It’s Not A Grey Area: The Rape that Occurred On Girls

by: Maggie Carr

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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?

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8 responses to “It’s Not A Grey Area: The Rape that Occurred On Girls

  1. From what you described this is not rape. It is a Criminal Sexual Act (the oral) and Sexual Contact (the coming). There was no intercourse and that is what constitutes rape.

    You may disagree with how our laws define rape vs. sexual assault but there is an obvious gray area here and it’s simplistic to suggest otherwise.

    • Rape is NOT just a legal definition. It is a persons experience, it is a violation of their personhood and dignity, it is an act of force, of violence, it is ANY sexual act done without the full and enthusiastic consent of the partner. It’s simplistic of you to limit the definition to sheer legal terms. And it’s also entirely dismissing of so many people who have experienced anything on a spectrum of what would legally be determined “sexual assault.” It’s ultimately for the survivor to name, not for you or the law to dictate. As this is a fictional character, she can’t really speak for herself. But your comment is incredibly dismissive of the author of this piece.

      Ask yourself, what exactly are you trying to achieve by dismantling this down the legal terms? Are you trying to make it seem less severe, less damaging? Does it really change the impact on the character, the impact on audiences? And how from a queer perspective, how can heteronormative defintiions of rape as strictly penetrative even begin to cover the breadth of queer sex?

      • I’m not attempting to dismantle anything. I’m only pointing out that words already exist for what the author describes as “rapey.”

        I am curious, however, how your definition of rape as “ANY sexual act done without the full and enthusiastic consent of the partner?” could be instituted into law? What is a sexual act? What is enthusiastic consent?

        By that definition, could showing my penis to someone on Skype be rape?

    • There was intercourse in this scene (oral to intercourse to coming on her chest), but either way I’d still call it rape.

  2. Legal terms around rape and sexual assault have been created by a flawed system that has historically and continuously failed to protect and advocate for the rights of survivors and victims of sexual assault. The fact that rape is so strictly defined around the act of forced penetration is not evidence of that being more traumatic than the actions written about in this article, but of heterosexism in our system that not only sees intercourse as the only legitimate form of sex, but also the only legitimate form of rape. Also, why the fuck do you care so much about holding on to a legal term that has changed multiple times and will surely change again?

  3. Um is this post a joke? Having sex was consentual by both parties. The girlfriend was just not prepared for the type of sex he wanted to have, but she went along w it without ever saying to stop or saying ‘no,’ and then afterward told him she didnt like it like that. He never forced her physically to continue. Just because she didnt like the sex doesnt mean it was rape. One party liked having degrading sex, the other didnt, but didnt realize until midway through that that is what was happened, but CHOSE to continue until it was over. What was rape? The author of this is a wannabe feminist and not very bright.

  4. Pingback: I Really Didn’t Like That: Episode 9 of Girls | I Get a Bit Obsessive·

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