Here's to 'Riverdale' For Avoiding the 'Male Hero Saves Girl From Rape' Sexist Trope

Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguire-Sacasa knows you were silently thanking the TV gods last week when it was Veronica and the Pussycats who saved Cheryl from her attempted assault and not a knight in shining armor like Archie.

And part of this decision came from a Riverdale season one plotline, one that we all remember well.

Sacasa told Teen Vogue,

“Archie is the hero, but when we did the slut-shaming story last year, that was Veronica and Betty being there for each other against Chuck. They very easily could have said to Archie, ‘You’re on the football team. Chuck Clayton’s on the football team. He’s doing these things,’ and Archie could have beaten up Chuck Clayton. We know that Archie can punch through walls of ice. We didn’t want to tell that story again. Female empowerment and female friendship is really one of the hearts of the show; that felt a lot more empowering.”

The plotline that succumbs female characters to sexual assault so that the male lead can save her and skyrocket his hero status is old, sexist and lazy. We’ve seen it on House of Cards, True Blood and Downton Abbey; the woman is raped or reveals a rape from her past, and the man is so furious he hunts down the rapist to punish him and is named a hero.

It would have been a huge disappointment and setback for the show if Archie had been the one to save Cheryl and fight off Nick St. Clair. It also wouldn’t have made much sense, as Nick is a haunting character from Veronica’s past.

“I think it’s again honoring the strong female friendships and the themes of empowerment that we hope we dramatize and illustrate. We really wanted Veronica to be able to give this guy his comeuppance.”

And Sacasa thinks viewers should take away a healthy message of sexual assault from last week’s Nick St. Clair plotline, one that doesn’t discourage victims.

“First of all, don’t blame yourself. Second, talk to people, if you feel comfortable doing that. Three, hopefully, what this storyline shows is that Cheryl’s not alone. Veronica’s not alone. They’re not alone.”

And the cast was also proud of how the storyline came together. Lili Reinhart, who was actually out of the scene, previously said,

“People might think that it’s only happening in the entertainment industry, but it’s definitely not. This is a representation of how [sexual assault] can happen to a high-school girl—or high-school girls.”

Madelaine Petsch was even inspired enough by the episode to do a PSA on sexual assault, in which she encouraged young girls to see themselves as survivors, rather than victims.

“You have more power than you know. The story doesn’t end in victim-hood. You have the power to get the story back and become a survivor. A whole, held, empowered version of yourself.”

You can watch Madelaine’s full PSA below.

Anne Catherine Demere
Anne Catherine Demere is an intern with Femestella. She is almost too passionate about pop culture and the entertainment industry and she loves to write about it. One of her favorite things is when feminism and pop culture overlap. She's either starting a new TV show or in class, there's no in between. And those two rarely coincide.