Sexual violence as a literary device in A Song of Ice and Fire

As a follow up to my post last week on A Song of Ice and Fire and the issue of rape on television, it turns out that Tumblr user Tafkar did an analysis of all of the rape scenes in the books and the television show. Here’s the quick overview of what they found.

Rape acts in Game of Thrones the TV series (to date): 50
Rape victims in Game of Thrones (to date): 29

Rape acts in ASOIAF the book series (to date): 214
Rape victims in ASOIAF (to date): 117

The books contain over 4 times as much rape as the show (and probably even more; the method of analysis likely underestimates the rape in the books).

You can look in the link above for more detail, but be warned, they included somewhat graphic descriptions of some of the things they were discussing, so maybe cuddle a stuffed animal while you read it or just wait until you are in a strong place before going through the whole thing.

I had two thoughts when I was reading Tafkar’s analysis of the preponderance of rape in the books versus the series.

Thought #1: Wow! It’s not just HBO that has a rape problem, George RR Martin has a rape problem too!
Thought #2: I really didn’t remember half the rapes that happened in the books until this person reminded me…

I still stand by the idea that HBO has a rape problem that needs to be addressed. Titillating viewers with scenes of sexual violence or using said sexual violence to turn women into steel-hearted warriors is problematic in the extreme. But then I’ve said all that before.

My new problem now lies with the fact that I genuinely didn’t remember most of the scenes of rape that were mentioned in the books. I think there are two things happening there. The first thing is that GRRM’s prose is so ponderous and agonizing that I did, at times, skip whole pages of exposition in order to keep from falling asleep. So it is likely that I missed one or two rapes in the process. And the second thing that is happening there is that GRRM uses rape so frequently as a set dressing for other, “more important,” things that I became blind to it as a serious recurring theme.

In a way, this sort of mirrors everyday culture. Rape and the culture surrounding rape are so ubiquitous that most people reacting to it with anything more than a shrug seems a rarity nowadays (see shows like SVU for an example of how little fucks are given about sexual violence on television). Between reading stories of female comics who are regularly sexually harassed and even assaulted by their male colleagues while doing their jobs and hearing horror stories from women who have worked in the sex industry about the exploitation that arises in that kind of work. Shit, even just sitting around and talking with friends so often leads to stories about how regularly they are harassed or groped by men on the street, or how many of them have histories of having endured sexual violence. Being surrounded by it every day is a terrible reality of the lives of so many women that my heart sometimes can’t handle it and I just give up and watch a Disney movie.

With all of that, having rape be included in entertainment as some kind of “fun” or meaningful backdrop for male heroism is just a step too far. Anita Sarkeesian did an excellent analysis of this particular trope in video games (that you should totally watch when you have an hour if you haven’t already), but I think that you can apply what she is talking about in those videos to what we see going on in television and books all the time.

One of the biggest arguments that I get in defense of rape in GRRM’s work (either screen or text) are citing some kind of “historical accuracy.” To that I say this:

First of all, I must have missed the part of history that covered goddamn dragons and white walkers. Which, you know, somebody needs to fill me in on, because I am missing out.

Second of all, if you are defending rape used as a lazy writing trope in order to push men to do stuff or to harden women enough so that they can do stuff, you are barking up the wrong goddamn tree with me. The laziness of your favorite writer is not my problem.

Which brings me to my final point. I know rape has happened throughout history. I have a history degree. I know that rape still happens today. I would have to live in a hole to not know that. But here’s the thing: the writers of any given world get to make the rules for that world. They get to show you the things that are happening within it. They can use any manner of things in order to fan the flames of your loyalty with their characters. In other words, just because rape happened doesn’t mean they have to use it. Using rape is a choice. Using rape frequently and with seeming relish is also a choice. It is a choice writers like GRRM and the writers at HBO continue to make. And it is the wrong choice.

Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to think really hard about why they are working so intently on propping up and defending the use of sexual violence against the protests of so many.

The Day They Left

One day they found the way out.

Past the bounds of things that are known. Our cats abandoned us and walked starlit, moon-drenched pathways to somewhere beyond.

Now they wait, catching falling stars, tails curled ’round constellations. They wait. And they hunger.


Bullying is Bullshit

I went to seven grade schools.

Kindergarten was basically normal. I fingerpainted. My best friend was in the class with me. I remember making paper feathers for a hat at Thanksgiving. It was uncomplicated.

My first grade teacher was evil. We found out later that she wasn’t even qualified to be a teacher. She put children in closets. Including me. She punished you for squirming. I kicked my first boy in the crotch. He would confide in me when we were both 18 that he still possessed a scar. I would tell him that the scar was a lesson that you should listen to girls when they tell you to let them go or leave them alone. Mom moved me because the environment there was so toxic.

I don’t remember much of second grade. I think that it was fine, though. I was bullied, but I don’t remember to what extent. It must have been bad, because Mom moved me to a local Baptist school.

Third grade was the best grade. I was not being bullied. My best friend was in my class. My teacher was red-haired and beautiful. She brought us back cheese from Wisconsin. Someone in the class cut themselves on safety scissors. It was the first time that I had seen blood in that amount. They went home in an ambulance.

In forth grade my teacher was also a Civil War reenactor like my dad. I accidentally told her that I loved her one night when leaving the Civil War museum. She was kind. And warm. And nurturing. Like a favorite aunt. I really did love her.

My best friend left my school in fifth grade. Suddenly the bullying was too much to bear. Girls in my class telling me that I could be the servant when we played princesses on Church days because my dresses were not as nice as theirs… suddenly stung. And my old retreat between a building and a wire fence where I would pretend to be a pilot, sketching out drawings in chalk on the stone and pressing buttons that would take me to Where They Were Not, was profoundly isolating without a co-pilot. My mother elected to move my brother and I to home schooling.

Sixth and seventh grade were spent at home. My dad was my history teacher. I spent hours with my mom out in the woods learning the names of trees and rocks and rivers. I poured over Civil War era maps with my father. I had a few friends from local home schooling groups. One of them had a deer named Dawn who lived in her back yard and would gently take offered grain from my hand. Most of the home schooling groups were fundamentalist Christians, however, and I grew tired quickly of having them tell me that my family was going to Hell. Additionally, I had a hard time adjusting to the idea of my mother as a teacher and respecting her as such. So the decision was made to send me back to school. I did not pass the entrance test for eighth grade, however.

The second go of seventh grade was more difficult than school had been to that point. I was close enough to walk home, but my bully followed me. She whispered death threats in my ear in class and followed me home until, one day, terrified, I threw a metal trash can at her face and ran. After a quarter of the year had gone by, my mother was fed up and I was terrified. The Principle told my mother than I could deal with the problem or get out. We got out.

Seventh grade part three was easier. I was not afraid of what passed for a bully in the new school. She tried to push me down the hill at lunch. I stood stock still and laughed. She made fun of my pads and the boys joined in, so I threw them at the crowd of shrinking boys and they scattered like schools of fish before me. I felt the flavor of future power as I laughed off her pale attempts at playground butchery.

In eighth grade I had a new best friend. I was a little in love with her. I had followed her around the playground and begged her to be my friend. Eventually she would come on vacations with me and my family. I was so grateful to have a friend. And she was so lovely.

In high school my fifth grade bully would find me, now a grade ahead of me because of my having repeated seventh grade. She asked me if she could be my “big sister” and show me the ropes.

I threw my head back and I laughed.

Mad Max: Feminist Action Movie (Spoilers Ahead)

First let me say that I do not write reviews. I do not have any interest in reviews, generally speaking. But there has been a lot of talk in my circles about whether Mad Max: Fury Road is a feminist film or not, so I felt like I should try to tangle with that question for myself.

Let me address first the major issue I have with George Miller’s epic film: The inclusion (or lack thereof) of people of color. Despite the prominent inclusion of Zoë Kravitz, the whole film was seriously lacking in this regard. And that might have been because of the white body paint used on the War Boys, but I was not able to see more than one or two people of color, and those few that I saw were within the teeming mass of humans begging for water at the Citadel. This is endemic of a larger issue of inclusion that permeates Hollywood, and I stand with a number of other feminists in saying that this continued omission is unacceptable.

That said, that there was a notable presence of Maori actors including Courtney EatoniOTA, and Megan Gail. And it should not be overlooked in the conversation that these actors have a direct tie to the cultural heritage of the place where these movies were originally born. It is also worth noting that their apparent whiteness is a testament to the erasure of native features through centuries of rape and oppression. Overlooking these actors is a symptom of that erasure and should not be done lightly, or, you know, at all.

The rest of the movie was a feminist dystopian dream come true. The one-armed and brutal Impirator Furiosa leads society to freedom from the people who had oppressed them for their entire lives. I have heard people talk about how the only misogyny in the film was a sort of cartoon misogyny, and that is absolutely true. But I really don’t know where you would fit microaggressions into a film like this one. It is a pulse-pounding chase film. It is the best part of every action movie that you have ever seen smashed into one long opus. You aren’t going to have some guy standing at the water cooler leering at your boobs. It doesn’t fit. And I think people who call for that kind of nuance in a film like this are missing the point.

They are, after all, likely the only “gently kept” women in existence.

I mean, even the camera work avoided being shitty and exploitative. The most sexual it got was in the moment when Max saw the brides for the first time as they washed off the dirt of travel. And he, dizzy with dehydration and having been tortured and locked away for who knows how long, was dumbstruck by their beauty. And who wouldn’t be? But honestly, there were two nipple shots in the entire thing and there was one naked woman, but she had an actual narrative significance and was probably the least sexualized nude female body I have ever seen.

Some talk has occurred regarding the violence in the film and whether violence is a feminist thing. The film even addresses it, with one of the brides questioning the Vulvani (best name ever) about their seeming delight in violence, stating that she thought they would be “above all that.” Personally, I do not think that violence is inherently anti-feminist. More specifically, I think that it is anti-feminist that we would call the violent reaction against an oppressive state “anti-feminist.” Considering the national conversation about riots in this country, I would think that point could not possibly be more clear. Nor come at a more appropriate time.

All in all, the film has been hailed as a feminist opus. And I think that it could fit easily into that niche for me were it not for the issues of representation mentioned above. But it has also been criticized for being a two hour pulse pounding film that is basically devoid of complicated plot. And I think that is somewhat misleading because of one very important development toward the end of the film.

When Furiosa and the brides reach the Vulvani and decide to make good their escape over the salt flats when their green utopia proves to be a long-dead lie, something important happens. Max chases after them and impresses upon Furiosa that the only world they can hope to take – the only world with any surety of sustainable life – is the one they left behind.

notthingsAnd that is where Fury Road goes from being a meaningless action film to something greater. From the furious scrawling of “WE ARE NOT THINGS” on the wall of the cell in which the brides were kept, the entire film centered around reaching some kind of glorious green place where the oppression of men no longer existed. The brides are hell-bent on the idea that their sons will not be warlords. But there is no guarantee of life beyond the edges of the known. And the only way that they can find their way to freedom is by freeing the world they left behind. By freeing the War Boys from the bounds of patriarchal oppression writ large in the body of Immortan Joe.

So they return. They fight their way through hoards of men who would enslave and constrain them. And when the time comes for Furiosa to be raised on high, who do we see disappearing into the crowd? Max. Max who does not need or want to take the attention and credit from the women he has assisted in their furious return. He knows that the way to a better world is not his way, but theirs. And he slips quietly into the crowd, making way for a society free from the stain of war mongering waged by men like him and Immortan Joe.

Feminist rating: 7 out of 10. Three points deducted for inclusion. An excellent, if problematic, film.

Think of the Children: Josh Duggar & Pedophilia

I was home schooled for sixth and seventh grade. My mother went through cycles with the schools I attended. She would put me into a new school and then move me out at the end of the year because the administration was terrible. She didn’t want to put my brother and I into public school, but the Catholic and Baptist schools that she preferred weren’t much better when it came to bullying and the attitudes of the administration regarding bullying.

So, when I was in sixth grade, she removed the issues she had with the school systems in Philadelphia by removing my brother and I from them.

Home schooling was rough. One of the things my mom really wanted to do was to make sure that we still had social interactions and friends. But she quickly discovered that the local homeschooling groups were packed with fundamentalists who told Jules and I that our family’s ungodliness meant that we were going straight to Hell.

My mom did not stand for any of that shit. So we drifted out of homeschooling groups in the same way that we had drifted from school to school, save with more rapidity. I’m so grateful to my mom for recognizing toxic environments and making the effort to remove me from them when I was a kid. She worked really hard to make sure that I was in a safe space, and that is so valuable to me as an adult when I look around me and see so many of my friends and loved ones whose parents did not do that hard work for them.

Which brings me to this weeks totally unshocking revelation of adult misconduct.

Before this week you might not have heard of the Duggars. They were the stars of a TV show that aired back in 2008 titled “17 Kids and Counting” that made it’s way up to “19 Kids and Counting” by way of being “18 Kids and Counting.” The show was about Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 kids. The kids’ names all start with the letter “J.” Because why not.

The Duggar Family
The Duggar family visits “Extra” at their New York studios at H&M in Times Square on March 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra)

All that is enough to make me just nope straight out the door, but it gets worse. The Duggars are also Independent Baptists (i.e. super fundamentalist Christians) and members of the Christian patriarchy movement. Christian patriarchy is one of those things that really upsets me both in idea and practice. It is what it sounds like, basically. The father is the head of the house and, as such, he is responsible for the conduct and care of his family. But, of course, that means that all the women in the house are totally subservient to the father and viewed as property.

If you want to understand more about the sickness of the Duggar way of life and some of the people that they associate themselves with, I wholly recommend this Open Letter to Duggar Defenders when you have time for a long read. Here is an illuminating excerpt regarding the supposed “happiness” of the Duggar children:

The Duggars are deeply enmeshed in ATI, (Gothard’s homeschooling program) and ATI takes allegiance very seriously. It isn’t a vague statement of beliefs that you sign so your kids can take the courses. It is several pages of in-depth info that covers what kind of music you can listen to (no Christian rock), the kind of TV you may watch (mainly Christian DVDs), the way you must dress (those jumpers are about modesty), the kind of punishments the parents must use (spankings), and more. It isn’t just a curriculum–it is a lifestyle which delves into family finances, child planning and every other detail.

One key idea teaches the importance of a joyful countenance and a light in your eyes. This is a measure of how mighty you are in spirit. Not only that, it is also an indicator of your respect for authority. Bill Gothard explains in the Basic Seminar session on How To Relate to Four Authorities that if you look unhappy, you are publicly shaming your authority. In parenting, that means that if the kid looks unhappy, it is a personal offense against the parents. He also teaches that unhappiness is the result of ungratefulness, and that anger comes from not yielding our rights to God. This boils down to the idea that if you are not cheerful, you are not pleasing God.

I get that negative emotions are not easy to deal with. And navigating them as a parent must be hard. But giving kids the space to feel sad and to deal with negative emotions healthily as they arise is important. At the very least, allowing kids to feel authentically and to express those feelings is vital to healthy emotional development.

So that’s just one aspect of the things that the Duggar children have internalized over the years. I should point out, by the way, that the Duggars are not alone in this. There are many other children being raised in this way and being taught these things. This is not an isolated group of people acting completely alone and contrary to all the other folks around them. Which is what makes it even more frightening to me.

Anyway, as you can imagine, all of this opens the door for all kinds of abuse. And, this week, it all boiled over.

It turns out that Josh Duggar, the Duggar’s eldest son, has admitted to molesting underage girls when he was a teenager in Arkansas. Included among these girls were his own younger sisters. The story broke on Thursday, when In Touch magazine published an article about the recently uncovered police reports from 2006 which indicate that Josh confessed to his father regarding the molestation. And that his father did not go to the police until a year afterward.

In a statement yesterday Josh was quoted as saying:

Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends… We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.

Since the news hit yesterday, Josh has resigned from his position at the Family Research Council. Josh’s parents Jim Bob and Michelle have stated that:

Back 12 years ago our family went through one of the most difficult times of our lives. When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before.

I have so many problems with what Josh did. But even more problems with how his family chose to handle what Josh did. Waiting a year to report the incidents to the police and praying to God rather than allowing the legal system to do it’s job are not acceptable choices.

At any rate, I am waiting to see whether the Duggars come forward with any more pertinent information to this case. Has Josh received any kind of therapy since these events? Has he been continually involved with any type of support group?

The fact that Josh has been involved in pedophilia and incest and now has his own children makes me concerned for the safety of those children. And the insular way in which the Duggars chose to deal with their son’s criminal acts toward his siblings and other young girls makes me suspicious. If they were not willing to report him to the police until one year after his “childhood mistakes,” what would they do if he was still molesting young women today? Or his own children?

My doubts about the family’s willingness to do the right thing regarding Josh’s pedophilic acts are exacerbated by the family’s close ties to Doug Phillips of Vision Forum and Bill Gothard of ATI. Doug has been revealed to have sexually abused a young female employee, while Bill spent decades sexually grooming the teenage girls sent to him by their parents for instruction. The Duggars have yet to speak a word against these men and their acts of sexual misconduct.

The Duggars have revealed with their previous behavior that they have no wish to expose Josh’s proclivities to the public eye. They hid his misdeeds behind the thick veil of secrecy that surrounds their family long enough that that is clear. But if the Duggars are not willing to expose Phillips and Gothard, who are not blood relatives, to bad press regarding their inappropriate sexual acts, I do not believe there is a force in this world that would compel them to expose their son in that way.

As I said, I am waiting to see if the Duggars come forward with some evidence that Josh has control of his urges to take sexual advantage of the girls in his life. But honestly, the fact that his behavior started so young and went un-addressed by anyone in a position of authority outside of the family does not give me a lot of hope that it has abated. I remain deeply concerned for the safety of his children and all young women with whom he interacts and over whom he has authority.

On being an angry feminist, tone policing, and allyship.

When I was at West Chester, I performed in the Vagina Monologues as part of my initiation into left wing feminist lesbianism. Appropriately, I was cast in the role of the “angry” vagina. That particular monologue began with me marching down the center aisle of the theater as intermission wound down and shouting, at the top of my lungs:

“My vagina is ANGRY!”

I went on to explain.

“It is. It’s pissed off. My vagina’s furious and it needs to talk. It needs to talk about all this shit. It needs to talk to you. I mean what’s the deal – an army of people out there thinking up ways to torture my poor-ass, gentle, loving vagina. Spending their days constructing psycho products, and nasty ideas to undermine my pussy. Vagina Motherfuckers.”

I still feel guilty for the woman who was sitting in the front row the first evening who jumped up when I shouted while walking past her. She actually squeaked out the words “Oh dear! I’m sorry!” and then flopped down in her chair.

I’m still angry. I see shit all the time that pisses me off. Even my article from earlier this week was a reaction to things that I was reading that just made me go all Mrs. White in reaction.

Flames... on the side of my face. Heaving... breathless... heaving breaths.
Flames… on the side of my face. Heaving… breathless… heaving breaths.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting mad. I’m pretty sure that getting mad is a prerequisite for getting any kind of change started. And I also think that it’s a pretty natural and acceptable reaction to having someone tell you that your cares or concerns are not valid ones.

But a lot of people seem to think that anger is a bad thing. There’s the trope about the angry feminist or the angry black guy. It’s super damaging to think of anger in that way. Anger is a necessary human emotion. Especially when you spend a lot of time advocating for social justice. But the idea of anger as a bad guy in any given situation gets used maliciously a lot.

For example, here is an argument that I see very often on the internet:

Person 1: *posts a very heartfelt comment about an article relating to an area of social justice that they feel passionately about* Very frequently this person is posting about a group to which they are closely tied (i.e. a woman posting on feminism or a person of color posting on issues having to do with race).
Person 2: *calls into question the relevance of that article* Very frequently this person is someone with  no skin in the game (i.e. a man commenting on feminism or a white person commenting on issues of systemic racism).
Person 1: *responds calmly, explaining the relevance as thoroughly as possible*
Person 2: *calls into question the relevance of the article*
Person 1: *continues calmly explaining, despite rising frustration and anger at being willfully misunderstood*

Persons number 1 & 2 will repeat the last two steps until this happens:

Person 2: *continues to calmly call out the issues raised by the article and/or the relevance of it existing at all*
Person 1: *gets pissed off and starts being snarky or mean or swearing because they have had enough*

Person 2 at this point will say some variation of “why are you so angry?” or “I never called you any names” or “let’s keep it civil.” And at that point, Person 1 might as well just throw in the towel as far as the second person is concerned. Because the second you get visibly angry, you have lost the argument. I don’t necessarily think that is true, but the person who started the whole controversy tends to flounce off at that point, assured in their innocence and suffering at the hands of the big mean social justice warrior or whatever.

Epic eye roll: activate!
Epic eye roll: activate!

The exchange above is an example of tone policing, the whole concept and execution of which makes me super angry, and here’s why. It’s super easy for Person 2 to remain calm. They have no stake in the discussion. Except maybe their own perception that they are somehow losing rights to women or people of color as those groups gain rights. But that’s not how rights work, so we will just ignore that nonsense. But for people whose lived experiences are tied closely to the things they talk about and share with the world, these are not objective issues. They are the solid facts of their everyday world. And having them dismissed out of hand would be enough to make anybody angry.

As a person who frequently plays the role of Person 1 in discussions like this one, I can say that conversations like these are also exhausting. And when the other person persists in putting forth their idea that the very real bullshit you are dealing with in your life does not exist or is not valid for some reason, it’s really hard not to fly off the handle. I’ve gotten better at in recent years, but even now I will admit to having a pretty short fuse when it comes to this kind of obnoxious behavior.

So let me close by saying this: If you see someone somewhere being tone policed, call the person out who is doing the policing. And stand up for the person who is being told that their feelings are somehow invalid because they are frustrated and upset. Having those conversations is exhausting. Defending yourself and your group of humans against relentless attacks on the validity of their concerns is a battle that never seems to end for some segments of our communities.

If you want to be an ally, stand up for the people around you and help lift the burden that they are carrying when you can. Remember that you can safely walk away from conversations that they will spend their entire lives fighting about. So take some of your energy and give it to them if you are able.

Spread the love and support around when you can, kids. It never goes amiss.

GoT Spoiler Alert: Rape


I would call it a spoiler alert if we didn’t all know that it was coming. It’s not so much a spoiler alert as it is a given. Which is depressing.

I should preface what follows by saying that I did not watch the recent Game of Thrones episode wherein yet another decent character gets raped. I didn’t watch it for the same reason that I have not watched the show so far: because I have already done enough harm to my psyche by reading the books. Why on earth would I want to watch again the unsatisfying non-conclusion of hours of torture and severing of limbs and heads and moral compasses? At least a book doesn’t let me hear every excruciating detail of what is being described to me.

It was around the time when Reek came on the scene that I had to put down George RR Martin’s endlessly tormented series and never pick it up again. I did this for several reasons. First of all, after reading four books in the series, I was starting to get really irritated by the torture that was going on, both emotional and physical. Second of all, the description of what was happening to that poor man was egregious and overwhelming in so many ways. It was easily the worst thing that I had read in the series. And finally, and most importantly, I knew there wasn’t going to be any pay off.

Now I know what you’re thinking, we don’t always need a Hollywood Ending where the Hero gets revenge on the Dude Who Wronged Him. And I agree with you. And denying the hero that chance is fine. It’s good, even. Challenging the easy outcome in works of fiction is a really good, powerful thing to do. My problem with GRRM is that he has written over 5,000 pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, and the chief theme seems to be that the bad guys are going to just kill and fuck up everything that you like with no discernible consequences. I mean, yea, they might kinda be worse people afterward? But they still have money and power and they still keep using it to destroy everything that you love. And after 5,000 pages, that tactic is draining, disheartening, and honestly makes me never want to read a word written by the man ever again.

Needless to say, the combination of GRRM and rape-happy HBO did not leave me thrilled at the prospect of the television series. I watched the first episode or two because I, like many people, could not resist the lure of the lush fantasy world I had invested so much time in being projected on a screen so that I could really see it. I will also admit to being drawn to garbage television, because that is a very real thing in my life.

Needless to say, I was not surprised in the least when they decided to rape Sansa in the show. I mean, how else were they going to make sure that she suffered? Having her father beheaded in front of her and his head paraded around by her sadistic and insane fiance wasn’t bad enough, clearly. Neither was being publicly beaten and humiliated by that fiance. Or being accused of murdering that same dude (which, to be fair, I totally would have actually done). Or having her uncle creep on her. Or being nearly thrown to her death by her insane aunt. Nope. A real strong female character is made strong by the introduction of a man’s penis forcibly inside her. Nothing more, nothing less.

The problem that I have with rape as a plot device is that it feeds into this idea that women need to suffer a specific type of trauma in order to become heroines. They cannot be considered serious contenders unless they have been broken and dehumanized by other characters first, which is, to me, totally unacceptable.

On top of this entire pile of issues with rape as a plot device, the idea that a woman has to be changed into the best version of herself after being brutally violated by a man lights my blood on fire. Like oh, wait, she can’t have just gone through some serious shit, she needs to have a dick inside her before she really decides to play the game. It all goes hand in hand with the idea that women are somehow fundamentally changed – and by “changed,” I mean “devalued” – when they lose their virginity. Which is, of course, horse shit of the highest order.

And if rape isn’t being used in order to destroy a woman enough so that she can be justified in her role as a cut throat contender for The Big Plot Thing of a given story, it’s being used in order to motivate a male character to kill other men so that he can be a contender for The Big Plot Thing. So women are either raped into being cutthroat contenders, or raped as a plot device to anger men enough into making change happen.

Good. Great. Glad we covered all of that. And you wonder why we need feminism.

TL; DR: Rape as a plot device is lazy, played out, sensationalist, ratings-hungry bullshit.


Adult Life Lesson #359

You are going to keep running across things you didn’t realize you should have known the year before. And you are going to feel like a total idiot for not realizing it earlier. And it’s gonna just keeeeeep happenin, so you might as well get used to it.

Case in point, my refrigerator.

This weekend Frankie and I went to AC Moore as we are wont to do on a weekend. As we were leaving the house to go over I told her that I would like to get a thing that we could use to make cold brew coffee this summer and easily store it in the fridge. She agreed that would be a great idea.

Hey there, good lookin!
Hey there, good lookin!

On my way into AC Moore I see this lovely fella.

And I’m like “Shut up and take my money, AC Moore. And stop reading my goddamn mind.”

So we get it and we take it home and I clean it out and put the little nozzle on it and go to put it in the fridge. Fuck. Too tall.

I decide not to fuck with it too much because Hilary and Thomthulu are coming over and it’s just not worth the frustration.

But after they leave I decide to empty the fridge and put the shelves and stuff in different places. I move one of the smaller shelves down to accomodate the new addition and it all fits perfectly. But I have this extra wire shelf that just… won’t fit now? And it bothers me because it doesn’t make sense that we would have a shelf that just doesn’t go in the fridge for some reason.

Then it hits me.

Behold: The way my fridge should have looked for the past year and three months.
Behold: The way my fridge should have looked for the past year and three months.

It belongs in the freezer.

And I open the freezer door and there are these holes that are set perfectly for the thing to fit in there and I’m just gobsmacked. Like, how have we lived here for over a year, bitching the entire time about how unruly our fucking freezer is, mind, and not realized that this stupid wire shelf belongs up there? The wire shelf doesn’t even really fit in the fridge. It slides back and forth and stuff falls behind it. It’s just… impractical.

So yea. You’re never too old to learn new things. Or to feel like a dumb ass for not having learned them sooner.

Whee, adulthood!

Mental Health, Stigma, and Therapy

One of the most damaging taboos that I have ever run across is the taboo against speaking out and articulating issues having to do with mental health.

My first experience with this phenomenon happened before I was born. My mother was the oldest of 6 children. When my mother was 18 years old, her family home burned down. Her two youngest sisters died in the fire. My uncle, the child closest in age to the girls, spent several weeks underneath the stairs, refusing to come out. Nowadays we would send him to grief counselling or therapy of some kind. But in 1968, they simply let him do what he was doing. He grew up, developed a heroin addiction, and died of an overdose when I was 20 or so.

When it comes to dealing with our problems, we as a species are really not great at being our own counselors. It’s hard to be honest with yourself about your behavior, or even the behavior of others. Everything you do is filtered through your brain, which is suuuuuper biased for all kinds of reasons.

But, while we are super flawed when it comes to judging ourselves (and sometimes others) when it comes to emotional and mental health, we also aren’t super great about seeking help when we need it. Nor are we good at being honest when we start to get it, or about our needs and boundaries while we are working on ourselves.

There’s a lot of reasons for that. Having serious emotional or mental problems in your life is a highly stigmatized thing. It also, for me, feels like a really personal thing. It’s one thing if the people around me find out that I broke my leg. It’s quite another if they find out that I’m being medicated to deal with my anxiety or depression or what have you.

And I mean, when you consider the history of mental health in this country alone, the stigma against disclosing mental health issues becomes pretty easy to understand. Who wants to be institutionalized or shunned because their behavior doesn’t fit into the norm?

There’s also the issue of people simply not believing you when you say that you are feeling upset or depressed. Or not understanding the depth to which a person can be hurting at any given moment, or the work that they are doing and will continue to do in order to make themselves feel OK. There’s a lot of “well you don’t seem depressed” or “just go hang out with friends, you’ll feel better” and that kind of thing that gets floated around when someone says they’re dealing with anxiety or depression or any number of illnesses that happen to be invisible to the naked eye. Robot hugs makes a really good point about this whole phenomenon and how little sense it makes.

2013-11-21-Helpful Advice

I personally think that more work needs to be done in order to make these things OK and safe to talk about. And to that end, I’m going to be honest about some of the things that have been happening on my end.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been depressed. With help, I’ve been looking for a therapist, which has at least given me the feeling that I am on the right track. But it’s been super hard to deal with. I’ve gone through this before once or twice in my life. I get depressed, I go to therapy for a while, then I quit when I feel better. I feel like there are some underlying issues that I’ve never really fully addressed that actually need scrutiny for more than a month or two. It’s easy for me to get just enough help so that I feel better and quit. I do the same thing with the gym. I hit it hard for like a month, lose a few pounds, then get all scattered about it over the next couple of weeks until I feel uncomfortable enough and guilty enough to go again. Later, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, so I’ve been dealing with this. And it’s been rough. But I think it’s going to get better. I also think it’s important that we be open about what we are going through as people. Not only does it makes it easier to be honest with and accountable to ourselves, but letting the people that we care about see what is going on within helps them to be more honest with us and with other people who are close to them. Which I think can be a really powerful thing.

A History of Unsettled Debts

When I was 14, I threw my pads at a crowd of men and watched them scatter like fish. Even the hint of my period was more terrifying to them than the gnashing of serrated teeth.

When I was older, the toying and teasing of lovers forced me away from parts that I should have embraced, feelings that I should have delved happily into.

The litany of horror and disgust built up quite a tab.

Reparations must be made. But it’s hard to know where to start.

When she was 14 she noticed the lurking presence of a security guard while she was with her friends at the mall. Eagle-eyed, he followed her, eventually stopping at the food court and chatting idly with her friends.

She felt guilty, though she had done nothing. She felt nervous despite her innocence.

Years later, these experiences compounded, she finds herself in a sea of flesh-toned people, voices raised, shoving herself at the gates of oppression and awaiting an answer.

The bias is so obvious. The litany of abuses have become a chorus against which she sets her voice.

Reparations must be made. And she has barely begun.

When he was 14 he found himself flat on his back, slurs and insults chanted at him. He was too different to be let alone. To strange for anonymity.

Now he stands on stages and announces his truth to the world. Makeup immaculate. Chin up.

When the show is over, he still feels the sting. Alone, his brave face cracks and runs in black lines down his cheeks.

Reparations must be made.

But when the list of abuses is so long and varied, when the charges are built up over so many years, it’s hard to know who should pay the bill.