Richard Gadd as Donny Dunn in Baby Reindeer
(Netflix)

‘Baby Reindeer’ Unintentionally Highlights an Abuse Double Standard

Several weeks ago, Baby Reindeer landed on Netflix. The miniseries, which allowed its creator to tell his story as an abuse survivor, quickly gained traction and led to a beautiful outpouring of support across the globe. However, one can’t help but wonder why this isn’t the response every survivor receives.

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Baby Reindeer was created by Richard Gadd and is based on his experiences surviving stalking and sexual abuse. He was stalked for a period of over four years by a woman whom the show calls Martha (played by Jessica Gunning) and faced abuse from a TV writer in the industry. In Baby Reindeer, he tackles his trauma with brutal honesty and dark humor. The truth to the story and its many layers have sparked important conversations in both the UK and the U.S. about the nature of trauma and abuse and how each survivor processes it differently. It has been beautiful to see how deeply viewers care about Gadd’s story, and how much it resonates with them.

However, for some, the show has started to raise awareness of a double standard being imposed on abuse survivors. Baby Reindeer never explicitly mentions this specific double standard, but its existence unintentionally shines a light on it. In the show, Donny Dunn (Gadd) opens up about his experience during a comedy routine. Someone films the segment, and it quickly goes viral. The viral video leads to an unexpected show of support for the aspiring comedian. That sequence has largely become a reality, with Baby Reindeer going “viral” in real life, leading to touching responses to Gadd’s story. While watching these stories play out, though, it’s impossible to miss that, as beautiful as it is, the response to Gadd’s or Donny’s stories is not the typical response to abuse survivors, especially when they’re women.

The double standard of being believed

Richard Gadd as Donny and Nava Mau as Teri in Baby Reindeer
(Netflix)

The difficult question one must ask when watching Baby Reindeer and the response to it is whether the reaction would be the same if it were a woman telling her story. After all, the recent responses to women telling their stories or coming forward as victims of abuse have been in stark contrast to the response to Gadd’s story. Increasingly, women are being hit with defamation lawsuits, smear campaigns, harassment, and even death threats for daring to tell their stories.

Amber Heard was sued for defamation and became a victim of one of the most horrific smear campaigns in recent times because she merely identified as an abuse survivor, while the internet has persistently labeled Grace Jabbari a liar despite her testimony being proven in court. Danny Masterson’s victims became victims of an organized harassment campaign from the Church of Scientology for speaking out. These are just a handful of countless recent, extremely prominent stories in which women have been called liars, mocked, and attacked for telling their stories.

Women are definitely not the only victims of abuse who are met with skepticism, harassment, and mockery. That treatment does, unfortunately, impact everyone, regardless of gender. That being said, one can’t help but notice that the responses to male survivors have seemingly been improving. Two hit shows, Baby Reindeer and Quiet on Set, recently highlighted the stories of two male survivors, and the responses to them are exactly what they should have been. Gadd and Drake Bell have been believed, supported, and commended for their immense bravery in speaking out.

Yet as Gadd has been met with critical acclaim and wonderful demonstrations of support, the internet decided to silence a woman trying to tell her story.

Actress and writer Reece Lyons recently posted a lengthy social media thread detailing her experience dating Gadd. According to Lyons, she met Gadd when he approached her in a bar after one of her shows and mentioned she might be a good fit for the role of Teri in Baby Reindeer. She was excited by the prospect of the audition, but things turned confusing when she and Gadd began dating. While Lyons was concerned about mixing up her personal and professional life, she says Gadd brushed it off. The main problem that arose is that Lyons felt slightly pressured to agree to dates and to continue the relationship because she was afraid she would lose the audition if she didn’t. Eventually, she did audition but lost the role to Nava Mau, after which she and Gadd ended their relationship.

Lyons reiterated that she was not claiming to be a victim of “abuse” but simply reiterating an experience that left her confused and didn’t really have a label. However, she wanted others to know that their experiences don’t have to have a label to matter. Her story didn’t make any serious allegations against Gadd, and even if true, one can acknowledge and feel empathy for her while acknowledging that it doesn’t change that Gadd is a survivor. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for X commenters and TikTok users to begin lashing out at Lyons, claiming she must be lying for attention. How does one make sense of it, though? How does one whole-heartedly believe Gadd’s story (as they should) but then immediately turn around and claim a woman simply trying to relate an uncomfortable experience is a liar?

Baby Reindeer hints at a double standard, but not the right one

To be clear, the problem is not that male survivors are being believed and supported; it’s that the same belief and support aren’t being offered to women. It’s especially important to talk about as, despite the startling and unmistakable contrast in how male and female survivors have been treated recently, there may actually be a misconception that women are believed more than men. The only time Baby Reindeer hints at a double standard is when Dunn goes to the police to report his stalker. When the police prove unhelpful, he angrily states that if he were a woman being stalked and sent inappropriate messages from an older man, the police would be all over his case.

Most women likely did a double take during that scene. How on earth did that line make it into the show, and how was it delivered so seriously? It’s terrible that the police didn’t act to help Gadd, but he is sorely, sorely mistaken if he believes the outcome would’ve been different if he were a woman. Since when are women taken seriously by the police? Stalking cases are rarely taken seriously when they come from women, even though 76% of women murdered by an intimate partner experience stalking first. It seems almost daily that a story surfaces on the news of a woman being killed after her request for a restraining order was denied without reason. Often, women will have more than cryptic messages to show police. They’ll have accounts of prior physical attacks or verbal threats against their lives and their family’s lives and still be ignored.

So, no, the police wouldn’t have been all over Gadd’s case if he were a woman. Regardless of gender, there are always so many injustices done to abuse survivors. At the same time, the most inspiring stories of support and belief have been offered almost exclusively to men. We simply wish the same could be offered to women.

(featured image: Netflix)


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.