Since we've been talking about triggers and sexual assault in films recently, I wanted to make a note of something that I've never actually seen discussed in conversations about triggering content.
I've written previously about the problem of token girls in the sorts of books and films I loved as a kid (Star Wars's Princess Leia, LotR's Eowyn, Dragonslayer's Valerian)—and the inherent negative messaging that adventurous and strong girls are exceptional, that "girliness" is intrinsically bad, that more than one woman in any given situation is a combustible combination.
But there's another angle to female tokenism that I find really troubling: It frequently triggers thoughts of rape—not because any of the male characters are menacing, but because none of them are.
Although I love Lost with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns, that not a single one of the female characters on the Island has ever, in all her interactions with people who all started out as total strangers, faced even the faintest threat of sexual assault is an absurd omission. The only reference to sexual assault that I even recall on the show is when one female character refers as the "rape caves" to an area where another female character is abducted (though she is not sexually assaulted). The female characters routinely find themselves isolated with unknown men, many of whom are violent and unethical, but never is there a suggestion that the women would be in any particular physical danger separate from their male allies.
Lost is a perfect example of a show that doesn't want to be "one of those kinds of shows," so it just ignores the reality altogether.
And it's a tricky sort of conundrum—it's not like I want my favorite show to be triggering, but, on the other hand, the premise lends itself so strongly to a situation which, in real life, would be a distinct sexual assault risk for women, that ignoring the subject for five years speaks as loudly as dealing with it head-on.
It's a weird phenomenon, the trigger by void. I'm certainly not the only woman who is prompted to thoughts of sexual assault by the absence of its threat in situations where it would exist in reality; I've been watching films/shows with female friends in which we openly laughed at the total lack of menace experienced by a token girl. ("Wouldn't that be nice?!")
In one sense, it's just another one of a million ways in which women's experiences don't comprehensively manifest onscreen; in another sense, the void is so deeply dishonest that it becomes itself a nifty little bit of rape apology, by suggesting rape isn't nearly as ubiquitous as those darn feminists would have us believe.
As pernicious as are the narratives that the token girl is exceptional, superior to girls who spend their time with other girls, and insulated from the nefarious machinations of other girls, the most dangerous narrative of all may be that the token girl is safe.
It wouldn't be so terrible to contemplate if I hadn't read so goddamned many survivor's stories that start out with a sentence like, "I was the only girl in a group of friends…"