I went to the library to get the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I wanted to get into the Christmas spirit, to remember gratitude and appreciation, and to relive childhood memories of decorating the tree with this black and white film playing in the background.
I found the movie, but I also ended up checking out this book, titled Not That Bad: Dispatches for Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay.
Perhaps I was compelled to pick it up since I’d just done a self-defense workshop a few days before. Perhaps I’ve been feeling frustrated with reports of sexism and sexual abuse that seem to permeate the news. Whatever the reason, I opened this book, which was featured prominently on a stand near the library entrance, and I read the first few pages.
I wasn’t sure how to write this “book review” or if I should even write it at all. I was worried about whether my opinions would come across too strongly for this smattering of book review readers I have here. I was worried that the word “rape” might scare people off or worse, instigate a fight, a defense, a discussion.
But the more I thought about it, I realized that that’s exactly what we need, to change this rape culture. We cannot be afraid of the word “rape.” We can’t be afraid to talk about it, or voice our opinions. I hope we all have the same opinions. That rape is wrong, that no means no, that silence means no, that drunk girls aren’t asking for it.
I wrote a little essay of sorts in my journal after I finished this book, so I’ll write it for you here. Because whatever my thoughts are, those might be the thoughts of someone else too. And they just might be the thoughts that someone needs to hear.
I just finished reading a book called “Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture,” edited by Roxane Gay. It’s a collection of stories written by women who have experienced rape culture in some way. The stories are vast and diverse. No two women’s experiences of sexual violence are the same. And yet, in society’s minds, it seems that there is a narrow definition of what rape is, and what it means to be sexually assaulted.
The term “rape culture” feels too big for the little pieces that build up to it. The pieces that include a ten year old boy’s jokes about a girl’s clothing, an eleven year old boy’s comments about a girl who experiences puberty earlier than other girls, a movie that shows men in a fit of pleasurable passion throwing a woman against the wall to have sex with her. “Rape culture” includes every Cosmopolitan magazine and every story in Snapchat about how good (or not) a celebrity looks in a bikini. It includes the media that teaches women that a man’s pleasure is most important, men like it like that, do this to please him, act like this and he’ll think you’re hot. It’s the term “hot.” It’s the game you play on the bus in high school, “Marry, fuck or kill.” That some people have the qualities that you’d like long term but other people you’d just want to use them for sex, and other people are better off dead. Rape culture is the grinding dance moves as a freshman in high school when you just want to do the YMCA. It’s the advertisements telling women to wear this perfume, put on this makeup, wear these high heels, and you too will attract the sexy man without his shirt on. Be seductive, because women are only good for attracting men. Rape culture comes as the warnings to college girls to never walk alone at night, carry pepper spray, make a fist around your keys, be aware of your surroundings, be scared of your surroundings, men could be anywhere. It’s the accusations that you drank too much, you dressed like that, you went there, you kissed him, you said yes first before you said no.
All of these things have defined “rape culture.” None of these things are okay. Most people don’t even realize that they’re contributing to the violence against women, that they’re perpetuating the problem. I don’t blame these people, the children who don’t know any better, the people who have traditions and say that’s the way it’s always been, the teenagers who have enough to deal with going through puberty. I do blame the media, advertisements, the society that has got its priorities wrong. There is no one person or entity on which we can place blame, but everything together has made this problem a behemoth, so big that we are inside it and can’t see it or recognize it. We are the proverbial fish in the water.
Women are trained to live in fear of the rape culture violence, but no one is doing anything to actually address it. We accept that this is the way things are. We are trained to put blame on ourselves, that it was somehow our fault that we would get raped or assaulted. We are guilty until proven innocent and even then, it’s often not even the man’s fault.
The title of this book came from the fact that no matter what happens to women, we can always think of some way that it could have been worse, so we excuse the behavior because it “wasn’t that bad.” If you get pressured to dance with a boy in high school, that’s not that bad. If you get called a slut or a prude, it’s just name-calling, it’s not that bad. If nothing actually happens to you that you’d consider “rape” or “assault” it’s not that bad. But that doesn’t make anything that does happen to you okay. It’s not right for boys to think that girls have to kiss them or lead them on or act like a slut. Girls shouldn’t have to do anything, and boys should say ‘that’s fine.’ Girls shouldn’t have to learn to flirt or let boys go to second base, and boys should say ‘alright.’ Men are not entitled to anything from a woman.
Maybe this book was so interesting to me, because I have not been assaulted. I believe it’s so important to listen to these stories, to listen to the people who speak out, but more importantly to figure out what we can do about it. I don’t think this book really addressed the next steps or what actions someone should take. I wanted there to be resources listed at the back, a crisis hotline number, a foundation to donate to, a petition to sign online. I wanted there to be an answer. I wanted to be able to do something, anything, to change this rape culture so that no one has to write more stories like this.
This blog post is my next step. Right now, this is my action. There will always be more we can and should do, but this is what I can do today.