How 'Bridgerton' Failed Male Rape Survivors

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Bridgerton
Entertainment And News

In the midst of feather headbands and pastel ballgowns, it’s easy to miss how Bridgerton failed to address a glaring consent issue. 

Shondaland's first collaboration with Netflix may be a phenomenal commercial success but some of the show’s darker moments may leave victims of sexual violence feeling misrepresented and undermined. 

Bridgerton, which is based on Julia Quinn’s book series of the same name, explores British high society in Regency-era London. It is raunchy, witty, and playful. Gossip Girl meets Sex And The City with a bit of Pride And Prejudice mixed in. 

After debuting on Netflix on Dec. 25, Bridgerton quickly became one of the most popular original series on the streaming platform and it’s easy to see why. 

The show ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to diversity and the exploration of female sexual desire but completely missed the mark when it comes to male consent. 

A scene from Quinn’s original novel that has been called out as a rape by romance readers for decades was made central to the plot of the Netflix series without fixing one of the greatest literary failures of the 2000s. 

The non-consensual sex scene is taken from Quinn’s The Duke and I and appears in the show’s sixth episode — around the 57-minute mark if you need to avoid it. 

Daphne, played by Phoebe Dynevor, and Simon, played by Rege-Jean Brown, are married— spoiler alert— and have, until this scene, enjoyed many scandalous romps around Hastings House. 

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Daphne knows very little about sex and is unaware that her husband has secretly vowed to never father children and has been adopting the good old pull-out method of contraception. Simon has simply told his wife he can’t have children. Determined to find out if Simon is capable of completing the act, Daphne changes position while the pair are having sex so he cannot pull out.

The result is a rape scene that is brief yet disturbing. Simon is wide-eyed and looks terrified. He cries out for Daphne to stop. She doesn’t. 

If the roles were reversed and there was a woman being forcibly straddled by a man as she asks him to stop, the outrage would be enormous. And yet a scene that is painfully familiar to many male victims of sexual abuse is used as an entertaining plot device. 

The show commits another disservice by failing to investigate Simon’s emotional reaction to the event. Instead, the next episode focuses on Daphne’s betrayal and fury that Simon was capable of ejaculating; he just didn’t want to. 

What should be Simon’s pain and upset becomes Daphne’s as we spend the rest of the scene watching her lament to her husband about an alleged betrayal. 

She even gives quite a convincing speech about the difference between Simon saying he “can’t” have children and saying he “won’t”. 

This could have been a worthwhile exploration of the importance of informed consent if we hadn’t just watched Daphne deprive Simon of any semblance of agreement to both sex and fatherhood. 

The episodes that follow see Daphne demanding Simon win her forgiveness and give up his vow to not have children. It is a harsh reminder of the kind of manipulation and victim-blaming sexual abuse survivors experience. 

Bridgerton has been classed as pure escapism, a chance to forget about world issues and be entertained. But there is no excuse for downplaying sexual assault for entertainment value.  

If a show is going to dabble in large issues, it better be prepared to deal with them thoroughly. 

Given that Quinn’s novels have been subject to criticism since their 2000 release because of this very scene, Bridgerton missed a crucial opportunity to finally give Simon the justice he deserved. 

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In the book, Simon is drunk past the point of being able to give consent when Daphne assaults him. In the show, they made him sober and conscious.

This slight alteration implies the creators of the show were aware that the scene needed fixing. And yet they still failed to address the extent to which Simon had been violated.

If anything, making Simon conscious and aware only feeds into some of the misconceptions about male rape victims and marital rape in general by implying that he could have pushed Daphne off if he really wanted to or that his forced compliance was somehow a sign of consent. 

RELATED: What It's Really Like To Be A Male Victim Of Rape

The scene is one big gaslighting exercise designed to make characters and viewers overlook an obvious assault.

Instead of interrogating or confronting the issue of sexual violence, Bridgerton makes us question whether or not what we saw could even be classed as rape. 

Daphne certainly adds to this by convincing us that she has somehow been wronged and we are quickly brought back into the couple’s love story. 

Simon, on the other hand, is totally fine and an opportunity to explore male vulnerability and the aftermaths of abuse is turned down. 

This is made all the more harrowing by the fact that the victim in this case is a man of color. Black men are often misrepresented as violent and sexually aggressive and are left to suffer in silence for fear of being made scapegoats for the crimes of others. 

For the show to display Daphne, a white woman, assaulting her Black husband and then crying out that he has deceived her is a complete erasure of Black male sexual abuse. 

In the 20 years since Quinn wrote her novel, the issue of consent has been discussed enough for Bridgerton writers to know better than to write the scene in this way. 

And though the show is set in a time long before modern conversations around sexual abuse, anything made for 21st-century audiences should carefully consider the potential damage it is perpetuating by displaying outdated notions of consent. 

RELATED: It Started When I Was 3 Years Old — What It's Like To Endure A Lifetime Of Sexual Abuse And Domestic Violence

Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a generalist with an interest in lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics.