This time Ken set me off (you guys do know it’s conceptual art, right?) but this is a post I’ve wanted to write or maybe a better way to say it is felt I ought to write about once a week since at least last summer. I know I’ve asked before where all these rape jokes among comics bloggers come from, but what worries me more is where they’re going.
I was 17 when I was raped, not even a month into my first semester in college. I was Brilliant, Attractive Girl who seems a Bit of a Headcase, though I was dangerously scrawny under my too-large clothes and had lopped off my hair to try to undermine or circumvent any potential attractiveness. And so I ended up helping a dormmate, an international student, proofread a paper he’d written. I wondered what he was doing at the school with the level of English he had, since clearly he couldn’t keep up with even the basics of his classes. I wondered what I was doing there when clearly I would fit in better if I had the money he did and, like him, spent much of it on beer. And when he pushed me to the ground, I didn’t call for help because I didn’t want it, didn’t want anyone to see me being debased, didn’t want any evidence of the most humiliating, horrifying moment of my life. I sobbed and had a panic attack instead so that he had to pry my spasming legs apart. I went back to my room still sobbing and stayed in bed a few days and crumpled those sweatpants, underwear, turtleneck in the bottom of my closet. I threw them away when I withdrew from school not long after, well before he was forced out for failing grades and drug infractions. I didn’t tell anyone until it was too late to do whatever could have been done.
I know that was a long time ago. I don’t cry about it much, didn’t even feel that gnawing ache when the season came around last year. I did my suffering already, a year I don’t remember spent depressed almost to the point of catatonia, relationships where I tried to destroy myself or let myself be destroyed. I went back to my college and did my time making reparations, working as an educator and crafting policy with the administration, supporting others, being a visible face as the out survivor on campus. I did my forgiving pretty early on because it seemed like the only tenable option to me. I can understand (sort of) how sad and powerless he must have been to think that preying on me could give him any satisfaction or status, because I was the only person around who was lower than he was. When I learned at 17 that he’d told the guys on his floor about it, I had a breakdown. Now I wonder if they pitied him too.
And that was a long time ago and I’m over it to the extent that I’ll ever be, healthy, happy, in love and loved. And so it’s not that I feel personally hurt when I read rape jokes or have to hear guys (guys, always guys) talking about the vengeance they would take if the women they love were assaulted. (And by no means do I want to minimize the extent to which men can be victims of sexual assault, especially as children. But I think a lot of the people who make jokes about prison rape do, because sex and power and masculinity are all tied up in a little package that doesn’t allow them to think of themselves as ever being at risk or unsafe.) I don’t feel hurt but just annoyed, because I know when you talk like that you’re not talking to me. Because I know what it’s like, or know what it was like for myself to suffer at least and have heard others’ stories, and I can’t make the same kinds of jokes. But at the same time I don’t think I should be forced to avoid the Fanboy Rampage comments section just because it’s pretty much guaranteed there will be someone else there who clearly thinks he can. I’m not asking for deference or even really an explanation, because I’ve never gotten one before. I’m just shocked or surprised or amazed that so many bloggers live in a world where people like me don’t exist or at least don’t read their blogs, where the constant references couldn’t be seen as hurtful. I think there’s a reason I never heard a female student say, “Oh, that test totally assraped me,” and it has something to do with the education sessions we’d do where everyone who knew someone who’d been sexually assaulted was asked to stand. While few freshman stood up, by senior year it seemed like nobody stayed seated. There’s some line between gallows humor and something that cuts too close or is just plain disrespectful, and I think that’s another reason I sometimes feel left out of the testosterone stew in these parts of the web. It just doesn’t compute.
And I don’t really know why I’m writing this except that I’m sick of having it in my head every time I do read all this casual rape-talk. I’m not trying to police anybody and I pick on Ken because I’ve talked to him about this a bit before and don’t think what I say will hurt his feelings; he likes to be inflammatory and, I think, sees rape jokes as one more extension of that. And that’s his decision and it shouldn’t have anything to do with me and won’t and doesn’t keep me from reading whatever he has to say. This isn’t a situation where first they came for the rape jokes and eventually all we could joke about were elephants jumping out of trees, or at least that’s not what I hope I’m saying. It’s more that I’m jealous of all these people who somehow have the option not to care about it, not to have that word jump out at them, to be able to use it casually and metaphorically. It’s not that I want to live that way as much as that I can’t and I’m amazed they can. The problem is the way those words self-select similar readers. I can handle them with only minor annoyance, but there are plenty of other people with personal stories much worse than mine who can’t or won’t or shouldn’t. And it bothers me that this sort of talk deliberately excludes them from any conversation it infects. But maybe there just aren’t a lot of rape survivors reading comics and comics blogs and maybe I’m completely overreacting. The problem is that none of us have any way to know for sure.
And it’s not that I think my fellow bloggers are misogynists who live in isolation, either. I think most of them who mention sexual assault, especially in this post-Identity Crisis age do so because they think it’s worth reminding everyone of the extent to which it doesn’t belong in a sensical and healthy universe, but it’s easier to do it by joking about how the only way to have a blockbuster comics is on-panel sexual assault than it is to write an over-earnest post about why sexual assault is bad. So I realize I’m upsetting the balance by taking just that tack, but I figured this was worth saying and maybe now I won’t feel I need to say it anymore.