My post about Mackenzie Phillips and the public reaction to her recent revelation that her father John Phillips raped her has been linked pretty widely at this point, and as a result I have received some rather obnoxious and outright disgusting comments (and emails). That’s not a complaint, at all — thank you for the links, everyone! — rather, it’s just a very sad aspect of blogging, a part of the deal. A lot of what I’ve received is the usual — she’s lying, he’s innocent until proven guilty, it was a long time ago so we should just drop it, etc.
But one set of responses is particularly prominent in this case. I find it fascinating, and it’s a subject that I haven’t personally seen addressed elsewhere. A whole lot of people are really, really focused on the fact that Mackenzie Phillips has written a book about her life, including in large part the abuse she faced at the hands of her father — meaning that she will make money off of talking about what he did to her.
This group of people, for the most part, don’t seem to directly deny that the abuse took place — they engage in a lot of rape apologism, yes, but not outright denial. Unlike most cases where a famous man is accused of rape and hoards of people respond “lying bitch, she’s just out for his money,” most people who bring up the fact that Mackenzie Phillips is being paid to tell her story aren’t accusing her of lying for a paycheck. They just really, really hate the fact that she’s making money from this awful situation, from her trauma, period.
But I ask you: What is so wrong with that?
Really, I would like someone to carefully explain it to me.
Because it’s a question that most people defending her against the allegation of monetary motives don’t tend to ask directly, in favor of denying the charge outright. And it’s a question that a lot of people pointing out the monetary aspect don’t seem to answer, but merely assume will be universally understood. After explaining to me why it was appropriate to question whether or not Mackenzie Phillips did the right thing by telling her story, and indicating that the abuse itself wasn’t really all as bad as I thought, one unfortunate email stated:
Plus, let’s face it, she’s going to make a lot of money off this. Period.
What exactly this was intended to indicate, I can’t quite say. That her monetary compensation for the book makes the abuse less heinous? That it’s okay to question her motivations because of the money? That the way people are treating her is acceptable because, hey, she’s getting paid? The writer didn’t elaborate, so I don’t know for sure. But I do know that the statement is disapproving and dismissive of her experiences because of the money involved, with an air of superiority attached. Because of course there’s something unsavory about making money by telling the world that your father raped you. Right?
I for one don’t think so. And I think the view that it is unsavory says a lot about how we expect rape survivors to “properly” behave and respond to the trauma inflicted upon them in order to be given sympathy and to be taken seriously. It also allows, of course, for people to ignore the far more unsavory nature, to say the very least, of the fact that someone raped the woman in the first place. Here’s the thing, folks: a woman wouldn’t be able to do something horrible and unladylike like making money from telling her story about being raped if only someone hadn’t raped her.
So why do so many people feel as though a survivor does not have the right to own her trauma, and to address it as she best sees fit? Why do so many people feel as though rape survivors have no right at all to find some small way to actually turn a situation they never asked for on its head and receive some sort of comparably pathetic benefit? Why do people think that a person’s suffering — but of course, only a certain kind of suffering — is not worth some form of compensation, especially when those providing it (publishers, book buyers) are doing so willingly? Why do they feel that telling one’s story, helping other people in the process, and putting up with the attacks it induces, doesn’t count as work? Obviously a vast majority of rape survivors will never get the opportunity to tell their story in a large platform and receive compensation for it, but I don’t see why someone with such a privilege should be expected to pass up the opportunity, seeing as how we never complain when a famous person gets any other kind of book deal.
The thing is that people tell tragic aspects of their life stories and get paid for it all the time. A really good chunk of the memoir genre is based entirely around that. People who have suffered through war crimes and other human rights atrocities have written books. People who have survived cancer write books. People who have lost a spouse or child to tragedy write books. People who have recovered from drug addiction write books. Celebrities write books just because they’re celebrities, and tell about their negative life experiences. And so on, and so forth. These people also regularly appear on Oprah and other such talk shows. And yet, I’m not remembering anyone saying “yeah, he had this awful disease and lived through it — but come on now, look at the money he’s going to make from his book,” or “sure her entire family was killed by a militia, but let’s face it, she’s going to be set up for life when this is said and done.” Because such statements are clearly offensive and absurd.
I’d like to hypothesize that what this is about is maintaining a certain, monolithic and vulnerable version of a rape survivor. Sure, people admonish us to claim the label survivor and to “stop being a victim,” but at the same time, they want us to stay meek and quiet. Rape culture, of course, thrives best when no one talks about it. Honestly, I think that from a lot of people, that’s exactly what telling someone to “stop being a victim and start being a survivor” actually means — shut up, if you do ever talk about it make sure to turn into a puddle on the floor, and when dealing with the rape, sure as hell don’t show any signs of self-sufficiency.
This view is reflected, I believe, in this comment (which was not published):
I do believe that she is sincere in her desire to help others, however, because she is a product of hollywood, she also writes a book and is due to appear on the show celebrity rehab in Jan. It does appear to have a self serving dimension to it.
And how dare a rape survivor actually respond to her trauma in a way that is self-serving? How dare a woman serve herself at all? How dare she do anything other than help others for 100% selfless reasons? And how dare someone respond to abuse in such a way that might benefit them?
In this world, this misogynistic rape culture we live in, all of this is in fact seen as quite the sin.
But I hope it goes without saying that it shouldn’t be. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that Mackenzie Phillips is making money off of this book. Though an option that is not available to most, I imagine that it’s a small way for her to take back some of her power in this situation. I imagine that her recovery up to this point and what she has endured in this past week is a hell of a lot of work. I think we need to stop minimizing that. And I believe that writing, at the very least, is certainly labor worthy of pay.
I also believe that when discussing the fact that Mackenzie Phillips was raped by her father, taking the time to be appalled about how she is paying her bills is supremely fucked up, and yet another way of attempting to minimize the harm done by rape (see, it’s not all bad!) and trying to turn the conversation back to the victim’s behavior rather than the rapist’s. I think it’s just a slightly more subtle way of calling her “a whore.”
A woman has a right to her story. Every person has a right to their story. And whatever they choose to do with that story, whether it’s plastering it on a billboard or never telling a soul, it doesn’t change the truthfulness of the story, it doesn’t right the wrongs committed in it, and it doesn’t change the fact that the decision about what to do with the story was inherently and rightfully theirs to make. The fact that so many people automatically assume otherwise just shows us yet again how little respect and credibilty are afforded to those who have been raped.