We refuse to cede the narrative: Rape Culture and Social Media
Some of you are going to read this and snort. Some of you are going to read this and fist-pump. Some of you are going to read this and think, “I… never knew what that meant.”
I’m putting a large TRIGGER WARNING FOR DISCUSSION OF RAPE, RAPE CULTURE, SUICIDAL IDEATION, and TRAUMA here, because I don’t know what may trigger people and I’m not easily triggered.
Eight and a half years ago, I was midway through one of the worst years of my life. The year I could not speak, outside of minimal functioning to do my job (so I wouldn’t lose my home, be unable to feed myself and my mom, end up institutionalized, or dead. Dead was a very real possibility.)
Eight and a half years ago, I didn’t have access to the internet on a regular basis. I had a library with internet access and that was it. When I first started using social media, it was 2005. I had moved on to the loudly shouting from rooftops and refusing to be silenced stage of my trauma recovery. I was a slam poet, and everybody was on Myspace. Then I joined facebook. Then came twitter and tumblr, and…
It’s 2012, and we have politicians insisting on debating the definition of, “Real,” or, “Legitimate,” rape. In public. Unapologetically. These are the same people who refuse to pass an International Violence Against Women Act, btw. It is rape culture writ large. On social media sites, we refuse to cede the narrative to them.
We blog. We connect. We hold each other up and shout and scream and we are not going away. Yes, it’s mostly women. I want men to feel safe joining us because the social stigma associated with being a male rape survivor regardless of whether the perp was male or female, is even more intense. Rape culture is designed as an escape clause for men, but it protects female perps even more insidiously.
While the standard line is, “She was asking for it,” if you’re a female, cis/het survivor, for a male survivor, it’s “You couldn’t fight them off?” There are ALL kinds of jokes that will be made if you’re a male survivor and the perp was male but it’s worse if the perp was female. The implication that you should be overjoyed at getting enthusiastic pussy is not subtle. (I’ve spoken to male survivors, and if you need evidence: google news reports on every female teacher arrested for statutory rape in the last ten years. Be prepared to be sick.)
We don’t talk about these things in mainstream media. We don’t pick the threads apart in order to stitch ourselves back up, we just darn over the tear in our cultural narrative. It is a narrative that is specifically designed to protect men, upstanding white men, who happen to be rapists. Predator Theory, is an excellent explanation of two very important studies on rape. Go read it.
In social media, we are getting louder as we refuse to cede the narrative. Why? Because we know that we have our own truths, and we are not the only ones. The more of us there are, the more of us that are shouting about our rights to our own bodies, our agency, our rights to be both sexual and safe, and the fact that in our society we are not granted the rights to be either makes it a lot harder to ignore us.
We’re coming out of that bleak, dark closet that the culture would like to keep us in. We’re naming names and violating gag orders , we are Slutwalks and we are finally finding ways to break through the insulation surrounding well-intentioned and enlightened men by asking THE QUESTION, because as we are more aware and less tolerant of the creepers among us the more we have to find ways to stand up and break the uneasy truce society has with us.
You don’t want to hear it. We get that. It is upsetting. It is disturbing. It says that men you know, or who are like men you know, are rapists. It says that you could just as easily be a victim of sexual violence, even if you follow all the rules you’ve been fed since birth.
It hurts to take off the rose-tinted glasses, because the truth is blinding.
One in three women globally (the numbers, with minor fluctuations hold true from one country to the next) will experience sexual or intimate partner violence in her lifetime. One in three. The numbers for men tend to vary wildly, because cultural taboos on reporting are actually worse for them. It’s not an insignificant number, no matter which data you look at. It’s just less than for women. Sexual violence against transwomen and transmen is largely ignored even in statistics, but that may be changing, slowly.
The point is this: we are refusing to cede the narrative to predators any longer. Social media is making it entirely possible to break down the walls of silence and isolation that serve rape culture. It is lightning-fast and it is loud.
Eight and a half years ago, I was struggling not to stop breathing. It was every day, all day, of trying not to scream because once I started I couldn’t stop. It was being dead inside and having no words for it, because there is no context for the pain and shame until you’ve lived through it.
Four years ago twitter gave me back my voice entire, the last pieces of recontextualizing who I am as a person. A whole person, however patched and mended, superglued and epoxy-ed together, I am a whole person. I am stupid and silly, nerdy and dorky,flirty and fabulous, serious and sometimes traumatized.
A little over a year ago, I sat in a ballroom at the San Diego Convention center and listened to Dr. Andrea Lentimendi (@arkhamasylumdoc) speak about Superheroes and Trauma. At the end, feeling slightly wrung-out (having a lot of Post-Trauma recovery under one’s belt doesn’t preclude feeling it, which is kind of the point of recovery) I asked the question: What about the women?
I’ll point you to Drea’s blog and say that it is the single best example I’ve seen in translating the clinical to the anecdotal, re: trauma. It is culturally significant that we are seeing trauma explored in comics, from a female point of view. It says that in a larger sense, we are not ceding the narrative any longer. People are being asked to identify with a woman as a trauma survivor. It matters. Gail Simone is someone I have deep admiration for, because she doesn’t cut corners in telling a story and she treats characters as people. To write trauma from a point of view that is non-traditional in the comics medium is a bold choice that gives me hope for the growth of empathy and understanding.
Why? Because if any men reading this blog think about it, and probably without thinking about it too hard, they’ll recognize some of those things in women they know. Even if they don’t know the story behind it. The flinches, the facades that drop into place in certain situations, the way a woman who is normally the most take-charge, confident person they know becomes small and quiet.
We refuse to cede the narrative. With social media and even with a narrative boost from mediums we least expect it from, we can change the narrative. We can find our voices, shed our shame, and engage in discussion that reshapes the idea of what being a survivor means.
We are survivors, we are allies, we are men who accept that they will never know what it means to have a thread of intrinsic fear of sexual violence and who reject the idea that the, “Bro code,” means not calling out friends for being predators.
We are women who have turned the message we are given by society inside-out and stopped accepting the blame for what somebody else chose to do to us.
It is often uncomfortable. If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’ve squirmed at least once. Good. We should all squirm at the narrative that’s been tattooed on our psyches because it’s false. It protects predators and punishes their victims. Keep squirming. Do something that’s even more uncomfortable: speak out.
I joke about it, ” You can’t scare me, I’ve been gang-raped.” It’s both true and a lie.
I get scared, more than I used to. I also know that I’ve survived the single worst night of my life, (the only thing they could have done that was worse, would have been to murder me. And, really: I wouldn’t have had to pick up the pieces after, so ymmv on that,) and anything else that scares me pales in comparison. Does my blunt announcement of my survivor status make people who know me uncomfortable? Probably. Most of them don’t say that, but I’m pretty sure it does.
People don’t know what to say, because one minute you’re a normal person they know and the next, you’re a victim. The narrative creates cognitive dissonance. You can’t be normal and a survivor. It’s not done. The narrative of rape culture means that you must forever be in widow’s weeds for your lost innocence. You can’t be sexual, you can’t flirt. You can’t laugh. The narrative of rape culture decrees that if you’ve really been raped, you must be forever crippled by it and yet never speak of it.
We refuse to cede the narrative to rape culture. We’re telling our stories. We’re naming names. We are not allowing the perpetrators of crimes and the culture that protects them and punishes survivors to determine what our lives are.
Social media is changing everything, including this. Yes, there is a dark side to it. There are trolls and really frightening, hateful people. There is a staggering amount of misogyny and the rhetoric is often terrifying. Anita Sarkeesian is a prime example, pop culture still uses rape as character development as we’ve just seen with the developers of Tomb Raider. We’re getting better, but it is not an overnight process. Perhaps the signal advantage of social media is that it’s instant evidence of bad behavior, an it’s evidence that goes viral. A tweet, a wall post, a tumblr post: all can be screen-capped and preserved. It’s harder to silence real-time communication, to protect abusers. We can instantly get help and resources when we need it, in a 24/7 world there is always someone awake and listening.
In the last week, I’ve seen men and women raising holy hell about Rep. Todd Akin’s “Scientific” proclamations on, “Legitimate,” rape. (If you want to see one of the most comprehensive standards for behavior, look at Washington, D.C., and have some myths debunked while you’re at it, here. ) It’s encouraging, because while Akin may have been talking about rape and pregnancy from a standpoint of trying to turn even more uteri into public property and removing even the exemption of rape that exists within most anti-choice legislation, people parsed that out very quickly and were able to reject both premises he put forward. Seeing people rejecting the idea of bodies as sexual or gestational objects is a step forward.
We take those steps by refusing to cede the narrative, so to all of the men and women who are blogging, tweeting, tumblr’ing and otherwise standing up and shouting: Thank you.
It gives me hope. For all of us.
Good luck out there, today.