Consent, Allyship and Privilege on Bridgerton
You can trust me to analyze the hell out of the ‘Ton and I have some thoughts…
…each of which did not seem to merit their own essay, so I’d like to lump them together and discuss them here.
(Ahem. Me doing my part and discharging my duty as a kind fellow Netflix and chiller… or… umm… movie watcher I mean…).
Consent and Marital Rape
A lot has already been written about the marital rape scene in Bridgerton. One thing I haven’t seen written about is the juxtaposition between Daphne’s consent and the lack of Simon’s consent in their sexual escapades.
It is ironic to me that Simon always ensured Daphne’s consent in sexual matters whereas Daphne decided to rape her husband.
Because the great majority of sexual predators seem to be men, we have focused our teaching of consent on the male species. We live in a world where the messaging is directed to boys and men that they should seek enthusiastic sexual consent from their partners.
Simon is a great example.
Simon was so gentle and tender with Daphne — a virgin mind you — during the first time they had sex.
Throughout their encounter, Simon asked questions like, “Do you want me to stop?” (he asked her this twice) and “Do you want me to go further?”
And yet later in the movie, Daphne continues to ride her husband to ejaculation even though she sees the visible fear and helplessness of her husband's face.
It is forgivable that Daphne was curious about what would happen if Simon didn’t — couldn’t — pull out. But what she should have done was do what her husband had always done with her and asked. Beyond, “does it hurt?” (she did ask this one time), they should have been honest with each other and talked about why he always resorted to the withdrawal method. She knew that, for whatever reason, he wasn’t comfortable staying inside of her.
And I can’t believe I’m getting upset over a fictional show on Netflix, but when I reflected on the marital rape scene, I realized that that is what bothered me most. Simon had extended to Daphne a courtesy that she couldn’t even be bothered to reciprocate.
Any moment of hesitation, any sign of fear or discomfort, any departure or deviation from pleasure or any sign of diminished enthusiasm is a cue for the other sexual partner to stop and check-in, to question and query and make sure their partner is okay. Otherwise, it’s selfish in the least, and rape at the worst. Daphne saw the fear in her husband’s eyes and rode him anyway.
Penelope and Allyship
Pen was a great friend and ally to Marina. What’s interesting here is that her befriending Marina was not on account of realizing her racial power with regards to Marina’s; rather, she befriended Marina because Marina was pregnant, secluded, alone and needed a friend.
Many people are (albeit rightly) upset that Marina tried to trick Colin into marrying her and becoming the father of her unborn child. But in Marina, I see an unmarried Black woman who had to make the most out of her situation, even if it meant through trickery or, ultimately, marrying the foreign brother of her deceased lover — a man she did not know, let alone love.
Penelope was trying to make things right without bringing disgrace to Marina. One could also argue that she exhibited the type of behaviour that many current self-professed White allies exhibit: “I’m your ally until it affects me.” Penelope was driven more out of her love of and desire for Colin than any sense of personal ethics, and seeing Marina marry Colin would mean seeing a “friend” trick a man she loved into marrying someone who may not.
Baron Featherington, however, is a perfect example of how not to be an ally. He is the archetype of the bystander. We now know why he was content not to get involved. But I do want to underscore here that allyship means involvement, and sometimes personal sacrifice.
Interestingly enough, Bridgerton includes queer characters like Sir Henry Granville and (perhaps) Benedict Bridgerton, but interestingly enough I don’t see an allyship storyline there… yet.
“Not Everyone Can be a Pretty Bridgerton”: Penelope and Autonomy
Eloise is right: Lady Whistledown would be someone invited to all the events but to whom no one pays attention. In the movie, we learn that Penelope is in fact the invisible narrator of this gripping story. And why does Penelope blend so well into the background? I argue that it is because Penelope’s character is not cast as someone classically beautiful. Fat girls/plus size girls are often good at doing that — becoming scenery and being the background or side-kick in cinematic productions.
Early in the story, one of her sisters suggest that Penelope should lose weight. Later on in the story, Penelope admits that she does care about the pageantry and pomp and circumstance of finding a suitor, and yells at her best friend Eloise in a fit of frustration and hurt that, “I have more important things to worry about. Like marriage… I do not expect you to understand. Not everyone can be a pretty Bridgerton!”
The flip side is that in a society where women’s options are few, it is remarkable that Penelope has been able to become a “woman of means.” Her family is in financial ruin, but because of her eponymous and infamous gossip newsletter, Penelope has made it so that she will always be taken care of, regardless of whether she marries or not (although I’m sure she would have preferred to be a woman of means and marry Colin).
Here’s hoping we learn more about Mrs. Whistledown/Penelope and she gets more of a storyline of her own.
Does Love Conquer All?
Lady Danbury admonished her nephew in letting Daphne slip out of his hands. She extolled the virtues of love — how love knitted two races into one society, how “love conquers all.” It sounds so cliche to say at the moment and does so now.
But I can’t help but remark that we began this season with the Duke declaring that he would never marry and sire an heir, and by the end of the season he had done both. And the viewer is led to believe it is because of his love for Daphne. And Daphne was willing to marry the Duke even if it meant never having children. To quote Daphne, “Love is surely the greatest force of all.” Never say never I suppose.
Okay. That’s what I have so far. Let me go watch this for the umpteenth time so that I can overanalyze it some more (this has nothing to do with Regé-Jean shirtless. Absolutely nothing.)