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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