Poldark – Sex, violence and hypocrisy

So if you’ve not been following the BBC’s gorgeous yet somewhat hammily acted adaptation of the Poldark novels allow me to fill you in on some recent controversy: Ross, the protagonist learns that the recently widowed love of his life Elizabeth is to wed his worst enemy and all-round evil scumbag of the piece, whom we all know she cannot possibly love. He is incensed and bursts into her chamber unannounced. Two characters who have spent the best part of two seasons trying to control their passions because they’ve been married to other people end up surrendering to their burning lusts – but only after Elizabeth is subjected to a fair amount of what modern feminists would term ‘forced kissing’. Cue denunciations from sexual assault activists and a media frenzy.

The first thing that must be pointed out is that way back in August at the start of the much-awaited second season of Poldark the BBC made a whole hoo-ha about the fact that they’d taken the decision to tone down a scene in the novel wherein a rape takes place in order to present something that was ‘charged’ rather than necessarily non-consensual. Personally I think they did a good job of this – the storytelling ensured that both the audience and characters share the knowledge that Ross and Elizabeth are desperate for one another. But those BBC gurus were either being spectacularly clever – recent events have just drummed up more publicity than money can buy – or spectacularly stupid. You see, a clear cut rape scene wouldn’t have been a problem; bring in the suggestion that there is room for ambiguity in human relations though, and there will be trouble:

“The directors have done something really ambiguous. It is a really appalling message… they have made the representation of non-consensual sex ambiguous by making her appear to change her mind.”

A spokeswoman for the charity End Violence Against Women stated.

Sigh. These people don’t seem to be able to comprehend that sometimes a story is just a story. Just because you’re part of a movement that encourages others to go out and create agenda art doesn’t mean you get to project the same intentions onto others. Oh and woe betide anyone should bring up the fact that many human interactions are in fact ambiguous – yes unfortunately even sexual ones.

Sadly, it is impossible for such activists to admit this because it would cause them to become rather redundant. You see, without these bodice-ripping moments of abandon to cling to they would be forced to admit that nobody finds watching scenes where women are clearly being raped the least bit enjoyable or easy to watch – think of the horrible rapes in movies like A Time to Kill or Once Upon a Time in America.

Yet perhaps more worthy of comment is that all this belies a deep-seated hypocrisy. In the same episode, post extra-marital romp, the protagonist comes home to his wife who knows full well what he’s been up to. She turns around and clouts him in the face – hard enough to knock him to the ground. Google ‘Poldark rape’ and you’ll find hits aplenty. Google ‘Poldark domestic violence’ and you’ll find this:

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Now, I am not suggesting that the husband-slap was not good TV – it was. What I am suggesting is that in their response to the show’s content these activists have been showing themselves up for the appalling hypocrites they are. Flip the genders on either of these scenes and their reactions would, of course, reverse. And how would they react to these tweets if they referred to a husband knocking his wife to the ground:


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These women didn’t enjoy the husband-slap because they hate men – nor are they forming a cheer leading team behind a perpetrator of domestic violence (Ross’ wife, Demelza) because they are all in on some dastardly plan to systematically oppress all men. They enjoyed it because it was good storytelling.

Everyone understands that you aren’t ever supposed to use violence to get back at someone who has wronged you, however badly they may deserve it. But should that stop us enjoying Kill Bill? Of course, there is a double standard here too; I am hard pressed to think of a scene where an audience is expected to forgive a male character for hitting a woman. Perhaps when Keanu Reeves socks Tilda Swinton in the jaw in Constantine; although the character isn’t strictly female anyway, something inside me flinched when watching it, as I expect it did for many viewers. You just don’t hit a woman. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of double standards, I’ve not heard any feminists complaining about the blatant sexual objectification of Aidan Turner who plays Ross, which has been going on since pretty much the start of season one in 2015.

As today’s average social justice conscious liberal cosies up in bed with his or her Poldark colouring book for grown ups – yes it’s an actual thing – wondering what to get outraged about next, it’s very telling that an ambiguous sex scene fits the bill while an act of female on male domestic violence elicits a ‘you go girl’.

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  1. So punching your husband to the floor because he cheated on you makes you a feminist? Yet more proof that feminism is not about equality. Plus there’s nothing empowered about hitting someone who’s cheated on you, Arguably, a real empowered person will not lash out in emotion!

  2. Great article which really exposed the double standards which mainstream society blindly accepts. While violence against women is never acceptable, violence against men is encouraged, applauded and celebrated.


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