by: Maggie Carr
TW: For descriptions of sexual violence
You know that thing that happened in this week’s episode of Girls?
It was rape. This is why.
Adam (Adam Driver), shaken to the core by a chance-run in with his ex-girlfriend Hannah (Lena Dunham), puts a swift end to five years of sobriety and takes his new girlfriend back to his apartment. When the new girlfriend shows that she’s not completely impressed with his digs, he turns cold.
First, he orders her to crawl to his bedroom on all fours and to let him fuck her from behind, which she accepts, if grudgingly: “What is it you’re going for, exactly?” When he starts performing oral, she pulls away from him, saying she feels dirty. “Relax,” he commands. She’s visibly distraught as he initiates sex, and despite her repeated and explicit requests for him to stop, he roughly flips her over and proceeds to come on her chest.
The act over, there’s a long silence. He wipes her off. She uncomfortably covers up. “Is this it? Are you done with me?” he asks, finally. “I don’t think I liked that,” she says in response. “I really didn’t like that.”
It was deeply unsettling to watch—but it wasn’t until I was remarking to my roommate that the scene “felt rapey” that I realized, um, that’s rape.
I don’t like calling Adam a rapist. Despite his aggression and inability to behave like a normal human being, I like him and want him to get his shit together. But what happened between Adam and his girlfriend was not a temporary lapse in judgment. It was not an unfortunate miscommunication. It was not a hot SM scenario. It was non-consensual, and it was rape.
I find myself making excuses for this behavior: that Adam shouldn’t have been drinking, or that he was just trying to re-experience the sexual-emotional connection he had with Hannah, or that he fucked up his new relationship beyond repair and that should be punishment enough. I’m disturbed that my reaction to a rape—even a fictional rape—is an attempt to spin it as merely sorta-rapey. I’m disturbed that I even use the word rapey, like rape is some unreadable grey fog that none of us can figure out one way or the other.
The Internet, unsurprisingly, has not interpreted what happened in this episode as rape, and rapey-ness—the non-word condition that turns assault into ambiguity into “who gives a fuck either way”—is at fault.
By making rape an adjective, we open up the linguistic space to dismiss it as merely rape-esque when it isn’t convenient or comfortable. We allow a qualitative difference between the woman who is assaulted in an alley and the woman who is forced down by her generally menschy boyfriend: one is rape, one is ehhh, vaguely rapey.
Same goes for the noun form. If you rape, you are a rapist; if you keep bees, you are a beekeeper. Beekeeping, like raping, may not define you, but it is undoubtedly part of your identity. Adam is not always a bad guy—Dunham’s made this abundantly clear. He’s an artist and an emotional wreck and a semi-sweet boyfriend and a Brooklynite, a carpenter and a complicated lover and an alcoholic. He’s also a guy who has raped, and therefore, a rapist.
Difficult as it is, we need to divorce the act of rape from our estimation of the rapist’s character. We need to call what happened in this episode rape. We need to call Adam a rapist.
Because if this isn’t rape, then what is?