SMILE WHEN YOU SAY THAT:

Eugene’s observation the other day that, contrary to current conventional p.c. wisdom, rape is a crime of sex as well as violence, reminded me of the last time I got into an argument about this. As Eugene pointed out, statistics show that rape is highest among girls and women in their late teens and early ’20s — e.g., their years of prime sexual attractiveness. But for some reason, it’s not considered polite to acknowledge this common sense reality. “Eight-month-old babies and 80-year-old women get raped,” is the approved feminist line, which is true, they do; but these situations are freakishly horrible rather than horribly common.

A few months ago I found myself at lunch with a couple of women my age who kept insisting that (a) rape is purely a crime of violence, not sex, and (b) since I write for Penthouse sometimes, I’m part of the problem, because pornography contributes to a rape culture by sexually objectifying women. (Uh, I feel I should point out here that I’ve never written porn for Penthouse, just pristine articles about Hollywood topics that could run in any PG-rated publication.) The logical retort — that if rape is only a crime of violence, not sex, then what does sexually objectifying women have to do with rape? — only occurred to me once I was driving home.

In my anecdotal experience, if you get a group of women together trading sexual assault war stories, around one-third to one-half will have encountered some kind of violent and forced physical attention (although luckily most are interrupted before being completed) — an attack in the subway, in the parking lot, on the front porch, even in the living room when the door was foolishly opened to a stranger. In my case, it was an intruder who jumped out of the closet at 4 a.m. when I suddenly woke up and realized I’d better get out of the room. After a tussle and some screaming, he ran out, mission unaccomplished.

These were the tales told last time I talked about this, in a self-defense class I took just after Sept. 11 taught by a former Navy SEAL. (Actually, he disliked the term “self-defense” and called it assault training. It was fun and we learned a lot: we spent two nights acting out various scenarios in an underground parking garage from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) Sept. 11 was the reason most of us took the class, not our own personal histories, because we didn’t like the thought of not knowing how to put up a fight if faced with boxcutter-armed terrorists. But here’s the thing: All our sexual assault incidents had taken place years ago, when we were still in our 20s. No problems recently!

I don’t think that all unwanted attention is a form of rape, but look, this stuff exists on a continuum, and just as hoots and catcalls taper off it makes sense that rape does too. I used to resent the unwritten law, made clear to me practically every time I left the house, that nubile young women are not allowed to walk down the street without displaying a cheerfully vapid, “And Wendy Has Wings To Fly” expression of sexual availability. “Smile!” men would demand if I dared to look lost in thought. “It can’t be that bad!” I don’t hear that anymore. I guess they figure it is that bad.

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