Month: June 2014

What Happened Last Night Happens Too Often: Part II

Okay, so having written about the damage that is done by casually discussing a woman’s rape, let’s take-on another key part of what happened that night.

Let’s talk about how oblivious those men were to possible victims in that room.

Statistics say that one in three American women will be sexually abused in their lifetime. Let’s say that there were twenty-one women there (this seems about right + this number helps me do math). With this number, the odds are good that seven of the women present have been assaulted. The odds are almost certain that at least one woman has. At our table alone, there were four women.

So three men stood in a room where it is statistically possible that seven women have been sexually assaulted. It is almost certain that at least one has been. They stood in that room and declared that a woman had not really been raped because she waited two weeks to report the assault.

This doesn’t strike you as careless, obdurate, fucking infuriating?

Okay, let’s take-on another exercise (I know, I know. There won’t be any Saved By the Bell references this time, I promise.)

First, let’s imagine that folks like this guy have formed our nation’s policy and women cannot serve in combat (bear with me here).

Next, let’s imagine that more than .5% of our population actually serves, and that one in three men in America have been victims of IEDs.

Awful to imagine, yes? One in three? I mean, how is a generation this traumatized ever to recover?

Ahem.

Not all of the men who are victims carry physical scars, but it should be assumed that in any gathering of, say, twenty-one men, there’s a good chance seven of the men present will have experienced this trauma. The odds are almost certain that at least one man will have been a victim of an IED.

Now let’s imagine three women (who cannot have served, remember, because hypothetical) stand drinking booze late at night in a loud pizza joint. There are about twenty-one men in the room. One woman declares that not all men who say they’ve been blown-up by IEDs have actually been so. This woman says some of them just say they have been blown-up so they can get attention and a check from the government.

Are you infuriated?

Good.

I mean, here these men are, just trying to eat some pizza, and now they’ve got these women over there dismissing their trauma, treating it like they know one damn thing about it when there’s no way in hell they could because they are women and women don’t serve.

Someone should say something, right? Someone should let them know they are being offensive?

Look, it’s not a perfect analogy. It falls short for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that rape and being blown-up by an IED are not equivocal. There is also the fact that men do assault other men.

But the part I do think works is how callous these women are being. How are they not more aware of the victims all around them? How do they have the gall to stand there and pass judgment on the legitimacy of an experience they have never been through, while among so many who have?

Heads-up everyone, the women around you have been assaulted. The women around you, all the time, everyday, have been raped.

Women you know. Women you don’t know. Women you find attractive. Women you find hideous. Women who seem tough. Women who seem week. Educated women. Uneducated women. Young women. Old women. Women you like. Women you don’t like. Women with short hair. Women with long hair. Poor women. Rich women. Single women. Married women. ‘Tall women. Short women. Thin women. Fat women. Women of every race and ethnicity and sexual orientation.

One in Three

And those are the ones brave enough to report it. The statistics are probably much higher.

One in Three. All around you. Everyday.

So, stop talking about us as if we aren’t here.

We are here. We are all around you. We are hurting. You are hurting us.

Yes, all women

 

 

Image by Misha Gordon

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What Happened Last Night Happens Too Often: Part I

Sorry for the multi-part posting, but there’s just too much to say.

I’ll begin with the inciting incident—

 

Last night some friends and I stomped and hollered at a Black Joe Lewis concert, and then we all went to eat pizza.

I’ll give the best account I can of what happened next, but I was concert deaf and concert buzzed and I’m sure I’ll get some things wrong. Here it goes.

At some point, three men near our booth at the pizza place started talking about rape. Specifically, they said that because a woman (Friend? Acquaintance? Someone in the news?) did not report her rape for two weeks, she hadn’t really been raped.

At this point, our friend group consisted of four women and two men. One of the men spoke-up. He said something like—

Hey, if you guys are gonna denigrate women, could you keep your voices down?

Some back and forth between this friend and the trio. Then one person in the trio got angry. A little more back-and-forth between the friend and the angry man ended in the angry man yelling and pointing. He kept repeating—

KNOW YOUR PLACE

Then he walked away, as did one of his friends.

The third friend, however, stayed. He apologized in that way most of us have had to apologize for the behavior of someone we are with late at night with a beer in our hand. People, I know, have made such apologies for me.

After this apology for his friend, the man who stayed said something like—

That wasn’t the point I was making

The man who stayed was, apparently, the man who had said that a woman waiting two weeks to report her rape meant that she hadn’t been raped. He wanted to explain himself.

After briefly letting him try, my friend Anne told him what he was saying was pretty offensive. I think one or two other sentences were exchanged wherein the man tried to make Anne see that she was misunderstanding him. Then the man said—

Okay, how do YOU define rape?

We left.

 

This is not, by even the slightest margin, the worst or most provocative story of this kind. It’s not even the worst one I’ve experienced personally.

I do want to talk about it though, because I think there are a few things about rape culture writ clear in this one night.

Now, what was said, and what all happened when someone asked them to stop saying it, I will get to later. I mean, that last thing that was said? Right before we left?

Yeah, Imma get to THAT.

But there’s so much to unpack here. If I try to start anywhere other than the beginning, I’m going to get completely lost.

So—

Three men drink beers and proclaim that a woman who has charged someone with rape was lying. They do this in a loud room full of drunk people eating pizza.

Now, as an exercise, imagine yourself a filmmaker. Let’s say you are making a movie about friends who, through a series of events, grow closer.

Or they grow apart. Take your pick. It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be a summer release. Everyone’s going to watch The Avengers instead anyway.

But the studio is trying. In fact, you just learned that they’ve decided to take this pretty standard, skeletal script and place the characters from Saved By the Bell in it. (Screech isn’t included, though, because porn.) This is going to be the Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion movie.

Right. So you’re making the Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion movie, and the emotional underpinning of the movie hinges on Jesse, Slater, Zack, Kelly, and Lisa discussing whether or not they think that girl from Miss Simpson’s Poetry class really was raped, or if she was lying about it.

As the director, when you storyboard the scenes where they talk about the rape, are you going to place the characters somewhere loud and crowded and full of drunk people eating pizza?

Probably not. You probably place them someplace quiet. You probably have them seated close to one another. You might put them at The Max, after hours. They are the only ones there. Soft lighting.

Why? Because rape is a serious subject, and it deserves the attention and thoughtfulness that a crowded, boozey eatery can’t provide. Middle East Peace Accords don’t get hammered-out in a Chuck E. Cheese.

But this whole script bores you. You graduated from Film School, for fuck’s sake, why aren’t you making the next Breathless? Then inspiration hits. You decide to make this movie a comedy.

You know it’s a difficult sell, but it is possible to make funny rape jokes. And it is possible to treat a serious subject comedically. Weekend at Bernie’s is essentially a one and a half hour prop gag with a corpse.

Taking this movie as a guide post, you note that there are any number of things that make comedic movies about serious subjects successful, but one of the keys lies in treating that serious subject casually.

So, if you want to make your Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion movie a rape comedy, you might start by having your characters talk about this girl’s rape while swilling beer in a loud room full of drunk people eating pizza. This will let the audience know that rape itself isn’t important. It will let the audience know that the rape itself is being treated casually. This will let the audience know that, despite the seriousness of the subject, this is a comedy.

And that’s one of the things that rape culture does. Rape culture directs us to take a conversation that should be had soberly and quietly, and places that conversation in a loud, boozey room full of drunk people eating pizza. It does this so that we don’t really think about rape in any kind of detailed, thoughtful manner. Rape culture treats rape casually. Rape culture treats rape victims like they don’t matter.

As did the men last night. These men were talking about the brutal, traumatizing violation of a woman in a loud, boozey pizza joint as if it deserves the same attention and empathy and thought as topics like which restaurant serves the best chicken wings and who will win the NBA Championship. These men discussed rape casually.

And when someone overhead and objected?

Well, one man got angry and yelled and left. One man followed. One man tried to explain that we had missed his point.

No. No we didn’t.

Rape is not casual. Discussions of a woman’s rape should not be casual. Treating them as such treats the victims like they don’t matter.

Why would anyone want discussions of a woman’s rape to be casual? What could possibly be gained?

Maybe you want to discuss rape casually because, land of the free home of the brave, you can? Because you’re entitled to discuss whatever you want, however you want, wherever you want?

Yes. You absolutely have that right.

You have the right to make a Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion rape comedy. That doesn’t mean you should.

And while I’m pretty sure there will be studio executives and producers telling you that your Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion rape comedy is a bad idea, there might not be people in your life that will tell you that talking about rape in a casual manner, treating its victims like they don’t matter, is a bad idea. In fact, rape culture is gonna tell you that you should discuss rape casually. It will direct you to think there is absolutely nothing wrong with how or when or where you talk about the brutal, traumatizing violation of a woman.

Which is why other people have the right, and I would argue the responsibility, to tell you that what you are saying is offensive.

Because if you are discussing a woman’s rape in a loud room full of drunk people eating pizza, you aren’t having a serious discussion about rape.

If you aren’t having a serious discussion about rape, you are having a casual one.

If you are having a casual discussion about rape, you are making casual conversations about rape acceptable.

If you are making casual conversations about rape acceptable, you are strengthening rape culture.

If you are strengthening rape culture, you are hurting women.

Yes, All Women

Dear Carolyn (A Sort-of-Response to Mary Miller)

Dear Carolyn,

Aside from the occasional contact regarding the Colgate gig, we haven’t really communicated at all over the past several years. This, despite all the various means of communication available. It’s not as if I have to kill a goose and squeeze a squid to reach-out, after all, but I fail to do it all the same.

I know via FB that you have accomplished a great deal over the last few years, including your PHD at Tennessee. This does not come as a surprise, but I do congratulate you all the same.

But though my congratulations is long overdue, I do not write now for this reason (I’m sure you guessed as much, since I could easily write an email and achieve this purpose). I write this to thank you. I could also do this through email. But I wish to do this publicly.

For what I am thanking you is a little difficult to put into a single phrase, so I’ll share two moments in hope that they might clarify things a little.

Way back in graduate school, Eric Heine solicited the opinions of graduate students on how he might frame his American Modernism course. He had two options: one would discuss class/money, the other would focus on women writers of the time. To his surprise, I told him I “wanted to read good authors, not just authors who happened to be women.” I was very proud of myself for responding this way, for not being that kind of woman. The kind, I guess I thought, who wanted what I viewed as special treatment.

You learned of my response and came over to my cubicle and stated how disappointed you were. You pointed-out the dearth of women writers in most of the graduate courses. You made some sort of brilliant statement about American Modernism being a particularly great class in which to focus on women writers because of the historical intersection of the Women’s Rights Movement.

I, in my stubborn and dull-witted way, repeated my “good writers, regardless of gender” statement, and you left the topic alone, certain, I’m sure, that I was incapable of hearing the ignorance in my own words.

The class, as we both know, was titled “Money in the American Imagination.” I believe we read two women authors.

Another time—

Someone, I believe Carrie, organized a camping trip for the women of the English Department. Nothing strenuous, just a few days in a cabin. When invited, I said something like “I am not comfortable in large groups of women.”

You overheard and, once again, came over to my cubicle to discuss how disturbed you were by this comment by me. You tried to tell me things about women and community and cultural misogyny. In my awful, terrible, too-cocky-by-a-thousand-percent way, I believe I explained that I had zero interest in giggling discussions of movie stars, and fashion, and diets, and orgasms. I said being stuck doing so for two days seemed about as much fun as plucking the eyelashes from my face and then sewing each one back onto my eyelids with a rusty harpoon.

Actually, I doubt I made that analogy; it seems far too well-thought-out for the kind of response I had—a gut-response pulled from a gut full of sexism and self-hatred and, this having been grad school, probably the previous night’s Jameson.

These are two very small moments. I doubt you remember either of them.

I remember them as embarrassing/heart-breaking times when I dismissed other women, specifically women in the literary community, out of my own ignorance and prejudices. Your response to this dismissal was intelligent and compassionate and personal and private. And even if those conversations we had did not immediately cause a complete transformation in my horrid little worldview, I know now that they did open a possibility for this change to occur.

These conversations we had, however brief, are important to me because I have been working hard these last few years to recognize, understand, and overcome my own misogyny.It has taken, and continues to take, both public and private conversations for me to do this.

Having read the Mary Miller post, I can see where I was ten years ago in where she is now. And for all the articulate, intelligent public responses she has received, I also hope she has someone like you in her life. Someone with whom to also have a personal and private conversation. It seems to take both for change to occur. It has for me, at any rate.

So whether you remember these moments or not, thank you.

Thank you for understanding misogyny as a cultural force to which women are also susceptible.

Thank you for recognizing misogyny’s hold on me, and for trying to help me see my way out of it.

Thank you for speaking-up.

Best,

Amanda Bales

 

The image is by artist Marina Graham.