MERRY CHRISTMAS READERS!!!
Before you read, it is important to know what rape culture is. What the site in the provided link says about rape culture can be applied to violence against anyone by anyone. In any event, enjoy the post!!
One day, upon musing about the movie Speak, recounting the fictional story of a girl (Melinda) who is raped right before entering high school and struggles with handling and revealing this horrifying truth, I noticed a few things I thought were worth mentioning. While I enjoyed the film before I realized I was raped, there is one thing after realizing this that still bothers me about it. I am not sure if the book is the same way as I have not read it. Although I appreciate that the movie was from the perspective of a rape victim, that it detailed how scary, lonely and ostracizing that can be without real support, and that it encourages rape victims to speak about their experiences and seek help, I am not entirely sure I support how the film depicted the victim experience. Even though it can be argued that the movie serves as a voice for the voiceless, speaking for those who won’t or can’t speak about their experiences as victims of sexual assault, due to how the director chose to walk us through Melinda’s experience the movie may be adding to victims’ voicelessness more than taking away from it.
It is wonderful that the audience gets to understand rape as not only a physical but also a psychological and social experience, and from the perspective of a victim no less, which hardly ever happens. It is awesome that they get to know her a bit as a person, not being able to define her by this one tragic event, and that they actually focus on the topic of rape to reveal its gravity, as opposed to just making it one part of the plot that we only see or hear briefly about. It’s incredible they actually witness her rape in the back of a van at a party. So it HAPPENED. It was REAL. And they are on her side, on our side, from the beginning. And then,~rewind button noise~ all this starts to look too good to be true. Because it is.
I cannot relate to Melinda because no one knows for sure that I was raped, even if they chose to believe me, and unlike her I wouldn’t be able to garner any belief that my rapes took place by the rapetriarchal legal and social standards often based on interpretations of physical evidence prejudiced against rape victims. Were there any fluids…that can’t be explained away by claims of consent?, had you been involved in this or something similar before, and/or with this same person…as liars and all-of-a-sudden rapes/rapists are unlikely?, did anyone else see to be able to substantiate your claim…other than the rapist(s) who took you to or held you in a secluded area? No. But one thing is for sure, my rapes were not caught on camera like hers was. Yes, yes, I knoooow it’s a movie and cameras are generally involved in the making of those.
My point is, however, and this also goes for other media that portray rape and rape victims, we did not have to see the rape to believe that it happened
My point is, however, and this also goes for other media that portray rape and rape victims, we did not have to see the rape to believe that it happened. To me it would have been much more effective to delete the rape scene altogether so that the movie could give the audience a better idea of one of the gargantuan realities that rape victims face: a pervasive, stigmatizing, and utter lack of belief by anyone who didn’t witness their rape that it actually happened, let alone that it was terrible, that it wasn’t their fault and that it is worth talking about.
Even when Melinda does “speak” about the incident to her former best friend, who is now the current girlfriend of her rapist, she is not believed (though this is not exactly a surprise and the account of Melinda’s rape does plant suspicion in this friend’s mind), and no moviegoer will know if her mother was supportive of her and believed that she was raped since the movie ends mid-conversation, when she finally tells her mother what happened to her. Moreover, when she “speaks” by calling the police to the party after the rape (though in reality she never says a word and hangs up), her other former friends and acquaintances do not see her as anything but a party tattle-tell and continue to see her rapist as an attractive senior athlete. That is, until they hear a commotion at school and see signs of a struggle after Melinda’s rapist violently confronts her when he and his girlfriend have a rift over Melinda’s rape accusations.
Speech then is clearly not the answer. It does not protect her and it does not make people, in the film or in the audience, believe her. Instead it is what people hear and see, the physical, concrete signs of rape, assault and struggle that many of us will never have or be able to prove come from sexual assault, that convince them, or make them at very least empathetic.
Thus in this film, and I would wager many others, rape does not take place within the enormous spectrum of victims’ experiences with it, but rather is relegated to the confines of non-victims’ 5 senses.
Thus in this film, and I would wager many others, rape does not take place within the enormous spectrum of victims’ experiences with it, but rather is relegated to the confines of non-victims’ 5 senses. If they hear no evil and see no evil, it is not surprising they will be confused, offended and retaliatory if anyone tries to speak it. So yes, rape culture pundits do belong to a gang, and yes, gang rape then has more than one meaning. But I digress.
In any event, being believed after you are raped is still unfortunately a privilege, not a right. You are guilty, though I am not exactly sure of what, until proven innocent, and this point would best come across if the audience didn’t have the physical “proof” of a rape scene that so easily lets them believe Melinda. Each audience member would have to decide for themselves what happened to her, and this decision, and how they came to it, would reveal to them how they really understood rape, rape culture and its victims. It would force not only a personal, but also a social examination of the meaning and impact of rape, as no two opinions would be exactly alike. Every person would walk out of the theater either believing or not believing her, to different degrees, and having different reasons why, regardless of what Melinda may have said or done in the film. Because this is what we actually go through. This is rape culture. Not acceptance, scrutiny. Not belief, wonder. Not us, nor our stories, but non-victims’ personal opinions about what they believe did or did not take place. To be raped is to constantly have your existence as a victim either confirmed or denied.
…this is what we actually go through. This is rape culture. Not acceptance, scrutiny. Not belief, wonder. Not us, nor our stories, but non-victims’ personal opinions about what they believe did or did not take place. To be raped is to constantly have your existence as a victim either confirmed or denied.
Who or what else do I know that is like this?
Why, a certain jolly old elf! Of course!
We, rape victims/survivors/all-inclusive etc., are perpetual Santa Clauses, not ceasing to exist because those who would believe in us grow up or move on, but continuing to be, as commonly accepted myths or illusions. Not the monsters beneath the bed or the alligators in the sewers, but Zeus, Hercules, Jesus, Saint Nick. No, I do not mean to pose a belief or disbelief in Jesus or any other religious figure in history, or in any idea or sensation in particular, but rather to make the point that, if so many of us can believe in so many things that we can’t see and that we haven’t experienced, why do so many people not believe in rape? In rape culture? In rapists? In the raped?
Unfortunately, as whether or not rape occurs is always called into question, its victims are the wind, are unicorns and gnomes, are deities and saints, are ghosts not yet gone home. Seeing is believing. Then how do we know that what we see is real at all? Because we want to believe it is. There is a faith, an honor system, a trust that most of what we see or feel carries the weight of the truth. Yet rape victims hardly ever get these courtesies; rapists and rape culture do. They perpetuate the real myths: that victims did or said something that caused them to be raped, that the majority of rape accusations are false, that silence and/or mere existence equals consent, that virginity isn’t just as much of a social construct as race, that etc. and etc. While rape victims are made to remain phantoms on the field of dreams, tossing the baseball around between the tall stalks of corn in-the-middle-of-nowhere Iowa, until the townspeople believe they are actually there.
So I roll down the windows and let my hair down that it may be blown about. I clap that somewhere a fairy won’t feel faint. I will every so often put my hands together and bow my head. I will build it, so they will come. On the side of Santa, unicorns, and rape victims everywhere, believing is seeing.
Yet I wondered, upon further musing, if Santa’s truly is the side I should be on? I had compared Santa to the rape victim, when indeed he may bear more similarities to rape culture. Let us examine this idea by looking at the popular song that exposes many of the most widespread beliefs about Santa Claus, “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.”
- “You better watch out.” In other words, you better be careful potential rape victim. Don’t do this or that, or go there, or alone, or dressed like that, or saying that or being that. While the possibilities of the meanings for “that” or “there” are endless, many readers will probably have only a few in mind. Hence, they believe in the idea that rape only happens under very few circumstances and that it is thus possible to avoid, which will here be coined as “avoidism.” As much as Santa polices children’s behavior, rape culture polices everyone’s, and particularly women’s, behavior in order to produce desired results: women and men acting in ways that conform to society’s ideas of rape and of how they should comport themselves according to their gender, among other things. If we can manage not to get coal in our stockings, we can get out of rape, or prevent it altogether.
- “You better not cry, you better not pout.” You had better not demand your rights or your dignity or to be heard if something happens to you or someone else. If you are raped, do not cause trouble by speaking your mind, or too loudly, or to the police or to a counselor or to whomever or whatever may in some way attempt to properly address the problem. You must just accept what has been or what is being done to you. You brought this upon yourself you know.
- “I’m telling you why.” Not asking you if you believe anything being said ~cough~sung about how not to be raped or how not to say anything if you are, and not alerting you that it is possible to differ from, negate and change this “knowledge.”
- “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Though I would argue he never left, and neither did rape or rape culture.
- “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake.” Rape culture is always there and following you around even if it hasn’t got a handy-dandy chimney.
It is a vigilante system maintained everywhere you go by everyone you know. as it is not formally recognized by law, yet the law in many ways does still informally recognize and adhere to it.
6. “He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” Rape culture and its pundits know when you have “misstepped,” or been “bad” and not ascribed to the beliefs they propagate. Swift punishment of varying forms will hopefully put you back in your place. A joke here, a you’re-not-allowed-to-go-certain-places-without-permission there, and the ever popular professional, social, financial and/or physical threat, etc. But if you follow rape culture and avoid being raped, then you are a good boy or girl and you will receive lots of presents. You may have a seat on the Polar Express, or be able to keep your job or that of someone close to you. All of your friends and limbs will cling to you as never before.
7. “He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.” There are written and unwritten rules that compose the checklist (yes one, as often we do not not think that our own individual checklists are valid or sufficient) that people go over in their own heads when they decide what rape is, if it took place, and how to watch for and avoid it. What ends up making it or not making it onto this checklist, in addition to who and what created it, can be a problem since no two rapes, rapists, rape victims or thoughts on rape are exactly alike. As issues of rape are often oversimplified and complex, though it may at first be easiest to rely on well established definitions and concepts of rape, it is ultimately best to come up with your own since none of them will ever be as specific as they need to be to you. You know who you are. You know what happened.
This is no mere Christmas carol. These are rape culture commandments. You followed them as a child. You can do it again as an adult. Or perhaps seeing rape in this way is not very adult, and society as a whole is still very childlike. Be that the case, I would like to take the side not of Santa Claus, but rather of his brother Fred Claus, asserting that there are no naughty children, just as there are no men and women who will inevitably become rape victims if they don’t follow rape culture. There are only people who have been hurt, and later ignored and misunderstood.