Bridgerton and consent

Dear Reader,


Unless you've been living under a rock, then I'm sure you would have at least heard of the new Netflix series Bridgerton, or perhaps, like me and most of my nearest and dearest, you have devoured the whole thing in one sitting and are now re-watching it and plan on doing so until season 2 comes out.


For those who are indeed oblivious or those who need a refresher, Bridgerton is a show set in the Georgian era, following various members of the Bridgerton family and their associates in high society England. The best way I can describe it is like a period drama version of gossip girl but better. I am a huge lover of period drama and romance, as well as slightly trashier tv like gossip girl, so this show was perfect for me and I enjoyed it tremendously. That being said, my boyfriend is also enjoying it hugely, despite it not necessarily being his 'thing', so I would recommend to anyone (especially anyone who likes honourable men wearing breeches).


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From now on, I will be talking about a few spoilers so please click away if you haven't watched all of it yet. 


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TRIGGER WARNING: the upcoming section discusses details of sexual assault, that should not be read by anyone this might negatively impact.



The show, enjoyed and praised by millions, is full of sexy shenanigans. This was surprising and I was actually kind of impressed, considering period dramas tend to shy away from the nitty-gritty of sexual endeavours. As a sex educator, there was plenty to chuckle about - such as the fact that literally none of the young ladies even know that sex and/or sexual pleasure exists, let alone what it consists of and their consequential mystification over how someone who isn't MaRrIeD can have a BabY?! 


However, this lack of knowledge combined with the contextual societal pressures and 'duties' of a married couple meant that some rather serious consensual issues arose, that I think the show could have done better to address/resolve.


What I'm of course talking about, was when Daphne finally discovers how a baby is made after weeks of continuous banging, and that what the Duke is doing every time he leaps off her in one smooth motion when they're having sex is actually him pulling out with impressive speed and efficiency because he clearly does not want a baby. She is furious at him, as she discovers what cum is and therefore that when her husband said "I can't have children", he really meant "I don't want to have children". That night, she revokes her pillow princess ways, gets on top and forces him to finish inside her and continue having sex when he quite clearly does not want to, which is rape. He is, rightfully, very unhappy.


Then ensues a long period of long angsty interactions without much verbal dialogue, where the Duke is portrayed as stubborn and ridiculous for not wanting children and Daphne thinks she's done nothing wrong and has been utterly betrayed. Obviously, there's a lot here to unpack.


Firstly, although I don't think this is the worst part of it, I think that it is worth noting that Daphne didn't know how babies were actually made (i.e what cum is or where it should go if you want a baby), but was still having lots of sex, which is problematic. Someone cannot give informed consent if they don't know what they are consenting to. Although I presume that Daphne was consenting to sex just for pleasure, as she thought the Duke couldn't have children anyway, the consent boundaries would not have been blurred so much if she had actually been taught anything about sex before having it. This is why sex ed is important. How can you say yes to something when you have no clue what it is? Anyway, she at least seems to figure out what it is pretty fast and consensually enjoys it multiple times in multiple montages.


The worst part is of course when she sexually assaults the Duke. Poor guy is enjoying himself, about to prep for the athletic feat which is his pull out and it turns horrible very quickly. Sexual activity includes ejaculation. Any sexual activity that somebody does not want to do is non-consensual. The Duke did not consent to having children or ejaculating inside Daphne and therefore should not have been forced to. Additionally, he clearly expresses during sex that he wants it to stop, yet Daphne continues. The double standard that if a woman was treated the way Daphne treated the Duke, the situation might not have been glossed over as much afterwards. Sexual assault on men is just as serious as sexual assault on women. Bridgerton's lack of acknowledgement of the fact that rape occurred merely perpetuates the myth that women are not capable of committing sexual assault. Men are often depicted as always down to fuck, never turning sex down and if they do it means there is something wrong with them or something wrong with the person they're sleeping with. This is just not the case. People have all sorts of reasons for not wanting to do various sexual things. I can't think of many things worse than forcing someone into something they clearly do not want. Even worse, then making them feel bad for not wanting to or indeed taking it completely personally, when their reasons are most often not about the person who is asking for consent. It could be "I'm not in the mood", "I'm stressed", "I don't feel comfortable" or even more serious like "I have past experiences that make this hard for me" or in the Duke's case "Having sex in this way is likely to result in us having a child, which is a huge responsibility I do not want to undertake.". It is rarely "I'm not attracted to you" or "You don't turn me on". 


I think the show could have dealt with this so much better if they had firstly, acknowledged that rape had clearly occurred, by painting Daphne in a worse light after it and not villainizing the Duke. I understand that in that time era, having children was often seen as life's purpose and Daphne felt lied to by her husband who failed to communicate that he could physically have children but really didn't want to. This, however, is not an excuse for rape.


Eventually, the two make up. The Duke decides he does want children/ his wife's happiness means more than vengeance on his father, and they have baby-making sex that results in smiles all-round. This fairly happy resolution still made me a bit uneasy. Because of the way that the rape was glossed over, it felt as though the Duke had been coerced into changing his opinions and admitting he was the one in the wrong when although he should have been more clear about why he did not want children, Daphne is massively the one at fault here.


What is worth remembering, in the context of the period drama. Daphne possibly might have thought she did nothing wrong. To her, she had been taught that the purpose of her life was to marry and have children by any means necessary. For many women, this led to horribly forced arrangements. She also probably knew very little about consent or the consequences of her actions, other than perhaps conceiving. I think, however, even without education on sex and consent, someone can tell if they are doing something wrong. I think, overall, what could have helped the situation was if Daphne had been called out by the Duke about her behaviour or she had shown at least some remorse. Also if Daphne and the Duke had communicated at all about what happened and Daphne had at least apologized for her actions.


All in all, it could have been handled better. I think that there was a good teaching lesson in there that kind of was swerved around and shouldn't have been. It might seem contradictory of me that such serious consensual issues occurred in the show yet I still loved it and am rewatching it. However, It's worth reminding oneself that although the events that occur are a sad reality for many, this is a work of fiction. Fictional characters do terrible things that make us angry and dislike them, but we keep reading the books or watching the shows that they are in. I am lucky enough to not be triggered by such events, but I was still very uncomfortable and I'm sure countless viewers are not so fortunate for this not to be triggering. Shows need to do better in future.


Humans are selfish and self-centred. When having sex that involves others, we cannot be.

Hebe x


3 comments

  1. Yes!! I massively picked up on this too when watching and am so glad you've written about it. Very important and educative post xx

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    1. Glad you agree Evs - love the show but certainly did not love this aspect xx

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    2. Definitely should have be handled better X

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