'Sex Education' Highlights Trauma Without Being Exploitative | The Mary Sue
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Sex Education Shows the Trauma of Assault Without Falling Into the Usual Pitfalls

 

Aimee Lou Wood and Emma Mackey in Sex Education (2019)

One of the amazing things about Netflix’s Sex Education, as a show, is how it deals with teen and adult sexuality in ways that highlight the awkward communication. Unlike HBO’s Euphoria, it’s not filled with perfect people, and it views them through less of a voyeuristic lens. While there are a lot of amazing storylines that take place in the show, one of my favorites is built around Aimee.

**Spoilers for Season Two of Sex Education.**

Aimee is a sweet character on the show who’s played with Pollyanna’s conviction by Aimée Lou Wood. We see her baking a cake for Maeve’s birthday and taking it on the bus (uncovered, bless). While on the bus, a man masturbates on her and jizzes on her favorite pair of jeans. Aimee says, “He’s wanking on me,” but no one even seems flustered as she hurries to get off the bus. The driver asks her what’s wrong, but no one attempts to help her until she tells Maeve what happens. Maeve calls this action what it is: assault.

The police are helpful, but admit that, with her vague description of the perpetrator, there is very little they will be able to do. They take her jeans for a sample, and Aimee’s insistence and focus on getting her “perfect bootcut jeans” is a clear deflection. When she gets home, you see the weight of it all hit her.

So often, in shows that talk about assault, there is an instinct to go big—to make it an overt, clearly violent action so that the audience can easily deal with whatever’s going on. In Sex Education, Aimee’s assault is almost filmed in a comedic way. It’s just so over the top and ridiculous, but the sad truth is that this type of aggression happens to women on public transportation all the time. Slowly, Aimee starts to just stop going on the bus and just walks everywhere. It’s implied that she’s walking up to three hours to see people, rather than take the bus.

She sees the guy who assaulted her everywhere, and then, at a party, she tells her boyfriend that she doesn’t want a boyfriend anymore and walks home alone. This thing changes everything about how she interacts with people, and so few people take the time to figure out what happened. Finally, in “Yes All Men,” several of our female characters are put in a Breakfast Club-style situation and forced to discuss what bonds them as women. During an argument between Maeve and Ola, Aimee starts crying and screams, “Stop fighting over a stupid boy!”

When Maeve asks her what’s wrong, Aimee finally is able to say, “Because I can’t get on the bus.” She explains that the problem isn’t even just that it happened; it’s that the guy who did it was so normal looking. He didn’t look like a “wanking psycho killer.” He had a kind face, and he smiled at her. So, if he could do it, then that means anyone could. “I always felt safe before, and now I don’t.”

Then, all the women start sharing their own stories. One was groped at the train station, one got catcalled and then told it was her fault because of her shorts, an old man flashed his penis to one girl in the pool when she was a kid, and another was followed home from work until her dad showed up. All of these girls who had nothing really in common realized how the patriarchy and society taught them to feel unsafe, not to expect to be safe, and for it to be seen as a normal kind of existence.

You don’t need a rape storyline to explain the terror, fear, and unease that comes with assault. Rape is not the only kind of assault, and it is not the only way women are taught to feel unsafe.

The episode ends with all of the women taking the bus together with Aimee. It’s a huge gesture of solidarity and a reminder than Aimee is not alone in her unease, but having the company of others can help make it easier.

(image: Netflix)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.