Downton Abbey’s Rape Scene in Bad Taste?

Image Courtesy: theguardian.com

Image Courtesy: theguardian.com

After the last episode of Downton Abbey, every one seems to be up in arms over the rape scene included in that episode. Whether it was done for the ratings or out of the need to tackle such a huge subject on national television, we will never truly know. What we do know is that people aren’t happy and I’d like to ask why?

According to an article on the Daily Mail, in the episode that aired on Sunday night, Joanna Froggatt’s character, Anna Bates, was attacked by Mr Green, played by actor Nigel Harman. It sparked more than 200 complaints from hardcore fans of the show to ITV and Ofcom with many saying it was too strong for a Sunday night.

Image Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk

Image Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk

The shows creator, Julian Fellowes has defended the episode by saying, “If we’d have wanted a sensational rape we could have stayed down in the kitchen with the camera during the whole thing and wrung it out.

The point of our handling is not that we’re interested in sensationalizing but we’re interested in exploring the mental damage and the emotional damage.”

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

Even the actress whose character was raped in the scene has come out to publicly defend the scene, claiming that the show should be respected for their bravery exemplified by tackling such a huge global issue.

“I think he’s done a beautiful job with hitting the right note with it. We all just felt a big responsibility to get it right,” she said.

What I find puzzling is why is every one up in arms about this? Firstly, it is a TV show and if you don’t like what you see you have the option to turn off your television and not watch. Secondly, Downton Abbey is far from the only drama series that has portrayed sexual violence against women in some way shape or form. Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order (Special Vicitms Unit) and the BBC’s drama series: The Fall are just a few of the several series that portray sexual violence in some  or all of their episodes.

Furthermore, routine sexual abuse of domestic helpers during that era was commonplace, so claims that the producers and directors of the show were not being true to the era are misplaced. According to an article in The Guardian, “in terms of the way female servants were treated by those above and below stairs, it was accurate: many were raped, mistreated or subjected to abuse. This is part of our social history that cannot be ignored”.

So why the huge uproar? I think it’s largely because despite the prevalence of such violence against women all over the world, people are still largely uncomfortable with dealing with this issue when it is right in front of them.

Writing on Twitter, viewer Alexia Light also said that Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fellowes owed viewers an apology over the “sick and sensationalist” scene.

Another viewer Caroline Farrow described the scenes of sexual violence as “very distressing”.

Sure, television probably gives us a distorted impression of what is truly happening around the world. But, shouldn’t we be acclimatised to crimes of such a nature because we all know it’s happening all around us. No – rape is still a rather hush-hush topic that people see or hear of but don’t speak about. It’s amazing to me how in the century of communication, such an important topic is seen as something we used fear and be unaware of. If we aren’t ready to deal with the harsh reality of rape and sexual violence entails, how can we ever hope for change?

This is not to say that I condone the use of rape and violence against women as a ploy to get ratings up. If this were truly the case – which we will never really know – it is undoubtedly despicable. I despise sexualized content for the sake of entertainment. However, I do believe that “Julian Fellowes has done a fine job of portraying many of the difficulties experienced by women in the early 20th century: death in childbirth, destitution due to illegitimacy, the impact wrought by the horror of war”.

It is extremely important that sexual violence is discussed openly, and if portraying it on television leads to a dialogue, then that can only be a good thing. Like the article in the The Guardian states, “we should not be analyzing the scene itself, but how it is dealt with in the coming weeks. That will reveal more about the writer’s motivations than a moment of high drama ever will”.

What are your views? Do you think the show went too far or are we still not comfortable enough to have an open dialogue about sexual violence?

We have a voice, lets use it.

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Is There Really An Ounce of Honour in Killing?

Today’s post is about something that I feel deserves a great amount of attention. In all honesty, it was not until a dear friend of mine shared a link to a BBC article about last week’s murders in the Indian state of Harayana, that I decided to explore the issue of ‘honour killings’ further.

Image Courtesy: interactblogs.wordpress.com

Image Courtesy: interactblogs.wordpress.com

Many will accede to the fact that ‘honour killings’ is not news. It has been going on for several decades. However, it remains newsworthy because of the fact that it continues to persist in the 21st century is cause for great concern. According to the BBC Ethics Guide, honour killings are a subset of the broader notion that is an honour crime. By definition, honour crimes involve violence, including murder, committed by people who want to defend the reputation of their family or community.

Just last week, an 18-year old girl and her fiance were brutally killed. By whom? The girls own family. In fact, in an article in The Guardian, Narendar Barak, the victim’s father, showed no remorse after he admitted to beating his daughter to death and dismembering her fiance.

“I have no regrets … not even a little … This should happen. If society is to be saved, then it should happen,” he said.

This case was dubbed a “honour killing” because of the fact that both the victims come from the same caste. As such, they were forbidden by tradition from marrying one another. More so, tradition also dictated that children were not permitted to chose who they marry. Instead, the decision has to be made by their parents. Hence, in order to preserve the purity of their local tradition, murder was the only answer. Violating their rights to life and to be free from torture in some sense was justified, as a necessary evil, when the protection of the entire culture was at stake.

To many this view will seem horrific. However, for the cultures perpetrating these ‘honour crimes’, this view is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it is based on their version of morality and behaviour, separate from the notion of universal human rights.

Cultural relativism often conflicts with universal human rights. By definition, cultural relativists ascribe to a morality that is solely governed by culture and nothing else. This is why crimes of honour are often go unnoticed or the perpetrators are granted impunity. These two paradigms are stark opposites and in order to find any resolution to this issue, condemnation of such local culture is not the answer.

In fact, if we have a look at the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of HUman Rights, Article 18 states that,

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Image Courtesy: humanityhealing.org

Image Courtesy: humanityhealing.org

Confusingly enough, it also states that,

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

Therefore, while these may be rights everyone should enjoy by the sheer fact that we are all human beings, the writing is not always black and white.

Firstly, for cultures that see ‘honour killings’ as an affirmation of morality, human rights are seen as an alien, Westernized concept. Hence, expecting them to comply with a so-called “Western” universal notion of morality – that goes against everything their culture represents – would be rather foolish.

Instead, according to a book entitled, ‘Honour: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence Against Women’, “combating crimes of honour cannot mean repudiating the human dignity and rights of all concerned, including the perpetrators of these crimes, their families and communities. Unless one subscribes to the authoritarian view that people should simply be coerced into doing what is good for them; it is necessary to gain their cooperation and support through an internal discourse within the community around cultural norms and institutions associated with these crimes”.

In no way, am I alluding to the fact that the protection of woman should be put on the back-burner while this internal discourse is underway. Practical and legal measures should be taken. After all, ascribing to certain cultural norms and morality does not exempt you from the law of the state, which clearly indicates that murder is a crime, punishable by the judicial system.

However, the question should be one of a long -term strategy – in addition to, not instead of, all that can be done immediately.

What are your views? Can you make an argument for cultural relativism? What can be done to ensure these ‘honour killings’ stop?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Do note that every once in a while, I will explore issues outside the exclusive realm of sexual violence, that I feel deserve a great amount of attention. Do Check out “Hot Topics” for more prolific issues around the world.

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