An Ode to Rape Culture

An Ode to Rape Culture

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.

Choose one.




10 thoughts on “An Ode to Rape Culture

  1. As always very well written. Think I can skip the film….. heck the idea of a 13 year old Midwestern girl leaving with a gun and halter tops heading to Vegas was a huge red flag for me. Who wrote this mess of a movie and why? It seriously doesnt sound like a comedy, but rather a tragedy.

    • Thank you! Amazon tells me it was first a novel based on a true story. I feel like something may have been lost in translation. The only thing that keeps it from being awful is Chloe Moretz who has just stunning screen presence for her age. (She played Hit Girl in the Kick-Ass movies.)

  2. Well written and insightful. Wish more people would call this out, rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. I run a women’s empowerment network, and often write posts many don’t approve of. Two things stand out: The number of seemingly good men (men who when in public come across as stand up fathers, husbands and brothers) hiding behind a computer screen and an anonymous screen name, how vile their comments are when they express what hey really think of women. The other shocking thing is how many women rush to their defense.
    Rape culture really exists, it is bottled down inside a huge number of men, and veiled behind impressive degrees, and family ties. But they all seem to take out their aggressions on women who 1) do not need them 2) are too independent 3) have a mind of their own 4) do not bow down to patriarchy. We need to call attention to this more.

  3. Wow. You nailed it. I was in the middle of the biggest frat party of all in the military. What I saw and experienced still makes my skin crawl. It’s sad that even now we all have to have talks with our daughters about this horrific reality of life.

  4. Such a wonderful post!!! My bff went through this with her step dad at the age of 5 all the way through high school and I never knew until senior year. You’re right. There are so many women who have had this happen to them and no one ever knows and no one is ever punished. The step dad in this instance got away with it because no one in her family believed her. Something has to be done to stop this. Harsher punishments maybe. Castrations? Whatever it is we as women have to stand together and fight this injustice.

  5. I love this! These are my sentiments exactly. No one cares what YOU didn’t do when we are discussing rape of 1 in 5 women! Sheeeesh! People always want to make it about them. They are so self-centered that at the mere thought of some inexplicable action if THEY didn’t commit this horrendous crime then it must not be real. They, being the center of the universe, have not done X, Y, or Z, so therefore X, Y, and Z do not exist or couldn’t possibly penetrate the layer that is “male.” Sorry that “not all men…” and sorry that “not all women” want to suffer heartache after heartache while repeating the same four lines to everyone who enters the room: the nurse, doctor, policeman, therapist. Sorry, not sorry.

  6. When I read the bit where you said 100% of women have been sexually assaulted, I thought “wait! I haven’t”. And then I thought a bit longer…well there was this one time in line at a gas station when the guy behind me repeatedly “accidentally” grabbed my ass until I gave him a dirty look, and there was another time at a concert when a guy rubbed his crotch on me and I had to move away, and perhaps if I think a few minutes more I could remember a few more such instances. The really sad part is that this kind of stuff is so normal and mundane, I didn’t immediately register it as sexual assault. I still-as I am typing-feel like maybe I am making a big deal out of essentially nothing, which is also a travesty.

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