Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rape Jokes, Part 3 -- Confronting People

I am mentally and emotionally burnt out from the last two days. It has been a constant cycle between trigger-induced numbness and seething anger that I have had to control enough to do three problem sets for school. While I was waiting for my organic chemistry lecture to start this evening, I thought I would turn my exhausting ordeal into something productive. So, since my recent experiences have told me that some people need help with this, welcome to:

How to tell if you are using the word "rape" appropriately in everyday discourse (A Guide For Dummies)

It's so simple anyone can follow it, I promise. It involves asking yourself one question.

Am I trying to be funny (edgy, witty, ironic, sarcastic, etc.)?

If you are, then your answer is no. No. NO. You are horribly abusing the term. Rape is not funny. You are not funny (or witty, or cool). Being offensive is not "cool." Contributing your ugly, unwanted, unneeded two cents to a culture that is already violence-insensitive and victim-shaming is not "cool." Triggering rape victims and reminding them of the horror they survived is not "cool." There is nothing about being an ignorant jerk that makes you cool or funny. Capice?

Now let's say you slipped up, made a rape joke, and got called out on it. Let's talk about your choices now.

a) Apologize and don't do it again. (No, don't just promise not to do it again-- actually don't. Ignorance isn't an excuse after the first time you get called out on it.)

b) Call the person who asked you not to do it "selfish" and accuse her of expecting the world to revolve around her.

c) Tell the person who asked you not to do it that it's a free country and you can do what you damn well please.

d) Say that you think they're funny and other people do too so you're going to keep making them anyway.

e) Delete the polite Facebook comment asking you to use a different analogy and then proceed to "like" every other joke about or reference to rape in the comments following the post.

You might be thinking, hm, the last four choices seem awfully specific and full of bitterness, and if so, you are quite correct. Those are all responses that I've personally received after asking someone (in person) to stop making rape jokes or (online) requesting that they delete a particular status and repost using a better analogy.

The situation described in choice (e) happened on Wednesday and really pissed me off. I have been struggling to sit with my feelings and still function like a normal person and go to class and do homework the last two days, even though inside I feel like a cold, barren tundra filled only with painful memories and numbness or a raging inferno of anger and desire-to-introduce-person-to-my-fist-or-other-forms-of-pain-equaling-what-I-feel-every-time-someone-makes-a-g*ddamn-rape-joke. It's really hard to do that for two days. And it's all because of a careless comment made by someone who thought he was being cool and edgy, and the immature response to my polite request.

I sent a message to that person that reads as follows:

Dear X,

Yesterday you made a status update that I found to be offensive and in poor taste. I left a comment politely asking you to use a different analogy that would not trigger or trivialize rape victims. I was not alone in the sentiment-- two of your friends clicked "like" on my request. Yet your response was to delete my comment and "like" every other comment on your post that made a rape joke or reference.

I found that to be a hurtful and immature response. If you can find something funny about pain, shame, and terror, please enlighten me, because I just don't see it. You're probably thinking "it was a joke-- no one gets raped by elephants." Please remember that even careless and casual references you might make can affect people, even if it's not the exact situation and you think you're being edgy or witty or funny. Rape is not funny. Period. This insensitivity is one of the reasons we live in a culture that trivializes rape and shames victims.


If he writes anything back, I will post part II of this saga.

The point of this post (apart from letting me rant) was to ask you to help spread the word that rape jokes are inappropriate. Not only are they seriously not funny, but they are also hurtful to people who have already gone through more trauma than anyone ever should. Please, if you hear or see someone use "rape" in anything but a serious and sensitive context to mean nonconsensual sex, call them out on it. As demonstrated in this unrelated but still very awesome video, most people who have these attitudes are ignorant and/or cowards. If they were simply ignorant, maybe they'll realize the error of their ways. If they're cowards, then maybe they'll stop if enough people confront them. Either way, a changed mind or a shut mouth would do the world good.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When people come together to do things, amazing stuff can result

This will seem like an odd thing to post-- I certainly didn't expect this video to have any connection to PTSD and hope and support-- but I found it surprisingly touching. About halfway through the video, maybe a little later, he talks about projects he's started on the internet to foster communication and connection between people. He then mentions some personal requests he's had from people to write songs addressing fear, or addressing sadness and anxiety. I won't spoil the surprise-- I'll just say that he does it in a pretty touching, amazing way. I felt really good at the end of this video.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Men: Finding Security in Making the Safe Unsafe?

I found a great article with interesting and insightful analysis of the awful but all-too-common chant "No means yes; yes means anal!" (Most recently it was featured in the previously-discussed Yale debacle.)

Slightly pared down, here is what I find to be the choicest bits:

At first, the fraternity issued a cover-your-ass smirking apology for offending people’s feelings (read: you feminists can’t take a joke). Their next apology, a day or so later, was far more abject, and showed they’d put some serious thought into how their actions might have been experienced by others. It seemed sincere enough.

But it lacked historical perspective. In 2006, fraternity guys marched in a sort of picket line outside the Women’s Center on campus, chanting those same phrases. In 2008, members of another fraternity celebrated their love of “Yale sluts” by screaming about it outside that same campus Women’s Center.

What does it mean to chant “No Means Yes” outside the campus Women’s Center, the place that offers a safe space for women who have been assaulted or abused? What does it mean to target the one place where women might actually feel safe enough to find their own voice, feel strong enough to succeed in a world still marred by gender inequality? It’s a reminder that men still rule, that bro’s will always come before “ho’s”. Even the Women’s Center can’t protect you.
That is, it’s a way to make even the safe unsafe.

We could leave it there, and let the campus judiciary and the blogosphere continue to debate about free speech and hostile environments and hate speech. But I think it would miss another, equally important element–the second half of the chant, “Yes Means Anal.”

This chant assumes that anal sex is not pleasurable for women; that if she says yes to intercourse, you have to go further to an activity that you experience as degrading to her, dominating to her, not pleasurable to her. This second chant is a necessary corollary to the first.

Thanks to feminism, women have claimed the ability to say both “no” and “yes.” Not only have women come to believe that “No Means No,” that they have a right to not be assaulted and raped, but also that they have a right to say “yes” to their own desires, their own sexual agency. Feminism enabled women to find their own sexual voice.

Sometimes, as in the case of the now-famous Karen Owen at Duke, they can be as explicitly raunchy as men, and evaluate men’s bodies in exactly the way that men evaluate women’s bodies. (I agree with Ariel Levy that women imitating men’s drinking and sexual predation is a rather impoverished style of liberation.)

This is confusing to many men, who see sex not as mutual pleasuring, but about the “girl hunt,” a chase, a conquest. She says no, he breaks down her resistance. Sex is a zero-sum game. He wins if she puts out; she loses.

That women can like sex, and especially like good sex, and are capable of evaluating their partners changes the landscape. If women say “yes,” where’s the conquest, where’s the chase, where’s the pleasure? And where’s the feeling that your victory is her defeat? What if she is doing the scoring, not you?

Thus the “Yes Means Anal” part of the chant. Sex has become unsafe for men–- women are agentic and evaluate our performances. So if “No Means Yes” attempts to make what is safe for women unsafe, then “Yes Means Anal” makes what is experienced as unsafe for men again safe–back in that comfort zone of conquest and victory. Back to something that is assumed could not possibly be pleasurable for her. It makes the unsafe safe–- for men.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

For lack of a better title, My Story

Tonight marks the intersection of several different thoughts. I started typing this post and realized that this thought was going to get buried in my other musings, so I'll pull it out and stick it right here, up front and center. I've decided to link this blog and my Facebook page together, because I have decided to publicly "come out" about my experience as a rape survivor. There are some people who should be ashamed about what happened, but I should not be one of them. So for anyone of you reading this whom I knew in elementary school, middle school, high school, college, who thinks rape is something that doesn't happen to people you know-- well, it does.

The second thought is one I had on the bus home tonight. I spent most of today ruminating on last Wednesday's Yale fraternity pledge incident after I found out about it this morning. It's disgusting, there's no doubt about that. My first thought was "how did anyone with the intelligence to get into Yale ever think this was a good idea?" And then I realized that Dartmouth-- and, I wager, most of the other top-tier schools in the country-- has its own fair share of misogynistic frat boys, and that brought me back to my own experience.

One thing about the Yale incident really stuck with me, though, and that was from this follow-up article:

Yale Dean Mary Miller says any disciplinary action against individual DKE members will be confidential from start to finish, and that such action "is not designed to provide satisfaction to those who might feel aggrieved."

To me, this reeks of institutional neglect. What I see is a university that wants to brush this under the rug as quickly yet inconspicuously as possible. Is this a shameful incident? Of course it is. But the way to handle it is to stand up and take action, not try to cover things up with excuses like confidentiality.

I realize this may be an issue of debate. Should disciplinary action, if it were to take place, be kept confidential? My opinion is this: confidentiality should be to protect victims, not perpetrators-- especially not when the perpetrators went parading around campus openly in the first place. I don't think the frat brothers and pledges involved in this case should have the right to privacy. When someone does something this offensive and hurtful to others, their privacy should be the last concern on people's mind. It should not be a way to hide or lessen the severity or possibility of punishment. Period.

And the other part of Dean Miller's statement, that any disciplinary action "is not designed to provide satisfaction to those who might feel aggrieved." And may I ask, why not? I think Yale does need to take responsibility for the distress people might feel about this event, since it was on their campus and done by some of their students. I'm glad that Yale has chosen to use this incident to spark discussion about sexual assault, but that is not enough. That doesn't help people who might have been triggered by the incident. It's just talk talk talk, which is all that most victims seem to get for compensation these days. All talk, no action. Believe it or not, just discussing how the incident was bad doesn't help a victim feel all that much better. It's easy to say how awful something is and how things should be changed. Hearing that doesn't mean a thing if no action comes of it.

This Yale incident and how it stinks of institutional neglect really hits close to home. I was raped in my fraternity by a fraternity brother, an alumnus who was visiting for the weekend. For the most part, the reaction I got when I told people consisted of hugs and "that is awful" and "let us know what you need and we'll be there for you." Except for one. A few days after I was raped, I was told by a high-ranking elected official of the fraternity to keep quiet about the rape because if word got out, no one would come by the frat anymore and it would get ruined and that would all be my fault. We needed to keep the illusion that we were better than other frats, that rape doesn't happen at Phi Tau, or else.

When I was first told that, for a split second I believed it. It was only through remembering the writing I had found online by other strong, courageous women about how being raped is not your fault and you should not be ashamed that it happened because it was solely and completely the rapist's choice to commit that crime. And then I realized how wrong it was for someone to tell me to keep quiet about what happened in order to preserve my fraternity's reputation. It was wrong, and it made me angry that this so-called brotherhood of mine, my so-called family, would try to brush this all under the carpet.

I went to other brothers of the house and relayed what I had been told. The reaction I got? "Oh, that's awful. You should tell whomever you want." At first I thought that was a good reaction, that it meant people disagreed with the person who told me and would stand up for me and change this attitude. But no-- what it really meant was that words are easy to say, even for cowards. All talk and no action. The official was never reprimanded in any way for his actions, and even more, for all their talk about supporting me, they seemed to agree with his sentiment. I was allowed to tell whomever I wanted, of course, but they tried to do as little as possible about the event, as inconspicuously as possible, despite their promises to stand up and be a model for other frats about integrity and courage.

The man who raped me was banned from returning to the fraternity house. That seems like a pro-active, positive step, you might say. But in truth, he lived in a different state, and was never going to come back anyway because he knew I was pressing charges with the police. Yeah, my fraternity sent him a letter enforcing what he was going to do anyway. Doesn't take that much effort, does it? On the other hand, how about the fact that to this day, he is still considered a brother of Phi Tau? There was talk of editing our Constitution to make it possible to revoke brotherhood, but then two things happened: the undergrads who would have had to do the legwork stopped bothering, and the alumni got freaked out by the possibility of change. I was told by the President of the whole corporation that many alumni would withdraw their support of the House were I to push for any kind of change, and "strongly advised" that I cease and desist. How's that for another version of telling the victim to keep quiet and shoving everything under the rug?

It has been two and a half years since the incident happened my senior spring. After taking a year of medical leave, I did return to classes and receive my degree, finally moving away from Hanover this July. I struggled to make meaning of what happened in the aftermath of the rape, where people whom I thought of as friends-- even family-- failed to support me. Not only did I have to bear the burden of PTSD on my own, but also I wondered why they turned a blind eye, if it was something wrong with me that made them not care, and what that meant about my concept of brotherhood and friendship. There were times when I sat in the social space of my fraternity house and cried, needing a caring word or hug, yet people walked straight past me, carrying on conversations with other, sitting on the other side of the room to play games or read, etc. After the first week, no one bothered to even ask if I was okay when I cried. After a month or two, people started rolling their eyes when I brought up the event to see if anyone was going to push for further measures by the brotherhood. My recovery would have been so much faster and more effective if I had had the support of my fraternity, yet here I am, still struggling with what it means and how it feels to be betrayed.

Surprisingly, what hits hardest is not that the man who raped me is still considered a brother of the house, but that the official who threatened me to keep quiet was never once reprimanded or told that he should not have said what he said. In fact, pretty much everyone is still friends with him. It leads me to wonder about the fragile and fickle nature of friendship. I thought friendship meant standing up for your friend; the enemy of your friend is your enemy as well. I once asked someone how they managed to be friends with both him and me, and why, and the answer I received was that it was too hard to take a stand against someone in their social circle. She nonchalantly agreed that what he said to me was bad, but shrugged it off and continued to try to keep both his and my friendship.

Now that I have moved away from the influence of the house, I have begun to see clearly that that is not real friendship. Anyone can toss words of support out there. It takes a true friend to do something about it. And as an organization, integrity demands action. My fraternity took no action that required any effort on their part, citing excuses some of the time and just remaining silent or looking away the rest of the time. Silence condones the crime. Silence is cowardice and apathy. Silence and passivity tell the victim that s/he is not worth the effort to do what is right.

Although there are, of course, many differences between my story and the Yale pledge incident, I think the common thread is that an institution had the opportunity to stand up, take an appropriate amount of responsibility, and most importantly, take action, yet it is hedging. It's not too late for Yale to openly denounce what happened and push for serious consequences. Confidentiality is not a valid reason to hide any disciplinary action, and I think any action taken should be partly to satisfy anyone who was troubled or hurt by the incident. Yale needs to take notice of its community's distress and address it. Action, not just words and discussion and other passive means of patting victims on the head and turning away.