Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Chain Breaker - Why Rape Stories Make the Internet Go Insane

So, admission time: while I do watch Game of Thrones—and enjoy it when I do watch it—I am woefully behind in the series. So I have not seen the episode, “Breaker of Chains,” that is currently making the internet go nuts.

But, I will say, Game of Thrones isn’t the first story to use rape as inappropriate and rather disrespectful plot-filler. It’s not even, in my opinion, the worst offender of the moment. Gawker did a piece on David Choe, host of DVDASA (which stands for Double Vag, Double Anal, Sensitive Artist), and a story he told on his podcast where he recounts in vivid and graphic detail how he sexually assaulted his masseuse. 

If you listen to the podcast, it’s patently offensive and despicable. Where Choe, in an effort to fulfill what he charmingly calls an “erection quest,” describes being completely inappropriate and shockingly self-aware of that inappropriateness with his masseuse, where he begins by masturbating mid-massage, coercing her participation in his masturbation, flat-out forcing her to perform a handjob and oral sex on him, and trying to press her for vaginal sex, all while she protests and tells him no. And, when his female co-host points out that he “raped her; you’re a rapist,” he glibly replies that, no, he’s a “successful rapist.”

It’s only when more of his—this time, male—co-hosts start to call him out that he begins to back-pedal hard. “Stop calling me a rapist! [...] She said yes with her eyes, Choe insists, claiming that on paper she was saying she wasn't interested, by telling him no and by looking at him with disgust and by not engaging, but that she never actually stopped him. And, in Choe’s book, that constitutes a yes. After all, his philosophy is that “you never ask first; you just do it. You just do it, get in trouble, then pay the price later.” And, if she never made him pay for it—by punching him out or calling the cops—I guess it’s all okay since he successfully got away with it.

To which, all his co-hosts still—quite correctly—kept insisting that he raped this woman. 

Because, according to his story, he did.

Well, after Gawker got a hold of the story, Choe later back-pedaled even further, saying that the whole story was made up. And that “I never thought I'd wake up one late afternoon and hear myself called a rapist. It sucks. Especially because I am not one. […] If I am guilty of anything, it's bad storytelling in the style of douche. Just like many of my paintings are often misinterpreted, the same goes with my show. […] It's my version of reality, it's art that sometimes offends people. I'm sorry if anyone believed that the stories were fact. They were not! In a world full of horrible people, thank god for us.”

So, essentially, “I’m sorry you didn’t get it; my gross and vulgar rape fantasy must just be too intellectual for your tastes. You should be grateful that there are people like me to explain how things are, how the world works, to you.”

This whole thing disturbs me. 

And, honestly, I hope that Choe is a misogynistic, patently disgusting liar. Because I would hate to know that there’s a woman out there who Choe had taken advantage of like that. Who had the force of his fame, the professional intimacy of the setting, and the naiveté of a woman who was still new to the profession used against her to get what he wanted even though he admittedly knew it was wrong.

And I hope it’s all a lie, given that—after his co-hosts’ repeated insistence of rape—Choe is quick to claim that the masseuse admitted, after the assault, to having a huge crush on him and asking for his number, to which he gave her the wrong number and left her a $1000 tip because, while he “really liked this girl” and achieved his “erection quest” with her, he “only thinks of her being there […] being the fantasy.” Because, after all, In my eyes, you're a whore. Perpetuating the idea that victims of assault—and women in general—are asking for it.

Yeah, I hope his story is bullshit. I’m pretty sure at least a good chunk of it is.

But, for the sake of argument—and my own peace of mind—let’s say that the whole story is made-up. That, as Choe later stated in his half-assed apology, it was a story meant to challenge and entertain the minds of his podcast’s listeners.

Let’s look at why, as a story—as a fantasy—it still sucks.

I’ve talked about this before; I am not a fan of the philosophy that erotic fantasies are a literary free-for-all. Particularly, when those fantasies deal with violence and breaching consent. 

Because that isn’t sexy.

It’s just not.

But you wouldn’t know it, by the way our media portrays rape and assault against women. Like with “Breaker of Chains” and Choe’s “erection quest,” these types of stories glamorize violence against women as conquests for men. They use sex and power as ways to raise men up and tear women down. 

Not to say something about the heinous act of rape. Not to comment on the horrific things that, as a species, we’re capable of committing against each other. Not to point out the pain and loss and terror that overtakes a person when something so evil happens to them. 

But because these storytellers know that rape is edgy and will instinctually pull at audience’s emotions. It’s the easy sell, where “rape is all too often used to place the degradation of the female body and a woman’s vulnerability at the center of the narrative. Rape is used to create drama and ratchet up ratings. And it’s rare to see the brutality and complexity of a rape accurately conveyed on-screen. Instead, we are treated to an endless parade of women being forced into submission as the delicate and wilting flowers television writers and producers seem to want them to be.”

And, in Choe’s and most if not all erotic depictions of rape, they use it as straight-up titillation. Intentionally or not, they use the narrative of rape to tell a story of how human sexuality works. Where the aggressive, amorous man pursues the wilting, denying woman. Where persistence pays, even to the point of force. Where, if you just keep pushing—just do it and pay the price later—eventually the woman-as-whore you’re pursuing will give in and you’ll achieve payoff. Your quest will be complete. These stories, real or fake, turn harassment, rape, and assault into romantic strategies that “reveal the disturbing and cavalier facility with which rape becomes a narrative device […] to put women in their place.”

But it’s just a fantasy, right?

Isn’t it better to exorcise these types of desires in fiction, so they don’t happen in real life? Better they exist on paper and on-screen and digital files that people can vicariously experience without hurting anyone, right?

Sure. Except rape and assault are happening in real life.

And, what’s worse, is that they’re happening while no one notices. Because we’ve normalized the narrative. From a young age, we’re taught variations and shades of this same story over and over. From the prince who saves his princess with a rather rapey, unconscious kiss to the creepy, sparkly vampire who seduces the lonely high school girl through stalking and threats. We’re fed the idea that bad behavior may be bad, but it works. Your actions may be inappropriate, but they sure are successful. It gets boys what they want, even at the expense of the girls they want it from. 

How messed up is that?!

By prioritizing male pleasure while glossing over female pleasure, we’re not only teaching girls that sex isn’t for them—that their enjoyment, their desires, their wants and needs don’t matter—we’re teaching that same message to boys. We’ve now taught all these young, impressionable boys that their partners’ pleasure doesn’t matter. That it isn’t something to be concerned about. That, like some weird sexual yeti, it may not even exist. We’re teaching them that what a woman wants isn’t important. “We’re setting kids up to be violated because we’re not giving them the tools they need to advocate for themselves […] By not emphasizing female sexual pleasure […] we’re kinda sometimes setting up boys to violate girls in ways that leave girls feeling devastated and boys not realizing that they’ve done anything wrong.”

These stories—that are meant to be sexy and fun flights into fantasy—are ruining real people’s sex lives in the worst of ways. Creating real-world-walking nightmares with devastating real-world consequences. Because stories aren’t just fiction. Stories exist—have existed throughout human history and will continue throughout its future—because they teach us about life. The teach us how the world works. How it should work. How we want it to work.

And, when you tell stories that say male pleasure is important and female desire isn’t, you create a culture that believes that to be true. Recent studies show that guys interested in casual sex are more likely to look down and denigrate women who want the same, in which, “one study referenced, each additional hookup reported was associated with a 4 percent increase in the odds of men holding the double standard (while the opposite was true of women).” Meaning, while these men were all for having a lot of sex with a lot of women, they believed that the women they wanted this sex from shouldn’t.

How does this even make sense?

It doesn’t. 

It’s illogical and stupid and has long since been pointed out to be completely counterproductive to these men’s mating strategy. We all know that it’s wrong. But there’s still no shortage of guys—and girls—buying into this idea.

Why?

Because that’s all they know. It’s all, as a culture, we’ve given them. “When misogynist environments teach men that their sexuality is fundamentally different from women (that casual sex is something for them to pursue and for women to avoid) they tend to buy in. Such views are part of a more general traditional gender ideology, explaining why studies have found that men with more traditional gender role attitudes also tend to want more casual sex. Or why in the study of students from 22 colleges mentioned above, fraternity affiliation or varsity athletic participation resulted in a 31 percent and 46 percent increase, respectively, in the odds of holding the traditional double standard.” 

And, even though the study does concede that “the desire for casual sex might be partly due to nature, genetic analyses of twins show that the tendency to support gender inequality is almost entirely due to nurture. In other words, if your environment promotes sexism, it's likely you'll hold sexist views.”

I get the idea that people don’t have the best control over their personal fantasies. People want what they want and you can’t not want it. Again, one of my favorite Dan Savage quotes is “We don’t have sex; sex has us.” And we live in a misogynistic world; of course, we’re going to have misogynistic fantasies. We’re going to want to tell those stories.

But the question that decides the fate of our future and the future’s future is: Should we?

By continuing to tell these stories, by feeding that narrative, “a vicious cycle is created, resulting in disregard for women, particularly those they deem unworthy of respect. ‘It's often hard to seduce scores of women if you genuinely respect them,’ explains Andrew Irwin-Smiler, a psychologist whose book Challenging Casanova examines teenage masculinity and sexuality. ‘Respect would prevent any kind of meaningful deception—like taking advantage of drunk women. But if you think most women are “bitches” or “sluts,” then you can treat them like crap in order to sleep with them.’ ” These boys believe this because that’s what we’ve told them to be true. We’ve sold them this idea, this story, this narrative; it is our fault they bought it and now live it. And, in their own small-scale way, in turn peddle it on. To each other. To women. To their children.

Stories have power. They’re cosmic conversations we have with our past, our present, and our future. I get that these are stories that have resonated with us for longer than anyone cares to think about, but do we want them to continue to? 

There are better stories out there. Ones where, yes, men have desires and pursue fantasies, but this time with women who want those things too. There are stories where sex and relationships don’t have to have a loser, someone who submits not because they want to but because they feel like they have to. There are stories where everyone consents, has fun, and enjoys themselves from beginning to end. Why are these stories seen as less engaging? Why do we sell them as less compelling?

Force as titillation isn’t sexy. It isn't interesting. It isn't worth consuming.

It just isn’t.

Can we stop telling stories that pretend like there’s some secret workaround to make it so?

Like I said, I didn't see the Breaker of Chains episode and have not read the books, so all I know is what I read online and have heard from friends. But, yeah, from what I hear, the rape scene was unnecessary and completely out of character for both characters. And, that much, yeah, I have to agree. Jaime, whatever his faults, is in love with his sister and is rather protective of women in general. And Cersei...I can't see her not wiping the floor with anyone who tried to violate her like that, even her brother.

And, while I didn't see this episode, I did see Dany's wedding nightnot to mention her life before marriage where her creeptastic brother was sexually assaulting her left and rightwhich was disturbing to watch, and there are few female characters in this series who haven't been or at least been threatened with rape. Hell, there's that guy in the woods who has a harem of daughters he rapes on a consistent basis! All without a whole hell of a lot of consequences or judgment.

And there are plenty of people defending this by either saying 1) it's in the book; the show has to show it and 2) the story is based on our medieval times and rape was a thing that happened all the time then.

And, to a certain extent, I agree with those points. I'm not saying that Westeros has to go all social justice or anything; that'd kill the show pretty damned quick. And, as an author myself, yeah, I'm pretty big on keeping to the original source material.

But there are ways to show consequences without necessarily having the show's rapists being arrested, prosecuted, and thrown in jail. But the show often seems to treat rape the way horror movies treat violence, as a rather cheap thrill that's too easily dismissed and forgotten as they move on through the plot. It's seen as acceptable collateral damage. They never really comment on it other than to say this is a thing that exists. And, what's worse is that too often the message is Well, this is a terrible thing that exists and everyone knows it exists but, even though we all kinda know it's wrong, it's something that we'll all just look the other way. And the show seems pretty okay with that. Treats it as something they do for the greater good.


It'd be nice if the show, at the very least, felt a little more conflicted about that.

The fact is, we need less stories saying that sometimes rape is okay or even the lesser of two evils. It's the reason why I chose Choe's story as an example becausedear, sweet deityI hope there isn't a person alive who doesn't realize that his rape story is flat-out wrong. But Choe would never have felt it was okay to tell a story like that on a podcast like his, if there weren't already stories out there saying that sometimes rape is okay.

We need to get to a point where the only acceptable narrative is that rape is never acceptable. It's never okay. And that, even if it does happen in real-life and even if through the course of the plot there's nothing anyone can do to stop it, that is isn't seen as something we blithely accept. Where we act as if, for the people rape affectsthe victim, the victim's family and friends, the rapisttheir world hasn't broken at least a little.


Because, if we didn't pretend like there are stories where rape is ambiguously acceptable, we'd have less stories like Choe's, that no one sees as right or okay, being described by rapists, real or fiction, as acceptable.

Even in kink, where many of the things we do—like role play and power play and consensual non-consent—play with idea of force and breaking boundaries, it’s only sexy when they don’t. When force is a farce. When breaching consent never actually happens. Where all the sexual play-acting that happens was agreed upon before it even started. The thing that makes kink sexy is the ever-present, unshakable acknowledgement and respect of consent. 

Because, even those studies on casual sex show that, “when women believe that the man offering them casual sex is a competent lover who's going to provide sexual pleasure,” they actually want sex more. Such a shocker, I know! Which means, Safe, Sane, Consensual sex, that takes into account all parties’ pleasure, results in more sex and more sexual satisfaction in the end. For all parties.

And that is pretty damned sexy.

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