Thursday, March 10, 2011

Say the word, rape: A Rant

Since it's beta days, I've been reading The Rumpus. And every so often, something I read there hits me where I feel it most, right in the gut.

Today, shortly after it was posted, I read Roxane Gay's piece The Careless Language of Sexual Violence (please read). She writes about her reaction to this New York Times article about the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas. Roxane takes issue (rightly) with the tone of the Times article since it seemed to be more about how the town is being torn apart by this and almost dismissive of the girl and how her life. Some 18 suspects have been arrested with possibly more to come. And as is usually (unfortunately) the case, there's been victim-blaming by some of those in the town.

After reading Roxane's post, I went to comment on it, but sat there blank, not knowing how to put into words what I was feeling, what I was thinking. By the time I was able to post a short something, eleven other folks had already posted, and as I type this there are more than 4 times as many comments. This piece hit a nerve. There are plenty of women out there who have been "sexually assaulted" in some way or another. Including myself.

When I was growing up, "rape" was something that strangers jumped out from behind bushes in the dark with guns and knives to do to girls and women who were foolish enough to be where they were alone. In high school I suffered through the "self defense" unit wondering why I thought it was stupid. The "final test" was to walk into the girl's locker room where one of the guys from the football team would be waiting to grab you and you had to use the moves we'd been shown and try to ... to what? The teacher was sitting there with her grading sheet. Somehow I instinctively knew that this wasn't how it happened in reality, hence I didn't do well on the test. Though I still carry my car keys in a way to gouge the eyes from any would-be attacker waiting in a darkened parking lot. My hyper-vigilance was not acquired in that class though.

While reading Roxane write about how often rape is a theme on television, it occurred to cynical old me that maybe they use rape because they can't use sex. She also mentioned the use of the word "rape" for "all manner of violations, great and small." The examples she used made me wonder "who would ever use them?" yet just a little bit later, someone I know used the term rape in such a manner. It was all I could do to not call him on it. Why didn't I? I'm not sure.

Like it or not, rape and sex are confused, very often, all over the world. Young girls have been raped and abused and then accused of adultery and lashed or stoned to death (when I googled "stoned to death" trying to find the incident I remembered, I got more than a million results, which in itself is sickening). And then there's that business in Georgia - oh good, no more victims! [insert sarcasm here]

And we're all too familiar with the "she was asking for it" line of reasoning. That's the case here too, this girl is said to have dressed "provocatively" and was "wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s." As if THAT was reason for the attack, as if it's only her age that makes this not okay.

Oh yeah, I've got my hackles up. Because there's way more to this story than any of us will ever see from news stories. And this kind of story has been repeated way too many times. At least she didn't end up dead. And yeah, I'm sparing you the links. Not because I'm trying to protect anyone's sensibilities, but because I just don't want to go find them. But they're there in my mind. I remember them.

So why am I ranting? Because, when I commented, I didn't link back to this blog like I usually do. Because I was afraid. Afraid because I write about sex in the fictional, the poetic, and more and more, the non-fictional. Because those lines blur for me. I've always been interested in sex, and I realized that it will be a major topic of my writing for the foreseeable future. But there's a subtle but false dichotomy when it comes to writing about sex. One can write about sex from what I call the intellectual standpoint, somewhat removed from the actuality, the down and dirty of it. To do otherwise, to write erotically, brings the whole "intent to arouse" into it. And that's what erotica is, intended to arouse. Just like porn. But there's a lot of folks that think that's a bad thing, that intent to arouse, and is a cause of stuff like what happened in Texas.

And right now I'm thinking I should just stop now. Delete this whole post. Go chill. Write my silly quick fiction piece. But I won't delete it, but I am going to stop writing for a bit.

I have a whole shitload of topics that I've decided to tackle here on my blog. As soon as I can work up the courage. I've got quite a backlog of links and ideas. Not all to do with sex or sexually-related things, but most are. And that scares me. Because in the back of my head, there's a voice whispering "you shouldn't write/say/talk about this." That's the shame voice talking. And I know where that voice comes from. It comes from inside the head of a little girl who thought she was to blame for the things that happened. And so whenever I encounter that kind of mixed up thinking (like in one of the news articles where someone suggests this 11-year-old-girl "knew what she was doing"), something snaps in me, and part of me wants to go all Lisbeth Salander on folks. But I rarely do, except maybe in words.

So, I'm going to be using my words. I'm going to use them to figure out where I stand, how I feel, and what I want. I'll weigh in with my probably-more-than-two-cents. Because I'm tired of listening to that voice telling me to shut up.


Roxane Gay said...

I am really glad you ar going to be using your words. You do so very very well. Never shut up.

Emerald said...

You are so well within your power and right to tell that voice to fuck off, not that you need me to tell you that. Hugs.

I read about this and did some attending to myself; it feels hard to explain, but in a way I feel like I retreat from this kind of thing, because if I really look at it or feel like I get involved in commentary on it, it feels potentially overwhelming. It's like I go into a form of denial: No, people don't really feel that way, those comments are only being made to provoke.... Interestingly, as I sit here saying that, I notice I feel a bit more centered and engaged. When I first started typing this comment, I still felt very "removed" for fear of overwhelm. I actually don't know how to explain the feeling of more focus or groundedness that has come over me just now as I type case it is not obvious, I am writing stream of consciousness here.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was two things. First, something I found noticeably offensive in the NYT article was that the author of it wrote, "how [the suspects] were drawn into such an act" or something like that. As though there was some mysterious force that "drew" them to that situation or behavior. On some level there was, but frankly I doubt that's what the journalist was referring to. Second, the target's mother was mentioned. "Where was she? Why did she let her keep company with older boys?" or some such shit...I don't remember exactly. Nowhere was there any mention of a question of the alleged perpetrators' parents. "What did they teach their sons? Where did they learn that it was okay to do this?" I want to clarify, though, that I do not feel interested in "blaming" anyone's parents, frankly. I just felt very frustrated that her mother was brought into the discussion and her supervision seeming to be questioned when NO ONE SEEMED TO MENTION ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT KIND OF SUPERVISION OR PARENTING THE ALLEGED PERPETRATORS MAY HAVE RECEIVED. Something about that felt really infuriating to me.

I love you. It was not your fault. It was never your fault. Never. Never at all.