What I’ve Been Reading

Another long silence from me — I’ve been doing a lot of personal work, and a lot of reading. I’ve been searching in books for a way to better understand myself, and American culture. I’ve been trying to do this while also (still) engaging with the world, both through my work and my volunteering. And, there’ve been a lot of days where, as a result, what I want to do is curl up in a ball and not talk to 99% of you.

Because there are days when it seems like there’s no hope for humanity.

The problem, of course, with reading is that it doesn’t (always) result in action. And without action, nothing is going to change.

I think about this especially in terms of rape culture, since that’s what most of my reading has focused on.

As my last post indicated, I’ve been following Emily Lindin’s journal postings on The Unslut Project, where she’s trying to help people — girls — who have been labeled as “sluts” understand that they’re not alone. She offers advice to people who post on the community page, and offers wry asides within the entries she posts. Sixth and seventh grade Emily, it seems, found her sexuality and was not afraid to claim in — even though her classmates did their best to shame her, repeatedly (we’ll see where this goes).

For some of us, perhaps, it’s hard to think about slut-shaming (or slut-bashing, as Leora Tatenbaum calls it in her book Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation) as part of rape culture. There are a lot of reasons for this, that a lot of feminists have talked about, and you can find them by Googling “slut-shaming,” but perhaps one of the biggest factors in how slut-shaming plays into rape culture, in my opinion, is that it works to strip women of their humanity, to make them into their bodies — and specifically what their bodies will do for others (men). Dehumanizing women is a key part of rape culture — and by dehumanizing women (and then normalizing it), it makes it even harder for rape survivors to come forward, to claim what happened to them was in fact a crime. Instead, women are manipulated culturally into believing that the encounter was somehow their fault.

Alice S. Vachss, who wrote Sex Crimes: Ten Years on the Front Lines Prosecuting Rapists and Confronting their Collaborators points out that rape victims are classified as “good” victims (in brief: white women who hold a “respectable” job and/or fit the housewife role) and “bad” victims, who because of their (perceived) sexual history, profession, or drunkenness, are determined to have been more deserving of rape. In other words, slut-shaming plays a role in the prosecution of rape cases.

One need look no further than the way the media treated Stubenville’s Jane Doe for an example of this — many in the media were more concerned about the fate of the two boys who were convicted than the harm done to Jane Doe, and even went so far as to blame her for drinking rather than blaming the boys for not maintaining a level of self-control and respect for a fellow human.

No one deserves to have their bodily autonomy stolen from them.

But of course this happens all the time, to people of all ages (though my reading has focused on female victims & survivors). And this is rape culture. It’s normalized by movies and TV shows where violence and non-consensual sex are frequently imposed on female characters. It’s normalized by rape jokes and by columnists who conflate sexual liberation with being more rapeable. It’s normalized by politicians who still don’t get that a woman’s body doesn’t just “shut down” a “legitimate” rape or who think that a rape kit can cause an abortion. It’s normalized by men who think it’s totally okay to grope a woman in a public area, and by the people who observe this and say nothing. It’s normalized by Americans (including the media) who look at reports of rape in other countries and say “oh look at those people there. Barbaric,” without examining the problems with rape and rape culture in the United States. It’s normalized because boys, like the ones in Stubenville, aren’t taught that rape includes penetrating a girl without her consent — even if isn’t the boy’s penis–and so perhaps they can think hey, this is no big deal. And they can think this because women are still taught that they aren’t of very much value, that the goal should be to land a man (assuming of course, that these women are heterosexual) and have babies.

No wonder there are so many women who can claim, I Never Called It Rape, why there are so many people who deny Rape is Rape, who deny the very existence of rape at all.

When the attitude that we’re up against is one of denial, and when the people making that denial pull up fake statistics about the instances of false rape reports, we allow rape culture to become further entrenched. We send the message to girls and women that even if they come forward they will not be believed, or at best they will be believed but probably their rapist won’t end up in jail. And when books such as Above the Game make their kickstarter goals, and surpass them, that (to me) indicates a real cultural problem. Above the Game, if you were fortunate enough to miss the hype earlier this summer, is an assault guide — it explicitly outlines how men should assault women to get what they want.

Even with the idea of Yes Means Yes firmly entrenched, and the idea of getting enthusiastic consent, we must be aware of power dynamics — that yes doesn’t mean, “I choose to say yes, because I understand the consequences of saying no.”

Wow, doesn’t it sound like I’m saying “no sex ever?”

I’m not.

But the world does depress me sometimes, when we assume that (some) women aren’t rapeable, or when we assume that a woman who reports a rape is lying — and that if it was a real rape, her body would have a way of dealing with that. It makes me feel sad that we can’t treat each other respect and not assault each other, or have real conversations about consent and power. It makes me sad when women keep writing and talking and protesting and filibustering about why their should have access to abortions and men (primarily) continue to create legislation intended to remove their bodily autonomy (yet again for a woman who is pregnant as a result of a violent act). It frustrates me that when I try to have these conversations with a conservative male friend, he stops listening to me and instead begins to talk about men’s rights.

I keep reading these books and articles and zines, because I keep hoping that one of them will have the words that will help everyone begin to engage in a conversation about consent and sexual assault. I keep reading because I want to be able to have the words to help someone who is willing to engage in this conversation understand why I care on more than just a personal level.



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