Gone Girl Undermines Rape

Gone Girl Undermines Rape


Content Warning: This is an open letter to my partner, Amy, who is a survivor of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

Dear Amy,

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.

Michael

16 Comments

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  1. Tyler

    Just a question for clarification purposes…

    The scene where Affleck throws Amy down on the ground… was that “real” within the context of the film? Or was it just what she said had happened through her journal? I read that as “this may not have actually happened” but now that you bring that up, I’m not so sure…

    • Warren Peace

      The film elaborates on that when Affleck’s character pushes Amy up against the wall towards the end of the film, banging her head quite dramatically. I think the earlier shoving scene is real, but by the end it doesn’t matter: her husband is willing to do it, at least. This is not a small point.

      So I guess this film is destined to be another “Fight Club”, both taken up by losers with an inflated persecution complex (MRAs), and decried by crusaders who misunderstand that depiction does not equal endorsement. Just like people misinterpreted that film to be a cry for revolution, framing “Gone Girl” as misogynistic is myopia bordering on blindness. To get to that conclusion, one has to discount the male characters completely and consider Amy’s actions in a void. This is deeply unfair to the filmmakers.

      Amy is driven to do the things she does by the world around her. The film is actually sympathetic to this. You’ve gotta look at Neil Patrick Harris act as a microcosm. He wants to own Amy, to imprison her in every conceivable way. He represents despicable male qualities far more than Amy ever represents female ones. He is our possessiveness, our entitlement. He wants to devour her from the inside out, so Amy what she has to, with the tools she has, freeing herself from the situation. That she has to go as far as she does is an indictment of Harris’s character, and our world, far more than it is of Amy.

      So too it goes with Affleck, although that is more subtle. I don’t want to write a novel here, so I’ll just say there’s a lot more to chew on than this article gives the film credit for. “Gone Girl” is a work about things not being what they seem to be on the surface. This process of revelation should not conclude at the film’s end.

      • michael

        Thank you for your thoughts, Warren.

        In terms of the film being rife for misinterpretation, well, omit the “mis” and we’re good.

        I’m going to have to double-down on your language to help illuminate you on where I am coming from: I’m not considering Amy’s actions in a void; I’m considering them in the context of the world I live in. I’m considering them in the context of the relationship I share with my partner. I’m considering them in the context of a populous that actively undermines the credibility of women who come forward.

        The representation of a female faking a rape multiple times (there was also that nice guy at the bar) is deeply unfair to survivors of sexual assault. Sorry, but for me, impact trumps intentions – always.

        I absolutely agree with you that representation does not equal endorsement. I don’t believe, for instance, that the author, the director, or the stars actually support faking rapes. However, the world is already convinced that women constantly lie about their experiences. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people on Twitter there are who are actively deriding my letter to my partner on the grounds that “women ACTUALLY do these things.”

        Perhaps it comes down to what we expect when we see a film. If you want a film that’s well-shot, well-acted, and well-made, this is it. If you want a film dripping in Femme Fatale tropes, join the audience and slink into an existential depression. But if you want a film that’s going to help promote the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, Gone Girl isn’t the film to watch.

      • Harrison

        Re: “I think the earlier shoving scene is real, but by the end it doesn’t matter: her husband is willing to do it, at least. This is not a small point.”
        I think there’s a big difference in being willing to assault a partner because your marriage is failing and being willing to assault a partner for trying to get you executed for their fake murder and then killing someone else to stage a resurrection and essentially blackmail you into living the rest of your life in fear under their thumb.
        I though it was implied that the earlier domestic abuse scene was fabricated when Amy was demanding he cover all her lies in the interview with the Nancy Grace stand-in and she specifically mentioned the abuse as something he’d have to admit to. My memory’s not %100 on that one, though.

  2. Amy

    Oddly enough, I share this name with your partner and apparently the female character in Gone Girl and my SO is Michael. Synchronicity.
    I have not seen this film but only because I’m not prone to seeing movies. I very much respect your openness and commitment to your partner. It is a gesture that many would not be able to find words for and for that I thank you.
    Based on your open letter Michael, I feel like I need to add the perspective of not only a survivor but also as a champion of falsely accused men.
    I have lived both sides of this coin. A man, very close to me, has served time for a rape and molestation that never took place. When all was said and done there were no charges to file but, the accusation and time spent behind bars waiting for the grand jury, destroyed his life. It absolutely happens that women lie. Some for revenge, some for fear, and some – just because they can. I know people like this.
    I believe there is no excuse for rape or abuse of any kind perpetuated towards girls/women however, perception is a huge factor. I read a headline on the cover of a women’s magazine and it said “I’m not sure if I was raped or not”.
    The article stated that if a woman is into her cups, goes home with a man, only to decide the next morning that this may not have been what she really wanted to do, it could be rape.
    I cry foul! There is an element of accountability that both parties should be held to. You can’t change your mind the next day.
    One final example, a man picks up a woman in a bar, all is fun and games till she finds out a few days later that he was a local semi-celebrity. As it turns out she was a minor, he went to prison and is now a registered sex offender. She sued him for money of which he had none. Lose lose situation. How could he have known she was a minor?
    I empathize with any woman or man of any age that has been raped, assaulted, molested, etc. It is not a good place to be and recovery can be a very long, very slow, process. What I learned, simply to survive, was that I am far more than this body I reside in. Nobody can really touch my soul unless I choose to let them in.

    • michael

      Thank you for taking the time to write in, other-Amy. I respect and appreciate your coming forward as a survivor. It’s not easy for anyone to acknowledge that they are a survivor of assault, and many people don’t acknowledge the harm undone themselves as the very nature of sexual violence is to shame and silence its victims. I’m very glad that you have your voice.

      That said –

      You’re going to have to take your championing of falsely accused men elsewhere. I’m sure A Voice for Men would love to hear from you. Given that less than a tenth of one percent of REPORTED rape survivors have made a habit of this, I find it amazing that you happen to know women “like this”. If this is the company you keep, women who would falsely accuse men of rape and wrongly-accused rapists you advocate for, I think it’s time for you and other-Michael to pack up and move.

      In no reality that we live in are the social ramifications of being falsely accused of rape equivalent to the real harm that survivors of rape and sexual assault have to live through. The justice system may have it that in SOME cases a man with probable cause MAY have to stay in jail for a few weeks awaiting a Grand Jury (unless he posts bail), but in absolutely all cases a conviction hinges on proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

      The majority of survivors of rape will never come forward and make an accusation. Rape is most prevalent in relationships between two people, and in a world that disproportionately favors men over women, it’s an uphill battle for women when it becomes her word against his. A trial costs significant money that the survivor may not have. The process of being physically examined for proof of physical violations is inherently triggering, and partaking in a trial, having to see the rapist every day, and having to re-live having one’s credibility and story and experiences questioned is a re-traumatizing event that many survivors simply cannot endeavor. Simply coming forward as a survivor of rape means having people deny your experiences.

      Do you understand that your poor, innocent friend is by no means worthy of being placed on the same coin as a survivor of rape?

      How do you know your friend was wrongly accused? Because he was not convicted? Plenty of rapists / molesters get off the hook – in fact, the majority do, and never do any real time, because the burden of proof is entirely on the victims. If you think your friend went through hell, imagine what the victims go through to see, time and time again, their abusers walk free. Most rapists / molesters don’t have their lives ruined; their lives are barely even affected in the long run. Feel free to look at any number of celebrities forgiven by the public for their documented sexual violations.

      As for your defense of semi-celebrities who have to navigate the many treacherous Lolitas of the bar scene, there is no excuse for a man to pick up a woman at a bar, sleep with her, and not know that she was a minor. I’ve heard this story countless times. I’m tired of hearing this story, as though its repetition profoundly changes the solution: establish very basic ground rules before pulling your dick out.

      As a survivor, you don’t need to champion men who, as a ruling class, live with impunity. As a survivor, I hope you go on to champion other survivors who, as an oppressed class, are voiceless.

  3. Sam

    You are aware that Amy’s evilness is presented as something that is so batshit insane that only a true monster would be capable of it whereas the evil of men like Desi is presented casual and more acceptable?

    It takes nothing for Desi to write letters and threaten Amy. It takes flawless timing, weeks of planning, and a wine bottle up her vagina to fake a rape.

    The point of Gone Girl is that any man, from a simpleton on the street to a brilliant CEO, can assault a woman, whereas it takes a GODDAMN CRIMINAL MASTERMIND TO FAKE THAT.

      • Sam

        The point of your letter is that Gone Girl is a terrible movie and a “fuck you” to women everywhere because it shows a woman faking rape. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Gone Girl.

        By presenting Amy as a psychotic genius, it presents the faking of rape as something that only a psychotic genius is capable of, and therefore VERY RARE IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE. Any Men’s rights activist that endorses this movie on those grounds (as if they weren’t stupid enough already) is basically saying “see??? Faking rape is possible! All it takes is a woman actually violating herself and having a 200 IQ!”

        The story of Gone Girl is one of a shitton of impossibly entertaining and ridiculous twists, because it’s of the mindset that compellingly faking a rape is something that is damn near impossible and ridiculous.

        The evil that men are capable of, however, is not so
        impossible and ridiculous. It’s very casual and can be accomplished in simple conversation by even the dumbest simpleton.

        It’s not a fuck you to women everywhere. It’s saying “if they wanted to fake a rape, this is all the shit they’d have to go through.” And while I’d certainly prefer to live in a world where MRA’s didn’t endorse this movie (just like I’d prefer pro-life folks to not endorse Horton Hears a Who) doesn’t change the fact that they misunderstand the movie. Just as you do, though your intentions and overall moral compass (aka you have one)are LEAGUES ahead of them.

        • michael

          If Gone Girl were a poorly made film with no staying power, I absolutely wouldn’t worry about it. But it’s very accomplished. In fact, it’s resonating so deeply that I’m actually getting comments that not only defend the film but also defend “falsely accused” rapists.

          We do not live in a world where faking a rape is perceived as “something that is damn near impossible and ridiculous.” Every victim of sexual assault and rape is undermined and their credibility questioned. Please consider that rape culture has it that the majority of victims of sexual assault never even come forward. There are many reasons for this, but one important component is a woman’s being socialized into believing that her body does not belong to her. And just as soon as she speaks out, she has an endless number of devil’s advocates who insisted she must have been asking for it. She can’t even say “I didn’t want it” without people countering, “Well, that’s not what he said / your clothes said / your eyes said / your body said. It would have been impossible for a real rapist to take off those tight jeans. You got pregnant, and if you had actually been raped, your body would have shut that pregnancy down.”

          I have my take on Gone Girl. It’s not a “misunderstanding.” It’s an emblematic “understanding” of how it fits into a culture that actually already believes that women are “psychotic” and “crazy”.

          So, no, you didn’t get the point of my letter. And yes, the film is a resounding “fuck you” to the experience of women.

  4. Sam

    All due respect, you’re not responding to
    my point. You’re listing off points and incorporating things I said into them as if that’s some sort of take down.

    I fucking know everything you’re saying about the world we live in. About rape culture. Any fucking sane person knows that, and before you say “we do not live in a world where “every sane person knows that””, I’m more than aware that the society we leave in treats rape victims like shit. It’s not a sane society. I am not arguing against that. I’m in complete fucking agreement that our society is fucked when it comes to how it treats women and rape victims. Stop talking down to me like I’m a child who needs to be taught that the first awful questions asked when someone reports a rape is “what were you wearing?”/”are you sure you you don’t just regret it?”

    Like I don’t have people that I fucking care about that have been sexually assaulted. Like I haven’t genuinely plotted to murder their assailants with my bare fucking hands. Like I didn’t have to stop the person I care about most in this world to not fucking kill herself because she felt like a “disgusting slut” because she was raped.

    If I ever meet the person raped her, he’s a fucking dead man.

    I will kill him.

    I will end his life and I will end it slowly. And he’s not the only person who I intend to do that to. Literally the three people I care about most in this world have been sexually assaulted.

    So don’t fucking talk down to me like I don’t understand. Don’t talk to me like you “hate to break it to but here’s the world we live in.”

    If you were talking to someone who didn’t understand this, by all means, be a shithead. But you’re not talking to someone who doesn’t understand. I understand PLENTY.

    No shit we don’t live in a world where faking a rape isn’t considered ridiculous or impossible (oh, sorry, should I have put that in quotes? Would that have made me look smarter like when you did it?).

    THAT’S WHAT GONE GIRL IS TRYING TO
    CHANGE.

    THAT IS THE PERCEPTION THAT GONE GIRL IS AGAINST.

    IT IS TRYING TO SAY “THAT SHIT IS IMPOSSIBLE YOU STUPID MOTHERFUCKERS.”

    HOW IS THAT NOT GETTING THROUGH TO YOU

    • michael

      I’m pretty sure the film isn’t trying to say “THAT SHIT IS IMPOSSIBLE YOU STUPID MOTHERFUCKERS” because she gets away with it. Twice.

      • Sam

        Why are you ignoring my prior points of her being a psychotic, one of a kind genius? About how the film itself presents what she does as insane, requiring a shitton of effort and patience, and overall being ridiculous?

        Like, I said these things. The only reason she gets away with them is BECAUSE SHE IS A PSYCHOTIC GENIUS. ONE OF A KIND. The evil that MEN perpetrate is shown as something that ANYONE CAN DO

        Why are you ignoring the words I am saying?

        Why isn’t this getting through to you?

        • michael

          You’re defending the film based on an interpretation that differs entirely from mine. If this film combats rape culture, it has a problematic way of doing so.

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