Tube Tied: Pete Campbell Is A Rapist
Pete Campbell is a rapist. On Sunday night's episode, he met a young au pair living in his building and helped her out of a difficult situation with her employers. He propositioned her; she refused. Later that evening, undeterred, he knocked on her door, forced her to let him in to avoid a scene, followed her into her bedroom, closed the door, and kissed her, leading her towards the bed. Apparently, for some people, this wasn't clearly a rape. I'm here to tell them: it was.
Pete Campbell is a rapist. I've heard some people say that Mad Men is a show about nuance, shades of grey, and therefore Pete Campbell Cannot Be A Rapist. (As if there was no such thing as a rapist in serious, well-developed drama.) I think these people are doing a very superficial read of Mad Men. I don't think the writer or director of this episode was the least bit confused. The au pair is slightly afraid of Pete throughout. She doesn't want him in the apartment. She recoils when he kisses her. That she submits, ultimately, is irrelevant to the question of whether Pete rapes her. She didn't want to sleep with him; she made it clear; he didn't care. He wanted to have sex, and she was there, and she owed him, in his mind. So he raped her. End of story.
Pete Campbell is a rapist. What Mad Men is being subtle about, when it shows us an episode in which a character rapes someone for no reason better than boredom, is the fact rape doesn't just happen in alleys. It doesn't just come from total strangers who leap from bushes. It doesn't involve kicking and screaming and clawing his eyeballs out, because that would only get you in even more trouble.
Pete Campbell is a rapist. The feminist blogger fugitivus has really eloquently pointed out that we have this strange habit of teaching women to submit - not to fight, not to be mean, not, above all, to be a "bitch" to men ("bitch" being a watchword for "woman who reists sexual aggression") lest your dispute with him get physical, and then:
It's a rude fucking awakening when a woman gets raped, and follows the rules she has been taught her whole life — doesn't refuse to talk, doesn't refuse to flirt, doesn't walk away ignoring him, doesn't hit, doesn't scream, doesn't fight, doesn't raise her voice, doesn't deny she liked kissing — and finds out after that she is now to blame for the rape. She followed the rules. The rules that were supposed to keep the rape from happening. The rules that would keep her from being fair game for verbal and physical abuse. Breaking the rules is supposed to result in punishment, not following them. For every time she lowered her voice, let go of a boundary, didn't move away, let her needs be conveniently misinterpreted, and was given positive reinforcement and a place in society, she is now being told that all that was wrong, this one time, and she should have known that, duh.
For anybody who has ever watched the gendered social interactions of women — watched a woman get browbeaten into accepting attention she doesn't want, watched a woman get interrupted while speaking, watched a woman deny she is upset at being insulted in public, watched a woman get grabbed because of what she was wearing, watched a woman stop arguing — and said and done nothing, you never have the right to ever ask, "Why didn't she fight back?"
Pete Campbell is a rapist because he told the au pair, though perhaps not in so many words, that he didn't care about her arguments. He ignored all the behaviour she exhibited that said she didn't want him. He didn't really bother to think about what the au pair wanted or desired, because it was irrelevant to him.
Pete Campbell is a rapist. I keep repeating it like that, keep saying it flat-out like that, not because I demand that you hate his character now. (In fact, I've always thought Vincent Kartheiser - who I hated on Angel - does an excellent job of making such a weasel character kind of sympathetic, human.) I keep saying he is a rapist because I think everyone would benefit from understanding that "rapists" are not monsters: they are human beings. They are human beings who have been taught, time and time again, by this culture, that they are entitled to sexually use other people. They are not outliers; they are not blips on the radar; they are not deviants. They are, often, just men who have gotten so caught up in themselves, so blinded by the ego they are told from birth they must develop as a symbol of virile masculinity, that they have utterly forgotten that woman are human beings. They have forgotten that women are not there for their sexual use.
Pete Campbell is a rapist. People who care about ending rape know that most rapists look, in fact, a lot like Pete: acquaintances, harmless-looking, perhaps a bit of a lech, but in general using means other than physical violence to coerce sex. Using tricks. People who care about ending rape know that keeping rapists in the "deviant" bucket does absolutely nothing to keep people - women, children, and sometimes men - from being raped.
Pete Campbell is a rapist. I'm gonna keep saying that because I'm tired of people being afraid, desperately, mortally afraid, of calling a rape a rape, of calling a rapist a rapist. This terror, this insistence that the term rape only be applied to "serious cases" - meaning, only those cases where society believes someone has been raped - does absolutely nothing to stop rape from happening. It results in people scrambling for fictions to cover up the holes in these stories - see how her lips turned up at the corner, she could have kneed him, she's only sad about cheating on her boyfriend - just so that they won't have to call it rape. You see this with Pete, you see it with Polanski, you see it with Kobe Bryant: why didn't she stop him? Never: why didn't he stop?
Pete Campbell is a rapist. It's worrisome that this is controversial, and at the same time I'm grateful to Mad Men, because I think the scene said something that needed to be said. It's getting people to listen to them that's the problem.
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