I wrote a guide about how to help if or when it happens to a friend.
Note for rape, rape culture, and victim blaming. Additionally, my reactions will contain spoilers of the episode.
So. I have been sort of curious about the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series of late. I happened upon them while searching for something for class. Then I sort of stumbled around to episodes at random. Tonight, I saw the series premiere.
[Season 1, Episode 1, Aired 10/2/55]
I’m actually sufficiently perturbed by it that I can’t do a critique in complete sentences — though I’m not actually not fully triggered by it — so what you get is categories and numbered lists.
One thing that bothered me on an isolated level:
- When Carl is initially questioning Elsa about what happened, she repeatedly says of her attacker, “he killed me.” If I hadn’t seen the word rape in the episode description, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to figure out that she was actually talking about rape. I likely wouldn’t have figured it out right away; I would probably have been like, “Why is she saying she was killed? She is clearly still alive.” While I like to think I would have figured it out within a few seconds, I’m not sure if that’s primarily due to my background as a survivor or if others would interpret it the same way in the same time frame.
And yes, part of this may be because I was not around in 1955 and therefore do not know if this was a common substitution at the time. If it was a realistic portrayal of how a sexual assault survivor might characterize what happened, especially right afterword, then obviously that’s it’s own thing. But what it sounds like to me — because “killed” just rings so false in those repetitions — is that “killed” was a substitution because this was going on TV. Like an editor or an advertising executive, rather than a writer crafting an authentic character, decided that “rape” was too taboo a word to say.
Things that bothered me in more pervasive ways:
- When Elsa goes out to sunbathe, after remarking on the attractiveness of the younger woman’s body, Mrs. Ferguson gives Elsa a Very Concerned Look, accentuated by Dramatic Camera Angles. This suggests to me that Mrs. Ferguson is either concerned about Elsa’s attractiveness — Elsa’s exposed attractiveness, as she is outdoors in a swimsuit — in a general sense, as though every attractive woman wearing less clothing than “normal” is fair game for assault. Or else — and this is the one that’s actually creepier to me, though I’m not sure it’s the more likely — that, inside the reality of the story, Mrs. Ferguson is aware that there is a predator in the area who may target Elsa, yet she says nothing about this to Elsa.
- The rape of Elsa fits a cookie cutter mold of what constitutes “acceptable rape” according to a lot of Hollywood (and print publishing and culture in general) portrayals. That is, not only is Elsa conventionally attractive, but she’s also a devoted wife who is raped by a stranger. Which, I’m not suggesting that we stop telling the stories of survivors who fit this description, but too often they’re still the only stories we tell. Or at least, they’re the stories we’re most likely to tell where we portray the victim as fully deserving of justice, understanding, and sympathy.
This is a bone of contention with me not so much for what it is in itself but rather for how placing this narrative on a pedestal silences other stories.
- And this is what bothers me most — Elsa says she can identify her attacker. In fact, she cannot but instead says, “It’s him!” of presumably innocent people on the street (two are shown in the episode, but the implication is that this would happen over and over). Given that in most instances of rape where the victim is a woman, her attacker is someone she already knew and could therefore identify, it needlessly — and harmfully — creates the impression that women survivors are unreliable when it comes to accurately naming who raped them.
Moreover, when Carl bludgeons the first man Elsa identifies, he does so because she identifies the man as her attacker. Well, he does it because he chooses to violently take a life, but the life he chooses to take is based on Elsa’s apparent recognition. And in this case, I’m not sure whether this is a rational interpretation of the episode or whether I’m combining it with an overload of personal experience, but I feel like, at the end of things, we’re supposed to sympathize with Carl — for killing a person — because Elsa identified the wrong person to kill. Which is fucked up in a number of ways, the most relevant here being that it blames Elsa, at least in part, for Carl’s actions.
I don’t know how to end this post except to ineloquently say, “I don’t like this.”
This post discusses sexual assault, domestic abuse, rape culture, and victim blaming.
I’ve been putting off writing my own piece for this, both because it’s painful and difficult to think about and because I’ve been having trouble finding something to write about. I mean, I realize there are a lot of facets to how sexual assault and rape culture play out in our society. I just sort of felt like I’d written about all of them before, like I wouldn’t be saying anything new.
Then it hit me. While I haven’t written about “all” the facets of sexual assault, I have already written extensively about it. Like, in roughly 14 months of blogging and 388 posts published, no fewer than 40 of them tap into my personal experience with sexual assault or the ramifications thereof. That is, in a blog I ostensibly started to talk about yoga, I spend more than 10% of the time dealing with issues surrounding assault.
So much of my emotional baggage is tied up in those feelings of victimization and fear. I used to say “from my assault” — singular — before realizing there wasn’t really only one. To clarify, there was exactly one incident where I filed charges for rape because I interpreted it as clear-cut: he initiated contact, I said no, I struggled, he penetrated me anyway, it was violent. Despite the fact that law enforcement didn’t agree, that matched all the cultural scripts I had for what rape looked like.
But not everything matches our narratives for what assault looks like because some forms of it are so normalized.
The number of times my body has been groped and grabbed, twisted and pulled, against my will. Often I was both outnumbered in it and publicly shamed for speaking against it.
“Oh, honey. That just means he likes you.”
“This is a nightclub. What did you expect?”
The number of times an ex has whined and guilted me into having sex, even after I’d given an explicit no:
“But we haven’t had sex all week!”
“I guess you don’t love me, then.”
“When did you become so frigid?”
The many times I woke up to fingers digging between my legs or an erect penis insistently prodding me in the butt. His startled and hurt expressions, whether real or imagined, when I responded to his initiations of “surprise wake-up sex” with irritation, anger, tears, or resentment.
I’ve had “yes” pried out of me and my “no” ridiculed more times than I can count — and I don’t think my life is particularly abnormal in that respect. What gives these events so much baggage is partly that they happened, yes, but also partly that a lot of people — witnesses, friends, family, people who I trusted with my story or who shared the experience — expected me to downplay how utterly shitty those violations were. Expected, in fact, that I wouldn’t name them as violations at all. Annoyances, certainly, or the luck of the draw, or even a (few) bad relationship(s).
“You can’t blame the man for trying.”
But violations they are, and there are so many. Too many. They add up, and the hurt they cause is so often left to fester and work in on itself. If we’re going to have a conversation about healthy sexuality, we have to bring these too many “small” violations to light and start talking about them as well.
I’m helping organize one, this time at VaginaPagina (not necessarily the work-safiest, but not explicit).
[Click image to head to VP for more details.]
Quotation Inspiration. Find a quote that inspires you (either positively or negatively) and free write about it for 15 minutes.
I’m about to cheat here since I’m going to quote myself (but something I said… six years ago now? about… in a different Internet community):
You can do everything right and still get raped — and it’s scary to feel that powerless in the world.
Initially, I wrote this as a response to people who were proffering what was essentially victim blaming as “common sense” advice. Like, it’s not actually helpful — not ever, really, but particularly not in the context of a sexual assault victim seeking support and advice — to suggest a list of “don’ts” (don’t wear revealing clothing, don’t drink, don’t go anywhere with strangers, etc.) as a means for not being raped. First off, this doesn’t really take into account that one is more likely to be raped by someone they know — friends, family, coworkers, intimate partners — than by a stranger. More importantly, it places the focus for the problem behavior on the act of sexual assault rather than on anything the survivor may or may not have done.
I still believe that’s important.
However, I’m also looking back at it now and going, “But you know, people shouldn’t have to do everything ‘right’ in order not to be raped.” In other words, people who do dress revealingly? Still retain their right to bodily autonomy. Who drink, even to excess? Still retain their right only to have sex when they consent. That basic right and dignity does not disappear just because someone might make a choice that is unhealthy, unwise, or contrary to what society tells us is “common sense” — which is often not all that sensical, anyway.
One shouldn’t have to be a “perfect victim,” both before and after an assault, in order to receive support, justice, understanding, and healing.
Note: This post talks about rape and victim blaming.
Usually, I let these things go, but this is the second time in about a week I’ve read about a terrible Dear Prudence column on rape. It’s tough for me to find the words to engage with other people about it, but I still want to say something, even if I’m just talking to myself here on my blog.
Every once in a while, I get a response to my post here telling me variations of there were steps I could have taken to keep myself safer or — one of my favorites — that I am “wallowing in my victimhood.”
The second one is up there with the commenter who told me that being fat meant Jesus didn’t love me anymore.
The first, I guess, is potentially somewhat true. Maybe. If I had superpowers.
For example, if I had Super Psychic ESP, then I could have predicted that someone I’d known for over a decade — and who’d never raised any red flags for me before — would rape me that night. (Okay, here, I am going to stipulate that there likely were behavior signs that I missed somewhere in the years we’d known one another — based on the assumption that I think most people don’t attempt and commit rape out of nowhere. But I’m at least moderately good at interpreting human behavior, so if I missed some things, they may well have been subtle or ambiguous signs that a lot of other people would have missed — and in fact, did miss or refused to believe — as well.)
But lacking the ability to see the future is — unsurprisingly — not the same as actually consenting to sex.
Similarly, if I’d possessed Superhuman Strength, I might have been able to fight off someone half a foot taller than me. Or who packed an extra maybe sixty pounds of muscle mass. Even if I didn’t realize the full extent of what he meant to do until I was on my back in the dirt. (Assuming the ESP didn’t render that last point moot.)
Lacking Superhuman Strength, however — or its real-world counterpart, not fighting back “hard enough” — is not consent.
But the superpower I’d have wanted most some sort of Truth Projection, veratiserum in reverse — something not to make people speak the truth but to understand it. That way, the nurses and police officers who saw me post-assault would not have demanded to know why I’d showered, would not have pronounced the tears and bruises on my body “consistent with consensual sex.” I would have been able to make them see the struggles to kick and hit, the “No!” screaming through my brain, the blankness for hours afterward. That way, the mutual friends of my rapist and me wouldn’t have dismissed my confession with a “but he’s the nicest guy” or a “stop trying to make me believe a lie.” They might have seen those warning signs, if they existed, even if only after the fact. They would at least have seen the truth.
People calling me a liar, whether implying it or accusing outright, is not consent. Nor does it replace the truth.
I’m lucky, at least, to be able to parse all of this and to call bullshit where it stinks.
But as long as humans rape other humans, validation and support for victims and survivors should not hinge on superhuman qualities they do not possess. After all, no one’s holding rapists to a higher standard: Respecting consent is basic decency, not a superpower.
Original idea for this type of post from Clarissa. Individual search terms courtesy of Internet at Large.
- yoga sarcasm — Found my blog, did you? I’m also a fan of Recovering Yogi for the same reason.
- the tough words will stretch out my brains — This may be true. However, exercising the brain is not a bad thing.
- hot yoga butt — Well, yes, though I don’t tend to post too many pictures of myself.
- how might observing a classroom teacher help me become an effective teacher — In a perfect world, you observe a really excellent teacher and pick up tips and tricks you can use in your own classroom. In a less perfect world, you observe a terrible teacher and learn what not to do. In reality, the most likely scenario is that you observe a real, human teacher for a snapshot of time that is insufficient to see what background knowledge they’ve built up with their students or where they hope to take them. So you get, like, 45 minutes of factoring polynomials and wonder, “WTF?”
- fart pose — I am so glad it is not just me who calls it this. Seriously, I started to think I was the most immature yoga blogger on the planet. (This may yet actually be true. But — fart pose vindication!)
- police didn’t believe me and i was assaulted again — I almost don’t feel right including this in an otherwise humorous list. However, the sheer number of search terms compels me to say, “You are not alone.”
- panties around ankles — Speaking of which, this should not be so high a search term in response to a victim blaming rape poster. Dear police: The two are related; get with the program.
- pennsylvania liquor ad — Yeah, that one. Asshats.
Trigger warning for sexual assault and victim blaming.
Before anyone wants to misinterpret, quick clarification: It is awesome to do a public service campaign around the dangers of binge drinking; it is inexcusable to base any part of that campaign on victim blaming around sexual assault.
I’m sure some of you have seen this advertisement from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board floating around in recent days:
[Description: Photo of a woman's legs with her panties around her ankles. Text reads, "She didn';t want to do it, but she couldn't say no. When your friends drink, they can end up making bad decisions, like going home with someone they don't know very well. Decisions like that leave them vulnerable to dangers like date rape. Help your friends control tonight and stay safe. ControlTonight.com."]
The alcohol danger and sexual assault ad that should be instead:
[Description: Image of torn shorts. Text reads, "When your friends use alcohol as a weapon, they can end up targeting and sexually violating people unable to consent. Decsions like that make them rapists. Rape is wrong; so is victim blaming."]
Thing is? I will still be able to go to bed on time.
I’m not sure how placing the emphasis where it belongs was really so difficult.
[TW rape culture]
“Snow White and Sleeping Beauty Address Their Creator”
It’s one of those days when I can’t let myself have more to say about it.
But I’m glad I watched it. Not surface-glad, because it is not a happy poem. But deep-glad, because it’s something that needs to be said, loudly and often.
(Lucille Clifton reading her poem “homage to my hips.” Found via YouTube. Text available here at Poem Hunter.)
These hips are full of scar tissue.
They need movement to
keep from seizing up.
They don’t tolerate being told to
stay still. These hips
hold my tension and trauma.
They don’t like to let it go.
These hips have nerve damage.
They don’t always go where I want them to go
or do what I want them to do.
These hips are capricious hips.
These hips are caustic hips.
I have known them
to burn me from inside and
drop me in my tracks.
[This post contains rape jokes and discussion of rape culture.]
What I should have said was, “Excuse me?”
What I should have asked was, “The fuck is your problem?”
What I should have pointed out was that when one is in the company of six women in the US, one is statistically likely to be in the presence of a rape survivor.
What I should have done was leave the room, exiting your company altogether.
What I should do now is stop blaming myself for my reaction to your revolting comparison. I had to handle it in a way that would let me go back and teach my afternoon classes, which for me meant filing it away until I was safe at home — in a place where I can rage and cry and name this bullshit for what it is.
Because, contrary to your statement earlier today, you do not “feel raped” every time you go to the movies. No — no matter how expensive the tickets, how trite the plotline, how stilted the acting, or how burnt the popcorn. Allow me to explain this in more detail, perhaps with the clarity only italics can bring: In no way is making the choice to go to a movie like having a non-consensual attack committed on your person. If you still don’t get it, I’m happy to bring out the caps lock.
Rape is not your convenient metaphor for things you don’t like. In fact, RAPE IS NOT YOUR METAPHOR. Period.
Rape is a real, physical crime that happens to actual, flesh-and-blood people. People that you know, people that you work with, people that you love. It’s a violation that can have lasting physical consequences (hi, pelvic floor dysfunction) as well as long-term emotional trauma (hi, PTSD). Part of that trauma comes because we’re often reminded of our assaults time and time again throughout our lives — including but not limited to clueless and misogynist people who appropriate and minimize the term to describe going to the movies.
We already live in a culture that excuses rape and that holds victims partly or entirely responsible for the crimes committed against them. I go through enough days where my experience is belittled, where the implicit or explicit message is that my rape does not matter.
It would be lovely if you refrained from adding your butter-flavored assholery into the equation.
A quick and disjointed post for advice and of confusion. You can tell I’m sorting things out in my head because I resort to numbered lists.
- I am in possession of a book that I believe would be harmful to my students — namely, in that it is rape apology and that it perpetuates rape culture. We have enough of that going on already.
- I am also in possession of a life philosophy that doesn’t condone censorship.
- I am in the habit of transferring my already read (and second-hand purchased) young adult (and some adult) novels to my classroom shelf of free books.
I suppose I could make an exception to this policy, but I don’t like to set a precedent of keeping my students from books. I suspect that many of them don’t read as much as I’d like and that a major reason for this is the lack of accessible relevant reading material. That’s a problem, and I want to be part of the solution.
That said, rape culture is also a problem, and I want to be part of that solution. Placing this book on my classroom shelf — which is a small shelf, and where so-placed books are assumed to have my implicit endorsement, despite my disclaimers otherwise — without any kind of advisory might well perpetuate rape culture, which is already too entrenched in and unquestioned by society. Nor am I necessarily in a position to discuss the novel with whoever might happen to pick it up.
And in a broader sense, I’m not sure how much my decision matters. Students will have some access to interesting reading material regardless of what I decide about this novel. Similarly, though perhaps more pessimistically, students will be inundated with rape apology regardless of what I decide about this novel.
Still and all, I can’t just place it on my shelf. But I can’t not place it.
My thoughts about my choices:
- Put it on my shelf, regardless of my reservations. It’s more important that students have free access to a range of reading material.
- Put it on my shelf with a written disclaimer (maybe in the form of a bookmark) stating my concerns about the novel and advising that students who read it consider talking the book over with a trusted adult. This of course assumes: a) the student has a trusted adult; b) the adult of choice recognizes and speaks against rape apology.
- Donate the book to my school library, speaking to my librarian about my concerns. Allow the librarian to make the final call with what happens to the book.
- Don’t bring the book to school at all.
Unless there are choices I’ve overlooked (which is likely true), I think the middle options are the only two acceptable compromises for me. In a perfect world, I’d prefer option number two, as that might afford a better opportunity to interact with the eventual next reader of said book. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and option three affords me a greater degree of professional protection — in a world where “professional protection” is semi-synonymous with distance.
It would be the best option for me, certainly. But it’s a different matter entirely on whether it would be the best option for my students.
This post contains discussion of sexual assault and PTSD.
My period is late.
My period is over three months late, and I am freaking out, despite the fact that two 2-packs (one analog, one digital) of pee sticks have read negative since then. I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t shake it.
Because if the tests are wrong, I am pregnant with the genetic progeny of my rapist. And my psyche cannot handle that.
A lot of why my Planned Parenthood is awesome, I do not remember, thanks to PTSD and more or less sustained dissociation.
By the time I walked into my local Planned Parenthood — nearly eleven years ago now — I had neither slept nor eaten (nor kept food down) normally for several days. Being an industrious college student with friends who kept similarly irregular schedules (minus, I would guess, the nausea and vomiting), this was not so difficult to conceal from the people around me.
I’m not sure what got me to the Planned Parenthood in the first place. Maybe I’d finally realized that taking pee tests in the Meijer restrooms was both an unrelieving and unsustainable situation. Maybe I’d just gotten tired of every part of my body mind being 100% tense all the time. I do know that, at that time, Planned Parenthood was the only resource I knew about for a situation like mine. I would not have gone, say, to my county health department because I did not know such a thing existed.
When I got there, nobody at Planned Parenthood questioned my stated need for a pregnancy test, even though I said I’d had multiple negative results and a last sexual encounter over three months prior. For people who desperately need not to be pregnant, there is maybe no such thing as a redundant negative result.
And no one made me feel like I was wasting their time. In truth, I couldn’t say why I was there, couldn’t make myself form the words to talk about rape. Due to prior bad experiences with post-assault health care providers, the possibility of disclosing my assault again made me so anxious I literally, physically hurt. A lot.
It’s unfair to ever expect a health care provider to be a mind reader, but I think this time someone at Planned Parenthood must have been. Either that, or I was telegraphing post-assault signals loud and clear, which is probably the more likely explanation. The clinician (doctor? nurse practitioner? medical assistant? I do not know now) asked, “Was it consensual?”
For me, that was the best possible way she could have worded the question. I didn’t have to hear the words “rape” or “assault.” I didn’t have to reach for the words to put together any kind of disjointed narrative of what happened that night. I just had to say, “No.”
She then demonstrated that it is possible for a health care provider to be both sympathetic and efficient, asking briefly about injuries, STI testing timeline, and reporting status. She didn’t pressure me when my answers were terse and when I became visibly agitated but instead gently let me know that I was welcome to skip answering anything or to end the visit altogether.
“It’s not that,” I told her. “It’s–”
I stopped. How could I explain about the police skepticism and the hospital’s blame? About the former friends who couldn’t understand why I was being so selfish or why I was “doing this to him”? About the alternating desperate attempts to closet myself in my studies and to flaunt the most hypersexualized outfits in my closet? About everything I did to convince myself I was coping okay and all the ways I was clearly not?
How could I explain then what I still can’t explain?
Turns out, I didn’t have to, not then, not to her. “Would you be interested in looking into counseling services?” When I hesitated, she added, “You already mentioned that you have a lot of anxiety about this, maybe more than you want or think you should have. I’m not saying you need to make any decisions right away, just asking if you’d like the information.”
“For later?” I asked. Even then, I was a little embarrassed to have said that, when it was becoming increasingly clear to me that mental health services would be a good idea now. But I wasn’t ready.
“If you want,” she agreed. “For later.”
I left the clinic with a list of counseling organizations and their contact information. Someone else, who may have been something like a counselor or social worker herself, had gone over the list with me, explaining a little about each organization (locations, background and affiliations, intake and payment system, etc.), so I wouldn’t feel so lost or like I was making a completely random choice “later.”
Turns out “later” was another few months away, into the next school semester. There were additional developments, both stabilizing and devastating, that prompted me to seek counseling now. And when I did, I pulled out that same list from Planned Parenthood, which I’d kept the whole time and which I’d taken out and read at least a few times a week in the intervening months. Because that list of contacts wasn’t just a piece of paper for later. It was a plan, something in writing that suggested I had options about where to proceed from that point. From my assault until the day of my PP visit, I had not felt any control; I had not had a plan.
Of course I’d like to say that everything was rainbows and unicorn farts after that. It wasn’t, but unicorn farts were never the point. The point — to mix metaphors horrendously — is that when I didn’t know what else to do or where else to go, my Planned Parenthood knew how to play the hand it was dealt. Even when the help I needed was not the help they could provide, they did their best –including a lot of prior research and networking and also in-the-moment sensitive humanity — to get me to that help.
You can read more stories at the My Planned Parenthood Blog Carnival hub post.
Trigger warning for talk of rape.
I wanted to let this go, but given the time of year, I think I can’t.
I read this earlier today and have engaged in some feminist, progressive spaces about the topic. Suffice it to say, some feminist, progressive spaces are riddled with victim blaming.
I hope it goes without saying that I am Not Cool with attempts to discredit an assault survivor — even an alleged assault survivor — on the basis of unrelated actions. One should not have to live their life with the constant nagging thought of, “Oh, no! What if I am sexually assaulted later? How with this affect my credibility and ability to seek justice?”
Even in terms of her actions and reactions immediately after the time in question — I have a “guilty” confession: I do not know what the fuck I did — virtually anything I did — for approximately 15 hours after I was raped.
I think I must have come back to my place of residence because, you know… I got there. I know there was a shower running at some point, at an odd hour, but I cannot recall whether I was in it. I expect I was because my memory ties that shower to the idea of “washing up,” but I seriously just don’t know. I also have a memory of getting out of bed the next day, which suggests I got into bed the day before, but I cannot muster up more clarity or detail than that.
And this was all before the hospital staff and police force verbally and emotionally ripped me to shreds. I’ve posted this in other places, but I think it bears repeating:
- When I was raped, I told the truth, that I didn’t remember how I got home after the assault. The police told me that was the wrong answer.
- I told the truth, that I didn’t know what had happened to the shorts/underwear I wore that night. The police were skeptical.
- I told the truth, that I’d showered to “get him off of me.” The police were growing suspicious.
- I told the truth, that I waited until the next day to seek medical attention because I just didn’t no what else to do. The police looked at me like I was so incompetent that I didn’t deserve to be believed, much less to attempt to press criminal charges.
In the end, no arrest was ever made.
There some used-to-be friends who now think of me as a lying, manipulative cunt, and I still have some long-term bills (specifically, credit card bills because I was using my income to pay medical bills) as well as some long-term PTSD and a knee that acts up in low pressure systems, but mostly, I walked away from my rape unscarred.
To feel like I messed up the potential for a criminal case because I responded the “wrong” way after my assault? To be discredited and vilified by the folks who were supposed to, if not advocate for me, at least seek justice? That fucking sucks, and I think at least part of that is the fault of the system. Maybe not the part that is bound by “innocent until proven guilty” or “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but such concrete standards of proof are not necessary when it comes to merely listening to someone or validating their experience.
I do not claim to know this woman’s truth or the motives behind any of her actions. But we cannot ignore that we operate in a rape culture that largely, actively, forcefully seeks out ways to attack survivors’ credibility — and, when it cannot find such ways, to invent them.
I can’t say for certain what is or is not her experience. But I’ll be damned if I condemn her because she doesn’t fit into the rape culture narrative.