Content Warning: This is an open letter to my partner, Amy, who is a survivor of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
So I watched Gone Girl, and I’m afraid to report that it is, in fact, a resounding “fuck you” to women everywhere. I would have been perpetually offended by the movie regardless, but because you share a first name with the lead female, it was particularly upsetting. For two and a half hours I sat there, enduring a horrific barrage of anti-Amy sentiment from both the film itself and the very vocal matinee crowd. I heard that Amy was manipulative. Amy was delusional. Amy was a cunt. Amy was a psycho bitch. Amy was a liar. Amy was making things up. Amy deserved what she got.
And I’m sorry.
Not because I watched it. That was your idea. (Don’t worry; as we agreed, I gave the money to Boxtrolls.) I’m sorry because you’ve heard that anti-Amy narrative before. I’m sorry that a film like Gone Girl exists. And I’m sorry that people don’t seem to get why it’s dangerous.
“It’s just a movie,” the people who applauded in the matinee would have reminded me. “Don’t take it so seriously.”
Well, I get it, and I take it very seriously.
In the movie, Amy decides to frame her cheating, negligent, abusive husband for her own murder. She spends a number of months staging a sloppy murder scene before heading out of town with a ton of money. After a run-in with some stereotypical white trash leaves her financially destitute, she hides out in a super creepy ex’s home. She then decides to come back to her husband, but because she wants to abdicate responsibility for her lies, she fakes an elaborate raping from her ex and then murders him midway through sex. It works. The world, sans her husband, buys this false abduction & rape narrative. Her husband is coerced into staying with her. The end. Spoiler alert.
Yeah. I know. It’s getting pretty clear why this film is loved by men’s right’s activists – you know, that group of males who are terrified that women with power will take away both their privileges and their penises. The movie validates their concerns by dignifying the narrative of a powerful woman who destroys multiple men with false rape accusations – just because she can. It is a gift to rape culture, which has been relentless in denying that you, and women everywhere, have suffered sexual violence. In a world that already undermines the credibility of all women who have been raped, the last thing you deserve is a film like this.
I wish I could tell you that it’s harmless, but it’s not. Based on the audience feedback, the critical acclaim, the box office success, the director’s persuasive and influential staying power within pop culture, its instant status in IMDB’s top 100 films of all time, and a large number of newsfeed reviews that can best be summarized as “don’t date crazy bitches”, I’m afraid 2014 will mark the beginning of an undermining trend wherein sexually assaulted and abused women will be dismissed with the freshly coined “pulling a Gone Girl” or, ugh, I’m sorry, “acting like an Amy”.
For as long as men have been sexualizing you, you’ve been Gone-Girl-dismissed with every attempt to speak out against it. You’ve been cheated, harassed, assaulted, coerced, battered, used, abused, raped, and gaslit. You’ve been told you’ve deserved it, that it was your fault, and that it wasn’t a rape-rape because X, Y, or Z. Your speaking out in public spaces against misogyny has been met with anonymous threats, stalking, and attempts to silence you. That second-guessing rape victims is so commonplace makes it plain to see why the majority of survivors don’t speak up: motives are questioned, without relent, from men familiar and anonymous, until voices exhaust. Gone Girl reinforces this misogynistic practice by reminding its audiences that there’s ample reason to fear and question women: because women are liars who will accuse you of rape if and when they want. It’s not that you will be taken any less seriously in a post-Gone Girl world; it’s that the film’s success is a gross reminder that lots of people don’t want to take you seriously any time soon.
In consideration of the fact that one third of the females on earth will be the target of an attempted or completed rape, I wish the producers had at least taken five seconds of the film to provide that context. They could even do it at the start of the movie in an opening statement. Their mentioning the above would be acknowledging that Gone Girl knowingly propagates and reinforces the myth of woman-as-oppressor. While they were at it, they could also mention that more than 99.99% of reported rapes are actually legitimate, but that the vast majority are not reported at all. They could end their disclaimer by reminding the audience that their film is an incredibly misinforming representation of rape in the real world. And then, just to be honest, they could make mention that a more accurate title for Gone Girl would have been “Misogynist Fan Fiction Starring Ben Afflect.” But they didn’t. Because they don’t give a shit.
I wish I could fully understand what all of this is like for you. Getting riled up at Gone Girl or reading a series of books about sexual assault or even holding your hand as you regulate yourself through a trigger does not make me capable of comprehending your experiences as a survivor. I can never know what it is like to be a female. I will never be able to actually get what you, and every female the entire world over, have gone through, being sexualized since before you understood what sexuality was. I can get knots to my stomach watching anti-women propaganda, but I’m not at risk of having a post-traumatic flashback wherein I have to relive my autonomy being denied me.
But in knowing your story, you’ve helped to create an awareness in me that makes all the difference in how I process trash like Gone Girl.
And there’s something to that.
The burden of correcting the misogynistic course of mainstream media should not be placed on you, nor any survivor, nor any woman. The media, the law, and many of the world’s languages are designed to keep you encumbered; the last thing womankind should be tasked with is educating their oppressors. The responsibility of speaking out against misogyny lies with every person – including those with the privilege of believing they exist outside of the problem. Harmful representations of women hurt everyone, and perpetuating damaging rape myths needs to be called out.
Which is all the more reason why I’m grateful for your voice.
You’ve long maintained an honest life and have refused to remain silent, challenging each person in your path to see you and your experiences as inseparable. You’ve held nothing back in expressing yourself publicly, online, artistically, with strangers, your loved ones, and between us. Against threats of death, you would have had every right in the world to choose anonymity, but instead you’ve consistently embraced openness. I know that maintaining a through line of sanity must be challenging, especially when the most popular film in America seeks to normalize the notion that your experiences could have been faked, but instead, you continue sharing your own counter-narrative. If it were a movie, it’d sound something like: Amy decides to speak out against a negligent, abusive world that has sought her submission since birth. She spends a number of years building environments that are conducive to her healing, and in doing so, cuts ties with toxic and dangerous people and media. Occasionally, that abusive world likes to come around to say that none of her story is real, but Amy will have none of it. No one silences Amy.
I prefer your story to Gone Girl’s – and that’s not simply because I’m biased (I am). Your story is an accurate reflection of the world I live in; Gone Girl is an untrue, propagandist, anti-female fantasy. I don’t think I’m alone in preferring the truth over misrepresentations of reality, but it’s pretty hard to convince people to think critically or for themselves, especially when they’ve done most of their learning in front of a flat image screen that doesn’t have the ability to hold a conversation. But despite my concerns over the harm this film is inevitably causing, despite the knots in my stomach that accumulated during my watching it, despite my weariness towards an industry that would rather a whole Gone Girl trilogy than a movie that was truly pro-woman, I’m not resigned. There was once a time when I would have sat in the theater, absorbed it like a sponge, and walked out, presuming myself unaffected and none-the-worse. Thanks to you, I know now that that would be foolish.
Your voice makes a difference.