Thursday, March 14, 2013

Rape Culture: Why We Do Have To Point Out The Obvious

From a current, popular YA novel I'm reading:
Twenty minutes later, [he] had wrestled [her] into his bedroom, padlocked the door, and vigorously launched into a nonstop drum solo.
He's done this because he's trying to force her to tell him something, a secret she (um, kind of obviously) doesn't want to share with him yet because she does not feel comfortable doing it. She hates when he plays the drums, mainly because of the extremely loud noise, which is why he bangs on the drums with her locked in the room.
An hour after that they ended up on the roof. [She] had distracted [him] just long enough to escape through his window, but he followed so swiftly that she panicked and scaled the ladder.
"Really? The roof is your getaway plan?" he said teasingly, balancing on the shingles. "Don't you watch horror movies?" He turned around and kicked the ladder away. It fell to the ground with a soft thump.
The author has a problem with exaggeratedly over-the-top use of hyperbole, which really does not help this scene at all. I know she's not trying to say what she's actually saying here. But she's saying it.

The guy wants the girl to do something. The girl doesn't want to do it. So it's okay -- humorous, even -- for him to use physical force to take the girl into his bedroom, PADLOCK the door, and do unpleasant and painful things to her until she does what he wants her to do.

She is so uncomfortable in this situation, she ESCAPES through the window. So he follows her, and knocks the ladder off the roof, trapping her. Here, she finally gives in and does what he wants her to do.

And this scene is supposed to be funny, or cute. There is nothing wrong with the guy doing any of this to the girl; nothing objectionable has happened, because she was going to tell him the thing eventually anyway, right?

Stuff like this is what feeds (or creates) rape culture.

(While I have you here... every time in books, movies, TV shows when the guy kisses the girl, and she looks or acts surprised or shocked or disgusted, but after a few seconds -- during which the guy holds the kiss, generally physically holding on to her and holding her to him, even though the girl is clearly not responding positively and in some cases she's even trying to get him off her -- she eventually "gives in" and kisses him back, yeah, that's rape culture. That's sending a strong message that, guys, if she doesn't immediately want you, you're just not trying hard enough. KEEP PUSHING YOURSELF ON HER!!)

"Oh, it's just a book! Lighten up!"

Books, TV shows, movies send us messages. They do. They model behavior for us, and we internalize those messages (subconsciously, which is why you don't realize it). What's described above is so effed up if you take a second to think about it. But it's been so normalized by the media we don't even think about it. The kiss scenario? It happened in Ratatouille. A kids' movie about a mouse that cooks. And the guy wasn't even really trying to kiss the girl -- the rat makes him kiss her to keep him from telling her the secret. Even when you don't even want to kiss the girl, it's okay to force yourself on her and kiss her against her will. (Ah, yes, The Little Mermaid's "Kiss the Girl"... ugh, do I have to spell that one out for you? Google the lyrics and read them, without the music or the funny crab's accent.)

If you see nothing wrong with the scene quoted above, then you see nothing wrong with physically trapping another person in a closed space and inflicting pain on that person until that person does what you want hir to do.

If you see nothing wrong with physically trapping another person and inflicting pain on that person until that person does what you want hir to do, then why would you think rape is wrong?

This is what we're talking about when we say we need to teach people not to rape. Before we can teach people that rape is wrong, we need to make sure they understand what rape is.

We're not talking about the mythical stranger in the dark alley waiting for the drunk girl with the short skirt and her hair in a long ponytail walking alone in a bad part of town alone late at night -- that guy knows what he's doing is wrong, he just doesn't care.

The good news is, very few rape cases involve the violent stranger in the dark alley (the guy who knows it's wrong but does it anyway, the guy who won't be deterred by prevention campaigns or laws or prison sentences). Most of them involve the dude at the bar, the guy who asked you out on a date, the uncle or older cousin you see once a year at the annual family reunion, your coworker, your boss, your teacher, the guy in your economics class who crashed your friend's party, your neighbor... you know, those guys. Guys who are "nice guys," who would never do something "bad," who would never "hurt" a girl... Wait, what? Lock her in a room with me until she agrees to do what I want her to do that she has clearly expressed she does not want to do? Well, yeah, I'd do that... but that's totally different!! Um, right?

No, it's not. And that's why we're talking about it. This is what we're talking about.

We're talking about the "nice guy" who tries for the third time tonight to rub his hands on his date's thigh, even though she has pushed his hand away every time and keeps inching away from him.

We're talking about the guy who tells himself she's just "playing hard to get" when she says no and pushes him away.

We're talking about the guy who thinks that because she didn't "affirmatively say no" (because she was too drunk to say anything), that's good enough and he can go ahead and have sex with her.

We're talking about the guy who looks at a girl who's passed out and thinks it's okay, that it's funny, to post photos and video of her online saying she's "so raped."

We're talking about the guy who thinks it's funny to make jokes about rape. And we're talking about all the guys who will jump in to defend that guy when he gets called out for saying, "Wouldn't it be funny if, like, five guys raped her right now?"

We're talking about explaining how all of these things create and perpetuate rape culture. How they excuse proto-rapist behavior. How they lead to rape scenarios, and to your bros encouraging you to act in rapey ways.

I'm sorry if it makes you "uncomfortable." I'm sorry if it bothers you if you see at least part of yourself in the descriptions above. Sometimes, that's exactly what we need in order to see clearly, to motivate us to make positive changes.

And I know you know better than to imply that your discomfort should in any way supersede or dismiss the pain and torture of being a victim of sexual assault... right?


  1. What? I thought the whole movie was about Ariel thinking Eric was hot and she spent the whole time trying to get him to kiss know - she gave her beautiful singing voice to the giant squid-woman so she could be human so he'd like her. She wanted him to kiss her so she could have her voice back. As a matter of fact, they were taking some pretty enormous liberties, playing him like they did. So that's why she was making eyes at him, leaning in toward him, making herself all sexy looking for him - then she had her friends set up this big romantic seduction scene so she could get him to lock lips....when that didn't work, she swam out to break up his wedding to someone else! Did I miss something? Did she get pissed off and say he forced her to kiss him against her will? Was it rape? Did she all of the sudden have buyer's remorse and after all the dick teasing she did, decide she didn't like him after all? Did she find herself having to explain to her merboyfriend what she was doing stepping out on him, so she said Eric forced her to kiss him? Damn. I miss so much in these movies.

    1. Anonymous-- the song lyrics themselves if you listen to them are kinda creepy. Eric didn't know that she wanted him to kiss her. The song is pushing him to just kiss her without asking, without consent. But to just go up and kiss her.

      Eg "Possibly she wants you to, there is one way to ask her/ It don't take a word, not a single word, c'mon and kiss the girl" <-- Actually the way to ask is to actually ASK, like with words. "May I kiss you?" is a pretty good way to go in that case. Ariel was mute but she could still nod her head yes or no.

  2. Marcy ---- Jeez, did you see the way she was looking at him? Her whole mission was to get him to kiss her, and her buddy the crab was trying to plant a subliminal message in his head by singing that song.....he didn't want to kiss her, but the crab kept saying "look at her, you know you want to....." and then Ariel would make those big bedroom eyes at him and leeeaaaaannnnnn way in..... He was powerless - the BAM!, she's pissed at him for some reason, and all of the sudden she's telling all her bff's that he forced himself on her, and only the crab and the seagull know the truth.........and I agree, if everyone would behave like good, polite, boys AND girls, that would go a long way to dismantling the rape culture, wouldn't it?

  3. Anonymous10:24 PM

    Yes, she wanted him to kiss her, but HE DIDN'T KNOW THAT and the song is encouraging him to kiss her without (to his knowledge) her permission. It's a predatory song.

    1. Anonymous10:28 PM

      BTW, my comment was directed to the creepy Anonymous guy who Just Doesn't Get It and seems to think that when women flirt with guys, the guys turn into helpless victims who cannot resist the inescapable allure of female seduction. Because men are poor, sweet, innocent dears who can't help themselves, amirite?

  4. Ah, pierreorange - Did you not see the last sentence in my comment?

    OF COURSE women are always pure and chaste, and never come on to men, and never lie when they accuse a man of raping them.


  5. And obviously he did know that's exactly what she was doing - at the exact moment she leaned in so he could kiss her.....did you not see this movie, or what? But dang, I know a lot less kissing would be going on if everyone "asked permission" first.

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