Saturday, April 05, 2008

I Was Raped Backlash

Jennifer Baumgardner is marketing a t-shirt that shows an open safe with a place card inside with the words "I was raped" written on it. This t-shirt is being sold through Scarleteen which focuses on sex education.

Because there is nothing offensive (IMO at least) in this message or the visuals, rape survivors who would never wear any t-shirt which identifies them as survivors or who find this particular design disempowering can simply choose not to buy it.

What I find fascinating is the reaction to this t-shirt by some of those who have never been raped.

Here's the second half of a Cityroom blogs (nytimes) comment on their coverage of this t-shirt (the first half has the usual disclaimers about "the pain, fear, and horror associated with a rape"):

I understand that an attitude has developed where pronouncement to the world of one’s passions and pains is, for some, seen as liberating and empowering, but might not the “advertising” of one’s most painful experience(s) be considered in some other light than intended, be in some way marginalized, or even disregarded as something otherwise: ‘oh, she’s just making a statement’ (was not really raped); ‘oh, she’s just trying to make trouble’ (was not really raped)? After all, interpretation of a simple sentence (’simple’ in terms of construction and grammar, mind you) is not always, if ever, straight forward and literal. People tend to infuse their own beliefs which, I would think, may not be the intent of the wearer.
In general, a t-shirt seems to be a bad method of communication.
— Posted by Rael64

If any disclosure of being raped, whether it is through wearing a t-shirt or through writing or speaking, is considered in some other light than intended then the problem is with the person responding to that disclosure. The problem is not with the person communicating that they were raped.

We saw this long ago with Katie Roiphe who reacted to college women who disclosed rape at anti-rape events with scornful disbelief and who successfully sold her disdain to large segments of the public. Like many others, Rael64 distances himself from his own attitude which is quick and unfounded disdain.

This attitude is useful for rapists and all those who provide practical support for most rapists even while they declare themselves to be anti-rape.

In their view the problem is not with them but with those uppity women who play the victim card and who dare to smugly declare that they were victims of sexual violence. In this warped world view it is the t-shirt wearer who creates the harshly judgmental attitudes towards those who have been raped.

Rael64 is asking that rape survivors be the only one's who have to adjust their communication and that they need to fit in and silently support what he has admitted is pervasive bigotry against those who have been raped and dare to disclose that fact.

If he were challenged he would likely explain, like many others have, that he is only looking out for the best interests of rape survivors. He wouldn't want them to be hurt when they are met with an unfounded backlash.

That would be a load of bull.

Rael64 is supportive of what rapists want: absolute silence from their victims and denial about the actions of rapists who don't kidnap their victims off the street using a gun or a knife.

It is these people who should be reconsidering their words and actions because of how their communication will be received by those who don't have to imagine "the pain, fear, and horror associated with a rape."

From another comment on the Cityroom blogs (nytimes) post:

The first post by Tricia got it right. Privacy and personal matters: do they exist anymore? Must absolutely everything be talked about? The answer is a resounding NO! Some boundaries are appropriate and necessary. The only agenda this furthers belongs to Jennifer Baumgardner. — Posted by Mink

Mink's resounding NO! isn't referring to the respecting of sexual boundaries and rape prevention, Mink is talking about rape survivors wearing a t-shirt of their choice. How telling.

Some other commenters talked about how this t-shirt could make the wearer vulnerable to attack (verbal or physical or sexual) which again exposes a general attitude of hostility toward rape victims/survivors who won't keep silent.

The prediction that this t-shirt would cause men who see this message to target the wearer of this t-shirt for another rape is an interesting one. I wonder if those who make this prediction also claim that real rape is rare. If the design on your t-shirt will get you raped then rape is appallingly common not rare and it clearly has nothing to do with the rapist's sexual desire or your sexual desirability. This predicted rape would be nothing more than punishment for daring to speak out.

It is this widespread potential violence, hostility and disdain toward rape survivors who don't properly keep what happened to themselves which should have people the most outraged, not the design of this t-shirt or any other t-shirt designed for rape survivors.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 6:26 PM   3 comments links to this post


At April 06, 2008 6:47 AM, Anonymous polly styrene said...

This is interesting. My own instinctive reaction would be to fear that wearing the T shirt would expose a woman to a risk of attack. Now that sound stupid, but the reason is not because men are more likely to rape a woman who's been raped already, but because of the hostility the slogan would generate in a lot of men (and indeed women). Because women who've been raped are meant to be ashamed. And a woman who clearly isn't ashamed is breaking the secret pact of silence that helps to hide rape.

It would be amazing though if there could be one day when every single woman who has ever experienced sexual violence declared it publically with a t shirt like this. But that's also why it's a threat. Because people wouldn't be able to pretend rape didn't happen any more.

At April 06, 2008 6:55 PM, Anonymous Starfish said...

I get a bit carried away near the end, probably inappropriately for the thread, so will say that the last couple of paragraphs could possibly be triggering.

Polly said: "It would be amazing though if there could be one day when every single woman who has ever experienced sexual violence declared it publically with a t shirt like this. But that's also why it's a threat. Because people wouldn't be able to pretend rape didn't happen any more."

I was about to say this over at Deb's! There'd be such a sea of us, if every woman who'd been violated could and would "say it in unison", and it's not as if women, feminists, activists haven't been trying to get the message across - for decades now. :/

Marcella said:"... This predicted rape would be nothing more than punishment for daring to speak out."

My own particular rape (the one experience I absolutely acknowledge as rape, that is) was 'punishment for daring'; daring to hold a man accountable for something he was responsible for, for not letting him wriggle out of a really quite insignificant legal responsibility, for pursuing the matter/him 'til he signed off on it. Then, he raped me.

I've a steaming head of rage about it nowadays, though shocked-silent was my reaction right at the time.

At April 06, 2008 9:20 PM, OpenID A birch tree said...

Great post! You covered all the angles of the anti-shirt crowd pretty brilliantly. :)


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