The ‘respectable’ claim that violence against women in media perpetuates rape culture is a laughable absurdity. It does not bear scrutiny. But why are those who believe it so unconcerned about gratuitous violence against men in media?

I recently saw an article on The Guardian wherein Keira Knightley criticizes rape culture in modern movies and talks about her preference for period pieces in which women are not ‘raped in the first five pages’.  I could disagree to no end about whether period pieces depict violence against women more or less often, or over her claim that “the female characters nearly always get raped” in modern movies.  Whatever. I don’t think either one of us have seen every movie so it would be entirely anecdotal.  With the stories coming out of Hollywood it’s no surprise that assault and violence against women is a hot topic currently, that’s how news cycles work, but this article got me thinking of a counter-perspective on depictions of violence in entertainment.


Violence is used in entertainment because it ranks as one of the most visceral human experiences.  A story teller’s job is to grab the audience with something they can relate to, and to create emotion through the medium to keep that audience engaged. Love, violence, and death are things that all human beings experience at some time in their lives.  These are powerful tools for telling a tale, and that’s why they are the major themes in almost all the media that we watch, read, and consume.  Violence against others is also a commonly used, and useful plot element.  We are naturally protective creatures.  We protect our homes, our children, our loved ones, and sometimes even strangers, even at risk to our own lives.


Manipulating this protective instinct in entertainment has become a common, and often tired trope.  Motivating a character through violence or harm to a loved one happens all the time.  There are those, such as Knightley who find this problematic, but what’s weird is that it only seems to be problematic to these people when it’s female characters hurt to motivate male characters.  No one had an issue with Han Solo’s death being used as a motivator for Kylo or Rey in the new Star Wars films, or Finn’s injury used in the same way.  Sturm’s death in the Dragonlance Saga is a motivator for many characters in the series.  The list goes on and it’s undeniable that we have less sympathy for men in our entertainment, being able to watch them die in droves in our war movies and only feeling something when the writers goes out of their way to make a male character sympathetic.  There’s even an entry for it on TV Tropes.


It’s an inevitability.  Male and female instincts and social norms have varied slightly from culture to culture and generation to generation, but some things have remained consistent.  One of those things is that women have always been a cherished and protected class.  From our beginnings, when survival was the key focus of the human species, the number of healthy women in a group was important.  While a man can father multiple children at a time, women take time to have just one, or two children.  In the struggle to procreate and propagate the species women had to be protected for a society to survive.  Through the ages this has translated into various expressions, from keeping women from danger to more nefarious means of keeping them comfortable.


There’s still a part of us, as humans, who naturally want to protect women.  Seeing them hurt, or worse, causes a reaction that often translates to outrage, discomfort, or revulsion.  It’s why we can watch thousands of men die in a war movie but become disgusted if a woman is hurt in the same film.  Personally I don’t think this is a problem, but I think the reaction (of people like Knightley) to it is.  As a writer I firmly believe that we need to tell real stories.  Real stories involve pain, war, torture and death.  These things happen to men and women, and they have an impact on the people around them.  We send men off to war, so many of them will die.  Many more than women who die in war.  Women are often targets of abusers, cowards who seek targets they perceive to be weaker.  This is the reality of our world and our species.


What becomes worrisome is the idea that depicting these things in entertainment is a problem.  Gratuitous use of these themes are, like anything else, lazy and pointless.  For the purpose of a good story, one whose impact can change the lives of people experiencing it, we must be true to reality.  The idea some propose is that depicting these things in our entertainment perpetuates them in reality.  That rather than art imitating life, somehow life imitates art.  If those people, people like Kiera Knightley actually cared about that they might consider that men between the ages of 15 and 24 are 9 times more likely to be killed in homicide, and between 25 and 44 they are 5 times more likely.  If depiction of an act in art perpetuates it in life shouldn’t we stop showing men being killed in droves in our movies?  Would it surprise you to know that men die by suicide almost 4 time the rate of women, and 7 out of 10 are white men?  Should we stop depicting that in our entertainment?


I say no to it all.  The point of art is to reflect the human experience.  That includes the good and the bad.  If the story being told involves harm to another human being we have an obligation to be honest.  Not everyone will like it.  In fact many won’t, and that’s the point.  Seeing another human being harmed shouldn’t be something we enjoy.  It should cause us to feel something, and it should have an impact on the story we’re telling or there’s no point to it.  Should it just be used whenever we want, sprinkled into the story like too much pepper masking the taste of mediocre cooking?  No, of course not, but the idea that using it at all is a bad thing is just as flawed.


So, no I do not believe that depicting sexual violence or harm to women in movies perpetuates rape culture.  If there has been a rise in the level of violent content consumed by the public, the declining crime stat’s suggest that it’s not a problem. I don’t believe that it is common to every modern movie.  I don’t believe period pieces are innocent of depicting violence against women.  Often they can be worse, based on the ones I’ve seen.  But I do believe that we need these stories to be told, because the dark things don’t cease to exist when we ignore them.  I also believe that we could use a little more empathy and consideration for the less fair sex.  Not every woman needs to be a victim, sure, and not every man need be a bullet sponge, or an aggressor.  Writers should use their highest standards to make sure that these tragic and brutal events matter in the broad arcs of their stories and not rely on them to sensationalize lousy work but we must never eliminate them completely.  And if people are going to have a problem with violence against one sex, then we need to hold them to account for ignoring violence against the other.


Trever Bierschbach is editor of, a staff writer for, and a contributor at He is a speculative fiction writer who has two shorts available on Amazon. He’s a gamer, reader, father, husband, and geek with a deep love for the freedom to enjoy it all. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *