Tag Archives: rape culture

Rape Culture: “These Are Not the Sad Stories”

Debbie says:

I can’t in good conscience recommend this article by the brilliant Lidia Yuknavitch, whose work I have written about here before.

So why am I linking to it if I can’t recommend it?

It’s an explicit, detailed account of her own history with abuse and rape, set in the context of what rape culture means to women. Even for a woman like me, with very little violence in my history, not enough fear of men to be sensible about the dangers, and a long history of reading/hearing other people’s horrible stories, Yuknavitch goes almost too far. If your background isn’t as atypically lucky as mine, she probably does go too far.

But here are some of the things she says between telling her stories:

I’m trying to tell you something here, but it’s starting to sound like what I’m saying is that I deserved these violences. Let me be clear. I did not. No one does. Ever. But when women tell how it is for them, when they self narrate their ordinary lives, it’s instantly sucked up by the culture—there’s already a place waiting for the story. A place where the story gets annulled.  It’s 2012 and I’m still reading about what the girl or woman was wearing that night. Or how she should hold aspirin between her legs. Or how she shouldn’t say the word “vagina” on the floor of congress. Or how a friend at a bar wants the sob stories to end. [This last is a reference to the opening paragraph of the article.] What I’m trying to tell you is that violence against girls and women is in every move we make, whether it is big violence or small, explicit or hidden behind the word father. Priest. Lover. Teacher. Coach. Friend. I’m trying to explain how you can be a girl and a woman and travel through male violence like it’s part of what living a life means. Getting into or out of a car. A plane. Going through a door to your own home. A church. School. Pool. It can seem normal. It can seem like just the way things are.

To be honest, the first reason I understand the complexities of male violence against girls and women is that I went to college and read a shit ton of books—and even that wasn’t enough education—I went to graduate school, where finally, finally, the books that I read and the films that I watched and the art that I experienced and the teachers that I had showed me just how not normal male violence against girls and women—or boys and men—is. Ever. And yet at the same time, the more conscious I became, the more I also understood that the pervasiveness of that violence has saturated the entire culture. It’s both omnipresent, and unbelievably invisible in its dispersed and sanctioned forms. So many times the cult of good citizenship covering over the atrocities of girls and boys. Mothers who go numb. Counselors who ask the wrong questions. Coaches and priests and teachers whose desires are costumed and sanctified by their authority. Neighbors who go blind and deaf. Paying bills. Drinking lattes.

The second reason I understand is that I am alive. Still. Differently.

It wasn’t that I did not understand the violences against me were wrong. I did. Even at three years of age. It was that I thought I deserved it, and possibly worse:  that deserving it, I could withstand it. Mightily. Heroically. You see? As a righteously indignant defense. I could take it. As good as if I was some body’s son. It was a choice.

Listen, these are not the sad stories. Worse things happened to me. Those aren’t the sad stories either.  These stories don’t carry the pathos to signify culturally in my culture. These stories I’m telling you are commonplace. That’s the point. They just happen and you live them and as you go you have to decide who you want to be.

If that wasn’t enough, the article goes on to discuss how Yuknavitch truly feels about abortion, and then she connects the dots:

I don’t know a single woman alive who is “happy” to have had an abortion. Or two. Or four. And it’s not just me. Other women. Republicans. Democrats.  Unaffiliated women. Atheists. Christians. Muslims. Buddhists. Armies of us walking around carrying our body secrets. Our shame over the zygotes. Or maybe there’s something deeper than shame—maybe there’s a second self I had to kill in order to live. The Lidia who believed she deserved it. Could take it. Should. It was a choice.

Only read it if you feel that it’s right for you. At the same time, I hope you (whether or not you read her story) share her message, as I have tried to excerpt it here, with anyone and everyone who still believes that abuse stories are a form of one-upmanship, that the (mostly) male violence that “saturates the culture” is somehow acceptable, and that abortion is something women choose recreationally

Thanks to wordweaverlynn for the pointer.

Do Most Women Think Our Breasts Are Ours?

Debbie says:

The title of this post is a response to James Braly’s statement, “Most women think their breasts are theirs,” blogging in a recent column in the New York Times Style section. His argument is that “Extended breastfeeding, the current scientific thinking goes, offers significant health benefits for the child, and probably for the mother.” But, since it often means that poor dad is left sexually in the cold, it may not be good for the whole family.

Amanda Marcotte responded at Slate. After adding to an apparently large chorus of voices skewering Braly around the net, she goes on to say:

It’s a shame, because the whole thing reinforces a prevalent sex-negative narrative in our culture that holds that anyone who is unceremoniously cut off from sex in their relationship, yet still expected to be monogamous, is a shallow monster if they take issue with it. Braly [describes] horniness as “biology for most men,” imagining that the only thing women could want as much is to breast-feed.

Jill at Feministe has another take:

Breasts are yours — they’re also for your own sexual pleasure, among many other purposes. And they can be for feeding your baby. But breasts-as-sexual doesn’t have to be a male-centered, male-serving thing. Unfortunately in these discussions, breasts are inevitably framed as “for” someone else — “for” a baby if you’re breastfeeding, “for” a man if they’re involved in your sex life (heteronormative phrasing intentional there — no one seems to ever suggest that a lesbian woman’s breasts are “for” her partner). And just, no. A lot of women like sex too. And if your marriage is sexless and one partner is unhappy about that, then something has to give.

If you want criticisms of Braly, you’ll get plenty of them from both Amanda and Jill–and even more if you Google. He has to have been looking for this kind of response to write things like:

Lest you think sex is a private matter, I would argue that the decline of a couple’s sex life can have significant social consequences. A man’s loss of appetite for his companion can undermine his partnership, his family and ultimately the society of families. Even the environment takes a hit: suddenly, the divorcing couple needs a second house, an extra car, another set of Ziploc lunch bags off-gassing plastic fumes into the ozone, and on and on.

While I appreciate both Amanda’s and Jill’s thoughtful responses, and I recommend reading them, I want to talk about the sentence I used for a title. I do, in fact, think my breasts are mine. I also think my vulva, vagina, armpits, toes, and earlobes are mine. I think Braly’s penis is his, too. I’m willing to go to the wall to defend both his and my rights to our own body parts. The difference is that, historically, in the western culture we live in, men’s penises have always been their own, at least theoretically and legally. So have their testicles, armpits, toes, and earlobes. I’m

Women’s breasts, and the rest of our bodies, on the other hand, are still not ours in many parts of the world. Marital rape is legal in many countries and overlooked in many more. In the United States, the last state to remove the “spousal exemption” for rape law did so in 1993, less than 20 years ago. I was already in my 40s. In the context of rape culture, women’s bodies are very frequently still not our own in the U.S. And, as Laurie and I blogged about recently, we don’t even have a protected legal right to talk about them in our preferred language.

I think Braly is wrong–dangerously wrong–in a deeper way than either Amanda or Jill identifies. I think the quoted assumption that most women think our breasts are ours is questionable at best. I’m afraid that many (if not most) women know damn well that our breasts–and our bodies–are not ours if some man wants to claim them, unless we are willing, able, and prepared to fight for them. And those fights are not trivial.

One “chilling effect” of positions like Braly’s is that they shift attention away from the real dangers to women’s autonomy and safety, to the “manpain” of a husband whose wife breastfeeds for five years. By constructing his entire thesis as if his wife had no sexual needs or preferences, Braly reinforces the underlying belief that women have no option but to be there for the convenience of men–and that plays out in hundreds of thousands of scenarios much uglier than the one he claims to be talking about.