Last week, Melissa Silverstein at Women & Hollywood kindly arranged for me to be invited to a screening of Hounddog last night, complete with a Q&A panel. It was a great opportunity: it’s a film directed and produced by women, about a young girl.
I didn’t go. Why? Because it’s about a young girl who’s been raped. In fact, the rape is in the movie – filmed in a very tasteful manner, apparently, putting across her trauma. That doesn’t help me at all.
I have trouble watching rape storylines, period. I’ve watched a lot of them for this site, and they disturb me for a long time after. There are a lot of reasons some women have trouble watching rape storylines: for one thing, about a quarter of us have lived through it. For another, they often re-victimize the (almost always female) victim. For another, some of us are just plain capable of empathy. We can extrapolate from our experiences of hate and/or violation what rape would feel like, even if we’ve never been through it. And “going there” unlocks a lot of stuff we have to suppress if we’re to go around functioning in life like we don’t have good reason to be paranoid (1 in 4? Yep, they’re after us).
I felt it was important to prove I can watch anything, critique anything – but in the last few months I’ve been on a crusade to alter my perfectionist tendencies, and I decided to cut myself some slack here. And from that one decision, an avalanche of epiphanies followed:
- What do male critics have to watch that compares to this? What genre/theme disturbs the male psyche with not only its horrific nature, but the reminder that this particular horror happens every day, to many people just like you, and if not to you then to someone you know? There isn’t one. Therefore, it is placing an unfair burden on the female film critic to demand she watch movies about rape.
- This site shouldn’t need to exist.
- Blogs about rape and rape awareness and sexism and bigotry shouldn’t need to exist.
- Movies about rape shouldn’t need to exist, at least not to the degree that they do.
- Our lives are being wasted on crusading against sexism, in that it shouldn’t need doing. We should have equal opportunities and equal odds of experiencing victimization, and then who knows what we’d be accomplishing? Stuff that would be needed even in an egalitarian world. Everything we’re doing now, we do in the hopes that it will someday be obselete. It is necessary… and yet its necessity is so offensive that I feel squandered.
Don’t get me wrong. Movies like Hounddog need to be made for the same reason this site needs to exist. But who is the audience for them? People who find them cathartic as they work through issues of their own? People like me, who are haunted and disturbed by the theme but have been brainwashed into thinking, “I must watch it, or I’m a bad women’s advocate and a bad film critic. I must prove I… have a pair of balls?” Or people who don’t think rape is so awful, but could be persuaded by a two-hour movie to believe it is?
Good rape movies are made for the first and third groups: those who need to feel they’re not the only ones who’ve suffered violation, and those who think rape is something women sometimes deserve. I don’t think they’re really meant for the viewing of people like me, who already get how awful rape is and wouldn’t be able to leave the house every day if they reminded themselves constantly what their chances of being raped are.
But it’s more than that. So much more. I think most of us get that rape is horrible and unfair, but consider how much energy and time women spend fortifying themselves against sexism. Against the in-law who thinks you’re some kind of witch if your husband agrees to move to the city where you got a better job offer than he did. Against the parent who just doesn’t see your accomplishments in the same light as your brother’s. Against the teacher who calls on the boys first. Against the friend you just found out thinks, well, you’re just asking to be raped if you go out to bars alone and have a few drinks. Against the friend who listens to your complaints about sexism in your life, then hints that you’d be happy if you’d just find a boyfriend, or a different boyfriend, or marry the one you have, or have a baby with the one you’ve married, etc. – the finish line shifts until you stop complaining about sexism, which you realize was her point all along.
It’s not just women, of course. All marginalized groups get these little occasional smacks in the face that don’t sound all that awful on their own, but serve to remind you that the world still sees you as a lesser being. And sometimes these reminders are harder to forgive than a brutal attack. After all, you can assume someone who rapes is a psycho, and not representative of his demographic as a whole. But when the rest of his demographic essentially apologizes for him… that’s when you lose all faith in humanity, and open a website where you are accused of “loving to complain.”
Love to complain, my ass. It is my fondest wish for this website to someday become irrelevant, a reminder of past mistakes, a chronicle of history we want to avoid repeating.