“The overwhelming narrative of rape is one of force, of strangers in the dark, and of a man raping a woman. We need to understand that assault and rape doesn’t always look like this and victims come in all shapes, sizes and genders. It isn’t always broken glass and shouting, sometimes it’s quiet but that doesn’t make the truth of it any less ugly.”
There has been a lot of love and some hate regarding the show ‘Bridgerton.’ It was beyond refreshing to see black people in a period drama where their race was not the focus, and they weren’t delegated to the role of servant. Instead, playing heroes and queens integral to the storyline. The show’s popularity could also mean positive change in castings when it comes to diversity. Something, as a black actress and writer, I celebrate. On the other side, there have been accusations of colourism levelled at the show-just google colourism and Bridgerton and you’ll see.
I won’t be talking about Bridgerton’s popularity or handling of race, because the biggest questions I was left with after watching were, ‘did I just watch a rape scene? And, ‘did I just see female stealthing and is that even a thing?’
Part 1: What Scene is it and Is it Rape?
The scene in question is when Daphne, realising the Duke can have children biologically, initiates sex before making the Duke, ahem, finish inside her.
I’ll be honest, at first I did not see this as a rape scene. But upon re-watching it seems clear to me that this is rape. The Duke withdraws consent, saying, ‘wait Daphne wait’, whilst shaking his head no. Daphne, who clearly hears him, does not just ignore him but continues until the duke climaxes inside her. She does this as a planned act of revenge and to potentially force him to have a child with her. The intent is clear.
It Was Not Rape Because…
Tackling some of the common reasons I’ve heard about why this is not rape.
- “He could have pushed her off”- This follows the flawed idea that if someone does not physically resist, they have not been raped. People do not always fight back, some freeze in the moment. Assuming a victim, male or female, should have and could have stopped the rape fails to acknowledge the confusion and time it takes to process what is being done to you. Especially, when it is someone you know and trust committing the act.
- “He consented at the beginning”- You can withdraw consent at any point during sex. You can be at the halfway point or near the finish line, it makes no difference. If someone says ‘wait’ or ‘stop’ the other person should respect that.
- “He Enjoyed It aka he climaxed”- Nope, no, I am shutting this one down. Your body responding to sexual stimuli is not something you can control. This veers straight into the ‘it isn’t rape’ if they enjoyed it category of victim blaming.
These responses all adhere to dangerous myths about what does and does not constitute rape and which, in the real world, deters victims from coming forward.
Rephrase “he could have pushed her off” to ‘did you fight back?’ “He consented at the beginning” to ‘did you kiss them back’? “He enjoyed it” to…well ‘did you enjoy?” And the view of it as consensual sex falls flat.
Why don’t we view it rape?
There is a reason very few viewers, including myself at first, did not see this as rape. The show itself does not treat it as that. Romantic music plays in the background and when it’s over, the focus is on Daphne’s pain at being misled by him. Him saying ‘I can’t have children’ instead of ‘I won’t’ is treated as equal to Daphne raping him. Finally, there are our own subconscious biases to contend with. The overwhelming narrative of rape is one of force, of strangers in the dark, (despite most rapes being committed by those we know), and of a man raping a woman. We need to understand that assault and rape doesn’t always look like this and victims come in all shapes, sizes and genders. It isn’t always dark streets, fighting and shouting, sometimes it’s quiet but that doesn’t make the truth of it any less ugly.
Part 2: Stealthing in Bridgerton
Did I just watch female stealthing and can a woman stealth anyway?
First things first, what is stealthing? Stealthing is an inappropriately cool sounding name for non-consensual condom removal. Essentially, it is when a man removes a condom during sex without his partners knowledge. This is illegal in the UK. Under the ‘Sexual Offences Act of 2003’ the marker of whether sex is rape or consensual is that both parties be “in a position to make that choice freely” and “agrees to the activity by choice.” Basically, if you have agreed to sex on the condition a condom is used, removing the condom without the other persons knowledge, voids the consent given at the beginning.
According to research done in 2019 some of the main reasons cited for stealthing are it, “feels better without a condom,” the “thrill of degradation” and a right to “spread their seed.” Essentially, they believe their desire to procreate or enjoy sex without a condom trumps their partners right to sexual safety and bodily autonomy.
This notion of a right to, “spread their seed” –aka have children– made me wonder if what Daphne does, forcing the Duke to finish inside her and potentially impregnate her, would count as stealthing. And if it does, does that mean that a woman can stealth? For instance, If a woman says she is on birth control but is not and gains consent to sex through this, is that sex act now stealthing or even assault?
Why Daphne didn’t stealth:
I am pretty sure under legal terms what Daphne did isn’t stealthing. Times being what they were neither Daphne nor The Duke would have been on any contraception, with the Duke relying on the infamous pull-out method. I would argue what she did inhabited the spirit of stealthing (i.e. I deserve to spread my seed despite your wishes) but falls outside of it re the law.
Coming back to the real world, if a woman lies about being on birth control is that stealthing?
This is tricky. Again, in my opinion, no. I do not think this counts as stealthing. This is because removing a condom during sex (stealthing) not only violates your consent it also puts your physical health at risk. You are at risk of contracting STD’s, including HIV or AIDS, and female victims of stealthing are at risk of pregnancy which can lead to its own health risks and even death.
I do think this falls under the realm of sexual assault or even rape. If you’ve told someone you are on birth control and know you aren’t and have sex based on those grounds you’ve gained consent through false pretences.
However, this would be extremely difficult to argue in a court. As someone who used the pill for years, it is very easy to forget to take the pill – you have to do it every damn day and adjust for time difference if you travel. It also fails to acknowledge the unfair burden (ahem, sexism) placed on women to bear near sole responsibility for birth control in society – still waiting on that famed male birth control pill.
Moreover, no one has ever actually been convicted of stealthing yet. Victims themselves are often unsure where this falls in the eyes of the law and so do not come forward. And when they have bravely come forward, persistent myths surrounding rape means the onus is often placed on the victim to prove it.
So, to sum up, yes Daphne did rape The Duke in that scene, no Daphne did not stealth, women stealthing is not a thing and most importantly as a society (including me) we really need to examine our biases and overhaul our understanding of sex and consent.