Spoiler Alert: If you have not yet seen Promising Young Woman, you may want to wait to read this article as it contains spoilers. Come back and read after you’ve seen it.
Enlightening film Promising Young Woman follows 30-year-old Cassie, who is on a personal vendetta to get back at people for taking advantage of intoxicated young women who can’t consent. Her desire for revenge stems from her college best friend’s rape in front of a crowd of boys at a frat party.
Cassie goes to bars and clubs and pretends to be too intoxicated to get herself home. Almost always, a man offers to “make sure she gets to where she needs to go safely.” But the men she meets usually take her to their place and try to get frisky when she seems to be unable to consent. Cassie then schools the guys she meets to make them realize that taking advantage of women is wrong. Whenever this occurs, the men try to justify their behavior, claiming that they’re “nice, good guys, which is common in real life too.” a
But that’s not the only real-life aspect of Promising Young Woman. Here are four characters who shed light on rape culture:
1. The guy who makes sleazy advances but claims that he’s a “good person.”
Almost all of the men in this movie try to claim that they think that the women they take home consent. This mentality is extremely infuriating, but it’s also ridiculously common, especially in rape cases like Brock Turner’s.
2. The friend who says that the rape survivor is always drunk or promiscuous, so the victim is “asking for it.”
No matter how many sexual partners a woman’s had, whenever someone forces her to have sexual relations against her consent, she is a survivor. Her sexual history never justifies anyone putting her in harm’s way. Unfortunately, though, many survivors’ own friends don’t believe that they couldn’t consent – and they become part of the problem. This important issue is on full display in Promising Young Woman.
3. The parents who have a hard time seeing how a survivor’s friend can feel responsible for an assault.
Though Cassie isn’t a rape survivor, her friend’s rape alters her perspective on love, relationships, and sexual intimacy. Her parents desperately want for her to move on, and they don’t understand how an incident from 7 years ago could impact their daughter. Promising Young Woman reminds us that everyone processes trauma differently, and we should respect that.
4. The lawyer who uses a victim’s past behavior to make them seem responsible for the rape.
When a rape perpetrator hires lawyers, the lawyers will use anything that they can to discredit the sexual assault survivor. In Promising Young Woman, the lawyer who protected Madi’s rapist ends up on sabbatical as protecting the guilty took a mental toll on him – but this isn’t always the case. Lawyers’ tactics – like victim-blaming – and the difficulty of course proceedings make many survivors hesitant to report their cases.
Promising Young Woman challenges us all to examine rape culture and re-evaluate how we treat sexual assault survivors. Rape culture is a dark part of our society, but with education and awareness, we can change it.
If you or someone you know has been a victim and needs to talk to someone, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit rainn.org.
Screengrab via Promising Young Woman trailer.