It took me a week to decide if I should publish this blog. Now that I've decided to do so, I can only hope that it will have a positive impact.
Recently I logged in at the forlorn networking site known popularly as myspace so I could answer a message from my homegirl Alma. We were trying to make plans to hang out while I was home for Easter.
As anyone who's still on myspace knows, the website now features a facebook-like 'newsfeed' type thing, where your friends statuses (statii?) are listed. It's right in front of you when your login goes through, so it's hard to miss.
That particular day, at the very top of my page, was a status update from a pretty-well respected, but not that well-known West Coast band that I had friended only because my favorite guitarist had joined them after his band broke up. The first line of the status was: "NYC traffic is raping my soul."
The words made my blood burn. Do I have to explain why it made me so angry? Okay, fine, I will: I am sick to fucking DEATH of living in a culture where it's perfectly fine to joke about rape, where rape is a casual metaphor, where people throw around the word rape like it's not a serious crime and a major social problem, not to mention a weapon used to destroy individuals and communities. I am sick of watching as rape victims' credibility is questioned, sick of watching as survivors who come forward are attacked because they don't want to be silenced anymore. I am sick of living in a world that is so goddamn full of rape that I can never get away from it.
So sick of it -- and so infuriated that an allegedly progressive, forward thinking, hip punk artist would say something so gross -- that I decided to say something. Without thinking about it too much, I typed: "rape jokes = not funny, ever" and clicked 'comment'.
If only that were the end of it. The band responded by saying "good thing that wasn't a rape joke." And then some jerk commented "hahahah amazing". At this point I was livid, so I responded that sure, maybe it wasn't exactly a joke, but that like a joke, it made light of rape, which is completely unacceptable. I told the band to check their privilege and recognize how inappropriate their language was.
I'm going to take a moment to explain again, because no matter what these dudes might think, this is important: it is not ever appropriate to to compare something as petty as traffic to being sexually assaulted -- even New York City traffic, which I have a lot of experience with, in case you were wondering. It is not ever okay to make rape seem trivial or insignificant; sexual assault is the ultimate breach and disrespect of a person's boundaries, and it leaves a person's borders open and vulnerable, and that person's sense of self and security all confused and leaked out. Rape destroys.
I'm sure that some people would think that I'm overreacting here. I'm not going to argue with this, or waste my time trying to 'prove' the fact that language is a means of domination and a critical means of cultural shaping and production. If you don't believe me, go read some Bourdieu.
Some people might also think that my response is invalid because it's just an expression, everyone says things like that, blah blah blah. Uh, no. Not everyone says things like that. I do not use the word rape that way. My friends do not use the word rape that way. My classmates and colleagues do not use the word rape that way. My girl gang underground lady punk heroines do not use the word rape that way. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family do not use the word rape that way. The only people who people who talk about sexual assault that way are people who are privileged enough to have never been assaulted.
I'm going to take a second here to make a snarky sidenote, which I feel I can do because a) I haven't named the band and b) I rarely get snarky in this blog. The band in question? Is not really progressive or hip or even artistic. They're just another example of this bullshit Vice-style hipster poseur thing that's been going on for awhile. They pretend to have something to say but they really just spend a lot of time on their hair. They are, as Max Bemis has so perfectly put it, little more than vacuous soldiers of the thrift store Gestapo.
And these jerks have effectively reminded me, through this stupid and sordid little internet-based ordeal, that rape and sexual assault are a problem in our local art and music communities. I'm lucky to say that I've never felt anything but perfectly safe at shows in my hometown, and I've never met anyone who made me feel uncomfortable. But that doesn't mean that assault doesn't happen. We can't afford to pretend that it doesn't happen in our communities, we have to be vocal about this problem and we have to face it, head-on.
But I guess that's the other thing that this band and their unseemly comment reminded me of -- that we can and must speak up about this issue. What I did wasn't that big a deal, it was just a comment on some website...but at the same time, it was still me, saying what I felt, and refusing to be silent. If you feel unsafe or insecure, if you're at a show or in a community space of any kind and someone says or does something that upsets you, you can say something. Even something as simple as, "Hey, that's not cool." It's not about starting fights or creating a negative situation; it's about pointing out when people say or do something that they might not realize is harmful.
It sucks to think that we have to go around policing people's behavior, and it sucks to think that we have to go around telling people that they shouldn't joke about rape (or other types of violence and oppression). People should already know that, right? But not everyone does, so it's our responsibility to say it. It's our responsibility to break the tradition of silence if we want to build communities that are truly safe.