Last night I watched Hick, a probably little-seen indie film from 2011. This isn’t going to be a movie review, though the film itself wasn’t bad. It feels a little scattered in places, which I attribute to it being based on a book, as if they just filmed some scenes without the further exposition and explanation the book might provide.
It stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a 13 year old girl, Luli, living in poverty on a Nebraska farm, who sets out for Las Vegas with only a gun and some halter tops after being abandoned by her alcoholic parents. Juliette Lewis manages to wring some nuance from her brief appearance as the mother. Blake Lively is convincing as the coke snorting (
good witch!) Glenda who mentors Luli through her first robbery.
Now, I’m getting to the real topic. Just be patient. This movie was billed as a comedy/drama. And it is. It’s fairly lighthearted, though rarely laugh-out-loud funny.
And I knew as soon as I read the two-sentence synopsis that Luli would be raped.
It doesn’t mention rape, or violence, or any such thing. It just says the same thing mine does above. A little girl tries to escape her small town life. Yet if I’d had any doubt she would be raped, it was smashed about 15 minutes into the film when she sets off walking down a dusty dirt road, full of moxie and memorized movie lines and big dreams.
And that, my friends, is how I know that rape culture is alive and thriving in America despite the frantic protestations of men who whine that it doesn’t exist and their gender is being unfairly portrayed. It’s also part of the reason why I know feminism is still sorely needed in this country.
How do I know this? Because to have any realism at all, even a lighthearted coming-of-age comedy that doesn’t really say much, must have the plucky girl setting off alone get raped. You can try to dilute the statistics any way your wacky little heart desires, but in the real world she would be raped. I was actually amazed she made it out of the house before her dad or one of her “uncles” from her parents’ hangout bar raped her.
And honestly, I don’t need statistics to back me up on this one. I’m fully aware that anecdotes are not data, blah blah blah. Yet sometimes the anecdotes are so overwhelming that they become undeniable. So let’s play a game. I want you to guess, of all the women I’ve met in person in my lifetime for long enough to have intimate conversations with, how many of them had been sexually assaulted?
If you answered one hundred percent, you get a lollipop.
Every. Single. One.
This includes myself, my mother, my grandmother (and it happened when she was my grandmother, not some young girl, raped by neighborhood men who broke into her house one night and nearly killed her after forcing her to have sex with them. Never reported, never prosecuted.), my cousin whose husband eventually murdered her before shooting himself, because if he couldn’t have her no one would. That old gem.
This includes girls I knew in grade school, ladies I met traveling across the country, punk rock chicks who wore some of their damage like badges on the outside, put-together women you’d never suspect were walking the earth with their souls covered in scars. Whispered confessions on swingsets, in bathroom stalls, in late night parked cars, sleeping bags, hotel rooms, written in letters. Vulnerable moments when the veneer slips and women admit. This happened, and this happened and this. Sometimes with tears, hot and raw, sometimes with palpable relief. Sometimes with nothing.
How does one film prove that an entire culture of rape, sexual abuse and rape apology exists? Obviously it doesn’t, I’m being hyperbolic. It’s merely one of the symptoms showing through. We idealize childhood but we sexualize little girls. We blast sexual suggestion through every type of advertising imaginable 24 hours a day, yet we have such Puritanical underpinnings that the mention of words like masturbation sends adults into nervous fits of giggles. We live in a world where a woman’s breast exposed for the most natural use possible- feeding her baby- is met with protest, shock and anger while quivering mounds of silicone jiggling at us from every tv and phone are perfectly acceptable.
We live in a world where women still, STILL!, are questioned about what they were wearing, if they were drinking, why did you kiss him, why did you smile at him if you didn’t want it. We live in a time where men patronizingly give us advice on how not to get raped. Don’t hang out and drink with people you don’t know (though most rapes are not by strangers), don’t dress like a whore (though women are raped wearing everything from jeans and sweatshirts to full hijabs), don’t flirt if you’re not DTF!
Stop flaunting yourself like a glittering prize those poor testosterone-laden beasts can’t have.
When you try to turn the table on this notion that men are slavering animals just barely held back by the confines of society, each poised a hair trigger away from raping and pillaging everything within their sight, you’re met with all kinds of weird resistance. It seems fairly simple, instead of teaching girls how not to get raped (which believe me, girls are already taught) let us teach boys how not to grow up to be rapists, let us teach men how not to rape.
Yeah it’s way more work than the alternative. It involves talking forthrightly to our sons about icky body parts and hormones and feelings.
However, I have to believe it will lead to something better than what we have now. Because what we have now, getting back to the movie, is that when I clicked on the IMDB listing for Hick when I started writing this post, I wandered over to the message board section which featured several people insisting that Luli was never raped. I realize this is the internet, so perhaps they were trolls, maybe these were bad jokes, but these guys were holding forth at great length to cling to the notion that she just wasn’t raped.
Since I’ve already completely spoilered the movie for you, I’ll just explain what happens. As Luli is hitchhiking, she meets a cowboy-type guy with a limp. He gives her a ride for a ways, they argue, he lets her out. She walks more and is eventually picked up by Glenda, who gives her a hit of coke and, as I mentioned, teaches her how to rob a store. At some point we realize Glenda and the Cowboy have a previous, tangled relationship and he seems to show up everywhere they go.
The Cowboy takes Luli for a ride, where he loses her in a pool game. While the guy he loses her to is trying to collect by raping her in a bathroom, the Cowboy changes his mind, intervenes and beats the guy to death. He tells Luli that Glenda is waiting for them at a hotel, which of course she isn’t. In the room he gives Luli a new dress and makes her try it on. He’s sending very rape-y vibes and has her locked in the room but finally lets her out.
She meets a guy outside and plays a drinking game with him where you have to make lists of things, for instance, things you would find in a hardware store. The Cowboy comes outside and breaks up the game. He and Luli get in the truck again. They start to argue. She has him let her out of the truck and starts walking. He gets out and follows her. It’s dark, late at night, a deserted road. He goes to grab her, she runs into a grove of trees. He knocks her down.
The actual rape is never shown. We see the grove of trees from a distance above. We hear Luli reciting as a voice-over the things you might find in a hardware store, alphabetically. When she gets to the letter R, her voice nearly breaks with a sob. “S for soap”, she says.
The next day she wakes up, tied to an unfamiliar bed, with her hair chopped short and dyed black. He apologizes for what he did to her. He unties her and says he’ll never tie her up again. Except when he’s gone.
Now. This is part of rape culture too. The people insisting she wasn’t raped are saying “It didn’t happen because I DIDN’T SEE IT.” They want the dirty details. They want to know if she fought, if he wore a condom, if he pulled out. If she came.
It isn’t enough to hear her completely disassociate and go out of her mind as a means of protection. They want penetration! They want the facts, ma’am.
This is why so few rapes are reported and of those few, even fewer are prosecuted. Because there is often so little evidence unless it’s really violent and even then she might have just been into the rough stuff and you can’t just take some chick’s word for it, man. Bitches always be makin’ shit up. (Although in reality somewhere around 2% of rape accusations have ever proved to be false. I know, it’s weird that women aren’t chomping at the bit to put themselves through emotional torture just to screw up some guys life.)
The point is, people want the details so they can judge if she did everything exactly correctly by their own standards. Is there any little bit of wriggling blame we can attribute to her that will make it Not Really Rape? Because he was a good guy and maybe he got a little out of hand but he would never rappppe anybody. Geez Louise.
This is the number one thing I hear when I write about sexual violence. Why are you painting all men as rapists!? Except I’m not. If you’ve never raped a girl, I’m not talking about you. If you don’t masturbate to barely-legal porn while picturing the faces of your daughter’s friends, I’m not talking about you. If you don’t punch your buddy good-naturedly on the arm and guffaw when he makes some creepy joke about women, I’m not talking to you.
Everything isn’t about you. Much like a woman’s rape isn’t about you. You don’t get to know the details and debate them over beers with your friends. You don’t get to dissect and conjecture and judge.
The way I see it, when a woman is sexually assaulted, if you’re not her, you have two acceptable places. You can support her or you can SHUT THE HELL UP.