From mainstream thrillers such as Jennifer Lawrence’s Red Sparrow to art films such as Human, Space, Time and Human, rape has become a repellent exploitative device
In the just-released thriller Red Sparrow, Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a young Russian woman sent to train at an elite spy school. There, she is taught to identify the one thing that a human target desires – and to become that thing to extract information. In one particularly gruelling exercise, Dominika is forced to confront a male student who earlier attempted to rape her, and instructed to “give him what he wants”. However, Dominika niftily flips the terms of the encounter, undressing and offering herself to him instead. The previously eager student suddenly finds himself unable to achieve an erection, and Dominika explains that she figured out what he wanted, as instructed, but that it wasn’t sex: it was power.
If this logic sounds familiar, it is because it’s a perspective on sexual violence that has gained unprecedented mainstream awareness over the past few months. Though men can and do leverage their power and influence in order to elicit consensual sex with women, they also deliberately develop strategies for taking advantage of women through coercion. This clearly isn’t about sex, it is about power; men who assault women are not typically horror-movie monsters, but simply people who want to have power and control over women.