Last night on Girls there was a scene in which Hannah’s ex-boyfriend Adam sexually abuses his new girlfriend Nat.
The scene was written in such a way as to create ambiguity as to whether what Adam — a generally sympathetic, if overwhelmingly creepy, character — did was actually rape. Amanda Hess has a particularly good rundown, in which she describes the show as illustrating “what happens when a person you want to have sex with ‘has sex with you’ in a way that you do not want them to.”
Such equivocation focuses on the question of whether Nat can properly say that she’s been raped — whether she can prove that she’s been raped, whether she can show that she sufficiently articulated her discomfort. But that’s not the only way of framing the issue, and it seems to me that if we ask instead whether we can say that he raped her, it gets a lot simpler.
Because we, the viewers, know that he didn’t have Nat’s consent. We know that she wasn’t liking what was happening, and know that she was telling him to stop. And we know that when she said no, he didn’t slow down. He sped up. We know that he liked not having consent. We know that he wanted her not to be consenting.
The scene is only ambiguous if we adopt an adversarial relationship to Nat, or imagine her in an adversarial relationship to herself. It’s only ambiguous if we take our task as assessing whether she “did enough” to articulate non-consent.
But if we take it as a given that he knows she’s not consenting, and likes that she’s not consenting, then what she does or doesn’t articulate is irrelevant.
He’s raping her.