I wasn’t planning on doing another post about Batman this soon, but Selina Kyle said something during Gotham’s second episode that I feel the need to address. Especially because I’ve seen people cheering her inappropriate behavior on. Though I enjoyed the episode and once again was thrilled to see Selina and learn more about her, that was only until she threatened a police officer with a false sexual harassment accusation. Her line:
Go get [Gordon] or I’ll say you touched me.
Her threat is problematic for a number of reasons. And it was a giant blemish on an otherwise enjoyable episode. Trigger warning for rape ahead.
The episode “Selina Kyle” reached 7.45 million viewers. It’s important for shows to not actively send its audiences damaging messages, because we internalize those messages. Actual rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment victims are discouraged from speaking out. One reason is because people accuse them of lying. This happens all the time. In one of Laci Green’s videos, she mentions that a previous boyfriend assaulted her. Someone made a response video—probably not the only response video—that called her a liar. (I don’t want to link to any of them, but you can find the one I watched on YouTube by searching “TheMythof Feminism Re; Why I’m a Feminist”.) Anita Sarkeesian recently had to flee her own home because of the rape and death threats she received, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, people still accused her of making it up.
Sexual assault victims are discredited so much, and it was disgusting to see a show as popular as Gotham encouraging that mindset. Though false rape reports do exist, and that’s awful, the statistics tend to be blown up. Certain groups, such as MRAs, would have us believe that false rape reports are about half of all reported rapes. In actuality, according to the FBI, the number of unfounded reports is only around 8%. That is still a fairly high number, but it is important also to note that “unfounded” doesn’t mean “false”. Bruce Gross, of the Forensics Examiner, says:
[A] report of rape might be classified as unfounded (rather than as forcible rape) if the alleged victim did not try to fight off the suspect, if the alleged perpetrator did not use physical force or a weapon of some sort, if the alleged victim did not sustain any physical injuries, or if the alleged victim and the accused had a prior sexual relationship. Similarly, a report might be deemed unfounded if there is no physical evidence or too many inconsistencies between the accuser’s statement and what evidence does exist. As such, although some unfounded cases of rape may be false or fabricated, not all unfounded cases are false.
The existence of false rape reports, few though they are, furthers the discrediting of actual sexual assault victims. We live in a society that is inclined to view rape victim as liars. And even when there is near irrefutable evidence that a rape did occur, we still live in a society that is more inclined to sympathize with the rapist than with the victim.
It is hard to pin down why this false rape hysteria exists, because it’s driven by numerous factors rooted deep within the patriarchy. For starters, sex is seen as a power struggle between men and women. It’s also something that many people feel entitled to—the friendzone is a good example of this. So when women deny men sex, we’re not viewed as people exercising our basic human rights; we’re seen as using our sexuality to take from men something they are owed. When society tells us that men are entitled to sex or that they deserve sex, laws that protect women can be viewed as oppressing men. When people feel entitled to sex, they don’t see their partners as fellow human beings, but as sexual playthings who exist for their amusement. As such, when a rape does happen, it’s viewed as a power struggle to oppress men. He deserved sex, and she’s just trying to ruin his life with a false report.
That power struggle is the basis behind Selina’s interactions with the cop in question. She wants something from him—she wants him to let her talk to Gordon—and she uses her sexuality and femininity to get it. She holds a false sexual harassment claim over his head until he gives in and gets Gordon for her. That entire scene was a power struggle presenting Selina, the female, as the perpetrator, and the cop, the male, as the victim.
This scene encourages numerous damaging beliefs. One, people who accuse victims of false rape reporting often think that courts are unfairly biased toward the victims. Anyone who knows anything about this procedure will know that’s a lie. Reporting a rape can often be just as violating as the rape itself. One reason why false rape statistics are as high as they are is because victims who report will back out and say they made it up. Dealing with the police and the courts can be a long and painful process that they don’t want to have to go through. This reaction to reporting is both caused by false rape hysteria—the police don’t believe the victims in question, which makes reporting harder—and also sadly encourages it as a result.
The conversation between Selina and the policeman presents the policeman as a victim who has to listen to her, as if her threat actually holds power over him. It really doesn’t. Not only are law enforcement not sympathetic to potential victims, the Gotham police force are corrupt. After Selina threatened to falsely report him, the policeman in question could have just told her to go ahead, because if this show is at all grounded in reality, no one would have believed her anyway.
I suppose we can argue that what Selina says is in character for her. She is a character who often uses her sexuality and femininity to get her way. She sees double standards and works them to her advantage. We can see this in The Dark Knight Rises bar scene. After kicking some ass, the minute the police arrive, Selina gets down under a table and screams. The police don’t even think to look at her as a suspect, and instead help her to get outside where she can escape.
So I’m not surprised at what Gotham did with Selina’s character. I am, however, still peeved that it happened. Selina is only thirteen in the show, and while she may not know any better, the writers are certainly old enough that they should have known better. Gordon was standing on the other side of the room when this conversation occurred. Selina could have simply made a scene, or screamed, or ran to him. There were numerous ways she could have gotten his attention without threatening someone with a false sexual harassment claim. Hell, she could have just told the policeman that she witnessed the Waynes’ murder, and he probably would have called Gordon over for her then as well. That’s exactly what she tells Gordon anyway.
I still really do like Gotham and I really did love its second episode until this moment, but this kind of scene has damaging real world consequences. It was sad to see something like it in such a popular show, and it was also sad to see fans cheering Selina on. I can only hope that future episodes of Gotham will do better.