This article previously appeared in Kentucky Opera’s OperaBill for Carmen, 2019
The arts are often a catalyst for social change. Art can give voice to thepolitically or socially disenfranchised. It can stir emotions in those who encounter it and inspire them to rally for change.
What we experience through art and media can reinforce existing beliefs or inspire changes inour belief systems, attitudes, and behaviors. It is important for us to unpack the messages we receive, especially if the themes reinforce negative stereotypes or norms.
A common plot device is seduction with subsequent regret. The narrative in this situation goes like this: if they had not led the other person on, then there might have been a different outcome. Unfortunately this sends the message that a situation might have been avoided if a victim had not been with and/or flirted with their eventual stalker/abuser. This message reinforces victim blaming: it is the victim’s fault something bad happened to them. This narrative fails to assign responsibility with the aggressor for refusing to respect boundaries, personal space, or privacy. This can send a dangerous message that it is acceptable not to take “no” for an answer.
When we portray victim-blaming in art, it can discourage victims from leaving abusive relationships in real life, or from coming forward when they have been assaulted.
As we enjoy historic literature and drama, we need to keep in mind that times have changed since it was created, and we need to recognize that traditional interpretations can perpetuate dangerous ideas. We all have a role to play in creating a culture and environment where victims of violent crimes are supported and believed. You can start by believing victims and supporting them when they tell their story.
The Center for Women and Families is Kentuckiana’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Resource Center. We provide services to anyone who has experienced sexual assault or intimate partner violence. Our services are free, safe and confidential. Services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on our crisis and information line: 1-844-Be-Safe-1.