(Yes, THAT sex scene)
CW: This post contains sexual content and references rape.
Bridgerton, the fictional Netflix series based on novels I have not, and will likely never, read, is based in early 19th-century England in all its toxic patriarchal glory.
The plot is concerned with upper class families looking to make “matches” with the eligible, chaste young women of high society. The typical patriarchal rules of London high society apply, rules largely concerned with controlling female sexuality.
The chaste women must choose their husband while weighing their family position, dowry size, personal propriety, sexual attraction and desire, emotional connection. Their job is to marry someone not-disgusting who will bring honor and status to their family name then provide an heir for their new husband. Their power, mobility, and respect in their society depends upon their having a husband then a son.
The women do covertly manipulate their choices – as the Bridgerton matriarch reminds her oldest son, society has deemed him the head of their family but she is far more capable. The women of society both hold none of the power and all of it, they must constantly feign to be less and more than who they are. The show depicts the constant calculations the women make in order to survive and thrive.
The eligible young women frequently demonstrate how the true control of female sexuality is withheld sexual education. Most of the young women don’t know how to masturbate, what the sexual act actually is, how a woman becomes pregnant.
Simon, one half of the show’s main couple, warns Daphne, the other half, that he cannot give her children if he marries her. She takes him literally to mean he has a physical impediment, but he means that he does not want children for complex reasons he withholds from her. Because Daphne doesn’t know what sex is, know how a woman becomes pregnant, or anything about Simon’s traumatic family history, she doesn’t understand that he is pulling out during sex to avoid impregnating her.
Over time Daphne begins to realize what he might doing. In the most controversial moment of the season, she takes control of their sexual encounter to prevent his movement.
While the encounter is deeply controversial with some conflating Daphne’s actions as rape, I propose that Simon sexually violated Daphne as much as she did him.
Let’s explore another story to discuss this view…
Genesis 38 contains the story of Tamar, a woman of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) culture disappointingly similar to Not-Too-Long-Ago British culture.
She too is born to grow up, menstruate, marry someone that will increase or maintain the wealth and status of her birth family, then give birth to an heir to continue the family line and preserve the ancestral lands of her new family.
Her problem is that her new family are world-class jackasses. Her first husband is so lousy, God kills him and none of us are mad about it. As the apparent cultural custom of the time, later made into the Law of Levirate Marriage in Deuteronomy 25 (the book of Ruth is a demonstration of this law kept well) Tamar is given to the secondborn son as his wife and they are tasked with raising up a son in the name of Tamar’s first husband.
The intent of this practice is to both protect and care of the widow while also preserving the family line and ancestral lands.
Therefore, if the secondborn and Tamar have a child it will be considered the firstborn’s son and heir. He would receive the firstborn share of inheritance, which is the larger share.
In other words, if Tamar does not have a son then the secondborn will receive the largest portion of inheritance. If or when she does, then he will revert back to his smaller portion.
It is a matter of family honor vs. profit.
He chooses profit. When he has sex with Tamar he pulls out in order to prevent her pregnancy. Deuteronomy 38:9 uses the wording, “Whenever he went into to her,” to indicate that the secondborn regularly uses Tamar’s body to satisfy his lust while denying her the opportunity for pregnancy. He will have the property, but she will have no child.
Tamar’s role is to have a son. Sex in the ANE has a purpose – her present societal value and future thriving depends upon pregnancy and a male son. The entire family’s future depends upon a son to continue the line and keep the land of their ancestors. The secondborn is using her body for pleasure, while preventing the means of her wellbeing. As the male in a patriarchal society, the power is his. She has little to no voice or control over her future.
They married with the explicit purpose of having a child. Instead, he exploits Tamar’s body, stripping her of power and personhood.
He has lied to her, changed the conditions of their sexual encounters. She both lacks the ability to say no and must receive him over and over again, likely in the hope that this time will be different. He is absolutely violating her.
The women in both of these contexts assume that attempts at pregnancy are a part of the marriage and bound in the vows they took. When their respective husbands withdrew, they were violating promises made to these women.
I propose that while Tamar is a repeated rape victim, Daphne and Simon sexually violated one another, eradicating their fragile trust in one another.
Tamar has no recourse for safety, which is likely why God kills her second husband and none of us are mad about it.
Daphne and Simon find safety when they expose their vulnerability and banish their pretenses.
I won’t go into the rest of Tamar’s story in this post (I hope you go read it! [you are welcome to message me with questions – it is a confusing story]), but when left with no options in a cruel family system she performs a sexually daring act rooted in deception in order to become pregnant and is named “righteous” for it.
Simon took advantage of an ignorant young woman who clearly did not understand what was happening. Then, instead of having an honest conversation with a wounded human who did care about her, Daphne violated Simon’s own bodily autonomy and ignored his request for her to stop.
These are two women with deep desires for fulfillment, value, pleasure, love, and, yes, children. They operated as best they could in a system designed to both sexually oppress and exploit them.
Thoughts? Questions? Disagreements? I’d love to discuss it!