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lunedì 16 maggio 2016
Fighting Rape Culture
In a culture that consistently tells women that a “good” rape victim is pure, sober, and helpless, these YA novels point out the absurdity of such a narrow stereotype.
If you’ve ever questioned why the majority of rape survivors don't report the crime to police, just look at a recent example in Oklahoma: A 17-year old boy assaulted a 16-year old girl who was passed out drunk, but thanks to a gap in the law, he could only be convicted of a relatively minor crime.
The ruling caused a collective uproar from feminists of all genders across the country. When Kesha’s lawsuit against her producer and alleged rapist Dr. Luke was dismissed, judge Shirley Kornreich noted Kesha’s delay in speaking up and said, “every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime.”
Former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on four counts of sexual assault in a case where the judge put the women on trial instead. There are countless more examples of rape culture, from slut-shaming girls for sending sexy selfies to women being assaulted by police officers called to take them home.
Rape culture won’t be fixed overnight, but help might be on the way from an unexpected place: young-adult novels.
Don’t scoff. You’ve read the thinkpieces. You’ve heard that young-adult books don’t meet the invisible standard of “real literature.” And you don’t want to align yourself with the Peter Pan complex millennials the media has been hand-wringing over. However, there has never been a more important time for adults to pay attention to YA. A stream of YA releases this year are centered on rape and the norms that feed it: Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It, E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear, Amber Smith’s The Way I Used to Be, Claire Needell’s The Word for Yes, and Shannon M. Parker’s The Girl Who Fell (to varying degrees of success). What stands out is what all these stories say together, as a unit: There’s no right way to be a rape survivor.
In a culture that consistently tells women that a “good” rape victim is pure, sober, and helpless, these YA novels point out the absurdity of such a narrow stereotype. O’Neill’s Asking for It and Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bearhave the same basic story: a high school girl is raped, and readers follow the aftermath. Everything else diverges.
Asking for It’s story line mirrors the crimes committed by teenage boys in Steubenville, Ohio: 18-year-old Emma O’Donovan is gang-raped while unconscious at a party, and photos of the crime are circulated in a small town. In Exit, Pursued by a Bear, Hermione Winters is drugged, raped, and left on a rock in the middle of a lake with no witnesses. Emma is the school’s “mean girl,” she admits to drinking and wearing risqué clothes, and she is sexually experienced. Hermione is her class’ star, the captain of the cheerleading squad, and she’s delaying having sex with her boyfriend. Emma is drinking and doing drugs when she is raped by boys she considers friends. Hermione is sober when a stranger drugs her drink and lures her away. In the aftermath, Emma tries to normalize what happened, calling and apologizing to the people who raped her. Hermione finds support in her friend Polly and school administrators, and she works with diligent police find her attacker. Police don’t help Emma. Neither do her parents.
Both Emma and Hermione are raped. And according to the authors, one of these survivors’ stories is more fantastical than the other—and it’s not the one the justice system seems to expect.
“Something I’ve noticed is that people who don’t like [Exit, Pursued by a Bear] don’t like it because it’s unrealistic,” Johnston says. “Which it is. No one in real life gets the support Hermione does.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, O’Neill’s fictional story could be considered a shockingly accurate depiction of how rape survivors are treated now, years after she started writing.
“[Sexual violence survivors] need to feel supported, understood, and above all else, they need to feel believed,” O’Neill says. “Sadly, in our culture, we all too often doubt women and men who claim to have been the victim of sexual assault and rape. We ask them if they're sure, or if it was ‘rape rape.’”
Emma’s decision to contact the boys who raped her is used to discredit her allegations among her community—despite photo evidence that she was raped. It nearly exactly mirrors Judge Horkins’ statement against the anonymous Complainant #1 in the real-life Ghomeshi trial. Allegedly, Complainant #1 sent two emails to Ghomeshi after her account of the attack, including a picture of her in a bikini.
“The expectation of how a victim of abuse will, or should, be expected to behave must not be assessed on the basis of stereotypical models,” Hoskins says, before doing exactly that: “Having said that, I have no hesitation in saying that the behavior of this complainant is, at the very least, odd.”
If we read stories of fictional rape survivors, we can bring the voices of survivors out into the open—not just in books, but in our real society. We won’t have to rely on stereotypes the courts uphold and perpetuate. Let’s legitimize young voices, let them know we hear them and we still have a lot to learn.
“Adults are very, very slow to change, and they change best as response to being hurt or someone around them being hurt,” Johnston says. “Kids know better. They can read a fictional account of something, and not shrug it off as theoretical. They can read something, internalize it, and make it part of who they are.”
Particularly when it comes to this year’s slate of YA books about rape culture, it’s time grown-ups take a cue from the kids.