On a more serious note

WARNING: This post is not for the kids. Also, spoilerish things ahead. Also, a bit of a rant.

Many things are circling around in my head right now, and I’m not going to be able to sleep unless I try to work them out a little.

I just finished Deerskin, by Robin McKinley. There are many things to be said about this book. I found the prose to be a bit…architectural?…and sometimes hard to follow, but with its own kind of beauty that grew on me as I kept reading.

And then.

Much of the story is about Lissar’s recovery from the experience of being raped by her father. I repeat that, because it’s important: the book is not about rape, it’s about survival and recovery and the way she moves forward after that trauma.

Parts of it are brutal, and parts of it are moving…when she reclaimed her body, which she had previously been unable to even look at, which felt alien to her – I had chills. When she confronted her father towards the end, I cried.

And between this, and a recent post over on Tami’s blog about female characters, and the episode of criminal minds I watched today, and conversations which have been happening at school about this subject, I’ve been thinking about things.

I have fortunately never been sexually assaulted, or had anyone attempt to assault me, or really anything of that nature. And, although there are problems with the idea that women have to take precautions to avoid rape, I do take care to behave certain ways (don’t go out alone late at night, don’t get drunk at parties, etc. etc. Not that I go to parties anyway, but still).

And yet, there are moments.

I’ve been walking down the sidewalk, not even that late, but it’s dark outside, and there’s a man walking in the other direction. Doesn’t matter if he’s black, or white, or polka dotted. Sometimes, I just feel this stab of fear. It feels like something is constricting my chest, and my heart beats faster, and I have a feeling that I had barely put into words. It’s not that I think this other guy *is* going to attack me, it’s just that I have the sudden realization that he *could*.

That I could suddenly find myself in the situation where something is being done to my body that I didn’t choose, that I have no control over.

I mean, I’m not particularly strong, but I do know some self-defense. It doesn’t matter, I still get this feeling. And I get it sometimes when guys say things to me on the street, like “Hey guapa”, or “Smile, gorgeous”. I’ve gotten real compliments, from women and men, and they’re different from these. These are aggressive. And they give me that same feeling.

And I hate having that feeling. I really really really HATE that we live in a world in which rape is such a pervasive part of the culture that I sometimes feel afraid of random guys on the street, most of whom are perfectly nice I’m sure (obviously not the catcalling guys here, but for instance the random guys I walk by at night).

So this brings me to Criminal Minds. The cold open of this episode had a woman outside of a nightclub, talking on her cellphone. She hangs up. This guys starts coming down the alley, wearing a dark hoodie. He looks a bit menacing. The woman starts to feel uncomfortable. The guy reaches into his pocket…but just pulls out a cigarette. He’s still walking towards her. She starts to freak out. The tension is building, until the door opens and a waitress comes out and it turns out the guy is her boyfriend and he was coming to meet her. Then once she’s relaxed she turns around and sees a body among the trash in the alley.

Basically, we’ve (we meaning the TV audience) seen so many of these shows at this point that they feel like they have to trick us to make it “different” or “interesting”. We know, since we’re watching a show about serial killers, that there will be dead bodies, so our assumption is that the guy in the hoodie is going to attack the woman in the alley. And she thinks so too.

That fear that I have – that apparently, if it’s on primetime television, many women have – is used as a CASUAL PLOT DEVICE. It’s a throwaway. This woman is totally insignificant to the overall narrative of the episode. Her fear is just there to fake out the audience, to keep us on our toes in the fourteenth season or whatever. (Okay, fifth or sixth or seventh, but the point remains).

That scares me too, that it’s not a big deal and just gets thrown into the episode like it doesn’t matter. That yes, OF COURSE the guy coming down the alley is a rapist/murderer. That’s portrayed as the default assumption. And it is a crime show, so yes you’re expecting a rapist/murderer to appear at any moment, but still, it bothers me.

Anyway, to bring this rant back to Deerskin.

It’s a beautiful book. Aside from certain quibbles I have with it, which I am more than willing to forgive for the sake of other things. The rape is handled very well, and the story of Lissar’s recovery is gorgeous. I’ve read a couple reviews that find fault with the romance; I thought it was well done. The ending was typically abstract and…sensory, I guess…which is typical for McKinley, but it actually worked better for this book than it has for others. The father is a truly frightening figure, although I actually find the mother to be completely terrifying and nightmare-inducing and the two of them give me goosebumps, but it works.

I’m glad this book exists. It’s made me think about a lot of things. I don’t think I’ll be able to read it again for a while, but I will eventually.