Rape Culture Films, or Men Behaving Badly

Man (sic) was once called the “Tool-Maker” species, (until they found other species make tools too) but is more like the “Tale-Teller”. We tell stories. But throughout known history, females have not been considered human, not part of the ‘Human Condition’, and our stories are rarely told without male censorship or manipulation. In this section, I use ‘rape-culture’ very loosely, to cover all normalised male-dominance culture, of both social cultural violence as well as physical violence varieties of Man’s Inhumanity to Woman.

The films I dislike the most in this group are the ones like the 1990’s British sitcom TV series ‘Men Behaving Badly’: “…In a BBC article, it is suggested Gary and Tony were “a reaction against the onset of the caring, sharing ‘new man’. It appeared to revel in a politically incorrect world of booze, burps and boobs”. …..critics … have stated the show “allowed male viewers to indulge in vicarious laddism, whilst allowing female viewers to ridicule the bad, but lovable, Tony and Gary” (Wikipedia). To top it off, it was voted the BBC’s top sitcom of all time in 1996. This genre has also sparked a subset of the popular women’s interest films, (aka ‘chickflicks’) – excluding (or trying to) the far more numerous romantic comedy genre – of films presenting strong women characters facing the challenges of a sexist world, sometimes as light-hearted comedies, or as ‘slice-of-life’ dramas, based in real-life or fictional. Popular mainstream examples include:

A Woman Rebels (1936), Rachel, Rachel (1968), Cabaret (1972), A Doll’s House (1973), Caddie (1976) My Brilliant Career (1979), Nine-to-Five (1980), Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Yentl (1983), The Burning Bed (1984), The Color Purple (1985), The Accused (1988), Steel Magnolias (1989), Thelma & Louise (1991), Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), What’s Love Got to Do With It? (1993), The Joy Luck Club (1993), Dolores Claiborne (1995), In the Company of Men (1997), Erin Brokovich (2000), North Country (2005), Diary of a Mad Blackwoman (2005), Made in Dagenham (2010), among many others.

One of the characteristics of this populist mainstream group is obviously their popularity with women viewers. Another major characteristic, is that the paradigm of man’s inhumanity to woman, is seen as personal for the women concerned, its only about individual ‘bad guys’, just a few ‘bad apples’. It erases mans’ collective complicity, as there are usually secondary ‘nice guys’ (or even saviour heroes), or the ‘system’ such as the law, in these films to demonstrate the myth that men-in-general aren’t so bad. Popularity amongst women is partly due to clever marketing to a target audience, but also the ‘hunger’ among women for stories that reflect our lives. Its a pity that so many of these films, offer little more than glimpses, a handful of scenes, some snatches of dialogue for that appetite. As much as I have also loved many of these films, I have often asked myself ‘Is this as good as it gets?’

The ones I find interesting, tend to be those which are far more honest in their depiction of males, without heroes saving damsels-in-distress, or are painting nice-guys as collaborators, showing the systemic socio-political forces of women’s oppression as a class, and/or displaying the homophilic male-bonding between men that occurs. Interestingly, some of the oldest movies, are the most honest about portraying Man’s Inhumanity to Woman. One example of re-inventing the mythology over time is the re-writing of the film The Stepford Wives (1975), into a 2004 fluffy-comedy.

What made the original so chilling as a horror movie, was the banal, normal, everyday realism of the male characters. The complete absence of ‘squick’ violence, was far more chilling than any slasher exploitation flick. The realism of their total contempt, the realism of their collaboration as a group, coercing initially reluctant males into line, the realism of their determination in separating the two main women characters, and in the gang-mentality or ‘group-think’ in casually killing their wives without a second thought, and replacing them with machines. Not even given the human respect of funeral rites.

Perhaps it was too realistic, and too many women viewers saw just how deep woman-hatred is, in even the nicest of guys. Maybe why they promoted a sequel : ‘Revenge of the Stepford Wives’ (1980), which re-wrote the original story with the women just taking pills, so they could have their condition reversed, threw in a couple of nice-guys, and a scene of women’s mob-violence at the end. By 2004, it is rewritten again, as a light fluffy slapstick comedy, with several men robotic as well, (with brain-microchips this time around), and the whole thing had been engineered by one of the women after all. And Wikipedia says “While the original film and book had tremendous cultural impact, (emphasis mine) the remake was marked by behind-the-scenes infighting, was dismissed by critics, lost (millions) at the box office, and was strongly disliked by its stars Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick and Bette Midler…”

La Traque (1975) France [‘The Hunt’ aka ‘The Track’]
Another film displaying realistic, honest, casual, everyday male bonding over woman-killing. About 8 men who meet to hunt wild boar in the woods. There are a lot of class/background differences between the men. Groups break off from the main hunting party, and one group of 3 encounters a woman who is checking out real estate, and one of them rapes her. When she later shoots and wounds him, the other two at first lie, but all the men eventually find out what really happened. Some just don’t want to be involved, some disagree, and one tries to help the woman get away, (not very hard) and others want to let the police handle it. Even the wounded rapist wants to let her go. Eventually, singly and as a group, and for vastly different reasons, they all decide to do whatever it takes to conceal the crime. Again there is an absence of ‘squick’ violence, despite the woman being hunted in the woods. The film is almost all dialogue between various members of the group of men. One of the men, a rich landowner has most of the men in his pocket for various things. He says to one man ‘I have something on the others – but not you, why are you going along with this?’. To which he replies ‘I learned in the army to work in a group’. Indeed. They are all ‘team-players’.

I tried to short-list my notables in this category, but it turned into a somewhat long list over the page, set in chronological order. Those with links highlighted have a more detailed page/post of their own for commenting.

Haxan (1922) Denmark, (aka Witchcraft). Silent Film. A documentary of the history of witchcraft, one of the longest silent films ever made, at 1 hr 45 mins. Excellent example of men rewriting history to suit themselves.

Vredens dag (1943) Denmark, (aka Day of Wrath’) In a 17th-century Danish village, an old woman is accused of witchcraft. In the shadow of her flight, capture, confession, and burning at the stake, the young wife of the town’s aging pastor who helped the old woman, also falls in love with the pastor’s son. Her confession of this illicit affair to her husband brings on his death. At the funeral the pastor’s mother denounces the young widow as a witch too. The film also contains subtle comparisons to the behaviour of the Nazis (torture and questioning) and the Director also fled Denmark for Sweden where he remained until the war was over.

Proces de Jeanne dArc (1962), France (aka The Trial of Joan of Arc’). There are several Joan of Arc films, but this one stands out for me, because it is based on the original church records and trial transcripts, and is filmed on location at the abbey where Joan was imprisoned, tried and burned.

Repulsion (1965) UK, One of the well-known examples of woman-killing-men because they are insane, due to implied childhood sexual abuse. Displays ad nauseum general male sense of entitlement. A stronger version on this theme of the stereotyped Insane Mad-Woman killing men on a serial sex-murder spree, is ‘The Witch Who Came from the Sea. (1976), USA, but the childhood incest is directly stated, not implied. Films of this kind, tend to show some sympathy for the women protagonists, however I suspect such male film-makers are more likely to be working through guilt.

Medieval witch-craze movies:  Nearly all on this theme are nothing more than torture porn, with the best-made of them rewriting history to focus on the conflict between male heroes and villains, and/or are using the premise to make anti-fascist commentary. Examples include: Witchfinder General (1968), UK;  Kladivo na carodejnice (1970), Czechoslavakia, (aka ‘Witches’ Hammer), and The Crucible (1996), USA. 

A Case of Rape (1974) USA, (TV) . Ellen, thought her rape was the worst thing to ever happen to her, but what was worse, was the treatment by the hospital staff, the police and the court system when she reported it, and the man was caught. The not-so-happy ending is more realistic than many later films on this subject.

L’amour violé (1978), France, (aka Rape Of Love) A stronger version especially in showing the impact of rape on victim’s life and relationships in aftermath. Nicole is raped one night by four men. Deeply scarred, emotionally and physically, she files a law suit on the advice of a close female lawyer friend. Her mother explains how powerless women are, nothing can be done, and ‘that women are born to suffer’. Her partner is initially supportive, but as time goes on, his patience wears thin.

Mr Wrong (1985), New Zealand. Delightful film about a young woman who buys the car of a previously murdered woman. Reaching beyond her grave, the dead woman protects her through ‘possession’ of the car, while taking revenge on the man who killed her.

Shame (1988), Australia.. Excellent film displaying rape-culture, its myths, legends and broader social consequences, throughout a whole community.

Yo, la Peor de Todas (1990) Argentina, (aka ‘I, the Worst of All’) Based on the true-life story of a nun, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695). The viceroy and his wife (the virreina) find her brilliant and fascinating. The virreina visits Sor Juana often, and they become close friends and she inspires Sor Juana to write passionate Sapphic poetry that the archbishop finds scandalous. The viceroy initially protects her, but after he is replaced and returns to Spain with his wife, Sor Juana faces retribution. A one-time male friend, a bishop, betrays her, her confessor publicly humiliates her and many of her written works are burned. A plague, a tribunal, and her confession as “the worst of all” end the great woman poet’s life, but many of her works were saved by the woman she loved, and post-humously published in Spain.

Da hong deng long gao gao gua (1991), China / Taiwan (aka Raise the Red Lantern). Set in 1920s China, a nobleman takes a young fourth concubine. The competition between the wives/concubines is vicious as their master’s attention carries status and privilege, and shows the resulting madness of M.A.D.

Once Were Warriors (1994) New Zealand. Set in urban Auckland telling the story of a Maori family beset by domestic violence, racism and poverty.

Death and the Maiden (1994), UK/USA/France : Independent. Gripping psychological thriller. A woman, and former political activist, in an un-named south-American country, is convinced that the man accompanying her husband home on night, now a high-level political staffer, is the same man who once tortured her as a political prisoner under the previous military fascist regime 15 years earlier. Excellent performance by Sigourney Weaver in the face of her husband and the stranger’s initial male-bonding, and refusal to give her story credibility.

Agnes (1995) Iceland. Agnes, is a single mother of a daughter, working as housekeeper for the sheriff of a small Icelandic county, and moves in with the local homeopathic doctor.  She soon learns another side to him when his lechery makes him several enemies amongst the other townsfolk. Based on true events of the last known public executions in Iceland.

Broken English (1996),
New Zealand. Fascinating film on intersections of sex, race, ethnicity and class. Story about Nina, the 18-year-old daughter of a family of Croatian refugees, living in Auckland.

A Thousand Acres (1997). USA Independent.  A powerful take on childhood incest, in re-writing ‘King Lear’ set on a large farm in Iowa. The old man is retiring, and wants to divide up the farm amongst his 3 adult daughters and their families, and like the ‘King Lear’ of Shakespeare’s play, he demands their declarations of love.

The Boys (1998), Australia. A gripping psychological thriller with stunning performances, (Toni Collette, Lynette Curran), detailing male-bonding mentality. Uses unusual flash-forward technique to tell the story of a day in the lives of 3 brothers and their wives, girlfriends and mother. No major violence is seen, only inferred.

Dangerous Beauty (1998) USA, (aka A Destiny of Her Own) A medieval Venetian courtesan becomes a heroine to her city, but later becomes the target of an inquisition by the Church for witchcraft.

Dayereh (2000), Iran (aka ‘The Circle’). A day in the life of three women after being released from prison in Teheran.

Dogville (2003), Independent, several countries. Filmed as a stageplay, with minimal stage sets. A woman on the run from the mob is reluctantly accepted in a small Colorado town. In exchange for help, she agrees to work for them. As a search visits town, she finds out that their support has a price.

One Way (2006) Germany. To cover up his infidelities and protect his upcoming marriage, a corporate man, helps free a rapist by supporting a false alibi and is included in the victim’s revenge.

Sakuran (2006), Japan. A screen adaptation of a serialised manga. About  the life of a strong-willed girl (with *attitude*) who is sold into a brothel when she is 9 years old. A much more realistic and powerful version, than romanticised Hollywood fairytales like ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’.

The Duchess (2007) UK/Italy Independent: Based on the real life of the 17th century Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, beloved by a nation but constrained by her sex. Powerful film displaying the true position of women-as-sex-class in that era.

El Traspatio (2009) Mexico (aka ‘Backyard’). While fictionalised, this story is based in the reality of Juarez, Mexico. A woman detective tries to investigate the sex-murders.

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2 thoughts on “Rape Culture Films, or Men Behaving Badly

    • Do you mean “Sin By Silence” a documentary? Its US(Californian) made. I saw it at a women’s film festival a cpl years back. I have a copy, but it is copyright protected, so I wouldn’t upload it. It should be available to rent or buy on DVD 🙂

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