Opening Notes: Trigger warning! I’m talking about rape today. This is mostly a discussion of Rape Culture, but I absolutely understand if you need to head out now. Take care of yourself! I suggest Drawing a Stickman. If you’re staying, here’s a disclaimer on language: Women can commit rape, but most rapes are perpetrated by men. Men are raped, but women are raped more frequently. For the sake of avoiding clumsy dialogue, I’ll be using these majority terms. I do not think all men are rapists, nor do I think all rapists are men.
I’m taking a really interesting class this semester called “Literary History of the Present”. This course is different from most in that the reading list is being compiled by the students. We splintered off by interest and spent the week proposing books to read throughout the rest of the semester.
This has been an enormously fascinating study of taste. I’ve been so interested by what my peers propose as The Seminal Modern Text. Honestly, I’ve just ended up cementing my dislike for the majority of my classmates. I know that admission is a poor reflection on my character. But I get so enormously frustrated when folks don’t treat college with the respect it deserves… being here is such an enormous privilege, and you’re going to blow it off? You’re not even going to try? You’re honestly going to propose we skip the book entirely and watch a blockbuster film because it’s cheap and easy? You’re going to talk about a book by showing the film trailer that has nothing to do with the book?
I try to be kind, because I know (oh, I know) that presentations are tough. This is what happened when I went up, “I have all these thoughts, and feelings and I could win you over with my wit and charm but I’ve accidentally just forgotten everything about articulation so I’m going to talk in circles, skip every point I meant to make and blush a lot. Vote for me!” Disastrous.
One of the first presentations was so galling to me that I haven’t been able to shake it all week. The proposal was for Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Rant. Brace yourselves for an unpopular opinion: I do not like Palahniuk’s novels. I read Fight Club in high school, and I liked it enough that I own a t-shirt…which I’ve worn exactly once because I’m uncomfortable with promoting and endorsing violence. (These are the things I stay up at night thinking about.) I’ve tried reading some of his other novels, and I’ve never made it all the way through. There it is, for the sake of transparency, I am not an expert or even partially well-versed in his writings. I don’t like the blatant SHOCK, ALARM and VILE SCENES that scream from each book I’ve failed to finish. I’ve always felt that the texts are shocking for the sake of being shocking, not because they’re moving toward something greater.
I think you can find anything you want in a text. If a book speaks to you, means something to you, engages you in thought- great. I know Palahniuk is a favorite of many people (and several of my peers, apparently) but I…can’t. I just can’t. The group proposing Rant showed a video of Palahniuk. The video opened with a rape joke. Not only was it a rape joke, but it was a joke about a gang bang. “Gang bang” is a truly dreadful expression masking a serious sexual crime. I’d posture that the only thing worse than a rape is a group rape…but there isn’t any sort of good/bad/worse scale in these situations.
In the video, after the extended rape joke, the camera panned over a laughing audience. There were women laughing openly, supportively, not at all derisively. While the camera panned the laughing audience, I panned my classroom. Lots of my peers were chuckling along. The group presenting was having a thoroughly riotous time. The most negative reaction I saw was apathy. I wasn’t even mad at that point. I was just depressed. I considered leaving the class in protest, but nobody would know I was protesting their casual acceptance of rape jokes. And that made me even more depressed because the real problem is that nobody noticed a problem. Rape is so naturalized in our society that jokes are acceptable, Rape Culture is assumed.
This is probably obvious, but the group didn’t offer any kind of trigger warning. They mentioned there would be cursing, hit that play button and BAM! In your face rape jokes! We all know the tough statistics. Probability holds that a majority of women in that classroom, or women they know, or any woman anywhere is a survivor of sexual assault. I was blown away by the insincerity of this video, and the group that showed it. Imagine you’re a survivor of sexual assault- one of the most debasing, demeaning and power-stripping crimes. Or maybe you are a survivor, and if so, hey, lady, hey! Nolite te bastardes carborundorum! You are stellar and strong and I am so glad you exist. So imagine you’re sitting there and all of a sudden your peers are telling you to read a book written by a man who jokes about participating in a gang bang, and you’re surrounded by people laughing at that joke. What do you think that does to sexual assault survivors?
We live in this bizarre world where if you’re raped, it’s your fault. We teach women how to avoid being raped, but we don’t teach men not to rape. Rape is NOT a women’s issue. We must reframe rape as a men’s issue. I shouldn’t have to do all these stupid things like never wearing skirts or heels because I might be “asking for it”. I shouldn’t feel unsafe at bars, because someone might drug my drink…not that I ever go out, but who knows. Maybe I would if we could shake this Rape Culture. I shouldn’t have to be wary around male friends- almost all rapes are committed by a known assailant. But that’s how our world works; it’s my responsibility to not be raped. Instead, we should start teaching men/perpetrators to respect women. We should actively teach men not to be rapists…remember what I just said about known assailants? Most rapists aren’t deranged madmen hiding in the bushes; they’re people you know. And yet, we never talk about these things. Rape is as invisible as it is pervasive. Nobody thinks twice about rape jokes.
As for Rant, I’m fairly confident this book won’t be voted onto our course reading list. But if it is… I don’t know that I can participate in class discussions. It seems like I could explain to my ignorant peers that- wait for this shocker- RAPE ISN’T FUNNY but I always end up feeling so many emotions I lose the ability to express myself. I wish the introduction to Women’s Studies was a required course for every undergraduate. But it’s not just my peers. Also this week, Jezebel reported on a story about a filmed rape being posted on YouTube…and they included SCREENCAPS of the rape. Not just of the perpetrators, but of the victim being raped. They took images of this woman being raped, and without her consent posted them throughout the article. It was one of the most depraved things I’ve ever seen (and led to a Tumblr rant full of swears).
I feel deflated. I know all these things about reframing rape. I know about Rape Culture. I know that survivors of sexual assault are the bravest and strongest people. Survivors must constantly navigate a culture that indulges in victim-blaming, and lightens the severity of rape by making callous jokes. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m so glad they do. I just wish the rest of the population would catch up, would think about things a little more. I wish my peers didn’t laugh. I wish videos of rape weren’t put on YouTube. I wish pictures from those videos weren’t posted online. I wish rape didn’t exist. I wish, I wish, I wish. It all feels pretty futile.