Women not to be trusted! Warn doughnuts in cop uniforms, Ryan Lochte, Todd Akin and other moral compasses of North America
by new hystericisms
“Is there a decent girl out there who doesn’t lie?” Olympian and soothsayer Ryan Lochte asked ESPN (rhetorically, of course, as he already knew the answer). “They all lie. They’re all evil… They all say the same thing […] ‘I don’t play games. I’m a good person. You can trust me.’ I’ve heard that all before.” Excuse me while I adjust my broomstick, but here’s the thing, bro, I too have heard that all before. Grouping all women as untrustworthy or even evil is nothing new— the dangers of feminine wiles, etc., etc.—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an unfair and dangerous generalization.
I say dangerous, especially, since the scope seems to be narrowing to women lying about being attacked or raped. Take, for example, Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin. I’m sure I don’t need to refresh anyone’s memory of the Missouri Rep. verbally projectile vomiting all over women everywhere when he basically said that getting pregnant from legitimate rape isn’t a real thing because the mysterious inner workings of female reproductive organs have a mystical, magical way of detecting rape-sperm and “shutting the whole thing down.” Oh, really? You didn’t know about your little vagina-bouncer, asking sperm for i.d. before gaining access to the nine month long rager in your uterus? It’s hard to keep up with all these scientific breakthroughs, I know, but that’s what conservative lawmakers are there for, am I right? Sigh. And it’s not even the unfathomable level of ignorance that I am taking issue with here, it’s the insinuation of the illegitimacy of some rapes and the implications of dishonesty: if a woman was really raped, she wouldn’t be pregnant. So any pregnant woman who said she was raped is really lying, guys! Because Todd Akin and also Iowa Rep. Steve King said they never heard of it happening so obviously it must Never. Happen. Ever. Ladies, you can’t get pregnant from rape because wandering wombs! Science!
We can take this thing all the way back to the ancient Greeks; it’s nothing new. But it doesn’t seem to be going away, either. As the writers at Jezebel have pointed out, now, in order to be believed, women must prove they were Legitimately Raped (Akin) Truly Raped (Henry Aldridge) Forcibly Raped (Todd Akin/Paul Ryan) or Rape-raped (Whoopi Goldberg) and must definitely not end up pregnant. So have things really come that far since the 1970s when a woman’s testimony regarding a sexual assault wouldn’t be accepted without a third-party witness? We are still being told that a woman’s voice alone cannot be trusted, that women lie about rape and violence all the time. Which brings me to the main reason I wrote this blog:
Gone (2012) starring Amanda Seyfried and its critical response.
Quick recap: Gone revolves around Jill, who was kidnapped by a serial killer and escaped. The police did not believe her and assigned her pyshciatric treatment. When Jill comes home to her sister missing, she’s sure her sister has been kidnapped by the same man. The police, of course, don’t take her seriously and Jill takes on the search herself (spoiler alert) finding the man as well as photos of all the girls he has killed. She kills him, her sister is saved, and now the police need her help as she’s the only one alive who knows all about the killer. The movie ends with Jill turning to face the police and refusing them, telling them they were right, she made it all up. The one female cop smirks in approval (if only because she is played by Shane from The L Word and therefore has to have at least a little bit of awesome), and I was all, hell yeah, Jill, send their stupid words right back at them. And apparently I was the only one.
Since I was impressed that a movie took on the topic of police not believing women, I searched for some reviews to see what others had to say. Noone else was impressed. In this review by MaryAnn Johanson (titled, of course, “Never Trust a Woman”) the reviewer goes so far as to call the movie an enemy of the feminist cause. How, then, did we end up on two completely different sides of the spectrum at the end of this story? Well, let’s wade through the sarcasm together to find out.
Jill escaped from a serial killer last year — because, you know, that happens — and her perfectly understandable trauma after this terrible event is exacerbated by the fact that the cops don’t believe her: they think she invented her kidnapping and terrorizing — because, you know, women do that — not out of malice or deceit but because, you know, she’s looney tunes. As women are.
So, upon first read, you might just think this reviewer is snarking at the implausibility of a woman making up a story of kidnapping and terrorizing. As she should. But she is also the snarking at the plausibility of the whole situation. And that is where she loses me. First of all the sarcastic “because, you know, that happens,” referring to Jill’s escape, followed by the line about the cops saying she invented the story “because, you know, women do that” makes it sound as if its a fault of the movie to portray such an unrealistic situation. But it’s not. It’s a fault of the police in the movie as well as in real life—and, yes, actually, it does happen. For instance, in 2008, a woman who escaped from serial killer and rapist Anthony Sowell (because, you know, that happens) ran to the police bleeding and screaming for help. Police “did not believe the woman was credible” and wrote “unfounded” on the report. Sound familiar? Then, in 2009, Sowell was arrested and charged with numerous counts of rape and murder when the bodies of 11 women were found decomposing in his home. Not to mention the Court Judge who ordered three victims of sexual assault to take polygraph tests after the accused had already been found guilty. Or when Sarah Reedy was robbed and raped at gunpoint and, after reporting, was arrested, jailed, and charged with filing a false report. Her rapist was later arrested and confessed to committing a total of 12 sexual assaults, some of which would have been prevented had the detectives believed Reedy. Because, you know, that happens.
I see the urge for snark, I do, because it seems utterly unbelievable that the court officials, the law enforcement officers, the parents, friends, and lovers of women who are victims of sexual assault or violence would be so quick to disbelieve. But we have to stop denying that it happens because this attitude needs to be addressed and needs to be changed. (The news articles mentioned as well as more examples can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/user/StartByBelieving/feed?feature=context)
The kicker of Gone is, we’re meant to wonder whether the cops don’t have the correct end of the stick, because isn’t it perfectly reasonable that women invent their own traumatic near-death fantasies? (With “friends” like this movie, the feminist cause doesn’t need enemies.)
The issue I have here is the assumption that the movie believes “it’s perfectly reasonable that women invent… blah blah blah.” I don’t. I think the movie allows for some interesting self-reflection. After seeing the movie, if, as a viewer, your first instinct was to doubt Jill, is that the movie’s fault? Or does it show something about this attitude of distrust towards women? I didn’t think Jill was insane—I thought they made a nice little dig at those who forced her into psychiatric care with the alarm for her meds saying “Smile!” just like sexist goons on the street who take it upon themselves to dictate the look on women’s faces. But, then again, I seem to disagree with the reviewers of this movie on just about everything. Johanson also took issue with the creepy cop who is on Jill’s side because he “likes crazy girls.” Johanson sneers, “Yeah, there’s a ringing endorsement for women’s agency.” Um, did you watch the same movie that I did? He wanted to be on Jill’s side and she basically told him to go fuck himself and did everything on her own. So, allow me, once again, to echo you; I would say, yeah, there is a ringing endorsement for women’s agency.
Oh, and then there’s the criticism that the killer isn’t complex and doesn’t have any cool fetishes or anything. Yep. I can’t even. Maybe this movie isn’t about how interesting rapists and serial killers can be. Maybe some of the tv shows and movies that do focus on that should think about the implications of that romanticization ( just sayin). Now, let me just say, I know this film is not about rape. But it is the attitude toward Jill’s character in the movie that seems to be the attitude of so many male lawmakers, politicians, celebrities, and law enforcement officers towards female victims of assault, specifically sexual assault.
“Do women lie about rape?” asks the title of a Ms. Magazine article. A commenter replies, “I hate rape, but I hate liars more. Why does it seem like feminists are so quick to jump on a figurative rape bandwagon?” Well, I don’t know what a rape bandwagon is, but I sure as hell am not jumping on it. (But that douche can maybe go jump off something.) What I am doing, though, is helping to organize the Take Back the Night March here in Fredericton this week. Inspired by the Start By Believing Campaign, the theme of the event is BELIEVE HER because the most important thing we can do when someone says she has been sexually assaulted is to start by believing. We need to put an end to this ridiculous notion that these suspicions are reasonable or justified. Check out our FB or twitter, upload your photo to our Start By Believing album or join us at 8pm on Sept 21 in front of City Hall.