At the tender age of 26, I no longer watch R-rated movies. Too often, a film will casually force down my throat scenes containing sexism and sexual assault. I’ve grown weary – and wary.
But it’s hard to constantly stay on guard when sexual assault is so pervasive in the media. So, when an old friend invited me to attend a cast Q&A and screening of the ’80s cult comedy film “Revenge of the Nerds,” I accepted. I was subsequently dismayed by the comedic portrayal of rape in the film. However, the recent outlawing of the portrayed rape gives me hope that society is progressing toward gender equality.
For those who haven’t seen the film, the mechanism through which the male protagonist (the nerd) and his love interest (the cheerleader) consummate their relationship is the protagonist misrepresenting himself as the cheerleader’s boyfriend (the jock) by wearing a costume in a dark room. She consents to have sex because she is fooled into believing he is her boyfriend. In other words, he rapes her. During the cast Q&A that accompanied the film screening, the actress who played the love interest spoke about how she is often asked about the questionable scene. Her usual response is to shrug and say “It was the ’80s.”
The sad thing is – she’s right. When the movie came out in 1984, the rape that it portrays was not illegal. However, thanks to the bipartisan efforts of California policymakers, this form of rape – sometimes called rape by misrepresentation – is now illegal in California, regardless of who the rapist is pretending to be.
Assembly Bill 65, by Assembly Members Katcho Achadjian and Bonnie Lowenthal, sought to close a loophole in California law that allowed perpetrators to rape unmarried victims with impunity. Until Governor Brown signed A.B. 65 in September 2013, rape by misrepresentation was only illegal in California if the rapist pretended to be the victim’s spouse. This led to cases in which rapists could not be prosecuted because they had pretended to be a victim’s live-in partner, rather than spouse. By not protecting these victims’ rights, policymakers were punishing those who chose to have a sexual relationship outside of marriage.
Fortunately, this egregious policy did not go unnoticed. Outraged after being unable to prosecute a man who raped a woman in Santa Barbara County by pretending he was the victim’s boyfriend, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley worked with Assembly Member Achadjian to fix this glaring injustice.
I had the opportunity to hear District Attorney Joyce Dudley speak about her efforts to correct this problem a few years ago. At that time, her and Assembly Member Achadjian’s efforts to pass legislation had been unsuccessful. But she relentlessly endeavored to vindicate the victim she could not help in Santa Barbara County, as well as victims elsewhere in the state.
District Attorney Joyce Dudley continued to fight until she achieved this victory for women’s rights. The inspiration of her strength steeled me against my despair when Castro Theatre abounded with laughter during the portrayed rape of a young woman.
Whenever I watch a movie, read a book, or walk through the streets of San Francisco, I am reminded that to many, I am considered an object existing solely for the gratification of others. But even in the face of this seemingly overwhelming defeat, I persevere. And maybe, someday, I will play my own part in closing whatever loophole it is in society that allows sexism, sexual harassment, and rape to flourish.
-- HWLJ Staff