Recently, I posted two journal entries that may seem to conflict with one another: “Penny Arcade” addendum and “Incubus Master” pt.1 review. The former is a declaration that rape is one of my Great Evils. (I said that rape was my Second Great Evil; my First Great Evil is drinking alcohol. Which, now that I think about it, are actually intertwined. But I digress…) Though said declaration was actually a byproduct of what I was trying to say and not meant to be the point of the whole thing, it’s sort of been what readers have focused on when responding to the two posts right after one another, perhaps because the other post also heavily involves it.
The latter, while giving a trigger warning on a piece of fiction I was reviewing, basically overlooked the fact that I gave the story a (mostly) positive review anyway, despite said story being about a boy who was abducted and kept for over a year as a sex slave before being freed. The story mentioned and depicted rape: the boy didn’t want to have sex, and his captors forced it on him anyway. The first part of Incubus Master, in fact, includes a graphic, detailed depiction of rape—something written to arouse the reader and which works as a hook for reading the rest of the plot. The narrator even tells us near the beginning of the story: “He [Jinady, the main character] picked the incubi over the succubi, but it was a choice of being raped over being killed. Each night a different demon took him to bed.” It’s hard to get any clearer than that.
Let me be as plain and to-the-point as possible. When someone doesn’t want to have sex and you force them to have sex anyway, that’s rape. If you do that, you are a rapist. Touching someone against her or his will is assault, and touching that person sexually against her or his will is sexual assault. Just because she didn’t fight back or he had a physical reaction to it doesn’t make it okay. No means no, true, but that doesn’t mean saying nothing means yes. Only yes means yes. (This idea is called enthusiastic consent.) There is no “rape-rape”, there’s only (1) sex with consent and (2) rape. That’s it. Either you have consent, or you don’t. If you don’t, it’s rape. End of story. Done. No argument.
We live in a rape culture. That is, rape culture is “a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent.” (See the great book Transforming a Rape Culture by Emilie Buchwald.) Don’t believe that we live in a rape culture? Consider this: there is no woman—no person, even—who has ever asked to be raped. There is no “she was asking for it” by the way she dressed/looked/walked/whatever. Or this: using the word rape in casual conversation—as in, “Damn, the ATM totally raped me with fees” or “Haha, I raped you playing Halo last night”—lends itself to not taking the actual act of rape very seriously. (Though I can’t think of many things more serious than rape; can you?) And that’s just the tip of the ginormous metaphorical iceberg, by the way. There are so many things to which rape culture can be attributed, maybe you should just read about it for yourself.
I go back and forth about whether “Avoiding Every Woman’s Worst Nightmare”-type articles are really helpful. I’m a firm believer in the idea that (1) no person deserves to be raped under any circumstances, and (2) there is only rape in the world while there are rapists who perpetuate it. Based on that, it doesn’t matter how much a person protects herself, as long as there is someone attacking and raping her, there is still rape. I guess it’s good for a woman to protect herself, but that’s like (in the mildest terms I can imagine) putting a bandaid over a splinter—it doesn’t deal with the real problem, which is the splinter. And also, as the linked article mentions at the end: protecting yourself while walking home alone, dancing in a bar with friends, not getting in some random car, and so on, only helps when your attacker is a stranger; most rapes occur between people who know each other.
Which brings me to my next point, which is an admission on my part. The only reason I’m so passionate about this—I will be the first to admit that I’m pretty lackluster about many important things—is because it has directly affected me. In December 2006, I was raped in one of the academic buildings on my college campus by a man I knew. I had, after all, dated him most of the 2003-2004 school year. I hope I knew him. I thought I knew him. Many people in my circle already know this joyful factoid about me, but this is the first time I’ve ever directly actually written out the words “I was raped” for anyone, including myself.
The story of what happened is for another time, but suffice to say that (preventing) rape (and helping victims after it happens) became exponentially more important to me after it happened to me. (That is, it was important before, but it wasn’t a priority.) As for myself, I received sympathy from some of my friends—though not even close to all of them—when they found out, but very little in the way of actual support and help. I’m not over it. I’m still triggered sometimes, and I have to find my way back to reality from a flashback again. Sometimes, I’m completely blindsided. Usually, I can handle it, but luckily for me I have at least one friend who’s talked me through panic attacks in person at three in the morning more than once. Thank gods for him; seriously.
Now, having said all that, rape fantasy seems like it’s completely and totally right out, right? Well, no. I’d rather have thousands of people jerking off to rape fantasy porn than even one person actually perpetuating rape in real life. There is something to be said, however, for the “monkey see, monkey do” theory (a name which I just made up), which basically states that the things a person takes in (in this case: describing rape in a story, as in Incubus Master, or depicting rape in pornography) influences his or her ideas about what is acceptable (or, rape). That is, as a friend of mine put it, “There’s always the idea that depictions of rape promote the act, or that these works were made with malicious intent, and can conceivably be dangerous…” (There are similar arguments related to the violence in video games consumed by teenagers.)
I tend to argue that, if the person already has the inclination to rape someone else, then perhaps reading a bodice ripper romance (or, more bluntly, watching rape porn) may lead that person to assume that forcing him/herself on someone else is okay. And, similarly, if a person has no previous inclination to dominate someone else (against that person’s will) or force someone else to do something against their will, reading a bodice ripper or watching rape porn won’t give them the impression that those fictions are acceptable in reality. After all, it’s called rape fantasy for a reason.
Now, where do I draw the line between things like Incubus Master and the Penny Arcade drama? Well, for one thing: the former is most definitely a rape fantasy, and it’s pretty clearly labeled as such in the first couple of pages of the story. It gives the reader a chance to stop, to put the story down and walk away if they think they might be negatively affected by it. The latter was a fucking idiotic joke that spiraled into downright rape apology, which is the “ideology of denying the seriousness of rape”. Also, jokes are given without warning almost 100% of the time. So there’s no way anyone who’s sensitive to the joke’s subject matter can say, “Wait! Stop; I don’t want to hear this.”
And, guys, don’t think you’re safe just joking around with your guy buds during male bonding time or whatever you do when there are no women around; one of them may have been assaulted (yes, guys are sexually assaulted, too), or he may have a sister or girlfriend or mother who was assaulted. And to everyone who says, “But wouldn’t I know about something so serious if we were friends?” No, you actually might not. It’s not like a woman is going to introduce herself by saying, “Hi, I’m Sarah. I was raped.” (And that kind of introduction is even less plausible for men because of the stigma of being gay or being “a pussy”.)
I’m sure I could go on and on, but let me end with a reiteration of my belief in “Yes means yes!” (as opposed to “No means no”). Only yes means yes. Really. As one of my closest friends said, basically summing up the entire topic for me: “If there’s a place for rape, reality isn’t it.”