Ghostbusters and rape

I had never actually seen Ghostbusters, so last night when the baby was sleeping(!) for six hours(!) Jeff and I decided to remedy the situation.

Jeff warned me beforehand, “You’re not going to like the gender stuff.” And he was right.

Billy Murray’s doofy character tries to impress a cool cellist played by Sigourney Weaver. Early on, there’s a scene where he comes to her apartment and declares that he’s madly in love with her. She rolls her eyes and tells him to leave. He resists, and she shoves him out of the apartment while he jams his foot in the door and pesters her for a kiss. “She thought I was a creep. She thought I was a geek,” he complains.

The scene isn’t supposed to be scary. Obviously Murray’s character is not going to sexually assault Weaver’s character. It’s a silly comedy, so the audience knows this.

And Murray’s character knows this. But the weird thing is, Weaver’s character also acts like she knows this. She doesn’t seem afraid that a man who came there ostensibly to rid the apartment of ghosts is now coming on to her. She just seems annoyed. It’s all a setup for him to rescue her at the end of the movie so she will finally come around and kiss him.

In real life, a person can play the equivalent of Bill Murray’s role. He knows how far he’s going to go, so he doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything scary or dangerous. But the aggressee doesn’t know whether it’s serious. And that’s what makes it frightening for her (or him, or whoever). That’s why she has to be more cautious than the situation probably warrants, and comes off as cold or humorless or overly defensive.  Because she doesn’t know whether the script they’re playing is a comedy or not.

(This isn’t just a problem with the 1980s. For all Joss Whedon’s feminist cred, note the number of times Inara tells Mal to get out of her shuttle and he doesn’t.)

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