Some thoughts on rape culture and unintentional derailing.

Image from TV Week.

Some thoughts on rape culture and unintentional derailing.

Image from TV Week.

Trigger warnings for talk of rape and rape culture. Post is after the jump.

Melissa McEwan wrote a sobering critique of the latest episode of Louie, which is written by & stars comedian Louis C. K. I was really disheartened to read what she wrote since the little bit I’ve read and seen of Louis C. K. I’ve really enjoyed.

A quick review of the episode: a woman who previously expressed interest in a relationship with Louie states that she’s not interested anymore, and he responds by insisting that she does actually still want him, assaulting her, trying to rape her but eventually settling for forcing a kiss on her and pumping his fist in jubilation at his success.

As you can see if you visit that tweet, a bit of a storm ensued. I won’t rehash the entire conversation here — you can do your own digging if you’re interested — but I wanted to talk about some things.

As often happens with these conversations, men jumped in and tried to explain to us what was really happening in the show, what Louis really meant, how he was actually teaching men to look critically at themselves and the power and privilege they hold over women. Many of the women in the conversation were survivors of sexual assault themselves, and as such we repeatedly iterated that now was not the time to play Devil’s Advocate or mansplain, but it was the time to be quiet and listen to what we had to say about how the show echoed our experiences and underlined the prevalence of rape apologia and rape culture.

Then the question was asked, “Are men who are rape victims allowed to speak?” This person soon thereafter dropped out of the conversation, and out of respect for the wishes of this person, I didn’t respond on Twitter. It’s a question that I think is worth answering though, which is why I’m responding here, in general and in public without drawing the person back into the conversation against their will.

I want to tread very delicately here, because I think this is a fair question. After all, the conversation we were having involved the impetus for people to listen to victims when we talk about our experiences with assault.

Men absolutely are victims of rape. That is not up for debate. It’s not a joke, it’s not uncommon, and men who have been raped have to deal with a set of tropes and myths that follow them around as well, silencing them and keeping them in the shadows.

But that wasn’t the conversation that we were having.

The conversation we were having today was a specific conversation about how a specific episode of a specific show participated in normalizing the rape of women and thus participating in rape culture. Tropes abound in the treatment of rape in the episode:

  • since Louis isn’t openly malicious, the narrative paints him as just a misguided doofus who “can’t even rape well”
  • his victim explicitly tells him that what he’s trying to do doesn’t qualify as rape (which is a despicable thing to have a victim say as her attacker is…well, physically and mentally attacking her)
  • he repeatedly vocalizes that he knows what she wants better than she knows herself
  • her silence at his request to kiss her is explicitly taken to be consent

It’s a mess. The entire situation is a colossal mess. And it is also extremely specific to the wide-​spread prevalence of lies told about the wide-​spread rape of women and what qualifies as rape.

Conversations about men being raped absolutely need to happen. They are happening, in fact. Rape culture affects every intersection, from white men to trans women of color. They are important conversations, and conversations I and many of my fellow progressives are more than willing to have.

But they don’t have to derail conversations about women fighting sexism in rape culture.

We don’t have to have all the conversations about all the things any time we want to talk about one of them, and insistence that we do almost always results in recentering the conversation around the oppressors rather than the oppressed. 

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