50 Shades IS NOT “female wish fulfillment”

Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporterwrote a movie review of 50 Shades of Grey yesterday. And in her review, she falls into every trap of encouraging rape culture and violence against women that this series propagates.

Though she recognizes that the novel revolves around a BDSM relationship she does not seek examine how this relationship is portrayed. She takes the story at face value that BDSM is a heterosexual relationship with a dominant man and a submissive woman. She does not make an inquiry into practicing BDSM in a consensual relationship regardless of the sex or gender of those involved.

Instead, Linden describes Christian Grey as “a long-fingered anti-hero” not an abuser. She praises the film for

the breathless way it melds the erotic kink known as BDSM with female wish-fulfillment fantasy

When authors write about sexual abuse as “female wish-fulfillment” they recreate and keep the myth alive that women want rape. That there is no legitimate rape because women ask for it. That deep down all women want to be swept off their feet and onto the ground as the submissive to a dominant man.

We are inundated not just with positive reviews of men and women in these roles, but we are told it is romantic. We are told the abuser is an anti-hero not a rapist. We are told that if you are in a relationship you cannot be raped. Sexual abuse in the name of romance and becomes the norm because, as Linden continues, the movie is just like any other romance story:

as with most mainstream love stories, an infatuated but commitment-averse male is in need of rehabilitation.

This is further problematic, as it places the main female character in the role of manic pixie dream girl–i.e. the woman who is quirky and only exists to fix the main male character and ultimately serves his sexual and romantic desires. The very concept negates female agency and yet Linden expresses the notion that this film is from “a woman’s perspective.” She claims that the movie works against the male gaze (the concept of telling the story from a man’s perspective and that every aspect of the film–especially anything sexual–is meant for the pleasure of men). Except, if the movie were to break from the male gaze, it would have to do a better job than pretending that BDSM is female wish fulfillment and that because the woman gets what she wants out of sex, it negates the notion that the female character exists for the men in the story and in the audience.

The female lead, however, is not in control of her sexuality and it reviews like Linden’s that propagate rape culture and exclaim through media that women want rape, that sexual assault is romantic and the ideal relationship, and that violence against women is sexy.

“So Beautiful It’s a Curse” Trope

My favorite historical figure is Hannibal Barca-the Carthaginian general who marched elephants into Rome during the Second Punic War.

File:Map of Rome and Carthage at the start of the Second Punic War.svg

Carthage is on the tip of modern Tunisia: look to the right of Numidia and up toward Sicily. Carthage (the city) is right at the star. 

Hannibal was a military genius and even though he lost the war against Rome, his battle strategies are still studied today. I could spend hours just writing about his brilliance and my adoration of this man, but author David Anthony Durham has done most of that work for me. His historical fiction novel Pride of Carthage (2005) is what drew me into Hannibal’s world and over all, this is a very good book. Durham cites a bibliography, crafts rich and compelling characters on both sides of the war, and animates historical figures who have been dead for 2,200 years.

Yet he is incapable of writing women. While he does a decent on the historical women of Hannibal’s wife and sisters, Durham also writes a love story as a side plot line set against the larger back drop of the Second Punic War. The love story is about a foot soldier, Imco Vaca, who Durham creates and this woman, Aradna, a Greek who follows Hannibal’s army as a camp follower.

While Imco is an interesting character, rising through the ranks of Hannibal’s army, surviving the war and even conversing one on one with the Carthaginian general, Aradna’s greatest attribute is her beauty. This wouldn’t be so bad, if she weren’t introduced as a woman so beautiful that her entire back story is being raped by various men, starting with her dead father’s friend. Throughout the novel, Aradna falls into the trope of So Beautiful It’s a Curse. And the writing does not feel as if Durham is portraying the mindset of 200 BC, but his own ideas that beauty is a reasonable excuse to rape someone. We’re supposed to feel terrible for her after we read her tragic back story, but during the novel we’re told to accept that her beauty will attract men because that is naturally the way things go for beautiful women. Durham takes the responsibility off the men and reminds his readers that it is the woman’s job to not get raped.

When she’s not fending off men by rubbing herself in excrement in the hopes the smell will keep them at bay, she’s being pursued by Imco. By this, I mean he saw her bathing we get an uncomfortable look into Imco’s mind about how he wants to have sex with her. From the start of their interactions, she is an object. Throughout the novel the two meet up periodically by chance and Imco is always lusting after her. He’s in love with her beauty and this is the relationship readers are supposed to root for.

What bothers me the most is that even though she’s not interested and feels he’s just another man trying to attack her throughout most of the novel she finds him trapped under the dead bodies after the Battle of Cannae and she rescues him. Then they fall in love because the man needs to win the woman in the end. She is, after all, his prize.

There are so many things wrong with how she is written and where her arc goes, but I think one of the most important things to point out is that her story is sexist against both men and women. Against women, the obvious is that it perpetuates rape culture and also denies the woman agency unless it’s to aid a man and be his love interest. Against men it portrays them as sex-driven animals who can’t control themselves if a beautiful woman is around. I don’t understand why a man would want to portray his own sex in such a negative light, but that’s what Durham does.

This trope vilifying beautiful women as tragic figures destined for unwanted attention and rape is one that I didn’t understand when I first read the novel in high school. All I understood was that I never wanted to be Aradna. Because she was sexually assaulted she was the literary example of my greatest fear. It is terrible when young girls cannot look up to female characters without feeling as if being a woman is wrong and sinful somehow. I thought that her Aradna’s beauty was the cause and I didn’t want to be beautiful. And because beauty was her defining feature, I didn’t want to be a woman. I wanted to be Hannibal: the respected general with an intricacy of thought I still marvel at, not Aradna the beautiful woman followed by tragedy

I love Hannibal Barca, but I can no longer love the novel Pride of Carthage because it represents all of my fears of rape culture and places fear into women readers. I will not read something that makes me afraid or ashamed of my sex and these are the real evils of sexism that feminism combats. Feminism is needed because of how flippantly women are hated and how often we are told to hate ourselves. I’m a feminist because I refuse to hate myself and I will fight so that others can also understand the love and respect women deserve.

Honor the Dead Don’t Honor the War

Every year for Memorial Day my family would march down our street set up lawn chairs along the main road and watch the Memorial Day Parade. Everyone from the boy scouts, to the girl scouts, to the high school marching band, to the fire department would get to march in the parade.

I didn’t think about it until this year but Memorial Day is a poorly disguised day to honor the glorious tradition of America.   I have family who are veterans and I’m not writing as an excuse to dishonor those who gave their lives. However, it is in terrible taste to create a holiday where everyone is taught to blindly love the wars America has fought.

My whole life, I’ve been told that we’re honoring the dead’s sacrifice for the living so we can have freedom today. But in reality, we’re honoring war. We’re honoring a tradition of white men who fight for some abstract idea of America. What does this even mean? We may have a democracy in theory but how many people actually feel they have a voice and can make change? Although America was founded under the banner of representation, we were never an egalitarian country: the founding fathers wrote up the Constitution to protect the interests of the rich white male. And that is the same interest of most of the wars we’ve fought in since.

I understand that’s a big generalization, but from my experience being taught to be patriotic and uphold the values of American freedom and democracy I’ve found that as we get older we’re never really told the truth. Sure we find out that our founding fathers owned slaves and that the Civil War wasn’t actually fought over slavery, but we turn the wars America has fought in, into an impossible good vs evil struggle. And America is always the good guys.

I once argued with a friend’s boyfriend about America’s involvement in WWII. He told me that if America hadn’t gotten involved the world would have been lost. First, how can you prove this? Second, this is giving America a hero complex. This is completely ignoring the terrible racism America had against Japanese Americans even before the internment camps, ignoring that Pearl Harbor happened because America cut of Japan’s oil supply, and ignoring that America didn’t open our borders to Jews. There is so much more going on here than good vs evil and America’s great altruism to save the world.

It’s a great idea to have a holiday honoring the dead. However, we’re honoring America’s wars instead. We’re honoring the racism inherent in our system which segregated blacks and whites–racism which still affects people of color today. We’re honoring the lie of self determination we fought for in WWII, while America still held onto colonies and continued to racially oppress its own people. We’re honoring the numerous rapes and war crimes of Vietnam.

My home town is majority white and could be the quintessential American suburb: great school system, affluent area, white population. This is reflected in our Memorial Day parade where almost everyone who walks down the main road is white, middle class and raising high the American banner of white supremacy and patriarchy.

If we really wanted to do something for our troops, how about we implement a program where soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are not encouraged to be islamophobic and racist. How about we protect the Bradley Mannings of the world instead of imprisoning them as threats to national security? What the women of the armed forces? They are suffering through sexual assault at increasing rates by other American troops. And this is the tradition we are honoring: one of violence against everyone.

This parade I had gone to since I was a child is a facade to further imbed American nationalism. I do not feel comfortable supporting a parade which perpetuates ideas of racism, patriarchy and violence.

By all means, honor the dead, but there are no heroes of war.

The Founding Myths of the West

The Rape of Europa (and other founding myths that explain a lot)

As both the title and subtitle say this blog is created to give a possible explanation as to why sexism is ingrained in Western Culture. Although sexism stems back much farther than Ancient Greece and Rome, these two civilizations are the foundation of Western society and so they myths, beliefs, and opinions of the prominent figures in these two cultures have shaped our own right down to the social mores that explain the general conceptions of thought.

This is not meant to be all encompassing of the universal western experience. As I am American I am writing solely of the American experience as far as I can gauge it. This is a compilation of my knowledge of Ancient History, European History, and modern sexism in the hopes of finding evidence that sexism pervades our world today because it rooted in the framework on which we base our ideas. Sexism is not innate; it is taught.

I’m taking a European History class this semester, and the first assignments were to read ‘The Rape of Europa’ by Ovid, understand the myth of the Sabine Women, and read  ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ by Livy.

One of many paintings, although one of few where she is fully clothed.

To start with the myth of the founding of Europe, Europa was picking flowers with the nymphs when Zeus fell in love with her. He transformed himself into a bull and when she was comfortable that the bull would not attack her, he led her into the ocean on his back and swam to Crete. Once there revealed himself as a God and  raped her, or seduced her, or had intercourse with her, depending on which translation you read and what you can surmise from Greek culture and the Greek language. She became a Queen of Crete and had multiple sons. Europa’s side of the story is barely considered. She is only described as beautiful, virginal, and afraid.

On to the Sabine Women then and the myth of the founding of the city of Rome. Unlike the story of Romulus and Remus, this is a lesser known tale. Led by Romulus, the Romans established themselves as a city, but had no wives to marry. There was a neighboring tribe called the Sabines and the Romans asked that the men give up their daughters in marriage. The men refuse. To retaliate the Romans hold a festival and when the Sabines attend, kidnap the women. The Romans defend themselves to their distraught captives: you’ll be our wives, not our whores. think of your status. think of joining our families.  The women agree to be married. Their fathers do not.

A war is started over the kidnapped women and it is up to the women to bring peace. The women of the tale act as mediators between their fathers and their now-husbands. Peace is achieved where the women are the property of their Roman spouses. This myth also focuses on violence against women and the purity they possess to control men’s wicked desires.

In the Rape of Lucretia by the Roman Livy, the story is bit different than the previous ones, but ultimately holds the same messages. Rome is still a monarchy and the noblemen of the time are unhappy with the monarchic rule. There is a beautiful, chaste woman named Lucretia,  who is of the utmost in womanly virtues and is  married to a nobleman. Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the King, lusted after her and wanted to hurt her for her perfection and loyalty.

Tarquinius comes to Lucretia’s house as a guest when her husband is away. When everyone is asleep, Tarquinius comes to her bed chambers and with a knife to her throat tells her of his intentions and his lust. She rejects him. It is only when he threatens to disgrace her by killing her and killing a slave and laying the slave’s body next to hers, that she relents.

She immediately calls upon her father and her husband. She relates her rape and calls upon them as men to act in her defense. They swear to do so and then Lucretia kills herself. In an effort to be a role model for Roman woman to be chaste in all matters she stabs herself in the chest. Her male relatives carry her body through the streets-the male sphere of Roman society. The rape of Lucretia is an attack against the honor of all the men of the city and their families. As such, they rise up and form the Roman Republic. Again we see violence against women as the major theme, the significance of men to move society forward even if it is through a woman that it is achieved.

All three stories are foundation myths, showing what the Greeks and the Romans thought of themselves and their societies. Aside from being written or told by men, the androcentricism permeates further. The basis of Europe, because western society is founded on Rome and Rome is heavily influenced by Greece, is grounded in the suppression of women and the exploitation of women’s sexuality. The men are the actors in these myths, the women are acted upon. They are passive and so since the 8th Century BCE (approximately the first mention of the Rape of Europa) and more than likely long before that as well, women have been depicted as inferior.

Is it surprising then that sexism is so prominent in western society and America specifically?

But the point can be made that no one believes in these myths anymore. No one believes in Zeus, and no one can prove the Sabine tale or the tale of Lucretia. Yes, but when Poland was entering into the EU, they had a painting commissioned of the Rape of Europa to prove that Eastern Europe was just as European. These myths hold standing today even if they are not believed word for word. In this way, sexism is not innate. Women are not born inferior; we are taught that we are inferior because the foundations of male superiority and female oppression are the very foundations of western civilization.

Rape Culture

If you haven’t heard the term before, let it shock you. I was shocked. I still am shocked. But we live in rape culture. Because as women we are constantly fearing rape or being told to fear rape or strange men we live in a society where rape is condoned. It is the woman’s fault: she was drunk. she was dressed like a slut. she was asking for it. the man couldn’t help himself.

I am always ashamed to admit it, but being raped is my biggest fear. Rape is not something I can dismiss as an implausible fear. I know it is all too real. Rape is accepted as a natural occurrence and for this reason since I learned about sex I have not been able to walk somewhere alone without fearing rape.

This is not okay.

If I am up on a soapbox for a moment I apologize, but women should not need to live in fear or even told to live in fear because it is just another form of subjugation.

I was walking to the food store talking on the phone to my mother and when I told her I what I was doing the first thing she asked was if I was alone. I said yes and that I would hopefully be back before dark. My mother told me that if it gets dark I should not walk back but call one of my friends on campus to give me a ride. I wouldn’t do this. I would rather walk back in the dark, but I would be afraid.

I hate this fear.

I do not want to fear doing every day errands just because rape is an accepted norm that cannot be stopped. I do not want to live in fear.

Please, even if you never experience what I’m saying, have empathy. Use that empathy to educate people about rape and proper sex education. Use that empathy to stop slut shaming, volunteer at a rape crisis center, participate in slut walks and be part of the movement for equality. You deserve to walk down the street without being afraid. And remember, rapists are always the cause of rape.