A Rant on Rape

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.


14 thoughts on “A Rant on Rape

  1. I’m really glad you talked about this! In my political science class we just talked about rape in jails and how it is also callously joked about because most people just say they deserve it because they are in jail but I completely disagree. No one deserves to be raped no matter who they are or what they did.

    • Ohh, I hate prison rape jokes. I have a lot of feelings about the prison system in general…but I’m definitely upset by all those “Don’t drop the soap!” jokes. Rape won’t be taken as the serious crime it is until we learn how to stop making jokes, victim-blaming or making the decision that some people deserve to be raped.

      I read a really powerful book by Margo Lanagan called “Tender Morsels” about a year ago. The narrative centered around rape…but eventually divulged into revenge rape, and lost me there. We all seem to think that some people deserve it, and that’s just not true. :(

      • I’m sure you’ve already heard about the book Speak which is also about rape but it’s written so cleverly that it really makes relating and understanding the victim possible. But this is definitely a topic that I believe should be addressed more openly. People are either too scared to talk about it or aren’t scared but don’t take it seriously enough to have a real *discussion* about it.

  2. i WAS a fan of Chuck Palahniuk and i’ve read Rant. i read it a while ago, so it’s kinda fuzzy. there is, eventually, a rape in it, but it isn’t treated as a joke. either way, it wasn’t one of my favorites.
    as for Palahniuk, i believe Rant was one of his last books that wasn’t just shock factor drivel. i haven’t been able to get through his latest books, and he doesn’t seem like someone you’d like to know in person (from going to see him at a signing).
    he was one of my favorite authors because he took subjects that weren’t pretty or popular (like suicide) and turned them completely on their head. he would dissect some of the uglier aspects of our culture that we just gloss over daily. one of my favorite books is Invisible Monsters and it deals with superficiality. from how superficial we are on the surface (how we prize models), to the way we’re superficial in our personal relationships. it’s about more than that, but that’s one of the things. (and now that i think about it, that’s a common theme in his books.)
    before it seemed he would sometimes say upsetting things for the sake of pointing out that they’re upsetting. like that it’s an issue that shouldn’t be glossed over. but now it feels like he said all the things he needed to say years ago and now he’s just a shock jock; the Howard Stern of fiction.

    …ha! i didn’t realize i felt so strongly about Palahniuk and his writing career. :P

    • I’m so glad you told me these things, because it turns out we’re reading it. :( I’m the first to say I know next to nothing about his writing, and I’m really grateful you have opinions to guide me. I’m still not interested in reading his work, and I’m really not looking foward to reading and discussing with my classmates. But you’ve made me feel so much better about it! :)

  3. I’m having one of those moments where I feel like I have so much to say but I don’t know how to form the thoughts into words and sentences. It makes me so angry that not just rape but sexual harassment in general is made so casual in our society. I’ve been fortunate enough to never have been a victim of rape but now that I’m a little older and a little more educated and critical I can definitely think back to times where I have been a victim of sexual assault/harassment and didn’t even realize it at the time. HOW FUCKED UP IS THAT? Didn’t even realize it! Just thought “Ugh, this is kind of annoying and uncomfortable,” etc.
    Last year when I was doing my high school practicum I definitely had woman-to-woman chats with a few of my students when I saw them being mistreated, just to let them know they didn’t have to put up with that kind of treatment, and that they weren’t objects, etc. The interesting thing for me was that I had to also tell some of these young women not to mistreat their male counterparts, because sexual (etc.) misconduct is a many-way street and this was met with much more confusion or “pssh, whatever, he’s a guy he can handle it.” UGH, FUCK.
    Well, I didn’t intend on writing any of that. Word vomit. I’ll just post it anyway, and save this link to share with people in the future (if you don’t mind, of course), and in case what I meant to comment manages to formulate itself somewhere in the thoughts-to-fingertips section of my brain.

    Oh, and also I love you and I wish we weren’t separated by so much god damned land!

    • 100%! All of this! There are so many things that I look back on now and am absolutely horrified by. I’ve been so so fortunate (mostly by being such a huge introvert) to avoid most unwanted advances… but there are several moments that were so OBVIOUSLY sexual assault/harassment and I didn’t realize it at the time, either. I think that’s even more fucked up than the fact that they happened at all… that we didn’t know they were happening. What the hell. I literally cannot handle the fact that sexual assault is so normalized we don’t even see when it’s happening TO OUR OWN PERSONS.

      Please come ramble any time. I love you, MegStar. :)

  4. This post succeeds in a very difficult task: restraining anger and frustration in order to eloquently shine light on a really difficult subject. Thank you.

    You are not alone and this is not futile. Keep speaking and advocating on behalf of others.

    I recently wrote about rape culture as well.- specifically, the connection to media and advertising. I would love your feedback: http://browneyedamazon.com/2012/02/22/northamericanrapeculture/

    • The biggest struggle I have when writing/talking/thinking about feminist issues is finding a balance between my anger and productive prose. Most of the time I just want to yell and tear my hair out or give up entirely. We have to keep talking about these things. I’m glad you are, too and I’m looking forward to reading your post!

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