I love Veronica Mars. Veronica is my hero. The show is awesome. But I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it could do no wrong. There’s an element of the story that I’ve found a bit disturbing and objectionable, namely the double standard about rape. As Veronica Mars would have it, rape against female persons is a horrific violation that should never ever happen, but rape against male persons is a satisfactory punishment for all manner of crimes.
Rape has always been a thematic element in the show. From the pilot episode we know that Veronica was raped at Shelly Pomroy’s party by someone whose identity Veronica forgot due to the effects of a date rape drug later revealed to be GHB, and Veronica has since sought retribution. The ends of seasons one and two involve her hunting down the rapist. Then there’s the series of rapes at Hearst College, featured in a season two episode (“The Rapes of Graff”) and as a story arc for the first half of season three. Rape is always portrayed as serious, and the rapists as evildoers – that is, rape against girls and women.
As for situations in which the victims are boys and men, rape is never serious. Even if it is, they always had it coming. While I’m not one for the eye-for-an-eye practice of revenge, it would at least make some sense for the people portrayed as deserving rape to have committed rape themselves; however, this is not what the show does. In season one episode “Hot Dogs”, Veronica herself threatens a boy she suspects of dognapping with facing prison rape, the line (“community soap”) delivered in a snappy way the audience is expected to laugh at.
Then in the season three episode “Lord of the Pi’s”, Dick reveals that the Lilith House feminists attacked Chip by shoving an Easter egg up his rectum, and shaved off his hair to emulate the Hearst rapist. Dick is well-deserving of his name, so it’s one thing for him to joke about it (“keister egg”), but it’s quite another for Veronica to make jokes even as she investigates it (“Poor Chip. You really wrecked-‘im.” Pun on rectum). Later in the episode, the Lilith House reveals their motivation for bringing down the Pi Sigs is because of a humiliation stunt they pulled that made their target decide to jump off the roof. Definitely very bad, true, but I don’t think it’s worth what Veronica acknowledges as rape. Even though we’re on Veronica’s side here as she denounces it, it doesn’t stop “keister egg” jokes from cropping up even as far as on the official episode summary.
The only rape against male persons that is truly portrayed as something horrific is the rape of children. Season two’s conclusion involves Mayor Woody Goodman being revealed as a child molester who raped several male children on his little league team including Cassidy, who I think we’re supposed to genuinely feel sorry for even as we hate him for being a mass murderer and the one who raped Veronica. Children are universally considered to be vulnerable, thus making the rape of a child a horrific crime, but as they age only the women keep the property of vulnerability, while men are considered at a state of strength where being raped is no longer a serious issue. We care about Cassidy’s pain only because it is a residual effect from when he was raped as a child.
Here’s the thing. Rape is bad. It’s a serious violation of a person’s right to their own body. Rape is primarily an act of violence perpetrated by men against women. Masculinity is considered to be about being strong and dominating others, and men who rape women are generally misogynistic in nature. Femininity is seen as always vulnerable, so women are constantly seen as potential targets of men who are potential rapists. Men raping men are seen less as raping and more as acting within the system of domination built up in masculine culture. Masculine culture holds that strength is the only way to truly be a man, and as women are generally physically weaker than men, femininity is seen as inherently degrading, making it an enormous insult for a man to be considered feminine in any way. As a result of this, someone raping a man is in essence considering him as functional in a feminine manner (in that all women are potential targets of rape), which makes the act seem funny in our society, which is built up on masculine culture. The act of women raping men isn’t even universally recognized as possible, so there is a similar effect. Feminism didn’t reach its height until the 1970s, relatively recently, so even though it did a lot of good, our culture still retains sexist values.
And another thing, I think that rape should never be encouraged. I’m sure most everyone can agree with that sentiment, so let me elaborate: I think that rape – no matter what gender be the perpetrator or the victim – should never be encouraged. Characters like Dick and Cassidy are portrayed as misogynists, so when they advocate raping girls, the show does not because those characters are antagonists. At these moments, the show is against rape. But when it’s our heroine Veronica who makes quips about rape, it is the show dismissing the concerns of rape victims who happen to be male. These rape jokes are justified with the rationale that the victims deserve it for committing crimes, which seems to fall flat if you look at it carefully. Misogynists rape women because they think their victims deserve it. Why should raping men for the same reason be any better? It’s the same hateful act.
In conclusion, despite my love for the show, I have issues with the double standard displayed in relation to the portrayal of rape. Veronica Mars is a very good show, often challenging sexism through their highly intelligent female protagonist. A significant part of the show involves Veronica hunting rapists. In light of this, it seems disappointing that the show maintains the common double standard present in our society.