serial murder and that they stayed with that particular man up to and possibly including calling in a tip to police? And that this police officer (who at the time was a woman in the targeted victim range) felt like this was basically a normal thing? That women called to say, ‘Maybe it might be my boyfriend.’ MANY women did this. That’s how afraid MANY women are of men *they stay in relationships with.* The implications there are obviously horrifying.
So then, I decided I maybe should quit watching that and turn to something with more of a sense of humor, and bright and beautiful visuals. So I began re-watching Mad Men. I know it’s a period piece. I know women have made a lot of progress in the workplace since the times of Mad Men. But women are still regularly sexually harassed at work, and women are still fighting to be treated fairly and paid fairly and not judged off our appearance more than our work merit, and punished for behaving in the same ways men are rewarded for. But beyond that, there was one scene in one episode starring the incomparable Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway. (She is knockout gorgeous, isn’t she? Wow.)
For those of you who’ve never seen the show, Joan is a secretary at an ad agency in the 1960’s. She is, for obvious reasons, admired, by men in particular. Her beauty isn’t the only reason, either. It’s also her confidence and the obvious grace with which she comports herself. Joan eventually gets engaged to a clean-cut, handsome aspiring surgeon (exactly the kind of man that one would expect Joan to get engaged to). And he rapes her. He makes a sexual advance on her at a time and place that makes her uncomfortable, she clearly tells him no…several times…and he takes what he wants anyway, while she looks away with quiet resignation. And she never tells anyone. And she marries him anyway. And then I thought about how there are still people who view an established romantic relationship between a man and a woman as implied consent all the time. There are still victims who don’t speak up because they’re afraid of all the repercussions THEY will face, not their attackers. Or that they won’t be believed at all…’It’s not really rape if…they’re engaged/married/living together…if she didn’t physically fight him off…if she didn’t report it immediately…if she stayed in a relationship with him after that…’
So sometimes innocent, benign background noise serves as a reminder that I still need feminism (even though, as I said, I don’t need this reminder). And it reminds me that when I write the stories I create, I need to make sure I highlight that an established relationship doesn’t imply consent, and doesn’t even imply trust. It reminds me that I have to work to make those things clear in my writing. The heroines I write would never have the slightest suspicion that my leading men were serial killers. And no matter how long they’ve been together, consent is never implied or assumed between them.