Why We Need To Talk About Sexual Assault and Bridgerton
TW: Contains plot spoilers and mention of sexual assault.
If you are feeling particularly vulnerable around this topic, best not to read this, or skip to the end.
Have you been watching Bridgerton? Like many people, I binge watched Bridgerton in a few days, and certainly got all hot and bothered at all the sex scenes. It was delightful titillation with more of a female focus, which depicted masturbation and cunnilingus along with good old PIV sex, along a rather questionable form of birth control.
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While Bridgerton is being hailed as a modern historical romance because of it’s feminist message, diverse cast members, and re-working of modern hits by Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift into classical pieces, there is one scene that is particularly problematic which isn’t being discussed as much.
The scene where Daphne sexually assaults Simon.
Yes, Daphne sexually assaults her husband, Simon, The Duke of Hastings, and I’ll explain why.
I’m trying not to ruin the plot too much, but in a nutshell:
The Duke (Simon) has told Daphne he cannot have children, when in fact he just doesn’t want to have children. The plot centers on this as the reason why he refuses to marry and continue his line.
When he falls in love with Daphne and they do marry, when they have sex, he pulls out at the end- the good old, “pull out” method- which is while an unreliable form of contraception, was the only thing available at the time.
As Daphne is a good girl from the good, aristocratic family of the time, she has no sexual experience or knowledge apart from what she has experienced with her new husband, Simon.
She has no idea that him pulling out is so that he doesn’t ejaculate inside her and thus, make her pregnant. She doesn’t even know that he ejaculates or the purpose of it until later on.
When Daphne eventually realizes what is going on, rather than confront him and talk about it (because that just wouldn’t make good TV), she seduces him into sex, jumps on top of him, and grinds away until he comes inside of her.
In the scene, you see his face becoming worried and him clearly trying to say, “no”, but she continues riding him until he ejaculates inside her. They exchange a look of horror and anger with each other before she gets off and they have a row about how he lied to her about not being able to have children.
In the book it’s actually worse, because in this scene, the Duke is drunk and Daphne uses this opportunity to pounce on him and hold him down until he comes inside of her.
I’ve set the scene, now I’ll explain exactly why this is sexual assault, why we need to talk about male rape, why it was depicted so poorly in the Netflix series and in the book, and what we can learn from it.
WAS IT REALLY SEXUAL ASSAULT?
It doesn’t look like a typical, “rape”, scene, does it? They love each other, they’ve been bonking the hell out of each other so far, and Simon was initially enthusiastically taking part in sex with Daphne. Bridgerton is supposed to be a romping historical romance, you aren’t supposed to see the main female love interest assaulting her husband.
And here lies the problem.
This was absolutely sexual assault, and this is often what sexual assault looks like. Sexual assault most commonly occurs between people who know each other- not by a random stranger in a bush. They are often already in a relationship with each other, or whom have already consented to sex.
Even today in 2021, how we understand consent is incredibly basic, which we see reflected in the shockingly low rates of convictions for sexual assault, and how rape victims are treated in the media.
In the case of Daphne and Simon, while she did not intend Simon harm, what she did was not an accident but deliberate, because Daphne knew that Simon did not wish to ejaculate inside her, and yet she forced him to because she had him pinned down.
You may be thinking:
But guys can’t get raped, can they? If he consented to sex then how could it be rape?
Consent to sex is not a one-stop process, and many sexual assaults occur when the participants initially consented to sex, but it developed into something they did not consent to.
While Simon consented to sex with Daphne, he did not consent to ejaculating inside of her, thus making it assault. There is the added racial factor in the Netflix series, Simon is played by a black actor, Rege-Jean Page, whereas Daphne is played by a white actor, Phoebe Dynevor.
Here are some other examples of sexual assault:
- The act of, “Stealthing”, whereby when a man or person with a penis is having sex with a partner with a condom, but sneakily takes it off before they ejaculate without the knowledge or consent of their partner. The partner does not know that they have had unprotected sex.
- When a man/penis owner will ejaculate inside of a partner when the partner has explicitly asked them not to.
- When a woman hooks up with a guy and is happy to have vaginal sex, but he suddenly penetrates her anally and refuses to stop when she asks him to.
- When a partner suddenly becomes violent during partner sex and rough sex becomes too rough.
- Chemsex parties where a participant is too inebriated to fully consent
- Any situation where somebody is drunk or high, they pass out, and they are assaulted
In all of these examples, while there was consent to some sexual activity, there was also a violation of consent, which is sexual assault.
Make no mistake: ANY kind of unwanted sexual activity counts as sexual assault, and it is a myth that only women/people with vulvas can be assaulted.
Which leads onto the topic of male rape
Men/people with penises can and do get raped by women, even if they had an erection. In the same way that vaginal lubrication during a sexual assault does not equal consent- genital response does not equal consent.
The #MeToo movement also highlighted male rape and sexual abuse, and the added shame that they experience because it’s not “supposed” to happen to a man.
There is a narrative that a man/penis owner should be up for all kinds of sex, all the time, and if they have an erection it means they wanted it, end of. Just man up and get on with it.
This is why it is so important to be versed in consent and how it needs to be applied to ALL genders- including men and trans/non-binary folk.
WHAT IS CONSENT, THOUGH? DOESN’T IT JUST RUIN THE MOMENT?
Let’s use the Planned Parenthood acronym for consent:
F- Freely Given
If we apply this to the scene in Bridgerton, it’s pretty clear.
While Simon Freely gave his consent to have sexy times with Daphne, he did not consent Freely to ejaculating inside of her. His consent was Reversed, and he was not Informed about what she planned to do, and you can see from his face that he is not Enthusiastic about it. He had never told her Specifically that he did not want to ejaculate inside her, but this was the purpose for Daphne assaulting him.
This was assault, plain and simple, but the problem is that it isn’t treated as such or addressed in the Netflix depiction or in the book.
WHY IT’S A PROBLEM IN BRIDGERTON
They depict Daphne’s frustration and feeling betrayal that Simon lied to her about not being able to have children, but very little to the fact that she assaulted him, and his feelings of hurt and betrayal.
We do see that this caused a rift in their relationship, but it is overly focused on Daphne’s feelings and his trauma behind why he does not want to have children.
Bridgerton is styled a a feminist-style historical romp, with lots of dialogue about how women had very little rights and the double standards they faced, which is absolutely true. It also had a diverse cast- despite not fully addressing the issue of race either.
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They missed a glaring opportunity to explore male rape and the emotional consequences of it. If they had shot a scene whereby Simon could talk about the emotional impact of this and it was explored with Daphne, it could have been a great teaching moment, but alas, they didn’t.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN
Despite both the Netflix depiction and the book fail at creating this teachable moment, there is a lot we can learn from this.
First, we can appreciate how our understanding of consent and assault has changed so drastically just in the past few years.
While the story is set in the early 1800s- where we would expect there to be little understanding of consent or assault- the book was actually written in 2000.
Despite it being only 20 years, the public discourse and understanding of consent and assault was wildly different to now- mostly thanks to the #MeToo movement.
While it is frustrating the author is quoted in interviews that she did not view it as rape, remember that her attitude reflects how many people still understand or don’t understand consent.
Why don’t we use this as a teachable moment to explore what consent is and isn’t, and how we can embody it more in our lives?
Consent is not one-stop shop or a blanket term, it needs to be an ongoing dialogue.
There is no cut off point whereby you no longer are allowed to say, “no”, no matter how aroused your partner is. It is a dangerous myth that there is a “point of no return” when it comes to sex and arousal- especially when it concerns males/people with penises.
It is also a dangerous myth that a male will experience physical harm if they cannot ejaculate- hence the term, “blue balls” should never be an excuse to pressure somebody into unwanted sex or to acquiesce to it.
NOW LET’S GET UNCOMFORTABLE- SORRY, THIS WILL HURT
Think about your own life- both sexual and non sexual interactions.
When have you overridden somebody’s consent or feelings- either in a sexual or non-sexual situation?
Have you ever continued with sexual exploration or activity even though you could see or feel that your partner wasn’t completely comfortable?
Even if you loved or cared about the person, even if you didn’t mean any harm, even if any other reasons you have told yourself, and even if you are a woman or vulva owner!
Just like Daphne in Bridgerton, boundary violations easily happen in loving relationships, even with the best of intentions.
Boundary violations exist on a spectrum, and the more we understand consent, the more we see how to practise it in every area of life.
If you are feeling a sense of unease reading this, I hope you can comfort yourself that everybody is capable of it, because this is the product of the culture we come from and are immersed in.
This is why the term, “rape culture”, exists, or if could be renamed, “Non-consensual culture”.
None of us learned consent properly, and we do not come from a consensual society. We are all both the victims and perpetrators on different levels- although this exists on a spectrum, and there are many people who need direct intervention to prevent more harm. If you have been the victim of assault, remember that it was not your fault, I have listed some resources below to get the support you need.
Humans are complicated.
We are all capable of being predators as it is hardwired into our nervous system, which is not “bad” in itself, it just takes more awareness.
If you are reading this feeling intense guilt or shame, find a place to process this, and be mindful if you need to make reparations to people you may have hurt.
NOW THE GOOD NEWS
Let’s aim to do better and be better, and embody consent in all areas of our lives.
Here are some ideas to get started:
- Aim for progress, not perfection. Remember that you are human and you will mess up. Give yourself grace and be willing to make amends when needed.
- Get consent trained! Consent can absolutely be sexy, and it actually creates an even safer and sexier container because you feel safer. Check the resources below.
- Get educated on the sexual response cycle, genital response, and the difference between desire, arousal, and pleasure.
- Make consent a part of your every day life, not just for sex. Practise asking for and setting boundaries with your loved ones.
The FRIES acronym on consent by Planned Parenthood: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/relationships/sexual-consent
Consent by BISH UK: https://www.bishuk.com/sex/consent-innit/
Guide to consent by BISH UK: https://www.bishuk.com/can-we-talk-about-consent/
Understanding more about arousal non-concordance: Come As You Are, by Emily Nagoski
RESOURCES FOR SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
Male sexual abuse survivors:https://www.survivorsuk.org/
The Mankind Project: https://mankindproject.org/
For survivors of sexual assault and abuse in Sussex: https://survivorsnetwork.org.uk/
The Survivors Trust: https://www.thesurvivorstrust.org/
Rape Crisis UK: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network USA: https://www.rainn.org/resources
What are your thoughts? Did you enjoy Bridgerton? What do you think we can learn about consent from watching Bridgerton? Tell me in the comments below.
Originally published on https://lucyrowett.com/sexual-assault-in-bridgerton/