The ‘Hilarious’ Gang Rape In ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’
When I traveled to the set of What To Expect When You’re Expecting last fall and chatted with Elizabeth Banks about her character Wendy, I was permitted to observe an important scene. As I wrote earlier, breastfeeding advocate Wendy takes to the stage of a baby expo in Atlanta only to have forgotten to print out her speech. With a swelling belly and “baby brain,” Wendy looks out on the audience of mommies and decides to share with them just how awful her pregnancy has been. In addition to sharing details about her hemorrhoids and cankles, the expectant mother also tells the crowd that she also feels like she has been gang raped — and it’s supposed to be funny.
As Elizabeth sauntered back forth over the stage with in her fake pregnancy suit, the actress listed all of her ailments, telling them also of:
“…a pressure in my uterus that feels like I’ve been gang raped! That’s right, gang raped!”
Now I get the sentiment of the dialogue as I’ve known enough pregnant women in my life to empathize with said uterine pressures. But I doubt the writers of What To Expect When You’re Expecting can empathize with many victims of gang rape, as evidenced by that line.
While I recognize that this scene is hoping to be “off-color” with Eizabeth’s other dialogue about her nipples being so large you can see them from Google Earth and ripping her pregnancy bra from her chest in relief, gang rape is more than simply off-color — it’s a brutality that fails to even be recognized as a crime in many cases. The fact that gang rape was tossed in so casually during Elizabeth’s monologue makes the reference even more alarming in that we’re supposed to laugh at the violation of women and girls without even thinking about it. Much like the fraternity boys at the University of Vermont who surveyed fellow brothers about their musical tastes and sexual preferences, and then nonchalantly asked who they would like to rape, this scene employs the same device by demonstrating a casualness about rape.
From what I’ve seen and read, What To Expect When You’re Expecting is hoping to appeal to mothers and their plights. While watching the scene on a monitor, I and other mommy bloggers were told by the director, Kirk Jones, that he wanted to show “a mother being honest about [pregnancy].” Those photo-shopped, mannequin-like promotional posters may illustrate otherwise, but the creators of this film are hoping mothers everywhere will flock to theaters to empathize with these characters and their story lines. That’s why I find it so perplexing that writers and producers of this film decided to trivialize something as pervasive as rape in a film specifically for women and mothers. Women aren’t the only victims of rape, but they’re certainly the biggest target, with one in six being sexually assaulted in their lifetime. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.
Slut-shaming and victim-blaming may be the two pillars upholding rape culture, but the third is downplaying the impact of rape and its relevance, especially to mothers and kids. And while I don’t think all of us should sit around being tight-lipped about rape, I also know that scenes in films and TV shows, much like what I witnessed on that set in Atlanta, have the power to make rape seem inconsequential and far from transgressive.
That may have only been one scene of What To Expect When You’re Expecting, but the glaring laugh factor in rape is but a small window into the minds that allegedly crafted a film for women. The tasteless gang rape joke may not sully the whole comedic movie, but the reference will certainly taint it should the moment not end up on the cutting room floor.