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I Joke About Sex Because it’s Funny When You’re Frightened

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | August 3, 2010 |

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | August 3, 2010 |

I’m going to depart from the usual format of this column this week in a couple of ways. First off, this particular column isn’t about sex so much as it is about our sexual culture, and second, while I believe strongly in scientific evidence rather than anecdotal, there are times when personal experience trumps objective observations.

There were a couple of posts a few weeks ago that addressed the disturbing nature of the new poster for the upcoming remake of I Spit on Your Grave, and while I think Dustin has done a great job expressing what’s wrong with the poster, I also think this is a situation where a female perspective is useful. If you read the comments on these posts, it’s obvious that women find this poster and the movie it represents very upsetting. And it’s equally obvious that at least a few men are confused about the level of anger directed at the film by the female population (there are also a lot of men who ‘get it’ and those men are greatly appreciated). The men who don’t see a problem with the film argue that it is meant to be empowering, because it shows rapists being punished, and state repeatedly that ‘artistic’ depictions of rape, while upsetting, are important because they represent a very real, very common crime, and films shouldn’t shy away from depicting such things. What these men don’t seem to understand is how present the crime of rape is to women: all the ways in which it occupies our thoughts and affects our decisions on a daily basis, and the way it has affected a large number of us personally. Please note, I am not saying that rape should not be depicted in films, only that the very commonness of the crime, and the fact that it is often so devastating, demands that it be approached in a sensitive way.

The poster for I Spit on Your Grave depicts a women (who presumably has just been violently gang raped) from behind. Her face is turned away but her shapely ass is almost completely exposed. That’s pretty much the opposite of a sensitive depiction. Not only does the poster sexualize a rape victim, as Dustin pointed out, but by obscuring her face it dehumanizes her. She’s presented not as a person who has just been horrifically assaulted, but as a body, an object for men to lust over. What images like this do is contribute to the sense among many men that it’s okay to treat women as things, rather than people. And we women live with the consequences of this every day. Nearly all of us have been harassed. Most of us have endured sexual assault, ranging from ‘mere’ groping to much worse things. This is not abstract or hypothetical to us. It is very, very real and when you deal with these things on a regular basis it starts to take an emotional toll. That you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. To co-opt a metaphor from the poet Lorna Dee Cervantes,

there are snipers in the schools…

(I know you don’t believe this.

You think this is nothing

but faddish exaggeration. But they

are not shooting at you.)

Some of you will no doubt remember that I once went off on a certain commenter on this site because of his tendency to defend things like this. Many men (but not surprisingly, no women) reproached me afterwards because they didn’t understand why I would be so irrationally angry over a handful of comments and one particularly horrific blog post. (It’s worth noting, by the way, that just as many men expressed their support of my comments.) Here is what you probably don’t know about me. I don’t walk alone at night, even though twilight is my favorite time of day and I love walking. I seldom walk alone in broad daylight anymore. A few weeks after I wrote that comment, as I was walking to the grocery store a few blocks from my apartment, I was followed by a man in a van. It was terrifying, the more so because I’d just read a rapey punishment-fantasy written by the commenter mentioned above. I just kept thinking, if this guy I knew personally could think things like that, what could the guy in the van be considering? This wasn’t something new, mind you; it was just the event that finally drove me to stop engaging in an activity I love. I’ve never been able to walk any distance without being harassed by men driving by. They shout come-ons and insults, usually from behind, and they have followed me on numerous occasions before. Sometimes they just watch my ass as I walk away, and sometimes they aggressively try to get me into their cars. I know that these men do not see me as a person. They don’t care that I worked very hard for over 5 years to earn a doctorate, or that I dealt with my roommate’s suicide shortly after moving to a new town, or that I like to sing to my cats despite their yowling protests. All they care about is that I have a hole they’d like to stick their dicks in. It’s humiliating and frustrating and painful — and sometimes very scary — to be treated this way, to know that other people choose to deny you your humanity because of your gender. What’s more painful though, is knowing that decent men who themselves wouldn’t treat women this way not only don’t see anything wrong with things like the poster in question, which encourage these daily acts of hostility, but actually find such representations of women defensible. This is what feminists refer to as rape culture: the pervasive attitude that it’s okay to depict women as objects, and by extension to treat them as such. If women are just objects for fucking, then it doesn’t really matter that much if we’re willing participants. It’s okay to harass us and use us and rape us. Maybe you don’t actually think so, but if you don’t denounce the fact that other men do, you are implicitly encouraging them.

For those of you interested in seeing this movie, because of the controversy, or because you are horror fans, I am going to suggest something that may surprise you. I think you should see it, in the theater, preferably on opening night. Don’t rent it and watch it in the safety of your own home, where you can define the experience on your own terms. Watch it with a crowd of people who saw that poster and thought, “Hell yeah, I want to see that movie!” It’s possible that men have changed significantly since the original came out and you won’t hear them cheering on the rape scenes, but my personal experience leads me to doubt it. These men, the ones who see women as things, are ones I am forced to deal with regularly. They scream at me from moving vehicles and grope me in crowded bars and approach me with crude remarks on the street and get aggressive when I don’t respond positively. These men, and the broader culture which accepts them, have forced me to circumscribe my life - avoiding certain activities and places - because they’ve made it feel unsafe to go somewhere/do something I otherwise would, or because the things they think it’s okay to shout at me are simply too degrading and distressing to put myself through. That’s why I and so many other women get so ‘touchy’ about these things. That’s what you support when you defend these things. You are free to think and do whatever you want, to consume whatever products you fancy, but please do not deny the very real impact these things have on women’s lives, or our right to be angry about them.

Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she’s had a little whiskey.