Consent with Caitlin: Bridgerton kinda blows

Graphic by Haley Morkert. 

CAITLIN SEGRAVES | STAFF REPORTER | csegrave@butler.edu

Content warning: References to sexual violence are included in this article.

What do Daphne and Simon from “Bridgerton” have in common with Rachel and Ross from “Friends”? 

They are both the main couples of overly-popular TV shows, and they are both toxic as hell. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only famous couples on some of our favorite TV series that glorify toxic relationships: the entire romance trope is based on loving the couple that goes from extreme highs to extreme lows. 

Bridgerton captivated its audience’s attention with an abundance of complex characters and saucy storylines to follow — Marina and Collin, Penelope and Eloise and Anthony and Serena, among many others. However, Daphne and Simon’s relationship took center stage. As the audience, we wanted them to get together. The producers used the binge-watch-inciting trope of rocky relationships to make us root for the two even more. 

We see the exact same type of unhealthy romance over the entire series of “Friends”.

Somehow spanning nine seasons, Ross and Rachel constantly have that on-again-off-again type of relationship that makes us want them to end up together. They have explosive break-ups, and when they get back together, it’s extremely passionate. The emotional rollercoaster becomes their calling card: Ross’ famous “we were on a break” one-liner causes so much trouble, it becomes a running joke. We as the audience are taught to love this dynamic, but what’s to love about it?

This past Friday, March 5, I had the pleasure of talking with Jules Arthur-Grable, Butler University’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Specialist, Zoe Strepek, a junior psychology and criminology major, and sophomore finance major Avery Tomlin about the different unhealthy relationships in Bridgerton. While this is an absolutely shameless self-promo, you really should listen to the podcast we recorded and check out all of the SARP office resources!

In case you don’t want to listen to four amazing women — myself included — talk about Bridgerton, I’ll summarize what we said in relation to Simon and Daphne’s relationship: in short, they were unhealthy, toxic and the producers did a crappy job with their portrayal of rape. 

Sure, every couple has their problems, but — spoiler alert! — Daphne quite literally rapes her husband and is then framed as the victim. While Simon shouldn’t have lied to her or taken advantage of her lack of sexual knowledge, that never excuses sexual assault. 

In the show, Daphne forces Simon to ejaculate inside her, despite his many protests, and then the show continues to paint her as a victim. On top of all of that, they never gave Simon a platform to deal with the psychological damage that come from being sexually assaulted, further silencing the voices of male sexual assault survivors

It was disgusting.

To make matters worse, the producers deliberately chose to downplay this sexual assault scene. In the book series, Daphne takes advantage of her stumbling drunk and barely conscious husband. The producers of the show chose to muddle the originally graphic depiction of sexual assault and didn’t even acknowledge the power of Daphne’s assault. This decision to make sexual assault unclear and to not address the implications of rape points again to the irresponsibility of the producers. 

The producers chose to retain the sexual assault scene when adapting the books to the show, yet they made it so much less obviously assault and they tried to sweep it under the table. The very same episode, Daphne was shown crying that she got her period and wasn’t pregnant, forcing the audience to feel bad for her — again, blowing off the entire concept of consent and shifting the sympathy to Daphne instead of Simon. 

As a society, we have normalized these destructive romance tropes. Part of the blame can be placed on the TV producers for creating content that glorifies these unhealthy relationships, but they are also just trying to make a buck. As a society, we need to advocate to change the expectations of what makes a successful show. 

The first step to take is to acknowledge and realize that we should not be aspiring to be the Ross and Rachel couple. Or Daphne and Simon. We also shouldn’t be promoting this behavior, this pattern of super high levels of passion to super low levels of almost breaking up. Every relationship has its ups and downs, but they shouldn’t be so extreme. 

I do enjoy the passion; it’s hot and exciting, but it’s kind of super toxic. Passion itself isn’t toxic, but the level of passion we see in our favorite TV shows usually is. Producers ensure the drama is intoxicating, yet relatable — enough to make it that much more entertaining for the audience. Healthy passion can look different in every relationship, but is usually be exhibited by a healthy and balanced sex life, as well as having open communication. 

Passion shouldn’t solely be ripping each other’s clothes off mid-argument because you can’t stand the sexual tension. 

I won’t pretend I’m above these shows; I love to watch them and get drawn into the toxic trope of these relationships with all their ups and downs. I will absolutely be watching the second season of “Bridgerton” and I’ll probably rewatch “Friends” for the tenth time next week. However, I will also still write about how glorified and destructive these relationships are. 

Your relationship shouldn’t be the aggressive Annapurna, maybe just some nice rolling hills in the English countryside. While I’m no geography expert, I hope that makes sense. At the end of the day, you should be happy with your partner. You shouldn’t be climbing a dangerous mountain just to fall off the other side, you should be strolling through a meadow with the occasional strenuous uphill hike. 

If you want to hear more about this, please check out the SARP office’s podcast, Actually Love. It’s available on Spotify, and new episodes air every week!

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