Reign’s Rape Problem

20 Oct

TW for rape

When I first heard about the CW show Reign, I knew that it was going to be my next guilty pleasure. A young Mary Stuart and her ladies-in-waiting living with Catherine de’Medici in Renaissance France? Yes please. Court intrigue and awkward teenage romance? Yes please. Weird pagans in the woods and flower crowns and a murderous queen and a (very anachronistically hot and young) Nostradamus? DOUBLE YES PLEASE. PASS THE FLOWER CROWNS, SON, I’M IN.

I talked my friend into watching it with me, and by the end of the first episode we were both hooked. We would make a ritual out of it – order a pizza, get a bottle of wine, and then sit down to make fun of plot holes and not-very-historically-accurate clothing and overblown teenage FEELINGS for an hour. But as much as we giggled over the poor life choices of the characters, and as often as I yelled “NOBODY WORE TUTUS IN THE 16TH CENTURY,” we developed a real fondness for the show.

And why not? There’s honestly a lot to like. Reign is all about the various ways that women wield power, both in gross and subtle ways. It’s about the relationships between women, and the electrical charges of jealousy and sneaky competitiveness that often sour them. It’s about female sexuality – in fact, the pilot featured a pretty hot-n-heavy female masturbation scene. To top it all off, every single episode of the series so far passes the Bechdel test, meaning that there is always at least one scene involving two women who talk to each other about something other than a man – which I know doesn’t sound like very discriminating criteria, but you would be surprised how many pieces of media fail to meet even this grimly minimal standard. But not Reign! Reign has, for all of its quirks, been generally pretty pro kick-ass women, a fact which I’ve really appreciated.

Plus I’m also here for the elaborate hair styles an the dark, secret poisons and the dudes in tight leggings. But I digress.

This week, a spoiler for an upcoming episode of Reign was leaked. This spoiler revealed that in an upcoming episode of the show, Mary will be violently raped. This rape, by the way, will not be a portrayal of a historical fact. Instead, it will be used as a plot device, a ratings grab and a cheap facsimile for character development.

Rape as a plot device is a lazy way to show a strong woman’s “vulnerability,” all the while demeaning and exploiting the experiences of real-life rape survivors. Rape as a plot device is also often used to take female characters down a peg, to put them in their place, to force them to rely on men for protection. Rape as character development is most often used as what Chris Osterndorf refers to as “an explain-all for complicated female characters” – in fact, we’ve already seen Reign pull that old trope with Queen Catherine, when it tossed in a quick rape story to justify her actions and make her more sympathetic to viewers.

None of these are good reasons to include a rape scene in a film or book or television show; I am disgusted that the writers and producers of Reign would use sexual assault to somehow drive the arc of the show forward or reshape Mary’s character. There is absolutely no reason to show Mary being violently raped, and doing so will only have harmful results.

People who defend this scene will say that it’s accurate, perhaps not in a way that’s specific to Mary Stuart, but in a broader, historical context. They’ll argue that Reign is fairly portraying how prevalent violence against women was in 16th century Europe. They’ll smugly explain that these types of scenes create awareness about rape.

First of all, let me assure you that everyone is aware of rape. Women, especially, are painfully aware of the threat of sexual assault. We live with that threat every damn day, and we don’t need a television show to educate us on how frightening and dangerous life as a girl can be.

Second of all, these scenes nearly always sensationalize rape, using the act of sexual assault to shock or create intrigue in audiences. They are not thoughtful portrayals of a difficult and incredibly sensitive subject; they play into the pervasive media narrative that centres violence itself instead of the experiences of women. These scenes also desensitize audiences to the issue of violence against women, especially when a rape is used to drive the plot forward – when rape is just a mechanism to make a character behave a certain way or do a certain thing, the very real emotional fallout that rape survivors experience is often only briefly touched on, and certainly almost never given the gravity and attention it deserves.

Rape is not a plot device. It is not character development. It is not a great way for television shows to get higher ratings. Rape is something that one in four women will experience in their lifetime. It is not something that should ever be used for shock or entertainment value.

Please, writers and producers of Reign, re-write this scene. You are better than this. You show is better than this. You’ve got something really wonderful and unique going on – please don’t foul it up now. And to everyone else reading, please go sign this petition. Even if you don’t watch the show. Do it for the women you know who are rape survivors. Do it for all the teenage girls watching the show who don’t need to see one of their heroines subjected to sexual assault just to close up some screenwriter’s plot hole. Or just do it because it’ll take five seconds and it’s the right thing to do.

Flower Crowns R Us

Flower Crowns R Us

102 Responses to “Reign’s Rape Problem”

  1. someone who likes films and books October 27, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    I liked this show before because I love the chemistry between Francis and Mary but I stopped midway when they introduced a love triangle.

    Wow! And mow this is where the show is going? Hmmmmm

  2. o6iez October 27, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    Reblogged this on Thoughts εїз.

  3. sonatano1 October 27, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    Rape is horrible, but how should it be addressed? Maybe the writers should simply imply it without showing the act itself. That might be a more powerful way to depict the pain inflicted on the character than simply having a rape scene.

    There was a similar instance in Game of Thrones last season in which – in a scene that wasn’t in the book – Jaime rapes Cersei. To those of us who were watching and had read the books, we were really puzzled by this decision. Really not sure what they were thinking.

    As for censoring or banning films with similar content as some commenters have brought up, I’m against that – but there’s nothing wrong with asking the writers to reconsider their course. That said, I doubt this is going to happen if the next episode airs next week. The scene must have been filmed months ago. Isn’t that usually how these things work?

  4. karsynspringstead October 28, 2014 at 1:01 am #

    This is wrong and I agree with this girl because she is right!!!!!!!!!

  5. emi345 October 28, 2014 at 9:15 am #


  6. taja36 October 28, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    What episode are you on? Are you still on the first season? Or are they seriously bringing up this rape topic again in their second season? I know in the first season Mary was almost raped however you’ll be surprised to see how she handles the situation .. I really don’t want to spoiler alert you . Now on reality terms for many woman who have been raped scenes like that are very hurtful . I’m very happy to see you speaking up about and against these strange ways the industry tries to glorify the negative parts of life. It does pain me to see how often iresponsonsible sex, rape and discrimination are thrown into the world right through the looking glass. Thanks for sharing. What season and ep. Are you referencing?

  7. goldilockshairhaus October 28, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    Loved yout article hated that some people think it’s okay. Your point was good we all know that this happens more so we understand that it probably definitely happened to this character however that does not mean we need to watch it. If you think it’s okay to sit and watch a rape on t.v you are saying it’s okay to physically watch a rape occur. There is something wrong with that. I don’t personally like to watch movies or t.v at all because they dramatize and make money off of real life traumatic events that people do not want to relive. Yes you have the option to watch or not and I’m glad I can simply turn the channel!

    • Akinyi November 9, 2014 at 4:03 am #

      Would you make the same argument for murder?

      • goldilockshairhaus November 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

        Akinyi- -It’s definitely a fine line! I personally don’t like watching anything like that! Rape, murder, lynching and hate crimes… anything like that. But it’s just a personal thing. I guess watching things like that triggers memories. But I feel like the more exposure we have to something the more “normal” it becomes. I think of my daughter. She is 11 months old. Just learning the ropes of life. Do I want her to be blinded by the evils of the world? No. But at the same time I feel like the more exposure she has to something the more okay it becomes. Such as smoking. I do not smoke but I grew up with it my whole life. I never took up the habit but saw it as normal. I thought everyone did it and it was just something you do. As I got older I learned more about the harms it has on your body. It became less okay and normal! It was only okay before because I was exposed to it at such a young age for so long in such a casual manner. With that being said my main point it that I feel like some not ALL shows and movies make light of violent behavior. I am afraid exposure to violence makes it normal and that is a scary thought. But I do understand there is a fine line between guarding yourself from such things and blinding yourself from the truths of what happens in the world. Its hard! Thanks for your question and I hope I answered you well. I understand we all have our opinions and I’d be interested it hearing yours! Thanks! -Megan

  8. Maggie October 29, 2014 at 6:54 am #

    Very well said!

  9. Thump October 29, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    Thanks for your review. I will not be watching it now.

  10. Thump October 29, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    Reblogged this on How Novel and commented:
    Very interesting article by The Belle Jar on the TV show Reign.

  11. messlife101 October 30, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    Love this show

  12. Very Bangled October 30, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    I’m curious if the episode will show the rape, because there’s also that gross aspect of making the viewer complicit and a participant to the rape. It’s a sex scene, a violent sex scene, that is most of the time unnecessary and TV/movies love to make us watch it.

  13. Jodie October 30, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    Reblogged this on Jodie Nicole and commented:
    A worthy read about an important subject.

  14. ChildofRa October 31, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    Well she wasn’t raped in this episode but was about to be if it was for Queen Catherine & her knowledge of posions and Francis com8ng to the rescue but i did like what Catherime told Mary “never wait on a man to save you”

  15. dontheoz October 31, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    Rape is not a plot device, but masturbation is? The reality is that they both exist. In the real world. Sorry these facts have to intrude on your self indulgent fantasies.

  16. littlecurls November 3, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

    Movies and tv are going in a really disturbing direction. I have no interest in seeing rape scenes, or sexual violence of any kind. Me and my husband a few years ago went to see ‘straw dogs’ going in with no idea there would be a rape scene. The whole time it felt like the movie was pointing to she asked for it, for not wearing a bra, for exercising in exercise clothes, etc. Then when the rape scene came on the teenage girls sitting behind us could not stop talking about ‘how hott’ the guy was.

  17. Akinyi November 9, 2014 at 4:00 am #

    How comes no one makes this same argument for murder? Did you have the same thoughts towards Mary’s miscarriage? I can easily argue that using the death of an innocent child who was cheated out of a life as a plot point is also very cheap and degrades the pain that billions of women have suffered through. Does that make it true? No. Why do you automatically assume that this absolutely strong and commanding female character is going to be made weak by experiencing rape. That kind of attitude is unhealthy and is one of the reasons why many women don’t ever speak out and end up living in shame. Rape is real. We all know that. It’s happening right now. But the reality is always hidden. Reign including rape in it’s narrative will not make the act any less horrible. Nor cheap. How could you ever call rape cheap?

  18. Cooch Coach Blog November 10, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    Thank you for writing this! Of course we, women, are aware of the threat of sexual assault. Sensationalizing rape has no place on television!

  19. kaymerchant November 14, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    I absolutely love the show, but have yet to see the new leak. I love how strong the women are on the show, but this might ruin it all for me. As a rape victim, it is extremely difficult to watch portrayals on TV, especially when they are just ploys for ratings.

    Great post, and thanks for the unintentional heads up.

  20. dbp49 November 14, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    I actually commented here a long time ago, but I wanted to congratulate you on the amount of attention your post has received since that time. The subject matter, disturbing as it is, needs to be seen by as many people as possible, and your post has brought it to the attention of many. Kudos.

  21. haleema454 November 21, 2014 at 11:42 am #


  22. malkaam November 23, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    Reblogged this on Provoked!.

  23. Kyla December 4, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    To be honest with everyone. I’m more offended with arguments made over the scene and the episode. I wonder if it is actually victims of rape themselves writing these articles. Because for some, such as myself I did not take it as a hurtful way to devise a plot. I took it as a powerful message. To not let your power be stripped because of somebody’s horrible actions. To take back your power. Now, yes some may argue that why should she be forced to keep it a secret. You consider the time period they are basing the show on. It really did happen this way. I honestly thought the scene it self was hard to watch. But it is what happens. I just think people are getting to distracted with the scene and not listening to the actual message they put out.

  24. Cara December 6, 2014 at 4:41 am #

    Our reality forces is to realize many tragic events. Hiding or not portraying them in our art does not erase them. Perhaps if we do embrace these awful truths and put them in front we can accept and find a real way forward. Everyone wants to hide or not watch what humans are capable of. Humans must be held accountable. Must see these things. Must accept. Perhaps then we can learn and encourage the next generation to see this evil and despise it before committing it.

  25. TJ December 7, 2014 at 11:22 pm #

    Honestly, I’m confused as to why people are reacting to this scene so negatively.
    Horrible things happen sometimes. Rape, along with murder, abuse, death, illness, and violence are things that happen to people every day. Television and movies depict these things often, because unfortunately, they are things that happen to people all around the world, every day. Are we supposed to pretend they are not? Are we supposed to leave them out of stories and shows entirely?

    You wish they had done the scene differently, but what is it that you want? Because I thought it was done in a respectful way. It was not sexualized, it was not graphic (we saw Mary’s facial expression, but nothing below her chest), it lasted only several seconds. They wanted us to know what happened to Mary, without any gratuitous shots. They didn’t glamourize it. It could have been SO much worse. How could they have filmed it that would have been better in your eyes?

    Ultimately, Mary picks herself up, and knowing the strength and perseverance of her character, I predict she will overcome this tragic experience, and find healing. Isn’t that a great message to girls everywhere, but especially rape victims? That you are NOT defined by your rape, and that you CAN get through the tragedy and come out strong on the other side? Isn’t that a WAY better message to send out, then to pretend that rape doesn’t exist at all?

    I love this show, and think they did a good job with a sensitive and difficult topic. I’ll continue to watch Reign, and respect them for not shying away from something that, honestly, was probably historically accurate. There’s no evidence that Mary Stuart specifically was ever raped, but considering the position and vulnerability of women in that time period, sexual abuse and rape was probably something that many women did fear and experience, unfortunately. It’s sad, but to brush it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen does a service to no one.

  26. Ally December 9, 2014 at 12:11 am #

    While I agree rape is not entertainment
    I think that it was good that this rape scene was included because it shows that anyone can be raped rich poor important female male transgender it can happen to anyone anywhere
    I am a survivor of rape and while there should have been a trigger warning on this episode them having a rape scene like this isn’t that big of a problem I’ve read people’s comments about this issue on other sites and they said that Adelaide Kane did a good job of portraying how they reacted after they were raped I don’t know how accurate that is because I shut down after I was raped I didn’t tell any one till a couple months ago because of people treating rape as something that is taboo and makes the person who was raped tainted or something because they were raped it is never the survivors fault a survivor of rape is never a victim if you where raped you are a survivor you are a strong person no matter what

  27. Allison December 9, 2014 at 2:36 am #

    Just wanted to say I appreciated this post way back when it first appeared. I’m really sad that Reign went through with this. I will no longer support this show because of it. I wrote a tumblr post about why this is wrong & how women deserve better much storytelling. I wanted to share it with you. I hope you will take time to read it:

  28. polaris299 December 10, 2014 at 6:11 am #

    Petition signed
    I don’t watch the show but I will find it to see
    Be well

  29. catewishes38 January 15, 2015 at 11:17 am #

    Reblogged this on catewishes38's Blog.

  30. sidrafaridi April 9, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    Could not agree with this more! Reign used to be so good, but ever since they used rape as a continuing plotline, I’ve been disappointed. Great post!


  1. Does Rape Ever Belong? | Andrea Lundgren - October 27, 2014

    […] there has been an outcry against rape as a plot point in stories, most recently the blog post petitioning against Reign’s use of it in a future episode. They cite how dangerous it can be to portray such a sensitive topic the wrong way and how it […]

  2. On ‘Reign,’ Rape, and Sexual Assault As Plot Device | Bitch Flicks - February 4, 2015

    […] am with other shows that I watch, so I was not aware that the details of this particular plot had leaked online a few months ago, and consequently did not see it coming. I will admit that even as it happened, I […]

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