The Normalization of Rape

If there was one thing to be taken from Gender Studies 125, it would be that nothing is ever as it appears. All year the class has analyzed the media – everything from news coverage to animated movies to awareness/fundraising ads. We have learned that even the things that appear good have their own faults. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, the faults are prevalent and serve as a severe concern.

People may disagree, but Legally Blonde is one of the best woman empowering movies out there. The main character, Elle Woods, transforms her ideals (while remaining herself) in order to achieve her dreams. She studies like crazy, refuses to sleep with her superior to get ahead of her other classmates, and is asked out as a sub-par subtext in the final credits. However, while re-watching this film recently, I picked up on something else. In one scene, Elle gets tricked into dressing up for what she believes to be a costume party. When she arrives to find her peers in regular clothes, one character greets her casually with, “wow, don’t you look like a walking felony.” In addition to the completely unnecessary and really just not funny rape joke, the line is also hints at victim blaming. This is what Elle was wearing to the party.

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Regarding only what she was wearing, the movie accustoms Elle dressing up as bunny to her deserving of rape. It associates what a person is wearing as a justifiable reason for someone else to take advantage of him or her. In her piece The Not Rape Epidemic, Latoya Peterson states on page 141 “…I fully understood the concept of being raped twice – first during the act, and then later during the court proceedings” in response to hearing a lawyer comment on a victims attire. Elle could have showed up naked. Even then, she doesn’t deserve to be “a walking felony” because frankly, no one deserves to be “a walking felony.” No one deserves to be raped, the same way no one asks to be raped; yet the topic is consistently joked about. In addition, people tend to neglect that rape is not just a female thing.

This video was recently brought to my attention, as some guy on my floor showed it to me because “it was funny.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIoha2cc6bM The clip begins with Michael Cera and a female talking via their computers. In week six we read about “hyper-personal effect” which was a term coined by Joe Walther of Cornell University to justify how individuals are more revealing, open and sociable online than they are in real life. The female in the clip asks Michael Cera to “sex chat” in which she places herself “alone in a dark alley”, “vulnerable and half naked.” Michael Cera being unaware to what she is asking of him does not know how to respond.

Moreover, it is important to note that the clip depicts the female as wanting to be taken advantage of, and the male being unsure of what to do. As a testament to rape as whole, this clip speaks volumes about how women are not just victims, but rapists themselves. Although the clip conveyed this message comically, it shows that rape is a multifaceted issue. I am not saying that because the female asked to be raped this makes rape okay, or because Michael Cera was unsure of what to do that in the situation that he is supposed to represent all males because neither of these statements are true. The clip merely displays another side of rape that is not often shown – sometimes males are the ones taken advantage of.

Right here at Queen’s rape is considered a joke. This week, Queens Musical Theatre began running a musical called “Reefer Madness.” The production follows one boy and his gradual obsession on marijuana. The show is funny despite its serious subject matter, and most scenarios are exaggerated for humor. In one scene, the main character is shown in jail, in which the narrator states “prison showed Jimmy many horrors, but they are to inappropriate for our eyes.” During this bit, three other male inmates force Jimmy to his knees and crowd around him, before the narrator cuts them short. When she shoos them off the stage Jimmy praises her and mouths thank-you numerous times. It is important to note that the scene was not essential to development of character or story line. It was placed to add humor because prison rape jokes are so mainstream that they are no longer considered offensive by the general public. It would be harder to find a show/movie that DOES NOT make a prison rape/rape joke than it is to find one that does. The very serious and life altering issue has been made so comical it is a board game – “don’t drop the soap,” allows players to make their way through a prison system.

Although arguably one of the most prevalent and disturbing issues, rape remains a constant. I have watched clips in which women claim that men need to be taught not to rape, I have participated in self-defense classes that would help me ward off a potential attacker, I walk with my keys in between my fingers at night and I hope that people just stop wanting to rape others. People place on blame on the victims as well as the perpetrators, and people edify both protection and human respect. Yet, the issue thrives.

One TV show, One Tree Hill, filmed a controversial episode surrounding a school shooting. In a voice over, one character stated: “Does darkness have a name? Is it your name?” People can blame all they want, and they can try to protect all they want, but rape is carried out by humans, and it is done so everyday. Rape is a physical attack, but it is also deeply moral, mental and societal. Has anyone ever thought to question the occurrence of rape paired with society, culture, humans? They are pieced – paired together like two sides of a magazine or a coin, feeding and building off each other. Rape cannot dissipate until we change, taking giant actions towards a culture so embedded within our society.

I Get I’m A Woman, but I Think I Can Save Myself

I love to read, and I do so extensively. Up until a few years ago, I never understood the depth of which I was influenced by the books I so whole-heartedly devoured. A person is everything they see, their actions, their beliefs – everyone is. This is common knowledge and its understood to be true and accepted. I guess I just never realized the extent. I am a product. Everyone is a product. Feelings and actions are created not only because of the things a person is taught, or the things they inherit, but they are the result of the TV shows watched, the music listened to, and all the books they consume.

This month in lecture we began to analyze. Instead of discussing issues, Professor Tolmie showed us real evidence. She presented us ads, discussed TV shows, scrutinized movies and dissected books. Having read both series she discussed a few weeks back, she had my attention. It was so weird for me to see books I had read picked apart; and in doing so, I was able to pick up on things I had never noticed before. I guess it is important for me to mention I read fast. I read so fast that I don’t really take the time to reflect on what I’m consuming, or its effect on me. I never associate the roles of the characters I read as being problematic unless they are evidently flawed. Sure, some are written as stupid, or afraid, or waiting for their prince charming, and those are normal attributes that can be associated to anyone – regardless of their age, sex or nationality. But I honestly never associated these ideals as being offensive, derogatory or undermining. I never realized that these ideals are so consumed and socially constructed that we don’t even recognize them anymore unless we take the time to critically analyze. And let’s get real, who makes the time to do that with everything else they have to do? Not many of us.

But that’s the problem. We let these things stay prevalent in society because, hey, they aren’t that detrimental. It may be a popular series, but it is not that noticeable. No one really picks up on how Bella Swan or Anastasia Steele depend on a man, no one notices how much they request their approval before they act, no one picks up on their inability to self sustain. No one except a Gender Studies prof, or maybe a feminist. But that simply isn’t true. The signs are all there, and we ignore them. We let them slide by because were reading these books, or watching this show for pleasure, not to scrutinize. So what, you may ask? (I asked it too – don’t worry). Then I stumbled across this:

http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2012-12-a-letter-to-the-guy-who-harrassed-me-outside-the-bar

It’s an article on the unwarranted and unwanted compliments women receive from men in public (and it’s worth a read!). Most women disregard the comments as annoying and obnoxious, or we cross to the other side of the road, or we just ignore it. It’s the same as in the books. We’ve just accepted that this is our reality – it doesn’t matter whether we want the attention or not, or if were even deserving of it (a friend of mine once got cat-called walking her dog in her fathers sweatpants – “the perks of being tall and blonde” was her response to it), all us women just accept these situations to be truth. But in doing so, we are promoting rape culture.

These things are so embedded within our society it is almost impossible to think of a reality without them. What is good TV if the cute boy doesn’t fight two to three seasons for his dream girl? How can a book hook so many readers if one the character lacks an attribute that needs to be fixed? How can anything work without gaps for others to fill? But with that, our society continues to perpetuate women as victims, as naïve girls who need to be saved.

Maybe it’s appealing – I know I dreamed of my knight in shining armor for years because Disney showed me that he was coming – but it leads to so much more. People aren’t meant to be saved, and women don’t need someone else to complete their lives for them. Characters can still be ideal and relatable without the assumption that their independence is lacking, or without a strong male “counter-part”. Relationships can be people of equal attributes and a level playing field – as much as I enjoy the different realities to escape to, I don’t think I would ever want to live in one where my boyfriend told me what to eat. We as women complain often about the world we live in, and we do so because it isn’t fair, or fun, or equal most of the times. We complain because were scared and were aware, and we know reality. We’re entitled to that much at least. Yet, we let it slip by and remain as we consume it in different worlds through the characters we read and see. Maybe we have more to change than we thought.

The Notion of The Perfect Woman

I couldn’t tell you when it started, and I probably won’t be around to tell you when it ends, but I can tell you its really shaped the woman I have grown up to be. For as long as I can remember I have had the idea of womanhood, ladylike behaviors and femaleness instilled in me. You never realize as a child, and sometimes not even as a teenager or an adult. Our behaviors, attitudes, and feelings are all shaped by this “reality” that we, as young girls, are going to grow up and become women – our gender is socialized to fit this mold. But what is a woman? Why do all us girls end up at this ending point of her – the epitome of femaleness?

My mother used to tell me “beauty is pain” when I would cry over my pierced ears or complain over how my tight shoes hurt my toes. She would look at me with a sense of disgust when I went to leave the house in sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt – a look I admit is gross, but not for the same reasons she thought – the same way she looks at me with genuine surprise when I have makeup on. She was, and continues to, try to teach me and my sister the proper ways in which women act in society. She never leaves the house in her pajamas, and will do her makeup while driving if she’s late. At home, she is the opposite – slobby (in her own depiction of herself) and not put together. In this I learned the greatest thing I know about being a woman in public, something I have only recently realized to ring true in my own life; that it is an act. That ideal woman I mentioned earlier? She’s a fabricated creature – yet lives on.

Maybe we get our ears pierced because we want them to be, and we wear stilettos because they are beautiful shoes and make our legs look great, and maybe we paint our faces with makeup everyday because we enjoy it. All of this is true, for me at least (and I’m sure a lot more of us), but the truth of it is, it is all a big charade – a way for us as women to feel good about ourselves, look good, and to be “presentable” (another word my lovely mother has instilled in my brain) for the world outside of the comforts of our home.

I don’t go to class in sweats, and I never leave the house without a coat of mascara. I wear high heels because they are beautiful and make me taller, and I stand differently around guys I think are cute. All of this is fine and good for me as an individual (what’s wrong with being a better version of yourself?), but it’s a fake showing on behalf of me to be the ideal woman I see in my mind. My gender is so morphed into society’s depictions of the accurate female I can no longer differentiate between what is socialized and what is not. I see my best self as poised, pretty, clean and put together. I follow through with the actions that get me there – these things I somehow know will make me a lady. I see these things because my mother taught me what it was to be these things – and how if I was them I would always be fine.

I know some people find problems in all this – I stated above that I thought it was fake –but I don’t see them as the biggest battle. Maybe womanhood is defined by gender socialization through images in the media and instilled into little girls by their family, but is that really that detrimental? Is it really that bad to aspire to be sincere, or poised or elegant – or whatever else it is that classifies that ideal woman? I think these are all good things, and I don’t see a person (male or female) being worse off by carrying some of these characteristics in any situation. I know that some people grow to resent the image of an ideal woman – and I know a lot of people identify with different variations of their own depictions of that. My question lies in how, and why, we got this notion of being a woman – and why, despite feminist movements, liberation and education of all, mothers still want the best for their daughters, and that best is somehow associated with the ideal woman.