Trigger warning: rape
Bridgerton is thematically concerned with the dynamics of informed consent, which makes it even stranger that this scene was left unaddressed; indeed, if there are any lasting repercussions for the victim of the assault or their dynamic with their rapist, we don’t actually see them.Aja Romano
Netflix’s original series Bridgerton has taken over the internet. Of course, anything that has Shonda Rhimes’ name on it is sure to be a smash hit. Just like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Rhimes uses her magic touch on this TV show adaptation of Julia Quinn’s book The Duke and I. The story follows the eight Bridgerton siblings during the Regency-era in England, as they each find their one true love. The first book focuses on the relationship between Daphne Bridgerton and the dark and mysterious duke, Simon Basset.
A lot like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the two romantic leads do not take a liking to each other at first. Yet, they soon learn that they are better together and form a fake relationship to stop the nagging of their relatives. Simon and Daphne soon fall in love despite how their relationship started. However, Simon Basset is definitely clear on one thing: he will never marry or have children.
Critics and fans alike have praised the show’s utilization of drama and its’ diversity of characters. Whereas in the book, everyone is white, Rhimes has offered a time period where people of color can hold positions of power. Although several white supremacists have taken a disliking to the show, Rhimes has offered a much more politically correct Bridgerton universe than Quinn. Nevertheless, both the book and the TV show have one major problem a lot of people have not noticed.
A wedge between Simon and Daphne causes trouble
Since the two of these characters are the two romantic leads, it is no surprise that Simon’s promise never to have children would not last. What is romanticized between them is that the duke eventually gives up his original plans to be happy with Daphne. The two are forced to marry each other when they are caught making out in the garden. Since it is London in the 1800s, two individuals forming a sexual relationship without being married was a huge deal. So to protect Daphne’s honor, Simon agrees to marry her, but with the expectation, he can never have children.
The two are quickly married, and they become newlyweds. A lot of sex scenes are forced upon the viewer after their wedding, something which the show is famous for. Growing up as a lady in the 1800s, Daphne does not know much about sex and what it involves. She looks on in confusion as Simon keeps using the pull-out method. So, she asks one of the duke’s servants to tell her how a man and a woman make a child. Upon learning the truth, Daphne is heartbroken, and a part of her seeks revenge.
Daphne sexually assaults the duke
There are two different versions of the rape scene. The first one is in the 2000s book, where Daphne violates the duke while he is drunk and asleep. As for the show, Rhimes offers a slightly improved depiction of her assault on Simon. In this version, Daphne holds down the duke so he cannot pull out of her. Simon is clearly frightened and repeats the word “wait” to his spouse. There appears to be a promise of representing sexual violence towards male victims, but the scene is never mentioned again to be harmful.
Instead, Daphne accuses Simon of being the manipulator. She tells him that there is a difference between “can’t” and “won’t” have children. Certain fans have opened up and defended Simon’s perspective. Since the first episode, he has made it clear to everyone, including Daphne, that he never wanted a child. Yet Daphne acts as if it is a surprise. Either way, there is no excuse for sexually assaulting someone. Therefore, viewers are left with a bitter taste in their mouths. After all, how can someone support a couple when they have done something truly horrible to their partner?
Why couldn’t Daphne just talk to the duke about their problems? Why couldn’t she have waited for Simon to open up about his previous trauma when he was ready to be vulnerable in the relationship? The end of the episode features the narrator’s voice, who asks the audience whether or not the ends justify the means. After that, it is never again treated as a rape scene. Simon is the one who has done something wrong in Daphne’s eyes.
Simon is not the problem, Daphne is a bad female role model
It is not until Daphne pries through the duke’s personal letters that she learns about his abusive father. She learns of the duke’s stutter when he was a child and how he was expected to be nothing less than perfect for his dad. Even when learning this fact about her partner, Daphne never gives a heartfelt apology to Simon for what she has done. Instead, she tells Simon he is not his father and that he deserves to happy, that she loves him for all of his imperfections.
Nevertheless, their romantic scene in the rain does not make up for the fact of how poorly treated the sexual violence story was done by the writers. The one main issue of this series remains clear. Daphne never stops forcing herself on the duke, whether it is sexually or digging for his past. Any idea of consent is thrown out the window. Several other articles have been written on this subject. Many people are asking why the scene needed to be in the show at all.
If anyone deserves the duke, it is not Daphne Bridgerton. Simon should have been able to keep his original beliefs about children and marriage if that was what he was comfortable with. The same could be said for any character, regardless if they are male or female.
Sexual assault is not a joke. It should not be used as a way to create shock value or drama. It is something that needs to be handled delicately and with enormous attention to how those in the audience might be affected. The ignorance of Simon’s trauma for Daphne’s romantic endeavors is not the way to write feminism or for those who have been a victim of past abuse.
Bridgerton, for the most part, is a beautifully crafted story. However, it made a huge mistake that is worth addressing with a critical eye.