Lady Problems: It’s Not TV, It’s HBO — And You Know That Because Of The Incessant Rape

Plus: Something is up with Dear Abby, the original Lady Who Solves Problems

Lady Problems is a weekly column that looks at how the entertainment industry — and its corresponding culture and constituents — is treating women in a given week. (Hint: It will almost always be “poorly.”) Every Thursday we’ll review the week’s most significant woman-centric conflicts, then provide a brilliant solution to each problem that nobody in Hollywood will ever listen to or enforce.

The Lady Problem: If you've watched any of HBO's recent dramas, you're likely uncomfortably familiar with its penchant for sexual violence against women. Nearly every single woman on Game of Thrones has been raped, been a near-victim of rape, been threatened with rape, or is murdered before she can be raped. The network’s new series, The Night Of, features about three female characters total, one of whom is violently slaughtered in her bed in the first episode and then continues to be shown, time and time again, as a naked, bloody corpse. HBO has something of a fetish for fucking up its ladies, is what I’m saying; it’s been criticized for years for this channel-wide regressive trend. And the upcoming series Westworld doesn’t appear to be an exception to this rule: According to THR, the opening scene depicts a female android (played by Evan Rachel Wood) being dragged off screen to be — wait for it! — raped.

At last week’s TCA panel, Casey Bloys, the network’s new president of programming, was asked to reckon with the network’s troubling obsession with rape and violence against women. According to multiple outlets with reporters on the ground, Bloys completely fumbled the questions, making unfunny jokes and false equivalencies and, somehow, appearing totally unprepared to talk about criticisms that have been lobbed at his network for years. Here’s The Daily Beast’s rundown:

Linda Holmes from NPR kicked off the questioning, asking if the network is relying on sexualized violence against women as a way to create stakes and drive the narrative. Instinctively bringing up Game of Thrones, Bloys says the violence “is not just specific to women. It’s men and women. It’s kind of indiscriminate.” When she followed up, Bloys reiterated that he didn’t think the violence is specific to women. “Plenty of men are killed as well,” he said, setting off a #TCA16 firestorm on Twitter. Writer Melanie McFarland then asked if that means that we’ll be seeing more of the same kind of violence, specifically rape, with male characters, Bloys joked, “We're going to kill everybody!”

After further lines of questioning, Bloys apparently continued to say ridiculous shit like “the violence is pretty extreme on all fronts” and “the violence is spread equally,” though he eventually conceded that “there aren’t any male rapes” and that the criticism “is something we think about, yeah.” Overall, the takeaway from critics onsite was that Bloys was glib and insensitive about a systemic problem that he should’ve been more than ready to address.

Later, Westworld’s co-creator Lisa Joy gave a relatively more satisfying answer, saying, among other things, “sexual violence, not only for me but for everybody on our team, is an issue we take very, very seriously. ... It’s extraordinarily disturbing and horrifying. In this portrayal, we really endeavored for it to not be about the fetishization of those acts.” Though, as Holmes later tweeted, “Respectfully, though, every individual show gives roughly that same answer. Nobody says ‘we use rape in an insensitive way.’”

The Solution: One of the major problems with the way HBO depicts sexual violence is that it’s used as a plot device, a lazy way to give a female character “depth” or to explain away why she’s “troubled.” It’s also a supremely hypocritical way for the network to capitalize on its ability to show fully naked women in a way that (theoretically, in HBO’s hive mind) isn’t just pointless objectification — “Hey, here’s some tits, but what’s happening to this woman is bad! We condemn it! Still, though, tits.” I’ve rarely seen a Game of Thrones rape scene that couldn’t be replaced with something more nuanced or just nixed altogether, or that, in some way, wasn’t an excuse to linger on a woman's exposed body. Meanwhile, the show has only pulled out the D in disgusting ways, i.e., showing us a teenager’s STD and a giant guy named after a dog peeing into a lake.

From here on out, every time Casey Bloys and his HBO brethren appear in public, they will have to be bare-ass naked. TCA panel? Naked. Grocery store? Naked. Peeing into a lake? Naked. When they inevitably ask, “Is this really necessary? Wouldn’t the task at hand — grocery shopping, heading up a panel, peeing into a lake — be accomplished just as effectively if, say, we weren't naked?” We’ll be all, “You tell us, Casey Bloys! YOU TELL US.”

Meanwhile, we will retroactively replace every violent HBO rape scene with a scene of a group of pigeons quietly pooping.

The Lady Problem: H/T to Jezebel for alerting us to this important Lady Problem, which may be the apotheosis of all Lady Problems in that it deals directly with the OG Lady Who Solves Problems, Dear Abby. So this is a meta Lady Problem, if you will: How can we at Lady Problems solve Lady Problems when Dear Abby is cutting us off at the knees?!

As Jezebel’s Joanna Rothkopf explains, Dear Abby has been going off the rails for quite a while now, attributing a rape to a “breakdown in communication” and simultaneously admonishing and gaslighting a rape survivor. (How many times do you think we’re going to be forced to write the word “rape” in today’s column? How many grains of sand coat the ocean floor?) For her latest trick, Dear Abby is both ignoring allegations of statutory rape and accusing a woman who says she’s only having sex to keep her man from having a sex addiction (???). Here’s the original plea for help:

“DEAR ABBY: I’m obsessed with having sex. I can’t stop. Ever since I was 8, I’ve been having sex, and now I’m 18. I have a boyfriend I’ve been dating since I was 8, and we can’t stop having sex. I want to stop, but he doesn’t want to. I keep on doing it because he says if I don’t, he'll leave me. Please help. What do I do?

- Obsessed in Miami"

And here’s Abby’s unhinged reply, which, as Rothkopf points out, reads like “a Siri-produced response to the keyword ‘obsessed.’”

“DEAR OBSESSED: There are worse things than losing a boyfriend who threatens to dump you if you don’t have sex with him. Chief among them is having sex with someone because you have been coerced. Because you feel you are “obsessed,” you may have what is called a sex addiction.

Licensed psychotherapists treat people with sexual compulsive disorders, and self-help groups help individuals suffering because they can’t control their sexual behavior. A 12-step program that has been mentioned before in my column is Sexaholics Anonymous, which originated in 1979 and is based on the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous. Its website is sa.org. Visit it to find a local meeting.”

The Solution: To be fair, the letter at hand is definitely confusing upon first (and second) (and third) readings, directly contradicting itself on a sentence-by-sentence level. But Abby!! Girl. Not only is this woman telling you she’s been the victim of statutory rape for YEARS, she’s asking you how to escape what is, essentially, a sexually abusive relationship. The best you can come up with is sending her to Sexaholics Anonymous, versus, say, recognizing that she’s essentially had Stockholm Syndrome for 10 years and directing her to some sort of law enforcement official?

Obsessed in Miami, if you’re reading this, please ignore Abby’s actual advice and take Rothkopf’s instead: Call a sexual assault hotline posthaste. Abby, if you’re reading this, are you OK, or have you been kidnapped by the woman who copied and pasted Melania Trump’s speeches? Please send word at your earliest convenience. If not, please take some time to familiarize yourself with the concept of sexual abuse (for some examples, you can consult any show on HBO). Also, please stop besmirching the legacy of Lady Problem Solvers everywhere; you are exponentially salting the Lady Problems game and it is rude.


VMAs 2017