Did Kurt Russell Rape Goldie Hawn in Overboard?

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Does Hollywood condition audiences to consider certain kinds of non-consensual sex as harmless? In 1987 they did. And audiences bought it hook, line, and sinker. Would you?

The film Overboard stars Kurt Russell as a down-and-out redneck handyman and Goldie Hawn as a wealthy heiress in a what in 1987 passed as a romantic comedy. Here’s the plot synopsis from Wikipedia:

Wealthy heiress Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn) is accustomed to living the life of the idle rich with her husband Grant Stayton III (Edward Herrmann). When their yacht gets stuck in the rural hamlet of Elk Cove, Oregon for repairs, Joanna passes the time by hiring carpenter Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell) to remodel her closet. Dean puts up with Joanna’s demanding attitude, only to have her refuse to pay him because she dislikes the type of wood he used. When he demands payment, she shoves him overboard along with his tools. That night, Joanna falls overboard while searching for her wedding ring on deck, develops amnesia, is rescued by a garbage scow, and is taken to the local hospital…Dean, a widower living in redneck clutter with four young sons, decides to seek his revenge and remedy his own domestic problems by taking advantage of the situation. He goes to the hospital, tells Joanna that her name is Annie and has a small birthmark on her behind. She is also his wife and the mother of his four unruly sons, and brings her home.

At first, Joanna has difficulty with Dean’s boys and the heavy load of chores, cooking raw food, laundry in a tub, animal care, housekeeping, and only able to sleep on the couch. She soon adapts to her new life as a housewife and begins to fall in love with Dean and his children. Dean is secretly working two jobs and Joanna handles the boys school issues, family issues and money challenges with considerable wisdom and grace. Seeing Dean struggle, she uses her untapped knowledge of things like the Seven Wonders of the World to draw up plans for a miniature golf course based on their shared designs. Although Dean has also fallen in love with Joanna, he fails to come clean with her being used as a mom in fear that she would leave them…

Meanwhile, giving in to the pressure of Joanna’s inquisitive mother, Grant reluctantly returns to Elk Cove to retrieve his wife. Joanna’s memory returns to her upon seeing him and she is shocked and hurt when she realizes that Dean has been using her for months.

This is a scene from the film. Watch this clip until the 3:15 mark. (subtitles included).

http://youtu.be/MbA3UHgRozM?t=53s

Was that rape? Would you want it to be?

Her memory is so impaired that she can’t remember how old she is. He doesn’t know of course, and simply lies and tells her “29″. In another scene in the film, Dean doctors some wedding photos of him and Joanna/Annie to convince her that they are married. Dean has a friend help him by “reminiscing” with Annie about how they dated in high school before Dean came along. He has his kids lie to her.

Obviously this is just a dumb movie and the plot is contrivance on top of contrivance, but consider the situation, and the message it delivers. Can she consent under these circumstances? Would you consider this situation rape? Or perhaps something of a lesser offense, like “sex under false pretenses”?

Is there even such a thing? Should there be? Notice also the implicit message about transactional nature of sex communicated in this 2 minute scene. Note the surprise gift of the new washing machine right after she awakes, and the cavalier assessment of her “ass” by one of the boys immediately after. Renumeration, followed by objectification.

Here is the scene where her memory suddenly comes back (just hit play, the clip will jump to the relevant part):

http://youtu.be/MbA3UHgRozM?t=12m9s

She flatly states, “You tricked me. You used me.”

Even though I’m talking about a film from 25 years ago, I think the question is relevant because it serves as an example of the kinds of narratives that Gen-Xers were exposed to in their teen years and may not have completely sloughed off (see also, Animal House, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, etc.). This foundation of pop-culture stories and images might help to explain the difficulty feminists have in constructing workable narratives today about non-violent rape that are accepted by the general public. If “sex under false pretenses” is only a way to dissemble about rape, and if the media a mere generation ago treated this “grey area” as the basis of countless gags and jokes–something that the characters who fell prey to it never treated seriously–how do you make the culture consider them serious?

 

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38 Responses to Did Kurt Russell Rape Goldie Hawn in Overboard?

  1. max says:

    You saw “The Hangover”, right?

  2. Dan Dravot says:

    “The difficulty feminists have in constructing workable narratives today” may have a lot of contributing causes. One may be that they’ve already used up all the narratives that had enough basis in reality to be convincing to anybody but the LUGs and BUGs in the senior Women’s Studies seminar.

    • CubaLibre says:

      That’s a nice payload of snark. Did you have anything to say about the question actually asked in the post?

    • DataShade says:

      That’s a fun opinion, and I normally hate to use appeal-to-authority arguments, but in this case Alone says it better than I can, and recently:

      No guy feels emasculated by women, at all. He thinks men in general are emasculated by women, but not himself. His rage is that since women have emasculated everyone else, he’s forced to sublimate his own urges to fit into this emasculated society. So he’s holding too contradictory ideas: that he himself is man enough to resist the emasculization that women impose on men; and simultaneously justify why he isn’t the man he thinks he should be. In essence, he’s created the perfect explanation for why he is, and rationalization for becoming, Nietzsche’s Last Man.

      So, tell me again about how the feminists are drifting away from reality; just, this time, be sure to specify whose reality it is you’re talking about.

      • Blaster says:

        The question is not whether a guy feels emasculated it’s whether he’ll spend 10 years in prison.

        Or an alternate conclusion. If Overboard’s sex is mostly harmless and it counts as rape, maybe rape is mostly harmless. Maybe we take rape too seriously. I’m not saying we do. I’m saying if you’re going to ask these questions you should be prepared to consider answers you might not like.

  3. sdenheyer says:

    Most of Goldie Hawn’s character’s dialog during the “reveal” was directed towards the children she thought were hers, and it turns out, not. In other words, she was cuckolded.

  4. Minerva says:

    I find it interesting that some so-called nice-guys I know like this movie.

    • DataShade says:

      Man, I’d rather be locked in a room for the rest of my life with a computer that only goes to forums populated by Internet Tough Guys than be forced to eat dinner with a Nice Guy Who Can’t Get Laid (as long as the ITGs weren’t also whiny NGsWCGL).

  5. The last paragraph can’t be emphasized enough, we don’t realize how much of our ordinary beliefs come from childhood movies and TV.

    But, is there such as thing as being “not competent” to consent to sex? There’s intoxication and other acute things, but is there a chronic impairment that still prevents consent? Or maybe I should ask, at what point does an impairment become chronic enough that she can consent?

    • DataShade says:

      But, is there such as thing as being “not competent” to consent to sex?

      My opinion: morally, yes, there are states of being and probably even entire people who are not competent to consent to sex. The problem is, I’m not sure I could give a hard definition of any of them – how do you prove that the brain damage of one person is enough to render them incompetent, versus another’s that leaves them competent to define sexual matters but maybe not pay parking tickets on time? Trying to get it written into law would be a nightmare, and actually enforcing the law would be a different nightmare.

      I’ve had a lot of weird friends, who themselves often have even more bizarre friends of their own, and sometimes amoral, very infrequently outright evil associates, and I can only think of maybe two cases that would fit this sort of thing, so I’m going to pretend I’m confident it’s infrequent enough that it doesn’t need to be a law.

  6. Neex says:

    Yeah I mean can mentally ill or cognitively impaired people not have sex ever? That would like.. suck. Or could they have sex but only with people who have comparatively the same cognitive/mental abilities? A registry of goverment measured acceptable mates?

    Ideally I would hope that anyone having sex with someone with an impairment to understanding/giving consent would be particularly careful and aware– but I’m just not sure how you would go about legislating that in a way that wouldn’t erase a ton of peoples ability to have sex ever.

    However I hate that that reality is something that makes cruel people feel justified in hurting people just because they can do so without legal penalty. I wish that were not so.

    • CubaLibre says:

      Not all that is evil should be illegal. This is a pretty uncontroversial principle.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      This is one of those issues that is more like personal morality. YOU KNOW deep down whether or not something is right. You know it’s wrong to sleep with someone who is too handicapped to know what they are agreeing to.

      But otherwise, I think a legal definition of what is or is not legal sex could be constructed that the person must have the intellectual age greater than the minimum age of consent in that region. So if you are a 35 year old with the intellectual age of a 10 year old, that’s illegal/statutory rape. If you are a 35 year old with the intellectual age of a 15 year old, and sex with 15 year olds is legal, then have at it.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        If someone has the IQ of a 10 year old I do not think they should be having sex, no.

        Sex is not some right to be enjoyed by everyone in all circumstances. Sex is specifically for sexually mature people of sound mature mind. I.e. people who are past puberty onset, people who are not drunk and not mentally retarded, people who are mentally at an IQ which is adult-like.

        25 year olds with the mental age of 7 should not have sex, and ESPECIALLY not with adults who have an adult mental age. That is clearly clearly clearly statutory rape.

  7. lemmycaution says:

    “Revenge of the nerds” also has this issue.

    The late sixties and early seventies had even weirder rape representations in popular culture. In “high plains drifter”, clint eastwood’s protagonist strait up rapes someone by force. There are other erotisized rape scenes in “straw dogs” and “clockwork orange”. At least kids didn’t watch those movies.

    • Or says:

      Forgive me if I’m not remembering all the subtle details on which this moral quandary stands, but in Revenge of the Nerds the girl did not attempt to discern the guy’s identity and was surprised to find out he was a nerd after he took off his mask. Which brings us close to a very gray area: it’s SOP to misrepresent yourself as not being a loser when you’re looking for a one-night stand.

    • DataShade says:

      Hell, the Blade Runner ‘sex’ (there’s no sex on camera, at least not as far as I remember) scene always always creeped me out. I mean, he knows this woman is an artificial human less than a year old with a head full of implanted memories and he’s trying to fuck her?! That messed me up as a kid, and even after coming back later, thinking, “no, it couldn’t have been that bad, she’s unsure of what’s real and what’s an implanted emotion, he’s showing her how to have a real adult relatio- oh god, no, this is terrible, fast-forward.”

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        Yea that is creepy as hell.

        I file this under ” Tarantino like problems”.

        I.E. the person who made that movie clearly has some weird fucked up fetish they are forcing the audience to endure. NO ONE GIVES A FLIP ABOUT YOUR WEIRD FETISH OF HAVING SEX WITH A ROBOT SEX SLAVE stop putting it in your movie, because the audience is just squirming like “uh this is weird can this end plz?”

    • CubaLibre says:

      I don’t think any of those scenes are supposed to reflect admirably on their perpetrators. I mean, Eastwood in High Plains Drifter is some kind of earthly spirit of bloody vengeance, and Alex is supposed to be a violent criminal, that’s the whole point of A Clockwork Orange. Not all protagonists are heroes.

  8. inarticulateinthecity says:

    We don’t even have to go waaaay back to find this.

    Game of Thrones, the series: Daenerys Targaryen is forced into marriage with a barbaric tribe leader who rapes her the first night and all the others, until she tries to “learn” from a slave girl how to seduce him properly. From this point onwards, their arc is suddenly a love story. The viewer is sometimes suspicious of Daenerys’s motives: is she trying to please him to gain power, since he is the leader of a powerful tribe? Surely she can’t love him, since she seems MISERABLE all the time. She’s been sold by her brother into marriage to a brute who raped her.

    But then we realize that, yes, she’s in love with him. He also loves her. She’s powerful, but she fell in love with her rapist.

    Game of Thrones, the book: he seduced her the first night, he didn’t rape her. The rest is pretty much the same.

    The author is working closely with the series writers and he mentioned somewhere that he regretted having him being such a “gentleman” in the book, since after all he comes from a barbaric tribe. That surely makes sense, but this change warped Daenerys’s character COMPLETELY.

    Tons of women think Khal Drogo and Daenerys’ love story in the series was beautiful. The fact the actor who portrays Khal Drogo is insanely hot surely helps.

    But stil…

    • philtrum says:

      That part left me scratching my head too. The only way I could wrap my head around it was to keep in mind that in the culture depicted in the books and the HBO series, that character would have no notion that she was really being wronged by the forced marriage or by the marital rapes. And having grown up under the thumb of her thoroughly vicious brother, being granted any sort of authority or treated with any care at all would be a great improvement for her.

      That said, the pseudo-lesbian “learn the art of love” scene in the series was cheesy, and it was hard for me not to see a certain level of Stockholm Syndrome at work.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      I will never understand how women can obviously have rape/domination fantasies, yet deny that they have them, never admit them, and speak of wanting a man that is the polar opposite of most men depicted in these sorts of novels. It’s like total cognitive dissonance.

      Women’s erotic literature is full of these kinds of relationships… coercion, force, what makes this different from the usual female erotica is only the fact that the element of rape is unambiguous.

      I think it’s a fact that society and feminists don’t really like to admit, but coercion and force turn a lot of women on. Is the above depiction all that far out of line?

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        Watch out, appeal to evolutionarily psychology!

        Given male propensity to violence and sex, I suppose that it does make sense that women find a coercive violent man sexually attractive on a primal level. If men are wired to violence and sex, and if men are beating up other men for sex, it stands to reason that the man who is best at doing that is probably the fittest. So signs of being forceful would therefore are erotic to women, so female erotica is often full of “reluctant coercion” fantasies.

        Of course it is completely unpolitically correct and not feminist to admit this, so we all do this cognitive dissonance thing where we ignore all female erotica and pretend like women don’t think this way.

        Much in the way we like to pretend that men aren’t truly biologically wired to have sex and not care all that much about relationships (or in some cases consent) and that monogamy is natural and normal.

        • Neex says:

          I dunno, seems to me the feminist BDSM community is on top of acknowledging that’s the case for a lot of women. Or… in many cases, on the bottom of that.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            The feminist bdsm community is like <1% of the population.

            Society in general completely denies this.

  9. Sfon says:
    • Sfon says:

      Sorry about that. Putting this reply in with a closing tag at the beginning, just in case there might be problems with stuff further down otherwise.

    • vprime says:

      Sigh. Good thing you’re the authority on what feminists think.

      As for the idea that merely calling oneself a feminist implies domination, this strikes me as about as insightful as the observation that there’s no “White History Month.” The notion that some sort of “balance” needs to be respected is just another way of saying people need to shut up an accept the status quo. It doesn’t persuade me at all.

      The rest of your comment seems to be the same old same old of finding a rather extreme opinion (see also Andrea Dworkin, Adrienne Rich et al.) and saying “See! See! Feminists all think this!”

  10. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    Sfon beat me to it.

    This is more about slavery than rape. Rape is merely a subcategory of slavery. Being enslaved and also female logically translates into being raped.

    This is also an appeal to “if she wants it, it isn’t rape” line of thinking. Looking at Goldie Hawn gazing at Kurt Russell, it’s obvious she is attracted to him and genuinely likes him. Therefore, lying to her and capitalizing on her inability to make an informed decision is not rape. If she were disgusted, sneering, afraid, then it would be rape.
    This is the sort of thing which allows drunk brutes to rape girls they meet in bars. “She was dressed like that and she talked to me, I think she wanted me even though she said no, therefore it’s okay. I could tell she actually was hyper into it”.

    This is like an exaggerated version of that line of thought. Starry eyed Goldie isn’t being raped… Kurt is merely giving her what she wants.

  11. vprime says:

    “This foundation of pop-culture stories and images might help to explain the difficulty feminists have in constructing workable narratives today about non-violent rape that are accepted by the general public. If “sex under false pretenses” is only a way to dissemble about rape, and if the media a mere generation ago treated this “grey area” as the basis of countless gags and jokes–something that the characters who fell prey to it never treated seriously–how do you make the culture consider them serious?”

    Right. It’s not rape if there isn’t screaming, violent resistance. She really wants it, but she can’t say so. I think this all comes down to a deep inability to believe that women have true agency. Her body really isn’t hers, it belongs to all of us. She can’t even admit her true desires (to be “overpowered” by an Alpha Male), so why not dig just under the defenses by any means necessary and get to the sex? What happened to Jodi Foster in The Accused, that was rape. Anything with less resistance than that is just playing hard to get. Kurt Russell is the good guy, an American working man, not some BTK-style sadist, so the movie has to make light of this grey area or become a horror film.

    The foundation of cultural narratives Pastabagel describes here does have a name: rape culture. However, if you take the suggestion that encounters like the one between the characters in Overboard constitute a violation of human autonomy seriously, you’re taking things too far.

    Or, god forbid, you might even be a “feminist.”

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  14. Bad Ass Billy Pratt says:

    Let me start by saying that there’s absolutely no reason the story of OVERBOARD should work. What Dean Proffitt does, essentially kidnapping Joanna Stayton, is indefensible. The horrible actions of a remorseless sociopath. And over what? A few hundred dollars lost in the wages he didn’t receive for the construction of his amazing, non-cedar closet and his sunken, irretrievable tools. That doesn’t justify subjugating a human being and psychologically traumatizing her by making her think four human beings are her children. And yet somehow, Marshall’s masterful direction and Russell’s and Hawn’s supremely charming interpretations of the roles perform alchemy on this fundamentally flawed premise, and you still end up rooting for the sickest, most inane love story ever told. When those kids are banging on the window of that limousine, screaming, “Don’t leave us, mom, you said moms don’t leave!” I cry like it’s the end of ROCKY. And the final line of that movie is so sweet, it always turns my waterworks back on, when Dean asks, “What could I possibly give you ever that you don’t already have?” and Joanna replies, “A little girl.” OVERBOARD is, in my humble opinion, the best romantic comedy of all time. Having said that…

    “Would you consider this situation rape? Or perhaps something of a lesser offense, like ‘sex under false pretenses’?”

    The crimes in this movie are fraud and kidnapping, not rape. Dean and “Annie” don’t even have sex until they fall in love. If sex under false pretenses was a crime, four-fifths of the women and every man in America would be doing time. I had a friend in Austin who told girls on Sixth Street he was a race car driver. SERIOUSLY. He’d either tell them his name was Austin Bergstrom or Dallas Love. And you wouldn’t believe how often it worked. Ah, the things you could get away with before everyone had Google in their pockets.

    “Notice also the implicit message about transactional nature of sex communicated in this 2 minute scene. Note the surprise gift of the new washing machine right after she awakes, and the cavalier assessment of her “ass” by one of the boys immediately after. Renumeration [sic], followed by objectification.”

    Oh, I see. We’re going to completely ignore the context of the story so as to add more hay to our straw man. If I was married and dirt poor with a stay-at-home-mom for a wife who had to do all the laundry outside in a bucket, a washer-dryer would be a FANTASTIC birthday gift. Expensive, too. And there’s no “remuneration” (not renumeration) in that scene. Annie/Joanna knocks Dean’s boots off because he gave her a killer gift, and they’re in sick, crazy, awesome love. Not because he’s turned her into some kind of appliance-whore.

    What’s bizarre about this article is that I’m already convinced of Dean Proffitt’s wrongdoing, yet this agenda-driven polemic still insults me. And how dare you insinuate that ANIMAL HOUSE or WEIRD SCIENCE promotes some kind of nefarious rape culture. SIXTEEN CANDLES, okay, that one I get. But that statutory rape in ANIMAL HOUSE ain’t no Polanski kinda statch job. It happened because the girl omitted her age, so if a villain exists there, it’s the 13 year old who looked like a woman. Don’t let not knowing what you’re talking about keep you from publishing an incendiary article.

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