Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Challenging rape culture: boycott Poldark

Generally speaking, the representation of sexualised violence in television and film is frequently inappropriate, misleading and offensive. The exceptions to this rule are almost always due to the fact that the writers and directors have reached out to specialist service providers for support in ensuring that they represent reality - Eastenders work with Rape Crisis England/Wales being a case in point. When we first read the media coverage of spoilers of this season's Poldark discussing the rewriting of a rape scene that appeared in the books but without any support from Rape Crisis, we raised an eyebrow. We didn't have high expectations of the scene and, judging by the media coverage, the scene was as bad as we feared.

Putting a woman in a position where she has no choice but to acquiesce is not 'romantic' or complicated. It is rape. We are extremely disappointed that the production team for Poldark failed to ask for specialist support in accurately portraying rape, but we aren't surprised. It is far too easy for replicate the myths that underpin rape culture than it is to challenge them.

What we can do is stop consuming television programs and films which reproduce rape culture. As long as the people involved in making Poldark can not understand that the scene involves rape, then we need to stop watching it. Writing letters of complaint to the production company and advertisers explaining why you won't be watching until they take responsibility for airing a program that misrepresents rape and consent is a small step in eradicating rape culture. It is, however, one we can all do quite easily. We've included a selection of media coverage which can be used as evidence in a letter of complaint.

We won't be watching Poldark. We hope others feel as strongly.

Sorry Poldark, forcing a woman to have sex against her will isn't romantic - it's rape by Laura Bates

In a month when global events and social media interactions have made it clear that the general public and politicians alike are deeply confused about sexual violence, Poldark production company Mammoth Screen has ridden in on a dashing steed to make it clear that they don't know what rape is either.

Back in August, much fanfare was made of the news that Mammoth Screen had decided to "cut" a "shocking" rape storyline from the next series of TV show Poldark, which would have shown the "married hero forcing ex Elizabeth into bed". Instead, it was reported Poldark would: "have a fling with first love Elizabeth".

A source at the time told The Sun"Ross is a hero and times have changed since the 1950s and 1970s. The new series reflects that in a way that keeps Ross Poldark as the romantic hero that fans want." Additionally, a Mammoth Screen spokesperson told The Mirror"[Poldark novelist] Winston Graham's version of events is open to interpretation. Ours is not."

But when the scene was aired in Sunday evening's episode, the description "forcing ex into bed" reflected its portrayal far more accurately than "fling with first love". ...

Why the Poldark rape scene matters by Zoe Beaty

A man walks into a woman's house without asking. He goes into her bedroom, and she tells him to leave. What follows is a tussle of force and displays of violence (from him) and a series of "Nos" (from her) and then, supposedly, consensual sex.

In a nutshell, that's what makers of the latest episode of Poldark have come under fire for showing last night. During the hour-long programme, on BBC One, the star, Ross Poldark, is seen breaking into the home of his former lover, Elizabeth, to confront her about plans to marry his enemy, George Warleggan. He starts to kiss her. "No," she says, over and over.

And it's there that the scene takes a shadowy turn. She says no repeatedly, but he doesn’t stop; instead Poldark throws Elizabeth, played by Heida Reed, on to the bed. He pins her down. And then, out of nowhere, she “gives in”, begins to kiss him back. While Poldark (Aidan Turner) has spent the scene stalking her bedroom, ignoring her requests for him to leave, gripping her by the neck to kiss her, intimidating her, while he shouts and tells – tells – her that he will have sex with her, we’re meant to believe that (eventually) Elizabeth is fully consenting. ...

Prettifying the Poldark rape doesn't make it OK. Elizabeth said no by Zoe Williams

... In sum, just because, in Poldark, the rape of Elizabeth has been prettified doesn’t make it OK: it makes it better than it could have been, had it created violence to luxuriate in. But it makes it worse than it could have been, too, that it chose considerations of squeamishness and a censor’s version of good taste over the demand of engaging, at a granular level, with what forced sex would actually look like. In the interests of sparing our blushes, this scene was an amalgam of classic moves: a hard kiss, a breathless “no”, he clasping her face in that fantasy space between force and affection, her push away turning seamlessly into its opposite, a segue into bed where miraculously everything was now cool.

It reminded me of that bit in Friends where Rachel and Monica teach Chandler how to have sex with a diagram and some numbers: you could write this as a pre-watershed rape formula, a two, a three, a seven, a five, five, five, ending in that period drama staple, the unreadable expression. It may not sound like the first priority for feminism, to make sure the rape scenes on the BBC are fresh, but it is in originality that we see the profound attempt to empathise, without which violence is conjured in bad faith. ..

Poldark is the latest show to throw in a lazy, irresponsible rape scene by Anna Leszkiewicz

... The idea that Poldark knows Elizabeth so well that he knows what she truly wants (sex with me, the man of her dreams, duh!!) might seem romantic. But no love is so great that it imbues the lover with the ability to read minds. Implying that Poldark knew best peddles the dangerous myth that when women say no, they mean yes. Beliefs like this create rapists. The only way to know what someone wants is to ask them, and to listen to what they say. Elizabeth said no. ...

Poldark: in whose world is the Elizabeth-Ross rape scene consensual? by Gerard O'Donovan

.... I haven’t read Winston Graham’s novel Warleggan or the original scene depicting the rape. But that really is not the point. What’s at issue here is the BBC and the producers’ claim that what takes place in this adaptation is somehow more acceptible. And the disturbing conclusion that in attempting to stay true to the high passions of the original yet preserve Ross Poldark’s – or perhaps Aidan Turner’s – status as national sex symbol the BBC has ended up creating a classic and really quite reprehensible fudge. Because it opens the door for the classic rapist’s defence – long repudiated both morally and legally – of “she was saying no but she really meant yes, m’lud.” And that cannot be right at any level.

Obviously all good drama requires jeopardy. It must explore grey areas and prompt debate. And generally I think Poldark is one of the best and most emotionally involving dramas on TV. But the simple fact is that no matter what the BBC might say there was no clear consent here. Even if all was shown to be okay between Ross and Elizabeth the following morning, that is simply far too late. And in the end the blurring of such lines does nobody any good. ...

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5 thoughts on “Challenging rape culture: boycott Poldark

  • Hiri says:

    This argument is remarkably similar to that employed by the prosecution lawyers in the Lady Chatterley Obscenity case, but instead of “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?” we’re going for wider censorship as “… we need to stop watching it”.

    I wonder quite who the ‘We’ is you’re thinking of here – perhaps you can specify?, but the implication it’s the general public as they can’t be trusted to “…understand that the scene involves rape”.

    I find it rather sad that your feminism has reached a point whereby works of fiction must apparently be forbidden to the general public because they cannot be trusted to see fictional actions in context and arrive at the ‘correct’ judgement.

    I guess you’d like repeats of “Gone with the Wind” banned now too?

    • Admin says:

      It appears you do not understand what the concept of censorship actually means. We are not calling for this production to be halted or banned. We are simply saying that consumers have the power to vote with their wallets and choices. Refusing to consume productions which glamorise rape is one power that people have that can challenge and dismantle rape culture.

  • Jen Barber says:

    This is an incredibly damaging, ill informed and sensationalist blog. You have clearly not watched the series or episode and are putting 21st century standards on a drama set in the 18th century. In 1795 there was no Rape Crisis, so of course the production company wouldn’t consult.
    For me, what you have achieved is this, if I was ever (and I hope I never am) in the situation of needing help, I would not turn to your charity as I wouldn’t trust what you would say or do.

    • Admin says:

      I assume you haven’t read any of the information below which clearly state that the director, writers, and lead actor believe that the act was consensual. This is not a case of “putting 21st century standards on an 18th century drama”. It is a case of a 21st century production company and actors failing to understand the very basic legal definition of consent. They cannot claim that they are remaining true to the historical context and original source material whilst claiming this scene constituted consensual sex.

  • Hecuba says:

    The rape scene in that melodrama is what men typically claim whenever they decide they will ‘do sex’ on a woman. Majority of male sexual predators use only as much force as necessary in order that the woman submits – note I say submit not ‘consent’ because she can’t consent when the male sexual predator is using his body to pin her down so that she cannot move without his ‘consent!’

    As usual the male sexual predator(s) claim the ‘woman consented’ because they always deny their use of physical violence and claim they were just ‘puppets’ doing exactly what the woman wanted. Amazing – the woman supposedly wanted what the male sexual predator wanted which was enacting his pseudo male sex right to her body!

    Ergo – the rape scene in Poldark was systemic male sexual violence and as usual the women-hating BBC denies their accountability in promoting/condoning this male myth that males can magically know exactly what a woman wants and it is always what the male sexual predator wants!