Rape, Lies, and Gossip on ‘Gossip Girl’

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This guest post by Scarlett Harris appears as part of our theme week on Rape Revenge Fantasies.

There are multiple rapes that occur in the “scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite” of Gossip Girl lore. In the pilot episode alone, there are two instances of rape.

Newbie to Upper East Side society, Jenny Humphrey, is sexually assaulted on the rooftop whilst a high school dance takes place below. Her assailant, the reprehensible Chuck Bass, who has wormed his way into the zeitgeist as the ultimate bad boy, had earlier forced himself onto Jenny’s brother Dan’s date, Serena van der Woodsen. Whilst Chuck’s entitlement is highlighted here, the way Gossip Girl later paints him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing sheep in wolf’s clothing worthy of a happy ending with the show’s just-as-culpable heroine, Blair Waldorf, is careless. There are plenty of other ways the consequence-free lifestyle of Serena, Blair, et al. could be portrayed that wouldn’t reward misogyny.

But that seems to be Gossip Girl’s calling card: Chuck later goes on to rape Blair by posing as someone else in the season two episode “The Dark Night.” He cuts her face when he smashes a window in rage. He pimps her out to his uncle for a piece of real estate. Said uncle tries to force himself on his dead brother’s widow, Lily. And, in probably the most blurred (story)line involving sex and consent in the CW series, Jenny, years after her violent debut into Manhattan society, shows up on Chuck’s doorstep, dejected and lonely, and the two find objectionable comfort in each other’s sex organs. Cathryn writes about this more extensively than I ever could here.

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Chuck’s (not-so-distant) rapist past serves as a plot point to show how far he’s allegedly come as a reformed bad boy. Jenny’s rape and subsequent ousting from Manhattan at the hands of Blair, however, positions her storyline as a cautionary tale of what gossip, money, and lack of boundaries can turn a person into. Granted, Jenny caused a lot of trouble for her former friends and family, but rape is never a fitting punishment. Her banishment by Blair when she finds out what transpired between Jenny and her on-again, off-again lover is typical of the punish-the-woman mentality Gossip Girl is so fond of. Instead of shaming her partner for taking advantage of a teenage girl, Blair blames Jenny for ruining her proposal. And when Jenny returns the following season to help Chuck take down Blair (keep up, people!), she should really be seeking revenge on her rapist, wouldn’t you say?

So while Jenny is a metaphor for the toxicity of Manhattan society and the good girl gone bad, her fellow Chuck-rape-almost-victim, Serena, is the opposite: the bad girl striving to make amends.

The parallels between the two blondes closest to “the ultimate insider” and *spoiler alert* the man revealed to be Gossip Girl, Dan Humphrey, are apparent in the first few seasons. In the pilot, Serena returns from boarding school after being embroiled too deeply in the debauchery of the Upper East Side as Jenny is just being introduced to it. They are both romantically interested in Chuck’s bestie, Nate Archibald.

By season three the actress who portrays Jenny, Taylor Momsen, was the quintessential bad girl, sporting thick eyeliner and a negligee as outerwear, and fronting a rock band. Think a modern-day Courtney Love. Meanwhile, golden girl Blake Lively (Serena) was covering magazines, starring in The Town and filming Green Lantern, and dating such high-profile men as Leondardo DiCaprio. Gossip Girl mirrored this metatextually by showing Jenny reading a copy of Nylon magazine with Lively on the cover, breaking the fourth wall.

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Speaking of art imitating life, season two threw shades of Steubenville. Dan is embroiled in a sex scandal when it’s claimed that he had been sleeping with his teacher. The allegations turned out to be fabricated by Blair, who was then expelled from school and had her acceptance to Yale revoked. Dan’s stepmother, Lily, is sympathetic to Dan’s relationship with Serena being put in jeopardy and his female teacher being branded a sexual predator, but wonders, “Should Blair lose Yale over this? It’s her future.” This is reminiscent of the utmost concern shown to teen Steubenville rapists Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond and their bright sporting futures after being found guilty of the crime whilst the welfare of the anonymous victim who’ll be dealing with her assault for the rest of her life went by the wayside.

Whereas Steubenville occurred in real life and the myriad assaults and questionable sexual and gender politics of Gossip Girl take place in a fictional world far removed from many of our own, they both help to colour the way we treat victims of sexual assault. And unfortunately, this is nothing new.

 


Scarlett Harris is a Melbourne, Australia-based freelance writer and blogger at The Scarlett Woman, where she muses about feminism, social issues and pop culture. You can follow her on Twitter here.

 

12 Comments

  • Hyacinth Alagos
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t understand why is this why does people need to do this? Women are deserved to be respected and since we cannot predict what will happen next we must be alert and secure bring safety with you at http://bit.ly/1nctEuL.this is a protection that can be install to your cell phone ten it can re easily routed to the nearest 911 if needed hope this will be a big help.

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    Posted April 26, 2014 at 6:04 am | Permalink

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  • Rosalina Margoya
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Even before this raped crime, is also present. So this is the thought of this story in the bible that even before Woman that are being raped is being rejected and consider as a damage goods, let as see how unfair it is even before. Many woman are abused and never get the right justice. I believe it is not about justice and how they serve it to the victim, yes justice is serve right but the question is how people where going to look at you after the rape? are people going to look at you the way they think of who you are before the rape?. Just want to share this they are anti woman and child abuse and they keep people safe and secure in times of danger, i find it amazing application for more info about this just click the link it saves life share this to other maybe it will save there lives to http://safekidzone.com/?a_aid=53289bdd639f0

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    Posted April 27, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

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  • Ally Marshall
    Posted October 24, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    To start off, I must admit that Gossip Girl is a guilty pleasure of mine. Once you start watching, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in all the romance, glamour, and drama of the show, so naturally I was extremely curious to read what you had to say about it. As we know, this show is filled with misogyny and characters with twisted and confused minds, specifically
    Chuck Bass. After reading your blog, I started questioning a lot of my feelings about him. At first, he was a character that I loved to hate, but by the finale of the show, he was someone I loved to love. As you said, “Chuck’s (not-so-distant) rapist past serves as a plot point to show how far he’s allegedly come as a reformed bad boy.” For some reason, it is so easy for us viewers, as well as the characters in the show, to put Chuck’s past in the pass, and grow to love him. But why?!

    I know this post concentrates mostly on Chuck and his relationship with Jenny and Blair, but as I was reading, I couldn’t help but question Blair’s relationship with Serena. Much of the show concentrates on Blair and her difficult process in finding a way to forgive and trust Serena after she slept with Blair’s, at the time, boyfriend, Nate. Sure Serena was a promiscuous girl for a good portion of her life, but she did everything in her power to change and make things right with those around her, yet she was constantly looked down upon and reminded of her poor decisions. However, Chuck was basically able to apologize and win the approval and trust of his peers. I, similarly to you, find it sickening that a woman such as Serena, who was simply promiscuous, struggles more to be accepted and forgiven than a man such as Chuck, who was a rapist.

    After taking a closer look, I’m somewhat ashamed that I find this show to be one of my guilty pleasures, and that this was, and still is a show, that many young girls watch and try to identify with the characters. Why are we teaching people in our society that girls are not only victims of rape, but it is okay to for the men to rape as long as they eventually reveal themselves as, “a sheep in wolf’s clothing?”

  • Amanda Heffernan
    Posted March 23, 2016 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Gossip Girl used to be one of my favorite shows. But now I have a hard time watching it or even thinking about how I could ever like that show since I read this article. After reading this review about Gossip Girl I realized all the bad things that happened in this show and I don’t even know how I missed it. Was I too caught up in all the drama to stop myself or was that the writers plan to make all the drama so good you would have to finish it. By the end of this show I was hoping Chuck and Blair would end up together. I was cheering for Chuck to get the girl. But now I look back on it and don’t know how I ever liked him. The writers did a great job to make sure that not just Blair would fall in love with Chuck, but so that we all would fall in love with him.

    Raped happened so much in this show and that makes me sick that Chuck thought he could keep on raping girls because he had money. And no one seemed to care about what was going on. If he was poor and raped girls it would have happened once or twice before he ended up in jail. But no he had the money to get away with it. So Chuck thought and acted like he had enough money in this world so that no one can touch him because he will by his way out of it.

    How could Blair even be with a man like Chuck? It makes me so mad to think about it because Blair is a strong women and Chuck treated Blair like she meant nothing to him. He even sold her to his uncle to get his hotel back. But Blair tried to get him to walk away start over. But Chuck had different plans. Like always Chuck only cared about himself.

    This article really opened my eyes to what was going on and make me think about how I could ever watch this show and be a Chuck fan. Gossip Girl was so filled with drama and you could not just watch one episodes you needed to find out who Gossip Girl was. I would watch Gossip Girl again but this time around I will pick a new favorite and pay more attention to what is really going on since I now know who Gossip Girl is.

  • Emily Huffer
    Posted March 25, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    When I remember Gossip Girl, I remember watching it every Tuesday nights with my mother. We would watch it every week and enjoy it. I never really looked at the show as a bad thing. I think that this article really showed things to me that I haven’t thought about before.

    Since reading this article, I remembered more about the different things that happened in Gossip Girl that in real life would not be okay. For one thing, the fact that the relationship with the viewer and Chuck Bass changed through out the show. I think that Chuck was a pig in the beginning of the show, but by the end, you loved him. In reality Chuck Bass would be looked at in a very different way because off all the things he had done. From rape to sexual harassment, to drinking underage and being on drugs , Chuck gets clean and the characters in the show get over it by the end of the series. You picture all of the characters in the same room at the end of the series and they are all “happily ever after”, and the viewer is happy by the ending. I personally was very satisfied by the end of the series, but now I see that it wasn’t a real happily ever after.

    TV today shows more of those actions on a regular basis to teenagers. Another show that is like Gossip Girl and that is on the same broadcast, was the remake of 90210. In the show, there is love quarrels, drugs, rape and body shamming. The one thing that 90210 brings up is a character named Ivy. She is “one of the guys” and is shown to be a surfer. In the beginning everyone made fun of her because she was more masculine than feminine. She intimidated the main male characters in the show and challenged her to different contests to see if she could “join the group”. Even after she showed that she is just as worthy to them as any other person, the male characters just took off the female aspect to her. In later episodes, one character Liam, said to Ivy’s face that she wasn’t a girl. Even though she was more masculine she couldn’t be both to the male characters and that was a struggle for her. It showed that today in our society, people in general have a hard time accepting change and change in gender roles. Gossip Girl showed that with Chuck Bass, in the fact that he became a pretty boy and a hero in the end and 90210 showed that with Ivy not belonging because people wouldn’t accept her for who she was.

  • Jess
    Posted March 25, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I remember my first time ever binge watching Gossip Girl. I enjoy how it dramatically mimics what is probably a common reality for children and adults who grew up in the Upper Class level, particularly in New York City (drugs, sex, scams to get more money, assholes like Chuck and good looking, all-american guys like Nate). It was the middle class’s looking glass for the wealthy despite being fictional.
    That being said, I was never unaware of some of the awful real-life scenarios that Gossip Girl handles, such as sexual assault. However, Gossip Girl is a drama based show. Meaning, most of the scenarios that occur in the episodes are blown extremely out of proportion for some cases (such as Blair and Serena constantly having fits with each other) and some are hardly recognized as issues by the characters, such as the moments of assault withing the show and all the revenge seeking plots (Georgina going after Serena, Blair going after Jenny.) The producers were going to do whatever worked to shape the show to be suspenseful and draw viewers in.
    It doesn’t make it okay. In fact, after reading this article it makes me feel bad that I find a lot of joy in watching the series. It’s hard sad how shows portray horrible guys like Chuck and Dan as being heroes and ideal men to seek for relationships, and I can speak to say when I was a teenager I did find myself wanting the “bad boy goes good for nice girl” type. I’ve realized how horrible of a standard that is to want in someone as a partner, and it’s a shame that there are still girls who seek the same today as well.
    What blew my mind the most was the mentioning of Blair and Jenny seeking revenge on each other. After learning about how women are hardly blamed or considered at fault when they seek revenge, I feel like Gossip Girl is a prime example of Girls committing crimes that really aren’t considered “justified” as seen in other films such as Monster. It makes me dislike the two girls even more (by the end of the series you kind of hate everyone though.)

  • Megan Kishbaugh
    Posted March 4, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    This article really caught my eye because I am a huge fan of Gossip Girl, It’s a show with many twist and turns, a lot of drama, and it always leaves the viewers wanting to watch more. I was very interested to read what the author had to say because I never viewed this show to be a rape revenge piece. The audience can be anywhere from teen girls to young adults and it seems like an innocent show. After reading this article I soon realized that there is more to this show than meets the eye. There are multiple episodes where young girls are taken advantage of and that is mainly what this article points out.
    Chuck Bass, who is a major character in this show, causes a lot of problems. He is a rich boy who thinks he can get whatever he wants. There has been multiple instances in the show where Chuck sexually assaults girls and nothing is done about it. These girls do not get any help and still have to see him everyday. Chuck is in their friend group, goes to their school, and is dating one of the rape victims best friends. As the article points out, this show seems to promote the “bad boy” and does not do a very good job at supporting rights for women.

  • Kate Cronin
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Gossip Girl is one of my favorite shows and I have watched it more than once. This post really caught my attention, since I am a fan of the show and know it so well. This show is filled with drama and it is hard to keep up at times. One of the main male characters, Chuck Bass is seen as a bad boy that eventually turns good and he is perceived as a guy that women swoon over. There is a lot more to him than just good looks and an odd personality. He is one of the main reasons why we see rape and sexual harassment in this show. Like Scarlett Harris mentioned, in the first episode alone there is an encounter with the youngest girl, Jenny. Chuck also raped Blair, and tries to assault Serena. Chuck Bass has assaulted many more of his female ‘friends’ and it is concerning why these girls would continue to stay friends with him. I think Chuck Bass is the main culprit of rape culture in this TV series, but he is not the only one acting like this.

    Rape in this TV show was present and happened often. I think the show did a good job of covering it up and making it not seem so bad, or more acceptable. I can’t believe that I never noticed this before. The show is sending the message that it is acceptable for Chuck to rape Blair because they love each other and end up together. This show is subtly promoting rape culture. I can’t believe I didn’t notice this in the show before. This show has a lot of younger girls watching and these are the messages they are receiving about themselves, men, and rape culture. I think it is sad that a show like this has to include rape and assault to be more interesting. The show is sending the wrong message about relationships and how these bad boy characters, like Chuck Bass treat women.

  • Dasia C
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I loved gossip girl , I even wanted to be apart of the cast at one point. I was obsessed with this show as a teen, even watched it again my freshman year of college but I never realized how much symbolism it had until now. Having a better understanding of the ques of assault I feel I should watch the show over because I missed so much.
    The show had love, greed and scandal, all the things that drawl someone to a drama TV series. Chuck , Blair, Serena, and the rest of the upper east side were all representation of how having money gives you power. They did whatever they wanted it was easy for them to intimidate others. Chucks demeanor made him believe he could have any women in the world because his was “Chuck Bass”. Chucks journey through the seasons proved he believed in himself. Him assaulting Jenny and then seasons later getting her to help him get revenge on Blair showed he had a touch about him. TV shows lack a way to show a person how to deal with traumatic incidence in a healthy way. Shows personify a women only grieving if she’s committing acts of violence or forgetting about it all together.
    In my women and violence class we watch and read about acts of violence committed by women. In each story we seen the violence was only committed because the women were provoked. As if women can’t have rage for other reasons. Gossip girl reminds me of all the things we’ve encounter throughout class because it’s the opposite of what we learned. Gossip girl has sexual assault as a frequent occurrence but no revenge is sought on the attacker. The show portrays that what is happening to them isn’t a serious event.

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