Round Fury

Go here and read this, even though it’s a very hard read:

I’ve said before, and will for certain say again and again that fat is a feminist issue. I’ve talked about, and will for certain talk again, about the connection between fat and sexual abuse for a great many people–more often, but not exclusively, women. And I’ve spoken of, and will again, about the relationship between having what’s regarded as a transgressive body and being subjected to violent assholicity from, well, assholes.

Here’s the core of the article by Soraya Chemaly:

In India, where rape is one aspect of a deeply entrenched culture of misogyny with unrelenting permutations of violence against girls and women, it took the much publicized and catalytic death of this girl to finally pitch people into public outrage. However, despite the fact that it is one of the worst places to be a girl or woman, India has no monopoly on telling women to “submit,” on rape and victim blaming. Or violence against women. It’s just more obvious about it. The sheer mass of people and of evident hatred finally made it impossible for them to blatantly ignore misogyny.

Like we want to. Although I would genuinely like to think that globally we are at a strategic inflection point in regards to violence against women, I have grave doubts. As Jessica Valenti points out, we have a rape problem, but we stubbornly “refuse to admit it.” In the past few weeks of media coverage and conversation, the subtext that “we’re better than that here,” and that India’s “misogyny” and “patriarchy” are somehow unique to India has been unsettling for its suggestion that “we’re just fine” and “women here have nothing to complain about.”  We’d rather fixate on the superficial aspects, like “social media,” a tool, not a cause. Or on how desperately an Ohio town needs its football to feel ok about itself. Remember, we can’t even elect people who will reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. And here the media fails too.

Rape is part of a larger, complex system of violence that is central to our identity. Pretending Steubenville is some kind of quirky outlier, or that kids involved are somehow exceptional, is outright collusion with rapists. And shaking our heads and pointing fingers at India is disingenuous, racist, colonialist, hypocritical bullshit.

(By the way, if your town “needs” football to have any sense of community or worth, then your town is a bad place and football isn’t fixing it. Football is part of the problem, not the cure. )

Let me repeat a critical sentence: Rape is part of a larger, complex system of violence that is central to our identity.

Central to our identity. One set of humans grossly mistreating the body/bodies of another, less powerful set of humans is “central to our identity.” There’s a thought to break your heart on a Sunday afternoon. You want a decent definition of Original Sin? I think that one would work just fine.

Perhaps because it is Sunday, and Epiphany, and a season in which I tend to think a lot about the implications of incarnation, I am going to give in to the urge to think about all this in a Christian/spiritual sense. I am going to suggest that the core message of incarnation and the core teaching of Christ (whether you’re a practicing Christian or a Jesus-was-an-interesting-teacher sort of human) is that what happens to the body matters. That the body is where we live this life, play out the dramas of this life, carry the sins and burdens of this life, live into the exquisite joys of this life.  I am going to suggest (and keep suggesting that one of the signals offered to us by Jesus was the signal that we were supposed to heal and feed and succor our bodies and others’, and that the system in which bodies had come to be treated as coin, as disposable, as meat, as power was operating in the wrong direction.  He is, regardless of how often his followers have proved unable to live the life he embodied, he is the new identity we so desperately need, whether you take him as metaphor or actuality.

Because the spirit and the flesh are of one substance. If you wound or de-value the body, you wound and devalue the spirit. Period. The spirit is capable of sustaining the body through a great deal of ravaging, but it is not separate. That would be what death is–the separation of two infinitely and intricately inter-existential elements.

End of sermon. Back to politics and culture. No matter what the differing cultural contexts, the boys in Ohio and California are no better, no more justifiable, no less culpable than the men on the bus in New Delhi. The priests who have spent generations raping little boys and nuns are no better than the men on the bus in New Delhi and the fact that the Church still shields them is repugnant beyond my capacity to speak coherently about it. The men who beat up and rape gay men, transgender people, and anyone who doesn’t fit their definition of Man are the same as the men on the bus in New Delhi.

Chemaly goes on to say

Men are overwhelming the perpetrators of rape — of girls, of boys, of women, or other men. The gendered nature of the crime isn’t in dispute. But, they aren’t born to rape. And, while I understand that most men aren’t walking around feeling all-powerful, or like they have a right to rape, too many clearly do. They feel entitled to it. Taking that cultural entitlement away doesn’t oppress men or dehumanize them. It just frees women and people and people who don’t “fit.”

I would say further that taking away that cultural entitlement not only doesn’t oppress men, it redeems them and frees them from a definition of manhood that is itself a great wound and a great scar borne by all men–those who are not participants, who fight against that culture as well as those who succumb to it or even seek it.

I don’t have a rape story. Except sort of.  It’s an odd one precisely because it didn’t happen. I was coming out of the science classroom one afternoon in the ninth grade.  Another class was filing in. The brainiest boy in the school was in the class entering the room. I was fond of him. Okay, I had a crush on him. I had crushes on pretty much the whole pantheon of Big Brains at my school at that point. What can I say, I have always been a sucker for a Big Brain. This particular boy–we’ll call him Z–was also odd in a way I would now know to name as some location on the Asperger’s Spectrum. He was kind of a “Sheldon” before we really knew that there were ‘Sheldons.” We were not so much friends as that we had friends in common, especially my best friend (the only one of the Big Brains–who were, come to think of it, all male–but that’s a discussion for another day–with whom I was not in crush), who was probably his closest friend. Anyway, Z greeted me, I stopped to respond, and then he made a bunch of sweeping gestures in the air around me, and did an odd little dance, smiled, and as he passed me on his way through the door, leaned over and whispered, gleefully, “You’ve just been mentally raped!”

This was 1969. I had only just begun to think about feminism–it was only just beginning to trickle down to 9th grades. Barely. I was what I now know was a perfectly reasonable size (5’4″ and what would now be a size 9/11), but I had been convinced by my classmates and my parents that I was HUGE, and I felt huge and ungainly and un-pretty and I could not get boys to like me to save my life. All this matters only insofar as it played into my response.  Which was to be flattered to an extent that I was able to ignore the little voice inside that was baffled and wounded and angry. Among other things, Z was a charter member of the club I wanted into in the worst way–The Anointed Big Brains.  I wanted his friendship. I wanted him to talk to me–romantically or otherwise. I wanted to belong. I suppose that on some level he must have thought I might manage to crack the gender barrier (I really wasn’t a danger–my math abilities have always been questionable), because he certainly felt some sort of twinge that made him do what he did–along, probably, with an attraction he was not quite capable of processing. I’m not excusing him. I’m thinking through the thing and remembering that jr. high sucks for boys, too, especially brainy-nerdy ones in 1969.

The issue is not that Z was going to grow up to be a rapist. Although I have long since lost track of him, I am secure in thinking that he would very likely have cringed from the memory in a year or two.  The issue is we live in a culture in which that sort of thing would even have occurred to a boy like that, a boy who was, by his nature, profoundly unlikely to have acted physically on that sort of impulse. A culture in which males are taught somehow, subtly, but implacably, to see the ability to assert their personal power by violating someone else’s body as a core piece of male identity.  Although most men are also taught to restrain themselves, and many manage to override the teaching, the not-so-simple fact of the matter is the human culture–all human culture–teaches all males this lesson somehow. I don’t understand it. And I think it may be time to concentrate less on understanding it and much more on eradicating it.

I don’t know how much damage Z’s little flurry of confused sexual expression did to me. I doubt that it’s any major component of my scars–though the whole patchwork of male assholicity from the years between when my body began to develop and, well, college maybe is a major component, and that odd moment is certainly one of the patches, if a small one.  I am damned lucky that that’s as close to rape as I ever came (okay, maybe  it’s not–there was a cop in Rehoboth who crossed the line verbally and might have crossed it physically if I hadn’t been standing in such a well-lit and trafficked area, and a guy in a bar in Chester once who scared me…)–profoundly lucky.

But it’s precisely because the weird little incident was so weird–so off-the-grid and out-of-the-blue–that it’s revealing about the depths and pervasiveness of rape culture.

If it weren’t so pervasive, then men wouldn’t shoot little girls in the head for wanting an education, and boys wouldn’t shoot little kids because they’re mad at their mothers, and frat boys wouldn’t “play” “who would you rape” and football players wouldn’t need to extra-prove their toughness by battering unconscious girls, and Matthew Shepherd would still be alive, and, and, and

And it’s not that these are extraordinary instances–it’s that they are extreme manifestations of a catastrophically universal human belief that is acted upon in smaller ways billions of times a day, are being acted out and acted upon right now. Right now. Wherever you are reading this, this stuff is going on. Right now.





5 thoughts on “Round Fury

  1. Charles Jandecka Hard Read? Great Read! Hayk the Armenian, is one of my FB Inspirational People. When pursued, his impossible bow shot poured the life blood from Gilgamesh, aka NIMROD, “a hunter of men” and most depraved creature. And I will never understand why Noah, upon being violated by his son Ham, did not summarily kill him … thus setting a responsive precedent for such behavior.
    6 minutes ago · Like

    • fatmatters says:

      I’m pretty sure that “an eye for an eye” is not generally a way to change culture.

      • @fatmatters – Changing a culture is one thing … eliminating an evil person is quite another. God expects such action. Culture is affected when authority figures, staring at home, set & then enforce behavior guidelines. I think of King David, who did nothing when his daughter Tamar was raped by her brother. The same creep who later attempted a treacherous coup of the throne. Inaction almost always has consequences. I’ve often wondered what “wrong” Haran committed that caused his father to kill him. But kill him, Terah did. And with no condemnation from above.

        Charles Jandecka Hard Read? Great Read! Hayk the Armenian, is one of my FB Inspirational People. When pursued, his impossible bow shot poured the life blood from Gilgamesh, aka NIMROD, “a hunter of men” and most depraved creature. And I will never understand why Noah, upon being violated by his son Ham, did not summarily kill him … thus setting a responsive precedent for such behavior.
        6 minutes ago · Like

      • fatmatters says:

        I would argue that “eliminating” even evil people is still part of a culture that accepts violence as a legitimate response to anything, in which case there it the continuation of the kinds of power dynamics that cause the problem in the first place. While humans may always exhibit violent behavior, institutionalizing it continues to consent to it. “An eye for an eye” ultimately damages the punishers more than the punished. I guess I’m not a very Old Testament kind of thinker.

  2. @fatmatters … sorry about that … I’m tired.
    Tamar’s rapist was eventually killed in an arranged “hit” by Absalom, another brother. Absalom is still “the creep” who tried to usurp the throne … an act worthy of the death handed to him by Joab, David’s commander.

    Thx for the response! I need sleep. Later.

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