The ‘Hilarious’ Gang Rape In ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’

By  | 

What To Expect When You're ExpectingWhen 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.

(photo: WENN)


  1. Lily

    February 3, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Good point. Rape and gang rape are nothing to ever laugh over. They are criminal acts that negatively impact the abused for their entire lives, and are not to be joked about. Pregnancy may be uncomfortable and painful, but is a completely different situation! That scene should be an eye-opener to the reality of medical hardship during pregnancy, not an eye-opener on how un-PC she was!

  2. Staying Anonymous

    February 3, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Thanks for the warning! I thought this movie looked moderately entertaining, but as a survivor (I feel totally awkward using that word, but it seems to be that or “victim”), I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach when I’m surprised by rape jokes, victim blaming, etc. in a movie. I’ve had panic attacks in a few theaters. I realize this may not be the typical reaction, but I’m sure at least some others have trouble, too.

    I don’t think we need to stop discussing rape, and I’m not even against portraying it in film (though I tend to avoid those). What I am against are protagonists or supposedly likable characters joking about it or minimizing it. I don’t want to live in an overly PC culture, and I don’t freak out when say, the asthmatic kids portrayed as the comical weirdos, but there are some things you just don’t go there with.

    • Lindsay Cross

      February 3, 2012 at 11:37 am

      Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your perspective.

  3. Jen

    February 3, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    This is especially disappointing since the screenplay seems to have been authored by women. There’s seems to be a trend of casual misogyny and rape apology/dismissal by supposedly “funny” women in order to distance themselves from all those damn panties in a twist feminazis. It’s like the adult version of those girls in high school who went around explaining how much cooler they were than other girls because they didn’t behave in stereotypically female ways.

  4. Enough with rape culture

    February 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    As a victim (survivor? barely)of both childhood sexual abuse and rape as an adult, I am still struggling with the after affects. The shame, the anger, the fear. Comments and dialog like this always gets to me. The irony of this particular piece of dialog is that many victims of ACTUAL gang rape are so ravaged that they CAN’T have children afterwards.

    I’m not even against all rape jokes. A well placed and well-written rape joke can uncover uncomfortable truths, and create a dialog that is both beneficial and cathartic to survivors. But this type of “joke” is cheap and insulting. I will definitely be skipping this movie.

    • Jen

      February 3, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      First, I just want to say I’m so sorry for all you went through. I can’t imagine how awful those experiences must have been for you. I’m also really interested in the idea of a “good” rape joke. I’ve been puzzling trying to come up with a situation where it would expose truths/create a dialoge and I’m coming up with a blank. Do you think it’s purely a context thing (where who is telling the joke and in what space matters) or are there jokes of this sort that would do this no matter what?

    • Staying Anonymous

      February 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      @Jen–There’s actually a recent link on Jezebel to a stand up comic joking about rape. It made me uncomfortable and I didn’t laugh, BUT after watching it through I did see truth in it and found it sad that the idea was so common that what the comedian was saying was probably recognizable to most women. I could see how you might laugh if you hadn’t been raped.

      Basically, she said that all women have a “Here’s your rape!” moment because the fear of rape is so ingrained in women today. Like you’re walking down the street and a group of guys starts to follow you and you think “This is it. I knew it. I’m out alone. Here’s my rape.”

    • Staying Anonymous

      February 3, 2012 at 8:37 pm

      Oh! And my “you”s weren’t directed at you, as I have no idea what you find funny or have/have not experienced. I meant the generic “someone” and “he/she.”

    • Jen

      February 3, 2012 at 8:52 pm

      @Staying: That’s interesting. I wonder if it is that exposing rape culture as a joke (like the comedian you cited) is what makes the joke ok? While I have never been raped, I’ve definitely–like most women I know–been in very scary situations/been physically intimidated and inappropriately touched. I definitely get uncomfortable when rape is brought up, but I can also understand how humor can be a really good way to expose the flaws in our current misogynistic/paternalistic societies views on rape and rape survivors. Thank you so much for sharing with me, I can’t imagine how difficult these sorts of discussions must be.

    • Enough with rape culture

      February 3, 2012 at 9:12 pm

      @Jen, What Staying Anonymous cited as an example (Here’s your rape!) is exactly what I was thinking of. Rape culture is so “normal” for the average woman that she is almost expecting to be raped.

      To me, the idea of a “rape joke” is like the idea of a race joke. A bit that Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor on SNL in the 70’s “Word Association” where it ends with Chevy Chase saying the N word. It was funny, but in an uncomfortable way. It made people think.

    • LoveyDovey

      February 5, 2012 at 11:24 am

      I do agree with you. Of course context and intent matter, but after a while you have to find SOME humor in it or you completely lose your mind when everyone around you seems hellbent on torturing you about it. Yes, it’s happened to me, and I’ve been told pretty much everything stupid you can imagine by clueless and even heartless idiots. Sometimes I just have to sit back and laugh at how insanely stupid and sheltered these people are.

      “I have to laugh, you see. Otherwise I’d have to cry.” I can only do so much crying about it before I’m sick of it.

  5. nobabyzone

    February 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    No movie these day’s makes it to theaters without a test screenings, although I think it doesn’t sound funny and was a poor choice by the writers, I bet it will be taken out before it hits theaters.

  6. Kelly

    February 3, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    “Nor do I think Elizabeth’s privileged white lady of a character has any idea of what it feels like to actually be gang raped”
    Women of all ages, races, and socio economic standing can be raped. This article is good overall as it draws attention to a terrible “joke”, but to go on and say that certain types of people don’t know what it’s like to be raped is inaccurate and dangerous because it puts it into people’s heads that rape is only the kind of back-alley, 3am attack you see on Law & Order.

    • Koa Beck

      February 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm

      Hi Kelly. Thanks for reading. I absolutely agree that anyone can be raped regardless of race or economic class and of course even gender based on the statistics that I cited. And as I’m sure you know, you’re more likely to be raped by someone you know that by someone you don’t know. But Elizabeth’s character has not been raped and she seems to be utilizing that Law & Order attack logic that you mentioned in her “joke.” I’m equating her character’s privilege with ignorance, not with the assumption that she can’t be raped — or know what it’s like to be raped — because she’s wealthy and white.

  7. K

    February 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Skipping this movie. Rape is never funny…and pregnancy is precious. Was there not a single female on the writing or editing team of this film? Dumb.

  8. doubledutchduh

    February 5, 2012 at 11:31 am

    You mean there’s a joke in this film that isn’t funny? WHA?!?! I am simply shocked. I expect more from my obviously crap films.

  9. Kelly

    February 5, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Ultimately Koa the article would have been just as strong without the line about privilege. The logic doesn’t even make sense; you’re “equating the character’s privilege with ignorance”, even after you say that yes, anyone can be a victim of rape. You can have *no* privilege and be ignorant about sexual assault. Privilege and sensitivity about sexual assualt are mutually exclusive.
    You’re treating Elizabeth Banks’ character like she is a real, functioning person when she’s just character that other people have written. Why don’t you examine the privilege of the writers of “What to Expect…” instead of the character? Going after the privilege of fictional character makes no sense in this situation.

    • Ashlee

      February 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

      I get what your saying, but the writer is clearly laying the blame at the feet of the writers and producers — not Elizabeth Banks. Not trying to be confrontational here, but I didn’t walk away from this thinking that the author had any real critique of the character in the movie as much as the people who made the film.

  10. Marissa

    February 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Hmm, I agree with all of your comments on the not knowing what a gang rape feels like…. But I also have to question whether they know what pregnancy feels like? I was pregnant with twins, and yeah of course it’s uncomfortable but it’s not a pressure like being raped… it’s pressure on your lungs… hips… cervix… I never felt pressure in my uterus until my contractions started. Of course everyone is different so who knows I could obviously be wrong.

  11. missminute

    March 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    We now have jokes about pedophilia, rape, murder, terrorism on prime time: nothing is sacred, and it’s not a reflection of “rape culture” so much as a wider social desentisization.

  12. Pingback: Gwen Moore: 'Violence Against Women Is As American As Apple Pie'

  13. Pingback: In An Unfortunate Case Of 'Too Soon,' Dane Cook Jokes That Colorado Victims Wanted To Get Shot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *