Rape is Complicated
But listening is simple.
Tw: Rape, Victim-Blaming
In the past month, a very small number of very high-profile predators have faced a few very carefully metered-out consequences. But, as a lot of 50-year-old white Al Franken fans have been saying this week, maybe, mayyyyybe this is going a little. too. far. Isn’t rape like soooo complicated?
It was one thing when Taylor Swift sued a DJ for grabbing her ass and claimed just one, unimpeachable dollar in damages. That made us mediocre white people feel so good. And the way it was just, utterly over after that, Swift rarely clouding her mind or parting her cherry lips for the sake of any other woman. It was so simple.
But now that nice man in the Stewart Smalley wig who could draw the whole United States by hand is getting accused of being a grabber, and isn’t rape so complicated? Like so, complicated? Isn’t it funny how his victim smiled at him once at a public event years later?! Hm, so strange, because a victim’s never needed to be cordial to a perverted douchefuck before! It’s so weird how his eight victims never got public coverage until now, a momentous cultural tide-shift in which victims are believed and punishment is actually finally being dispensed! Suspicious. Rape is complicated!
The wrongness of it isn’t complicated of course. Roy Moore, with his nine victims, isn’t complicated. Harvey Weinstein, with his cadre of attractive, recognizable victims, isn’t complicated.
…Except for the fact that Lena Dunham reported this week that she knew Weinstein was an Assaulter Walter over a year ago, and warned Hillary Clinton about it, telling her not accept his campaign donations. Clinton still did. Whoops. But Clinton tweeted a #metoo! Clinton’s relationship status with rape calls forth a social media reference as outdated as her campaign strategy: it’s complicated.
But then, Lena Dunham sure is rape-complicated too! When a writer for her show, Murray Miller, was accused of assault last month, Dunham tweeted in support of him because he was nice & she never saw him do a thing! It’s like when women from Saturday Night Live wrote a letter in support of Franken saying he hadn’t raped them and he seemed pretty cool! Future letches: take your number of mayyyybe victims, times it by three, and you need that many people to vouch they weren’t raped by you. Best of luck trying to not rape that many people!
When a topic as interminable and triggering as rape pollutes our consciousness, we’re left yearning for a simple, straightforward note of redemption. Enter Time Magazine, which this week named all the people who’ve broken the silence about rape as their Person of the Year.
The cover isn’t complicated. It’s adorned with women who’ve fought with dignity for the sake of everyone else’s safety…plus Taylor Swift. From former Uber Engineer Susan Fowler, to California Lobbyist Adama Iwu, to strawberry picker and activist Isabela Pascual, they symbolize the scores of brave survivors who have taken bold risks for the betterment of society. And Taylor Swift’s there.
Inside the issue are all the people who make matters more complicated. Like, Tarana Burke, the black woman founder of the #metoo movement. A documentarian and activist, Burke’s denied the limelight because she created #metoo ten years ago. Her presence reminds us that victims, especially women of color, have been clamoring to be heard for millennia. Burke fought, organized, toiled, but the world did not bend its ear to listen.
The world waited, with ears plugged, for the likes of white, famous Rose McGowan, one of Weinstein’s most vocal accusers. McGowan, who unironically tweeted “woman is the n-word of the world” during the Weinstein fracas, and had to take it down because uhhhh Rosie that shit was intolerably racist even back when Lennon wrote it. Also Lennon was a wife-beater. Rape is so complicated!
Also inside the Silence Breaker issue is Terry Crews. As a black, muscular man who was assaulted by a white male agent, his silence breaking is especially profound. This week, Crews filed a lawsuit against the man who groped his genitals and forcibly kissed him at a party. Crews’ experience challenges the narrative of men as predators and women prey. He says he came forward to make it clear that even if a victim has the strength to fight back, they may still freeze up.
Also complicating the discussion is the case of pop star Melanie Martinez, who was publicly accused this week of raping several female friends and co-workers. Now, if you don’t know who Melanie Martinez is, you are over 29 years old, not into Gothic Lolita fashion with a chintzy Hot Topic Twist, and never watched The Voice. Sidebar, we all know that former The Voice judge Cee-lo Green was charged with drugging and raping a bunch of people right? Okay good.
Martinez’s accusers paint a consistent picture: the pop star befriended them, then cornered them, demanding sex, wearing her victims down until they assented under duress. The first woman to break the silence on this, vocal artist Timothy Heller, said she was hesitant to come forward because her attacker was a woman.
Rape is so complicated. Even while cries of “me too” ring out and change the souls of each of us who hear it, there are cries still being stifled. Melanie Martinez forces us to confront that women are not solely benign victims or uncomplicated crusaders for justice, that power can be misused by a person of any gender. Of course, Lena Dunham, Hillary Clinton, Taylor Swift, and every shitty white lady defending Al Franken on Facebook reminds us of that too.
Terry Crews reminds us that rape is racialized as often as it is gendered. That entitlement to a body does not just come from male privilege, but from whiteness, and money, and status, and anything else that gives symbolic strength. Every black person who has had their hair groped by a white stranger already knew that, of course. So did every poor person who’s ever been sexualized by a leering or judgmental boss. And every trans person who’s had to explain their body to cis family or friends.
The sheer cultural impact of #metoo should make it clear to us that predators are plentiful. That there are many paths to feeling like you deserve access to somebody else. That many of us have done fucked up things ourselves. That a lot can happen when the world decides to listen. Rape is complicated. But listening is simple.
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This piece was originally read live by the author at The Paper Machete, Chicago’s live magazine.