Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rape? Not rape? Don't Ask Amy: Defaulting To "YES"

I'm not normally moved to write about something such as this in a public forum, but after stumbling across a link yesterday, one that detailed the story of an "Ask Amy" column in the Chicago Tribune which blamed the victim of a rape (yes, the college student was a victim, Amy said, first and foremost of her "own awful judgment" for daring to drink at a campus party)...I can't not write something about it. I could so so in my private blog, but everyone over there has already seen the shocked Twitter updates and so on. It's better to say it all here.

I think it was the somewhat frustrating conversation I had with my parents after reading all of this "Ask Amy" garbage that made me realize it wasn't a subject I could just shove aside and forget about. My mother and I have discussed similar things at length throughout my life; we've debated, argued, agreed, and most importantly have just talked about it. About rape. About power. About what is and isn't okay. We haven't always agreed on every point - hell, we've had some pretty bizarre arguments about what is "proper" for a young lady to do - but that's not what matters, from where I stand. She raised me to be able to discuss these things and be critical and careful in both theory and practice.

My father is a bit of a different story. It's not because he thinks differently than I do; he's quite possibly able to become even more angry at the thought of a man thinking he has inherent rights to a woman that he clearly does not. He's the kind of dad who - no word of a lie, here - used to park down the block from my date's house, thinking I wouldn't see his car, just in case. In case of what? I don't know. I'm not sure what he thought he could do from his car to help if my date decided to attack me mid-movie in the rec room. But damned if he didn't sit out there and read his book, believing himself to be in "stealth mode" (even though I always caught him when I'd be getting into my car to drive home), just in case his little girl found herself in danger at the hands of a guy he didn't know well enough to trust. (I sort of wonder if such a guy exists, actually. I'll have to ask him if there's ever been a guy I've dated that he truly trusted not to harm me in some way. Hmm.)

Did I mention that he was doing this stealth-driving act while I was in university? Yeah. Did I mention that my mother has always seemed quietly pleased that he did so? Yeah.

And, all in all, I can't say it ever made me angry for long. They weren't trying to ruin my fun or police my social life; they were trying, in their possibly insanely overprotective way, to make sure they were there if I needed them, because they both knew that bad things happen and that some guys can't be trusted.

The trouble we ran into during our conversation about the "Ask Amy" situation yesterday stemmed from a very organic place. My mother knows what I mean when I say, "I wish our society didn't just assume that a woman defaults to 'yes,' and that she has to kick, bite, and scream 'NO!' if she's going to avoid being touched or grabbed or spoken to inappropriately by men." (I should probably qualify that by saying that I do not think all men are inherently evil. For the purpose of this post, I'm discussing the men who do think they have these rights, and who don't feel they ought to take any responsibility in what happens if a woman's resistance isn't "strong enough" or...whatever.) During the conversation, I made reference to something that had angered me last year: "The Open-Source Boob Project". I'd break it down if I could, but you're probably better served if you go to the link and read up on it (this post in response, written by a friend of mine, is excellent, too; there's something of a "highlight reel" posted here, along with a link to the response essay entitled, "A Modest Proposal: Open Source Swift Kick to the Balls Project"). It did have that same feeling of "Women Default To YES!" to it, although it later came out that the whole situation had been poorly explained, and that the writer of the post is not an evil, woman-hating predator.

Even so, it just happened that this post and its ideals surfaced only days after I'd been sexually assaulted in my workplace. The "Project" would have riled me up no matter what, but the timing certainly made it worse. The man who assaulted me was very clear about the fact that he thought he had every right to put his hands all over me, and that, because I hadn't backhanded him yet, he could just keep going. Never mind that I was in shock, or that I was afraid it would only escalate further if I angered him; it was my perceived halfhearted refusals to let him go any further (he'd gone plenty far enough, thanks) that seemed to embolden him, as though I actually needed to knock his teeth down his throat for the word "NO" to mean anything to him. Telling him to stop, to let me go, making excuses so I could escape his grasp...none of it worked. I only got away from him when he, rather dementedly, interpreted my "NO" and "MY BOSS IS RIGHT UPSTAIRS" as "You'll have another shot at me tomorrow when we're alone, I promise!" In the end, I don't care what it was that allowed me to get my wrists free of his hands. I got free. And I was the one who went through hell for months afterward, being persecuted by the insensitive police officers who didn't seem all that interested in my case if it wasn't "real" rape or if I didn't feel strong enough to go to court right away. On top of that, after my employers had to change things around to accommodate me and my (apparently ridiculous?) security needs, I was fired from my job only three weeks later. Draw your own conclusions there. It might be telling, too, if I add that I was forbidden to tell any of my coworkers - all of whom were female and had to walk a good distance to their cars alone, in the dark, right outside the very building where this guy worked and where the assault had taken place. They didn't want to "cause a panic." Yes. Better to leave them totally blind and not know that there was a pervert with access to their office. We wouldn't want a panic.

Anyway. Tangent. Yes. My point, though, is that I'd told my mother all about the Open-Source Boob Project, and how much it bothered me that, even if the guys involved in the original post didn't feel "entitled" (even though discussing the fact that women who go to comic and sci-fi conventions dress provocatively for the men's viewing pleasure certainly smacks of it, doesn't it?), it was still a slap in the face to many of us who hadn't really thought about it before...but yes, our society does think that a woman's default is set to "YES." What we have to go through to prove that we mean "NO" is ridiculous.

I hadn't ever discussed that whole issue with my father. He was with me the night the police came to get my statement, and he did his best to comfort me when I cried about how I just couldn't understand how someone as strong and (apparently) intimidating as I am gave off the signals to this guy that it was okay for him to grope and kiss me in an empty stairwell. (See? Victim-blaming, done by the victim herself!) But he's not as tuned into pop culture as I am (and as my mother therefore is, as she's usually the one who gets to hear all of my ranting), and he doesn't have the front row seat that we do to just how pervasive the Yes Default really is.

For that reason, his immediate response to the "Ask Amy" situation was to go into Mr. Fix-It Mode, which seems to be common among the men I've known. He was full of solutions about how this particular fraternity should be handled, and what this victim needed to do, and so on. None of what he said was wrong, but it missed the broader point. We still live in a society that is completely permissive as far as things like this go. This girl went to a frat party, told this guy she would NOT be sleeping with him, had several drinks, still said no, took the guy at his word when he promised he wouldn't make a move on her and would just take her to lie down when she started feeling unwell from the alcohol...and when he raped her, she was still so unsure about whether or not it WAS rape - because, as she said, she wasn't physically strong enough to kick or punch him, and could only verbalize her rejection of his advances - that she wrote to an advice column to ask if she was really a "victim."

It's encouraging to see the amount of outrage directed at this Amy woman's response, because it hits the nail on the head. Some of the comments had me chuckling darkly.

"If you are a drunk man, it's not your fault that you rape someone; if you are a drunk woman, it's partly your fault if you are raped. LOGIC FAIL."

"Because rape isn't a choice or a deliberate action: it's a bodily function, like throwing up on someone because you drank too much. Which is also embarrassing, especially if you've 'done it before'."

How could Amy possibly live with herself after advising this girl to confront her rapist to clarify what actually happened that night in order to ascertain if it was, indeed, rape??? WHAT THE HELL KIND OF ANSWER IS THAT??? What woman, who already carries the shame of the attack (because it's rare, I've found, to come across a woman who's been assaulted and who doesn't at some point ask herself if she somehow did something to "deserve" it - myself included), would want to face her attacker and talk it over???

I don't know if men, even the most well-intentioned of them all, will ever really understand what it's like to have the very real concern constantly in the back of their minds that today will be the day that someone will violate them. On the subway. In the parking lot. At work. In their driveway. Women live with knowing that there are far too many people out there who believe that, unless you're walking around screaming "NO!" at the top of your lungs 24/7, you are somehow giving permission. The way you dress, the way you walk, the places you go, the oh, so absurd idea that maybe you want to go shopping alone on your way home from school or work. Newsflash, gentlemen: Women are even less "allowed" to do things the way they'd like to do them than men are in saying or doing sexual and demeaning things to those women. It happens to us every day to some degree. EVERY DAY. We - none of us - have the luxury of setting foot outside of our houses without thinking about the precautions we have to take. I tried to explain that to my father. He tried to understand, but he always ends up back in the same place: "The guys I've known my whole life have never thought they could say or do those things and have it be okay." Well, that's good to know. I like knowing there are lots of men out there who don't think women are their property. I'm certainly fortunate to have so many men in my family who have such respect and empathy for women; not many people are as lucky as I am. But just because you haven't heard it, or seen it, or been surrounded by Bad Guys, does not in any way mean that they aren't waiting for one of us outside the grocery store, or that otherwise "well adjusted" men don't suddenly think that a girl getting drunk at a college party equals permission to do whatever he wants to her. And my father knows this, too; why else would he be parking one block down to make sure I was safe when going on a date with a guy he hadn't met yet?

There is no logical conclusion to this post. I wish there was. I'm not a good enough writer to tie this up in a neat little bow. What I can do, though, is leave it off with a link to an essay that I came across while reading all of this "Ask Amy" crap, one that, maybe, if I read it to my Dad, would finally make things make sense. The fact that I've been on the unfortunate receiving end of two "Not Rape" situations (I won't discuss the other one publicly, because - as bizarre as I'm sure it would sound to most - I don't want to ruin the life of the guy involved, despite that experience being considerably more...well, it was rape, I've come to understand, but still... That one gets left alone) makes this essay that much more poignant.

Read it here: The "Not Rape" Epidemic. Pass it around. And I sincerely hope you know someone - anyone - who hasn't had at least one of the things described in Latoya's essay happen to her. I'm not sure I do. And that makes me want to cry.

[ETA: Amy has addressed her critics with the lamest non-retraction/apology ever. I sincerely hope the Tribune fires her sorry ass for this debacle.]

Friday, December 4, 2009

Have you ever seen a movie...

...that, hours (and, I expect, days, weeks, months, years) after the fact, still makes you want to scream and cry and scrub your brain with an SOS pad??

Let me start by saying this: I originally posted this entry back in May, under lock and key, in my private blog. Over the years I've had a lot of people tell me I should start an actual movie blog, since I see so many films (and a lot of them are not playing at your local cineplex or sitting at your nearest Blockbuster; I go out of my way to find stuff that isn't dumbed down for the tween set). Perhaps I should. Maybe I will. But in the meantime, I wanted to post about this film in a public forum, because I want to know who else has seen it, and how much more violent my reaction to it may have been compared to, say, yours.

So. On with it then. Here's my post from May, only slightly modified, and IT DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS, but you'll have plenty of warning before you get there.


May 15th, 2009

Have you ever seen a movie that, hours (and, I expect, days, weeks, months, years) after the fact, still makes you want to scream and cry and scrub your brain with an SOS pad??

I alluded to this in my last entry, but because I was on my way out I didn't have time to get into it. Now I'm laying in the dark and I simply cannot get those images out of my head. I honestly don't recall the last movie that did this to me.

The movie is called "The War Zone", directed by Tim Roth and starring Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton. It's based on a novel that, by all accounts, is actually more horrifying than the film, though I really have no idea how that's possible.

And that's all I'm going to say about it before I break this post up again, because there are a number of you who will NOT want to read this. TRIGGER WARNINGS AHOY. If sexual abuse-related material will upset you, just stop here. Please. [Ehch's Note: In my private blog, I'm able to put things behind a cut; that feature doesn't appear to be available here, which is unfortunate. If any fellow Blogger users know of how to do this, or to at least cut the post off with a "Read more..." link, I'd love to know how! For now, though, I've made the most horrifying spoilers very, very small, so odds are you won't accidentally see something if you're trying to scroll past.]



I'm a big Tim Roth fan; I have been for years. I should've known better, though, than to get this on my ZipList (the Canadian version of NetFlix) when the reason I heard about it was because I was looking for an answer to a question I had about the film "Irréversible" (Monica Bellucci & real life husband Vincent Cassel) and it was recommended in a thread on IMDb about that horrifying film. (If you're interested this is an interesting review/analysis of "Irréversible" that does NOT show the nastiest, most graphic scenes; it stops short and spares us. It's still NSFW, though, as we do get to see the gorgeous Monica sans clothes a few times, but in a perfectly sweet context.)

Some of you saw my early-morning freakout on Facebook. I was finally watching "The War Zone" after waiting for more than a year for it to become available through Zip, and when I got to something that I'd seen referred to as "the infamous Bunker Scene", I was...paralyzed. I wanted to make it stop, but I just...couldn't. And then I had to reach for my garbage can, because I was absolutely certain that I was about to throw up. I didn't (despite having done so in the past - once when I saw "A Clockwork Orange" for the first time at the age of 11, and then the first time I ever saw the Nine Inch Nails "BROKEN" movie, when I was about 20). But I think the reason I didn't was because I actually went into literal shock.

(I suspect I'd have been sick at Irréversible, too, but the truth is that I've actually never been able to watch the whole rape scene; the two times I've attempted it, I can only get so far before I have to hit fast-forward and look away from the screen. There's another scene in that movie - those of you who've seen it will know what I mean when I refer to it as "the fire extinguisher scene in the nightclub called 'Rectum'" - which very nearly sent me running to the bathroom, but again, I've never watched it in full. I can't.)

So. The War Zone.

Here's the basic plot summary from IMDb - I suppose it should be considered a fairly major spoiler, but it's nothing you probably wouldn't find out from reading the description on the back of the DVD, or that you would figure out for yourself only a short ways into the film:

***KINDA SPOILERISH PLOT SUMMARY (but does NOT give even HALF of what ends up happening)**

An alienated 15 year old (Freddie Cunliffe), forced to move away from his friends in London when his family relocates to rural Devon, struggles with the change and becomes an observer of the family. His mother (Tilda Swinton) is pregnant, his dad (Ray Winstone) is vocally abusive, and his 18 year old sister (Lara Belmont) is sexually active and open to her brother. However, the boy guesses at and finds that he is correct that his father has had sexual relations with his sister.

Now, first let me say this about the movie: It is beautifully shot and directed, and the performances are extraordinary. The emotional notes these actors hit without so much as a word are incredible. Tim Roth did an amazing job adapting the book in such a way that there's a lot more of a gray area to certain elements. As movie-making goes, this one really deserves accolades.

But then there's that "infamous Bunker Scene". I really had no idea why this was called The War Zone and what this "bunker" was - if it was literal or figurative or a metaphor for whatever-the-hell - until that scene. And despite the constantly growing uneasiness that pervades the film up to that moment (and no, it's not the end, or even the climax, of the movie), there was nothing on earth that could have prepared me for what I saw.

Before I go 100% spoilery on you, let me show you two of the only three bits of trivia featured on the IMDb page for it. So help me god, if only I'd read these first... Maybe I wouldn't have seen the film at all, but at the very least, if I had seen it nonetheless, maybe I'd have been more...ready? I don't know. Here's what it says (spoiler-free):

  • According to director Tim Roth the bunker scene was so difficult to film that the sound man almost ruined a take by crying into his microphone. Ray Winstone also found acting the scene upsetting and nearly left the production because of it.

  • At a public screening of this movie during the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, one viewer was so upset and devastated that he rose to his feet and shouted that he couldn't take any more, then headed for the exit, intending to pull the fire alarm. Tim Roth, who was in attendance, intercepted him at the door, and it took 20 minutes of intense conversation to calm the man down.

Uh...yeah. I probably could have used that information beforehand. My own fault, I know. But I'd probably have found the idea of someone bolting from their seat at the TIFF, shrieking and heading for the fire alarm, laughable had I not seen for myself why someone would react like that. I'm not laughing now.

So, now, some of you who are reading this are dying to know what on earth could be so awful, especially knowing the kinds of things I can watch or read and remain relatively unaffected. And a couple of you probably need to know for sure what the Bunker Scene is, so you can decide for yourselves if this is a movie you can handle. I'll tell you.


The scene in question takes place when Tom, the 15-year-old son of this family, follows his suspicions about the things he's seen and heard as far as the relationship his sister and their father are having, and he walks out to this bunker that is on their property. (They're in the middle of nowhere, near the shore in Devon, and this big concrete outbuilding is at the edge of their land - I'm not sure if it's ever explained what it was originally for, but that's inconsequential.) The bunker has a foot-wide gap that runs around the perimeter of it, which allows Tom to look inside when he hears something.

That "something" ends up being - filmed in one excruciatingly long, unflinching shot from a bit of a distance, presumably to give us Tom's true perspective as someone on the outside looking in - his sister Jessie, on her hands and knees on the cement floor, and their father pulling off her clothes and then his own, before he viciously sodomizes her (and yes, it is later made very clear that it is forcible anal sex, if it wasn't evident already). The shot is such that we don't really get to see Ray Winstone's face, and as I said, the camera doesn't move at all. It neither pans out nor zooms in. You see what you see. And you mostly are seeing Jessie's face and body, as well as that of her father behind her (up to about his shoulders), and she is crying out in agony while he hammers relentlessly at her for what felt like an eternity. It is graphic. The sounds made by the father, intermingled with the weeping and cries of pain from the daughter, were enough that, even if I'd closed my eyes and had only heard what was happening, I would be haunted forever.

There are two more huge spoilers that I'll share here, in the interest of full disclosure. One is that their mother (Tilda Swinton), who is apparently oblivious to what's going on, has just had a new baby girl, and when a night comes that the baby has to be taken to hospital because she's "bleeding" (I don't think they get specific about that, but...the implications are very, very clear), Tom finally tells his mother that she needs to keep baby Alice away from the father. He doesn't say why; he doesn't have to. The look of horror on his mother's face as she stands beside her baby's hospital bed says it all.

The second is that this new-found knowledge of the incest between his father and his sister really fucks Tom up, even more so than he already was, and it is heavily implied at the end (once the father is out of the picture - I'll leave that bit alone) that the cycle begins again, as Jessie finds Tom sitting in the bunker, and asks him what they're going to do now...and Tom gets up and shuts the bunker door, closing them in together. In the novel, it is explicitly stated that yes, brother and sister do go on to have an incestuous relationship; Tim Roth chose to leave the ending ambiguous in the film, but it was clear to me even before I'd read up on it. Tom had already turned his anger toward his sister after seeing what he saw in the bunker (and seeing several other disturbing things as well), going so far as to beat her up, burn her with his lighter, etc., as though he believed she'd seduced their father and it was all her fault. But he later defends his sister and faces his father with what he it's hard to say whether the sexual relationship between Jessie and Tom has evolved out of some twisted kind of love, or if Tom is simply using Jessie as a means to let out his fury over his family being blown apart, and Jessie is giving in because she's been a victim for so long already.

An additional point: Someone in an IMDb thread said something about the fact that Jessie had agreed to carry on serving her father and not telling anyone, as long as he promised he would never touch the baby. Obviously, since the baby had to be taken to the hospital because of this mysterious bleeding, the father didn't live up to his end of the bargain. That seems to have been what pushed the two older kids to confront him at last.


I don't really know how to make these images leave my brain. I've already seen another movie in the meantime, have been out with a friend, have conversed about fluff, and yet my ears are still ringing with the sounds from that bunker.

Have any of you seen it? Or have you seen something else that has messed you up as much as this has done to me? Am I the only one who has been driven to physical sickness from watching a damned movie?? How on earth does one go about deleting it from one's brain? Or is it there forever, because there's no such thing as being able to "unsee" something??

I'll leave you with a completely safe YouTube clip of the review Roger Ebert gave back in 1999, when it first came out. Then you can decide for yourselves if you would ever be willing to experience this film, for the sake of seeing an excellently made movie, and in spite of it being something you may never be able to wish away.