I started writing a reply to a comment about rape storylines, over on the G-W board, and I realised that the poster’s one line hit a raw nerve with me.
This post goes for a while, and it was a bit confronting for me to write. It’ll probably change some of my readers view of me, and I accept that in advance. I took this role as the Designated Sidekick to present a male view, and this is one of those times. This isn’t every man’s world view, or representative of males in general. This is my story, and my life, and my explanation. I don’t expect to be praised or rewarded for it, I just wanted to put my reasons, my experience and my rationale on the line. I don’t know what I expect to achieve, I just think it’s worth saying and moving on from there.
TRIGGER WARNING: Both the column and resultant discussion may contain trauma triggers. Please be safe.
(Hell, it’s been a bad night writing this, take care reading it)
One of the issues that I carry is from what I went through to get to the point where I’m blogging for Girl-Wonder, rather than blogging against it. Basically, somedays, it’s hard not to still think of myself as one of the bad guys. I’m from the bad guys side. If I had the internet, as it currently exists, back when I was at high school, I’d be part of 4chan and the related cesspools. This isn’t some self flagellating cry for ‘But DS you’re not like them’ backslaps. I’m not like them now, but back then, I was one of them.
I come from the mid to upper class over privileged young white men who thought the world owed them. We felt entitled to say what we wanted, about who we wanted, and we were taught that our God endorsed right to children and wife and to be the protectors of the women for we were warrior-men. Friends of mine felt that women should fuck them just because they’re white, male and that was god’s gift to females. Back then, I’d support them either actually agreeing with them, or by shutting up and letting them take my silence as support.
Sure, I wasn’t entirely like the rest of the pack, but I had the option to join and merge with the herd open to me at any point. I was a Nice Guy (TM). I thought that just being a reasonable civil person not just meant I deserved a cookie, but full sexual favours to go with that cookie. The stuff I heard, the stuff I said, the stuff we tacitly supported because we didn’t speak up and oppose it led to my peers, my friends (and some of my enemies) thinking that woman hating was fine, so long as you fucked them while hating them. After all, the only thing most of those guys hated more than women was gay men.
That was my peer group, my high school buddies and my social circle. Welcome to my back story as a late 80s high school boy in a nice school in a nice suburb with nice boys as friends. We reinforced each other, outdid each other, and created a vicious circle of a misogyny arms race each trying to be cooler, tougher, more fucked up than the other.
Getting out of that social sphere took a lot. It took rejection, for which I note with pride, when the white power fascist kid doesn’t want to be your friend, you’re doing something right. When he’s got one of the bigger circle of friends in the school, right isn’t always backed by might.
It took bleeding, fistfights and being a target. Because I chose not to be one of them, when the rich kid who endorsed hating those who were different to him (read, anyone not rich, straight, angry, white male and avowedly misogynistic heterosexual) turned to me expecting tactic support and didn’t receive it, I was marked as an acceptable target for in-school violence. That said, don’t mistake me for a martyr. I fought when attacked and attacked when it suited me. I perpetuated that school pecking order system every bit as much as the rest of the young men who fought me and I fought. Pointless (in retrospect) violent male behaviour was normal for me. I know what they feel, because I’ve felt it, enjoyed it, and suffered the consequences (and reaped the rewards). Leaving that social structure behind was difficult.
Rejecting the social messages also took saying things to friends who stopped being friends because you weren’t agreeing with them, and they craved peer approval (which, when you’re turning into this woman liking weirdo, you’re not providing). It took the willingness to voluntarily be a social outcast as a teenager (I fear what I’d have made of Myspace if I’d had it back then)
Above all, it took finding reinforcement from places where you retreated because you were getting shunned, beaten up or rejected. For me, I headed off into left-wing late 80s comedy. I was listening to Ben Elton espousing feminism, socialism and anti-Thatcherism when my friends were reading fantasy novels where non consensual sex was eroticised and normalised as what people did. If I’d had access to comics, I’d have been reading them, and absorbing their messages as much as I was downloading Rik Mayal, Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle into my life.
[Sidenote: One of the guys who was a friend of mine loaned me this “great fantasy novel”. There were two rape scenes in it before I gave up. Note – I read the first rape scene, and kept reading the novel. The older I get, the more discomfort I have with the memory of the text of the second scene. Serves me right, I should’ve quit at the first warning mark. As far as I could see, the basic story was “Independent woman is turned into obedient sex drone for male through rape and violence”. I remember being utterly repulsed by the whole thing, and having to look a friend in the eye as I gave the book back whilst hoping he didn’t want me to approve of his choice of reading material. In the end, when I found out he had the entire series of the books (something like thirty of them, with most of those nonconsensual sex scenes marked out in highlighter pen) I had to remove another mate from my social circle. I may have gained a less noxious social sphere, but I did nothing to help him by walking away. That’s what he was downloading to his brain when I was learning that consent mattered]
So when it comes to 2007, and comics, and movies, and contemporary media, I find myself railing against the rape back story culture for a lot of reasons.
I detest these storylines because they perpetuate a myth that rape is an empowering event that creates you into a stronger, better faster whatever. If that shit was remotely fictionally supportable, Batman’s origin would have a rape story. Batman parents could live as Joe Chill just needed to rape Bruce to get the story started. Krypton could continue to exist. Uncle Ben could still be alive. All through the virtue of non consensual violent power crime. This is not to say I want rape to become the feature storyline for men. I want it to stop, and I want it to stop being the motive du jour for female heros.
I am sick to death with being presented stories of empowerment through non consensual power crime as the necessary prerequisite for female competence. It’s sickening, it’s frustrating, and it’s saying to me, as a male, that women exist as impractical, hopeless, useless and powerless creatures until violently cast in these empowerful roles through non consensual violation.
I’m sick of being told that rape is something empowering that creates heroines. It says that these women cannot become something by their own choice, they must become it because of the acts of a male. I’m rejecting the message, but hell, I’m still getting the message to reject. What’s it doing to the guys not realising they’re supposed to reject this idea?
I’m sick of having the medium that’s aimed squarely at me and my gender tell me that ‘Hey! It’s okay if she’s raped! It’ll give her really good positive things later! Really! See? RapedinBackstoryGirl turned out okay didn’t she?’.
I hate the support it gives to the guys who are looking for justification. I hate the lies it spreads to the kids like me who are desperately looking outside their social circles for cues on how to deal with life.
I hate the way rape stories are used to sell books, sell movies and make a profit from a violent, brutal and degrading power crime.
I hate it, because I was so close to becoming a rapist myself.
I have the same coding in my head that they do. I have the same privilege blinkers, my default settings are white privilege male. My language and my world view is hetero centric, empowered and powerful. I was taught that women owed me sex because I was a man, and men are entitled to sex from women.
The rape normalising storylines are something that I resist with all the power I have, because damn me, there was a time, one moment, one point in my life where my partner said no, and I stopped when frankly, I did not want to stop.
I’ve been there, I’ve experienced that point of choice.
I stopped because there had been enough messages in my life that supported my decision to respect my partner’s choice. There was everything I’d been taught that said I was entitled to keep going and there was enough countercode to support me doing the right thing and stopping. It was me and her and what had been consensual sexual activity until she wanted to stop.
Thankfully, no meaning no, and the rest of the understanding I had at the time meant that I stopped.
My fear is simple. I don’t know if I would have stopped if I’d been exposed to all of the rape affirming social messages instead of the consent affirming messages I’d heard.
In short, that’s why I won’t fucking chill out about rape stories. I know I was that close to being the perpetrator of one of those stories, and it’s only because I’d had access to the social messages that supported consent that I stopped when I did.
If I’d had the exposure to the opposite messages, there’s a chance things would have been much much different. It’s also something that I have to deal with for my life. I was very close to being a perpetrator of a very serious abusive crime with my partner at the time, who knew me and trusted me. I’ve been that close to the edge, and now I’m doing my level best to move further and further back away from it.
That’s why I hate the normalisation process that comes with these storylines. I know how vulnerable I was, and how vulnerable I could still be to those messages.
[As a footnote to this, it took until comparatively recently for me to realise that I’d been socially encoded to say yes by default to sexual consent. Discovering that when I said no, the no was enough in itself for my partner was a break through. I’d been so conditioned to accept that the socialisation baggage of male consent as disposable that I didn’t realise that when I said no, it meant no, not “make a counteroffer”. I knew that when my partner said no, that was enough for me, but I never saw any problem with my non-consent being rejectable (See also Karen’s article dealing with how non-consensual heterosexual sex is covered in DC comic books. Suffice to say, Nightwing 93 really upsets me.) ]