On Being Surprised by Rape Apologia

by Shakesville Moderator Hallelujah_Hippo

[Content Note: Sexual assault; rape apologia.]

It's not unusual when a famous or semi-famous person opens their mouth in support of rape culture that I hear expressions of surprise from friends and acquaintances. And I understand their shock and disappointment, and I support their needs to process this new bit of awful in their lives; but their surprise is not something I can help them work through.

Surprise is a luxury I don't have.

As a survivor who has spoken about my past experiences, I have had friends ask if 'maybe I misunderstood the situation,' had family members say 'you're making a big deal out of nothing,' heard otherwise progressive and feminist-identifying friends say 'well, can you blame him for feeling that way; those kind of clothes/behaviors/settings give men ideas.' I've had mutual friends remind me that it's just 'my word against his,' and 'he probably didn't mean it, anyway.' In my life it has been common to hear people propagate and uphold rape culture, in general and in response to me speaking about my own lived experience.

So when I hear a famous person whose books I have read or even liked, an actor or actress who I have admired for the characters they play, a celebrity personality who I generally thought was kind of cool say similar things; it's just one more day in my life, one more person in the 'not safe' box in my head. Some days I'm disappointed, and some days I'm angry, and some days I feel like I'm one of a very few people in the whole wide world actively trying to dismantle rape culture.

But I'm not surprised.

Survivors tend to be intimately familiar with displays of victim-blaming—from friends, from family members, from law enforcement officials, from strangers on the internet. Most of us have multiple stories of our own of friends and family who have silenced us, disbelieved us, and blamed us for our own assaults.

To hear one more person—possibly someone's whose books we've enjoyed, whose movies we liked, whose show we found value in—engage in victim-blaming and silencing narratives is just one more person behaving exactly like lots of other people have behaved towards us. A lot of us survivors don't have the luxury of surprise.

Certainly there are survivors whose experiences are not like mine, who are surprised by people upholding the rape culture in public. I am not here to negate their lived experiences or tell them they are wrong. I'm just speaking about my own feelings about 'being surprised' in response to famous people engaging in rape culture narratives, feelings that some other survivors share.

And while it is not wrong to feel surprised, it's important to recognize that surprise is often a reflection of privilege—and, like all reflections of privilege, expressing it may be upsetting to people who don't share that privilege.

Liss tweeted last night: (1) "To everyone who's shocked by this rank rape apologia, that's the shit I get in my inbox EVERY DAY for being an outspoken survivor." (2) "This isn't an anomaly. It's just public evidence of the harassment outspoken survivors get all the time."

Part of the work of dismantling the rape culture is recognizing that rape apologia isn't an aberration, but a central part of its maintenance. When we see it in public, emanating from someone with a big platform, it's a reminder of what is done to many survivors away from the spotlight all the time, by people who we know intimately and by people who purport to love us, no less by people whose public image we only know from afar.

Many of us never had a chance to be surprised by rape apologia. Some of us have never known anything else.

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