Daphne Bridgerton raped her husband and why it’s important to not romanticize it.
Julia Quinn/Netflix/Shonda Rhimes’ Bridgerton Series glosses over rape of a man. *SPOILERS*
In the wake of the #metoo movement, many woman fearlessly stepped forward with their stories (including me), but one aspect of #metoo that did not get enough serious attention were male victims. Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz generated for the Bridgerton series (based on the novels by Julia Quinn) on Netflix, spearheaded by none other than Shonda Rhimes. It’s a historical romance set around the Bridgerton aristocratic family in Regency England.
One of the major devices that Quinn uses to move her plot along is that Simon, the Duke of Hastings (Daphne’s husband), does not want children because of his own traumatic childhood. Daphne, on the other hand, desperately wants children. It is bad enough that Daphne manipulates the Duke into marrying her by declaring that others saw them in a compromising situation. This already paints a desperate picture of our supposed “heroine,” but then she does something that is even more atrocious.
Fast forward to a few weeks after their wedding, the Duke is drunk and they start having sex. Up to now, he’s always pulled out to keep her from becoming pregnant. She’s angry that he keeps doing so, so in his moment of drunkenness, she climbs on top and takes advantage of the situation, despite him saying no and telling her to get off several times. In the Netflix version, he isn’t drunk, but he still pleads with her to wait (in other words, stop). No matter how you paint it, this is rape. Were roles reversed, we’d be disgusted and outraged and find it incredibly hard to overcome the transgression.
In the aftermath, she’s the one who is self-righteous with anger at him, justifying it by saying he was depriving her of her wants and needs. This is gaslighting, deflecting the blame for her bad behavior back on him when he’s the victim. We are supposed to find her plight sympathetic and romanticized as her needs and wants are the right ones, regardless of how he feels about it.
And yet, in true romance novel form, she’s glossed over as the wronged wife and the Big Misunderstanding is sealed up with a pat explanation. I can’t help but feel that we’d all be disgusted if Daphne were a David and Simon was a Simone. We expound over and over again that “no means no” regardless of where in the act of sex you are. Consent is the rule of the game, so why should Daphne get a pass here?
The voices of women fill the pages with outcry for justice for our sisters, but when it comes to rape and consent and the fight for justice, women must also stand up for male victims as well. I realize that these are fictional characters, and yet, they are a reflection of societal attitudes and what we find acceptable. The way in which the subject is captured on paper and on film matters. It is how we subconsciously normalize things, how we twist narratives to make someone good or bad. It is important to acknowledge that there is nothing romantic or okay about this scene and how it was handled in the remainder of the book and film. She violated him.
It is difficult enough for male rape victims to come forward. Harder even to deal with society’s toxicity in telling him to just “man up” or even worse, pat him on the back and tell him he should just like it.
I often find that life imitates art, and art imitates life. Small subtle things like this slide under the radar until society becomes desensitized to it, but it’s important to be jerked awake sometimes from our glossy fog and see things for what they are. I’m actually a big fan of Julia Quinn. I’ve read her entire Bridgerton series, but like back then when I first read The Duke and I, this scene never sat well with me. Now seeing it on the screen, I find it even harder to accept. I’d hoped they’d have changed it. I’m disappointed that they didn’t.