‘Pitch Perfect’ Thinks Rape on College Campuses is Real, but Funny
The trailer for the new film "Pitch Perfect"--a movie about a women's college A Capella group--starts off with a rape joke that centers around the idea that rape is not a serious issue on college campuses, and that women often women falsely report rape or don't know the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. The overeager and peppy orientation leader tells the heroine of the movie, a freshman, on her first day of college:
Hi there, welcome to Barden University! Here's your official BU rape whistle. Don't blow it unless it's actually happening!
A quick look at the movie poster makes it obvious that the filmmakers are trying to capitalize on interests in comedic films like Bridesmaids which features stories focused on women, and their friendships with other women. In fact, one of the main characters is played by Rebel Wilson from Bridesmaids, and Kay Cannon, the screenwriter, is a writer on 30 Rock. But if this film is supposed to cater to women, why include a joke about the prevalence of rape on college campuses?
To put the tasteless joke in perspective,check out the staggering statistics on rape at college campuses:
- Between 20% and 25% of women will experience a completed and/or attempted rape during their college career.
- More than half of raped college women tell no one of their victimization.
- College freshmen and sophomore women appear to be at greater risk of being victims of sexual assault than are upperclassmen. 84% of the women who reported sexually coercive experiences experienced the incident during their first four semesters on campus.
- Only about 2% of all sexual assault accusations reported to police turn out to be false. This is the same rate of false reporting as other types of violent crimes.
This month, a legislator was banned from speaking on the House floor for saying the word "vagina" during debate about women's reproductive rights by her conservative male counterparts. In "Pitch Perfect" it's disturbing that a platform designed for women--and in part crafted by women--would trivialize rape, but institutionalized misogyny works in not so mysterious ways. Certainly it's difficult to challenge the status quo within an industry that is driven by men, but with an uptick of films and television shows that put women (and writers) with strong voices in the fore, writers, filmmakers, and show runners that make jokes about rape culture should realize that they aren't either a good, funny, or safe (trivializing=normalizing) way to appeal to a female audience.
Maybe this joke seems innocuous to some, and many viewers won't even take the time to reflect on its presence in a film, but that's exactly the problem. The war on women is being waged on dual fronts: within both pop culture and policy, and they work in concert and play off one another to keep institutions of misogyny in place. When rape jokes are allowed to be disseminatyed to thousands of viewers--particularly young people--we are effectively giving cultural passes to television shows or films that normalize violence against women and misogyny and in turn, societal attitudes about women giveway to dismissive legislators. Reproductive rights are being dismantled, leaving female constituencies and their health hanging in the balance. Although filmmakers, screenwriters, and producers don't have the capacity to directly "legislate vaginas" in an oppressive manner, they unmistakably provide the ammo for others to do it.
Dahlia Grossman-Heinze is a reporter-blogger for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @salvadordahlia.
- Love Triangles With a Side of Sex-Ed: Welcome to “East Los High”
- NWL: ‘Old Enough to Get Pregnant, Old Enough to Decide’
- How This North Carolina Bill Will Restrict Health Care for Minors
- Plan B’s Plan C
- How America is Falling Behind in Global Race to Expand Reproductive Rights