Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fifty Shade of Rape Culture

"When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

This book is intended for mature audiences."

This is the book description of Fifty Shades of Grey from amazon.com, found here.

I refuse to read any of the books in this trilogy.

Perhaps I should not be surprised that at least half of my co-workers have recommended this book to me.  Maybe it makes sense given how often the topic of sex is bandied about the office/break room/restroom/elevator area of the building in which I work.  It's possible that people are under the impression that this book might be right up my alley because I have no problem engaging in these discussions when they take place.

Sex and food are the two lowest common denominators in life.  Neither of them are on my list of top ten topics I'd like to discuss on a given day.  Unfortunately, the topics I would like to discuss on a given day are not topics I can discuss with my co-workers because 1) they don't have the education I have and most of what I say makes little to no sense to them, and 2) on the rare occasion that something I say does make sense, most of the co-workers I talk to get really angry and defensive about their experiences and this simply does not create an environment in which healthy, productive conversations can take place.

So....  Sex it is.

While there are myriad reasons I choose not to read this book, some are more personal and political than others.  Lowest on the list of reasons is that, by all accounts, and the one excerpt a co-worker demanded I read on her phone during break at work, it's incredibly poorly written.  

Highest on my list of reasons is the fact that my inner feminist rages against everything this book portrays as sexy, appealing, and desirable.

If there is one thing our society can do without, it's one more work of "literature" that feeds the machine of rape culture.

Now, before anyone out there goes assuming I'm a prude, I assure you, I am not.  Before anyone out there goes assuming that I'm offended by the notion of kinky sex, I am not.  Tie me up and spank me.  So long as it's mutual.  So long as the power dynamics are equal.  So long as the interaction is one freely entered into and in which either party is and experiences themselves to be free to leave at any time.

And any situation in which you have "a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control" you do not have mutuality, equal power dynamics, or freedom to engage or disengage.

When you have a BDSM situation in which the top has all of the power and all of the control, you do not have a situation that holds to the tenets of the BDSM community:  Safe, Sane, Consensual.  You have abuse.  If you're interested in reading more about this power-dynamic from a former dominatrix, check out this interview in Marie Claire.

Why then, might someone who is open to all kinds of sexual arrangements have such a problem with this fictional sexual arrangement?  After all, it's just a book.

Fifty Shades of Grey (FSG)
 feeds rape culture.  It teaches entire groups of people that it is acceptable to be humiliated and abused--physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally, financially--if you are a woman, and that women and women's bodies are the property of men who have a right to humiliate and abuse--physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally, and financially.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, emotional abuse, and rape, I very much believe that FSG is unlikely to have any redeeming values whatsoever.

Permit me, if you will, to tell my story, about how rape culture has intimately impacted my life.

It was Halloween, October 31, 2007.  I had just started my last year in seminary.

I went out with some friends after work, to a local bar, for some drinks and revelry.  I've never been one to drink much or often, and I'd been going out to bars with some frequency, so I had decided some weeks back that when I did go out, I would stick to club soda.  This point is not included to indicate that women who do choose to consume alcoholic beverages and who are assaulted have contributed, in anyway, to their victimization.  It is merely included as fact of the evening.

At the bar, there were a lot of people, wearing a lot of different costumes.  I went as a chaplain--last year of seminary, see how that works?

There was a man in the bar who was not unattractive, and who struck up a conversation with me. We talked for a bit, and decided that some kissing was in order.

Frankly, I prefer not to do my kissing in front of other people.  It's personal and intimate, and no one really wants to see me sucking face with a total stranger anyway, so we headed somewhere more private.

As I lived just up the street and he was visiting friends from out of town, we headed to my apartment.  I made clear up front that I was interested in kissing only.  He agreed that this was acceptable.

We made it back to my apartment, and I showed him to the restroom.  When he re-entered my room, he was stark naked and standing between me and the only door.

He proceeded to forcibly remove my clothing, shove me up against my bed, force me to lean over the bed, using one hand to hold my torso down, yanking my hair back with the other to the point that my airway was constricted and I could barely breathe.

He forced my legs apart and he raped me.

When my dog, my five pound Yorkshire Terrier, Willy Wonka attacked this man, he stopped, let me up, grabbed my dog, and threw him into the wall across the room.  Willy Wonka slid down the wall, stood up, shook his head, and renewed his attack.

Seeing this man lunge for my dog again, I called him quietly to me and locked him in his kennel where he would be safe.

The attack continued, and I was pinned to the bed, on my back.  Blissfully, I could breathe again.  In theory.

In reality, I was crying so hard I could barely catch my breath, as I pleaded and begged this man to stop.  "No," I said.  "Please, no.  Not that.  Please, don't.  Please, stop.  I don't want to do that."

I called my best friend the next day.  I cried.  I told her it was a one-night stand.  Who would believe that I had been raped?  I had spent the evening in a bar, where I met a man, and a few hours later, invited him back to my apartment for some private kissing.  What did I think was going to happen?  Did I really expect that he would listen to me when I said kissing was all I was interested in?  He'd left the bar and his friends and traveled to my neighborhood.  Did I really think I had a right to expect that he wouldn't pressure me into sex, or take from me what I had clearly told him I would not give him?

Rape culture tells women that if you go to a bar, meet a man, take him home for some casual kissing, and you are raped, it's your fault, because everyone knows that going home with a stranger is the equivalent of consent.  Except it is not consent.  Rape is never the victim's fault.

Rape culture convinces women to believe this lie.  I bought into for nearly a year.

If this event, in itself, weren't traumatizing enough, the experiences that followed certainly didn't help.

Five months later, I went to the doctor to be tested for STIs, including HIV.  I waited this long because I knew that HIV is not detectable in the blood stream for at least eight weeks post infection, I had recently moved back to my home state 1,000 miles from where the attack took place, having taken a medical leave of absence from school, and (primarily because) I couldn't get out of bed.

When I went to the doctor, I was asked why I wanted to be tested for STIs.

"Because I was raped."

"When did this occur," the doctor asked.

"October 31st of last year."

"Why did you wait so long to be tested," the doctor asked.

"Because I knew that HIV would not be detectable for at least eight weeks if I was infected."

"Halloween was more than eight weeks ago," the doctor pointed out.

I did not respond.

"Who raped you," the doctor asked me, as if this were pertinent to having blood drawn and a vaginal swab done.

"I don't know," I told her, honestly.  I hadn't gotten his name, and it's not as though he left a business card or phone number when he left.

"Was it someone you met in a bar?  Someone who works at your school?  An acquaintance, perhaps?  This was date rape, wasn't it?"

A digression:  date rape is a bullshit made up term for the purposes of minimizing the horrifying experience of being violently sexually violated by someone you know, because it does not fit the cultural (mis)conception that rape is an act that is committed against a certain type of woman, committed by a certain type of perpetrator.  Date rape is a bullshit made up term used to communicate to a woman that her experience of violation and assault isn't really rape because if she knew the man who assaulted her, she must have done something to indicate she was okay with it.  Something like inviting a man she'd recently met in a bar back to her apartment for a little bit of kissing in private after making clear the expectation that kissing was all that was going to happen.

I lied.  "I don't know who it was.  I'd never seen him before.  Someone must have left the outside entrance to my apartment building open.  I was returning from the bathroom at the end of my hallway when he followed me and forced his way into my apartment."

A digression:  Fuck you, doctor.

All tests came back clean.  Thank you, Jesus.  (Really!  Thank you, Jesus.  In case you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm down with religion, and Jesus is my homeboy).

Oh, therapy.

I was in it.  I had started about a week before I was tested.

The rape was never discussed.

I realize this might seem odd.

Shit happens.  I had more immediate crises to deal with.  Tim's death one week after this violent sexual assault was one of them.

Six months after I started seeing my therapist, she went on maternity leave.

We were now six weeks out from the first anniversary.  She'd been on leave for two weeks.  She wouldn't be back for four more weeks.

I was having flashbacks.  Nightmares.  When I could sleep.  Which wasn't often.

It's cool.  My therapist is a rock star and she'd left me with the contact information of her office mate, who, she assured me, was just as capable.  Her office mate is male.  This did not initially bother me.

I called.  I made an appointment.

I told my story.

"How do you know it was rape," the fill-in therapist asked me.

How do I know it was rape?

"We had agreed to kissing.  I told him I wouldn't have sex with him.  He held me down.  He forced me to have sex with him.  I cried, pleaded, begged him to stop."

"Maybe to him it was just rough sex," the fill-in therapist replied.

This man was questioning my interpretation of events and justifying the behaviors of my rapist.  I paid $70.00 an hour for this shit?

I never felt the need to see the fill-in ever again.

I discussed the assault with my therapist once or twice when she returned from maternity leave. Nothing more than that was really necessary.  Shit happens.  And I had other things going on in my life that took precedence.

I processed on my own.  When necessary, I processed with others.  A great big shout out to my McG1N ladies on this.  Most especially you, AB.  I healed.

This is why I have no interest in reading FSG.  Because this is a book that tells its reader it's okay to treat women like objects.  Because this is a book pornifies the female body.  Because this a book that contributes to rape culture.  Because this a book that normalizes the complete dependence of women on men, dehumanizes and disempowers them, and teaches that it's acceptable and perhaps even ideal to align yourself with a man who is physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and financially abusive if he's handsome and rich.

I have no interest in reading FSG because although I have healed, millions have not.

Rape culture and FSG tells us they have nothing to heal from.

1 comment:

  1. Mary, I'm sorry that you went through such a horrifying experience. Fifty Shades of Grey is poorly written and as I believe all books are, entertainment. As far as BDSM, total control and even "collaring" are part of the culture which includes one person retaining all the power. I'm glad I don't work there anymore, so I don't have to be included in the herd that doesn't have your education.