Right now I'm having a lot of thoughts about gender representation in the media, and it seems like the internets is right there thinking about it with me.
I read this morning: the difference between intention and what actually happened
(warning: discussion of rape and rape culture, non-graphic) and has a really good bit on intentions vs. results:
This is why intentions do not matter. Regardless of what someone intends, we are the sum of our society. You may not have intended to write a scene that involves victim-blaming, it may insult your very being to even consider that you could have done so, but rape culture is by nature so insidious that it permeates our lives, our relationships, our writing. You may not have intended anything, but intentions fall flat in the face of what actually happened.
Then there was Hot, Creepy, and Movie Physics
with this quote:
Also attempts to emulate many of the whimsical romantic acts portrayed in chick flicks will get you pepper sprayed, since there are many things that we accept in movies that would be unbelievably freakin’ creepy in real life.
The reason these things were clicking around in my head is because I'm currently typing up my review of Dark Desires After Dusk
by Kresley Cole, and I'm at the bit of the review where I look at how gender and rape culture issues were handled in that book (spoiler alert: they were handled so fucking badly
I nearly didn't finish the book).
It seems to me that part of rape culture is breaking down women's sense of not just creepy but ability to recognize and react to discomfort in a way that keeps them safe. We're ingrained with ideas of politeness and kindness and hospitality, so much so that we will do these things at our own peril. And when we don't, we face scorn and derision.
I remember an exchange with a male friend of mine in which he was angry that two women in a mall (strangers to him) that he approached were suspicious and not friendly to him when all he wanted was to ask the time. I didn't know how to articulate it then, but now I realize that what angered me about him using this as evidence that "suspicion of men has gone too far in feminism" is the assumption that the women were under an obligation to make HIM feel welcome and happy and well-received rather than protect their safety or react in a manner that was actually appropriate.
Because if you go up to someone you don't know, no matter who you are, you are not entitled to instant politeness or friendliness. You are invading THEIR space, and if they have the ability and the willingness to be friendly, then consider it a gift. Not a right, a privilege, a gift, a generosity extended to you - but not something you were owed.
Rape culture wants to hide that simple fact. They want women to forget that they always, by virtue of being human beings, reserve the right to safety and to disengage from interactions that they don't like. And furthermore, they reserve the right to do so with no explanation.
Maybe the woman in question is unfriendly because she's tired and in pain, maybe she's been the victim of an assault and feeling unsafe, maybe she's having a bad day, maybe you interrupted her thoughts or something she was doing, maybe she just had a fight with her boss, maybe Mars is in fucking retrograde or she doesn't like people wearing blue shirts.
It doesn't matter. Her reasons remain her own and she is under no obligation to run them past anyone or even reveal and explain them.
You can think she's a mean, horrible, unfair person if you like. Your opinions are your own. But what is NOT yours, whoever you are of whatever gender identity, is her space, her time, her privacy, and her safety.
Yet we have hordes and hordes of movies and books and TV shows that tell us differently. They train us not to interpret someone invading our space, our privacy, and our autonomy as a fucking invasion
, but rather as a romantic gesture. As something we should accept and welcome, because it's not someone asserting dominance over us, it's someone showing just how much they love and care for us.
We're taught over and over again that we can be desired or respected, but never both at the same time. To be the object of desire must be to sacrifice expectations that potential suitors or admirers will recognize clear, bright lines and keep well away from them. To enforce those boundaries and to reject imposition on them is to be a "bitch", to put men off, to make yourself unwelcoming to men.
That's the lesson after all. You must be desirable to men on their terms
, because those are the only terms that matter. And if you don't want him watching through your window at night or standing over you as you sleep or following you around - if you want to be able to conduct your life without his constant gaze and/or intervention in it, if you'd like him to go away because you're not interested, then you're the one at fault. You're not recognizing how romantic and in love he is.
Because you are a woman, you are not entitled to expect that people who declare their love for you will actually show it by not doing things that hurt, demean, upset, or otherwise disrespect you. And when they do these things under the banner of "True Love", you won't just tolerate, you'll damn well like it
, you'll tell other women that this is what they should want, you'll give them funny looks and shout them down if they should dare to raise an eyebrow, or worse yet, an objection.
Rape culture is good at putting the burden on the wrong shoulders. The burden is not and never will be women's to stop people from assaulting them. It's on those who approach women to make sure they're not assaulting her.
Which is why I think it's important that we women keep our sense of creepy, icky, and skeezy. I think it's important that the books written by us, for us don't break down that innate sense, that intuitive understanding of when a person is about to go too far, or doesn't show the signs that they're going to respect us.
Because that sense of creepy, when you listen to it, is what tells you to get to a well-lit public place when some person approaches you and something just isn't
right, but you don't have time or space to spell it out. That sense of creepy is what tells you that this person is not going to make a good partner, because their behavior on the first date or the first meeting indicates that they're going to cause you a lot of pain down the road, that if they take a little now, they'll take a lot more later. That sense of creepy is an alarm that's been tripped, but like fire alarms in a school building, we've been conditioned to ignore it, to think of it as nothing serious rather than a warning of imminent danger.
That sense of creepy? That's the part of our brains designed to help us survive and thrive
telling us that somehow, someway this thing or person or situation in front of us is not going to help us meet our goals in life of not dying, not getting attacked, and being happy.
That's why rape culture wants us to shut that alarm down, to ignore it. Because rape culture, in the end, is about making some human being suffer so that others can be raised up unfairly. That's what all bigotry and prejudice and dominance is about, in one way or the other.
Which, coming back to the literary side of this, is why it's important we stop writing about these creepy behaviors as though they're not creepy. It's why we need to stop giving signals to both men and women (and indeed, every human being of any gender identity) that these behaviors are all right. And I think it's why we need to call it out when we see it in our media, because rape culture thrives best in the dark and in silence, but it hates the cold light of scrutiny and it hates to hear that one little word: "No." Which is why we have to keep saying it, and keep telling others that they, too, have the right to say it and expect it to stick.