Friday, November 13, 2009

the thing about rape culture...

This morning, my real life and bloggy friend Champagne and Benzedrine posted this article about rape culture - something he'd previously argued was, essentially, not as existent as many people claimed it was. His post essentially reversed his previous argument, conceding that perhaps he just hadn't been aware - or even able to be aware - of just how prevalent rape-culture is. But this is the graf that really got me:

Now, I'm too unevolved to start burning my bra or joining in any marches - but considering that I take certain jokes personally (like cracks about having ginger hair) it made me realise that it must be pretty rough to be a woman who's been the victim of sexual violence when it seems like the entire world (including plenty of other women) are making light of your experiences.

I was going to leave a comment, but then I realized it would probably turn into a post-sized rant, and, well I haven't written here lately, so I thought I'd take the inspiration and motivation and run with it.

I wanted to start off by thanking C&B for being willing to look at the issue through a different lens. And being able to recognize the types of unique sensitivities we all share. For example, I can't especially relate to being discriminated against or made fun of because of my hair color or complexion... My hair has always been blonde-ish brown, my eyes are hazel-ish, and those features are particularly unremarkable. So the best I can do to relate to C&B's offense at the "ginger" crack is to sympathize. But, of course, that doesn't mean I can't relate to other instances of being made uncomfortable by something "The Majority" finds hilarious.

Like rape.

Amanda Hess over at The Sexist (which, by the way, if you don't read, you SHOULD) posted a great deconstruction of rape culture and how it gets perpetuated and avoided by "bros" who don't consider what their buddy did rape. She phrases it especially in context of college life, and I think that's an apt placement. (Not, of course, that rape and rape culture doesn't exist outside college, but I do think the macho-fraternal camaraderie that many college atmospheres evoke does make such things more prevalent... or at least more evident.)

I just graduated from a relatively prestigious, four-year university. A big school of about 20,000 students, on the East Coast. As a journalism major with a minor in LGBT studies, I wasn't exactly the most involved with "stereotypical" college organizations. I ran the campus alternative magazine, spoke on my LGBT studies program, and never once attended a Greek function.

But all of my friends were dudes. And I do mean ALL of them. They kind of came in groups - there were my fellow journalists, my fellow LGBT people, the musicians, and then, oddly enough, a group of frat boys. Only a few of them were actually fraternity members, but they all lived together in this house that could have passed for an Animal House soundstage.

So, what I generally considered boyish "bathroom" humor often prevailed. C&B mentioned in his post that perhaps he just wasn't really able to be aware of the so-called rape culture because he isn't a woman, and hasn't been a victim of sexual assault.

Well, here's the thing: I'm both.

While none of my friends in school ever assaulted me, (most never even drunkenly hit on me,) the prevalence with which I heard jokes about rape was shocking. Literally, there would be jokes where the punchline essentially equated to "then she got raped!" hahahahah! Of course, the instances weren't always so obvious, but there was an insane amount of victim-blaming, apologism, and minimizing or dismissing of the experience.

This Boy's Club mentality - along with the "boys will be boys" excuse - absolutely aids in the creation of a rape culture. I won't say it's entirely responsible, nor will I even say that every person who makes or laughs at a rape joke is a rapist. Also, for the sake of argument, I know here I'm speaking in pretty strictly men-are-the-rapists, women-are-the-victims dichotomy. I am all too aware that is NOT the only scenario in which rape happens. But that is my personal experience, so it's what I can write on.

But there's another side of the rape culture that doesn't get discussed as much - the effect it has on the survivors of sexual assault.

I was raped a long time ago. The experience doesn't hang over me anymore, and while it will always color my sexual experiences, I haven't had a flashback in a long time, and I'm not afraid to walk downtown anymore in the areas I know he used to hang out in. But every time I hear a rape joke, it does bring me back to my own experience. Not in a crippling sense, but it's a reminder, and not a pleasant one.

Now, compound that with the fact that I DO NOT laugh at rape jokes. I think there are some things that are never funny, and rape is one of them. But when you're sitting in a room with 10 of your guy buddies, and someone cracks a joke and rape is the punchline, and they start howling, what do you do? My inability to laugh when everyone else was busting a gut just drew more attention to my discomfort. A few times, someone actually called me on it. Asked why I wasn't laughing. And what the hell do I say there? I'm certainly not about to tell a room full of people that, oh yeah, I was raped, so I don't think that's funny. (Although I just told the entire interwebz, but I suppose that's the benefit of blogging anonymously...) My usual response was to get defensive and get up on my soapbox, talking about how rape is never funny, and maybe even mention rape culture... Until I'd get cut down by the Boy's Club collectively deciding I was too sensitive or a bitch or a whackjob or at the very least killing their buzz.

So the conversation would move on, and I would feel terrible, all over again. Because it was like my experience - regardless of the fact that my friends didn't know about it, and certainly weren't trying to hurt me - had just been minimized, trivialized and dismissed. Again.

Often, when we talk about rape culture, we talk about the fact that it perpetuates rape. That it creates more victims by blurring the lines between what is and is not rape, when really, that line is pretty fucking clear. (For the record: No consent? Then it's rape.) But it also minimzes the experience of those who have been assaulted, while simultaneously reminding them of that trauma. Which, if you ask me, just perpetuates the damages, and makes those wounds even harder to caulderize.