When Rape Is Stylish

I will be the first to admit that I have been overly-emotional, lately. And maybe all of this writing about violence against women is finally getting to me. Maybe this is one of those situations where several bad things happen in a row, but it’s stubbing your toe or dropping a glass that finally breaks you. But absolutely everything about this article about a woman who was raped in college and subsequently kicked out of her sorority makes me want to cry.

And I do mean everything — every single aspect of the story. The men, the women, the rape itself. I mean the stupid illustration. I mean the fact that the Times felt the need to not only put the story in the Style section of their paper, but also under the Modern Love heading. — Seriously, a rape story under the heading “Modern Love.” I mean the fact that the word “rape” does not actually appear at all, even though there is absolutely no doubt left from the description that it was indeed rape. It makes me want to cry because, while I believe that women have the right to define their own experiences, I also think that journalists hold some kind of responsibility to the millions of people who will read their writing to call rape what it is. I think that the women who have had similar experiences and blamed themselves need to see it. I think that the men who have “had sex” with an unconscious woman and define it as “bad sex” or just an “asshole thing to do” need to see it. I think that everyone who knows someone that this has happened to, or knows some guy who has done this, or thinks that this type of behavior isn’t “really” rape needs to see it.

I can’t come up with the word to say anymore. So I will refer you to Jay, who manages to say something intelligent about such appalling and insulting, ignorant and stupid human actions.

0 thoughts on “When Rape Is Stylish

  1. jeffliveshere

    I wonder, Cara, if you’ve experienced something that I have, while blogging around the 16 Days of Action Against Gender violence–keeping this up day after day (though I faltered over the weekend) is exhausting in a new way that I haven’t yet experienced, and, though this may seem trite and full of male privilege, it’s exhausted me, writing and reading about so much violence. Just wondering if some of your ‘feeling emotional’ has come from an even stronger growing awareness of the harms being done.

  2. Cara Post author

    Partially. There are other personal factors, as well, but yes, writing about violence is hard — much more difficult than all of the other bullshit. Politics, reproductive rights, media sexism . . . that stuff just infuriates me, where as reading and writing about violence also hurts. I wouldn’t ever suggest that as an excuse for not writing about violence (and I don’t think that you were, either), but it’s certainly true.

  3. RachelPhilPa

    I don’t think that you are in any way overreacting to this story. It is really sad. That woman’s sorority “sisters” revictimized her, and it’s entirely reasonable that being torn apart like this by those who are supposed to by part of your community, left deeper scars on this woman than the rape itself did.

    This is exactly what patriarchy wants – for women to treat each other like this. Makes the jobs of men (and other beneficiaries of patriarchy – whites, etc) that much easier – just sit back and what, and then say “See how the wimminz are?”

    And, yes, I’m livid about how NYT chose to cover the story. “Style” and “Modern Love”, my ass.

  4. Mary Tracy9

    Cara, let me tell you something. The fact that being “overly-emotional” is considered a BAD THING stems from the assumption that is WOMEN who are EMOTIONAL.

    Being emotional is a human characteristic, devalued as a result of it’s association with women. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being emotional, nor is it any better or worse than being “rational”, though few would question which one is more desirable.

  5. bonnie

    OK. So I agree with all the sentiments expressed here. However, I feel the need to add a note about the “Modern Love” section of the Times – from what I understand from freelance writers, its a section of the times in which writers specifically apply for. Each week it features a different writer who has specifically submitted an article or essay to be featured in “Modern Love” OR they are approached and asked to submit an essay and the writer crafts one for the specific purpose of running in that column. The Modern Love article is always often about difficult issues that fall loosely around the subject of ideas of love and sexuality in our society. I’ve often found the writers feature to be incredibly insightful and many of the essays to be touching, beautiful, sad and sometimes angry. Years ago, Ayelet Waldman wrote one of the BEST ever “Modern Love” essays and caught hell for honestly discussing how she was not “in love” with her babies like other mothers seemed to be.

    This particular essay made me angry for many of the same reasons that it angered you, I can’t believe there was no mention of the word rape.

    However, the Times isn’t at fault for “style” aspect or the heading of “Modern Love”. This writer had to have specifically intended for her essay to appear here. And that is her right, to express her mixed feelings about a past event that maybe had impact in her life/modern view of sexuality and love. I think the theme can be relevant.

    The Style section of the times is actually about Lifestyles, not fashion. (I think it may have even used to be called “Lifestyles”. I cringe at the association of “Rape” with “Style” as well, but as a regular reader of the Times and specifically that column… its taking it out of context to be so upset with the Times. They didn’t do that.

    I’m conflicted about whether or not it was appropriate to accept this essay in this section. I’m not sure I would agree with them seeing the essay and feeling like it had a place in the conversation and then saying “no.. its too controversial” or telling a survivor which words she needed to use to make it appropriate to print.

    I think ultimately the article is about how the women in the situation really betrayed and hurt her in the long run, in a way that was as psychologically violent as the rape. I think she conveys it appropriately, using words like “criminal” and “victimized” and “violence” and “crisis” – and yes, I believe its important to call it what it was, a rape. Absolutely.

    However… in this case, the point she was making was that the actions of the sorority sisters were on par with the violence. The relationships she is talking about, are not about the men or the rape, its about the betrayal of the women. And how women perpetuate these stereotypes, this shame, this cruelty. I think thats a very harrowing and valid point. That women can be rape apologists and worse is something we don’t hear NEARLY enough about.

    And I’m not trying at all to blame women for the problem, I don’t believe they are on par in a larger sense with the violence of the larger patriarchy and rapists and a male-dominated system that does this and condones it and blames victims etc.

    All the female rape apologists in the world are not causing this problem and I know that.

    But there is a culture of women in America, specifically, that is negative and bullshit and all tied up with their oppression and women do choose to perpetuate it. Women who know better. I think this essay attempts to explore that and how dangerous that is in a personal, honest way. I think there is room for her conflict and what she calls it (even if she doesn’t say rape), in the conversation. I just wish it could be a conversation where someone says to her “please, for your sake and others… call it what it is…”

    I guess I would say I have mixed feelings about this article.

  6. bonnie

    oh, and a short p.s. to my very very long comment – you are not being overemotional at all.. I think your reaction is totally valid.

    My comment was just to shed light on what I understand the protocol of that particular NYTimes column to be and my mixed feelings.

    But I do, very much, understand your emotional reaction.

  7. Cara Post author

    To clarify, I don’t take issue with the article in particular — with the exception of the omission of the word “rape” or even “sexual assault.” I find it an important story to tell, and yes, of course I get her point, that the treatment she received from her “friends” was just as if not more damaging than the rape itself. My problem is mostly if not entirely with the Times.

    And the problem is that this isn’t a one-off thing. It happens constantly — if it has to do with women, it goes in the “style” section. The section does in fact include stories about “lifestyles,” but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s almost entirely fluff. Fashion, food, wedding, the occasional celebrity piece and “lifestyle” stories that are usually rather flippant in tone. And all of that stuff is fine and good for those who are interested in it, but it’s hardly the place to put the kinds of stories about women’s lives that they do. A few weeks ago it was a story about how no matter what women wear in the workplace, it’s always wrong and women are always seen as unprofessional. An important issue, and if anything it should have been under “business.” Where was it? Style. The only reason that I bother to look there? Because I know that’s where they bury women’s stories.

  8. Cara Post author

    Oh, and also to clarify about my remarks of being overly-emotional. The “overly” comes from the place of knowing that I have written about far more horrific stories than this in the past week. Yesterday I posted about socially-accepted and rampant rape in Haiti. This story is horrible and tragic and painful in its own right, but something about the fact that this is what brought out emotion just seems . . . wrong. Or at least, disproportionate an insensitive. Which is where the whole “lots of bad things happen and then its the tiny thing that breaks you” comment comes in.

    MaryTracey, I certainly get that. I am in fact a fairly emotional person (just ask my mood swings), and I also think that I have a bit of knack for turning emotional reactions into reasoned ones, but I also think that there is a line where you can become overly-emotional, take things far too seriously and disrupt your own life. The sad fact is that in our world where these kinds of stories are so rampant, if we took the time to sit down and cry over every one of them, we wouldn’t get the time to do anything else, including sleep. Which is the place that my comments are coming from.

  9. mary

    like others, i am SO distressed that this poor woman used her story not to talk about how rape is often accepted within the subculture of the university or how the consequences to the victim reach much deeper than the act of rape itself, but instead to relay a message that we already hear over and over again: women are catty. and i was so upset that she never called what happened to her, “rape,” that she acts as though rape is something you can apologize for and be absolved.

  10. Cara Post author

    Well, I do see that it’s an important story to tell, and I presume that it’s truthful. I think we can all argree that these women behaved in an utterly horrid manner. But I also agree that it was a good opportunity to explore why women actually behave in this way, how our culture turns women against each other and the things that women often feel they have to do to survive in the patriarchy. I do think that it’s probably a lot more complex than “these women were horrible people.” Some of them may have been, but that’s far from the whole story, and I think that the whole story is probably a lot more interesting and a lot more important to talk about.

    To the writer’s credit, though, she seems to not be entirely over what happened to her, and it can be very hard to see beyond “these are horrible people” when you’re the victim and still in pain.

  11. Sara

    I wanted to express my appreciation that you did not focus on sororities in your comments on this abhorrent incident. I cannot speak for any chapter but my own, but I know that my sisters would never let something like this be gotten away with or treated a victim like it was their fault. About being “emotional”: You have every right to feel what you feel and express it in whatever way you see fit so long as it does not hurt others. If WE didn’t get emotional about rape, misogyny, injustice, etc…who will?


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