Tuesday, May 21, 2013

An Open Letter to My Brother

TW: talking about rape, and rape culture

OK Surfer,

I wanted to tell you why I didn’t like the last short film you pitched to me, and I’m doing it in writing because it’s easier to marshal my ideas when I can see the words and edit them if necessary.

Advance Warning: this is difficult to write, and will probably be difficult to read but please don’t give up.  This is isn’t a personal attack, just some things I think you should think about.  It can only improve your writing.
Thinking about your film idea after the rugby game, I realised two things: first, why exactly, I had problems with that particular film; second, that there is a disturbing trend in what I have seen so far of your script ideas.

I’m gonna focus on the second thing first.

OK. Let’s recap.  The first short film you pitched to me was about the sad-sack who steals his flatmates magic cologne to score with chicks.  As I pointed out to you at the time, the flatmate was a rapist, and the punch line of the short was that Our Protagonist, with whom we are supposed to sympathise rapes his own mother. Accidently, sure, but… To your credit, you realised this was skeevy and dropped it.

The second idea you pitched to me was about a man and woman walking home from a date and the man enacting zany schemes to get her to sleep with him.  Until I asked about it, you had no idea what HER thoughts on the matter were.  Yes, I know, it was an incomplete idea, but please bear with me.

The most recent was Sam the douche and his Adventures in Sexual Harassment, in which Sam (who you admitted was a douche, but who was our protagonist, and who was a fully formed character in your head with a full name and a driving motivation) sexually harasses women all day culminating in coercing a drunk girl (who in your pitch is nameless) into a cab and to her home with the express intent of “having sex with” (really raping) her.  Yes, I know there is a twist. But that’s really not the point.

OK.  This is the bit where I may piss you off.  Please remember this isn’t a personal attack: this is something you need to hear, and if you can get through it, it will make you a better writer.

These three ideas? They are rapey.  They are rapey because they depend on the idea that sex is something that men do, and something that women have done to them. 

Do you understand that?  We talked a little about Rape Culture, and you admitted that you didn’t quite understand it.  That’s cool: you’re 21 and new to the whole liberal arts bit.  But: you’re a 21 man.  You need to know about it, and it boils down to the above idea.

Sex is framed in our culture as something that MEN actively pursue, but something that women possess, or something that happens to women.  It’s the problem with the ‘no means no’ framework.  Man acts, and until the woman says no, all is fine and dandy. The man has “gotten” sex.  But we discussed, and so I know you understand, that there are many reasons why a woman who does not consent might not say “no”.  And in these cases, the absence of a “no” is not a yes.

Of course, there are also (many) cases when a woman’s “no” is not seen as absolute.  The man wants sex, the woman “has (as in possesses)” this sex, and her “no” is just an obstacle to be gotten around.  This is rape culture, the idea that the absence of “no” will do for consent, and that a “no” is, in any case, something that can be manoeuvred around. 

Now, this is what is wrong with the stories you have pitched.  THEY DEPEND ON THIS FRAMEWORK TO MAKE SENSE.  In all three of these stories, men are ACTIVE. They want something (sex) and the women are just props who get in the way of what those men want.  In depending on the rape culture, you reinforce it.  And I know that that is not something you want to do.

Hang-on, you’re about to say – and yes, I know that last story has a twist.  But it still left a sour taste in my mouth, and here’s why.

You want (I assume) to subvert rape culture (yes, I know, you didn’t explicitly say that, but clear enough).  It doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work because SURPRISE SHE DOESN’T GET RAPED is no kind of joke.  It should be the absolute minimum expectation. Drunken girl gets picked up at bar and coerced into going home with someone she doesn’t want to culminating in a rape is a sadly common story. 

And the story is still all about Sam.  Sam wants something. That something is sex, even if that sex is really rape.  The girl is a prop on the way to Sam getting what Sam wants.  Even though she ends up preventing Sam from "getting" sex (raping her), she still isn't really anything more than an obstacle that was not overcome.  Sam has done this before. Sam will do this again.  The short is filled with Sam's victims who we never see, because in this film Sam is much more important than any of the women he has or will rape.

And because you are writing Sam as your protagonist you are playing into this and covertly endorsing.  I don’t know what reaction you are hoping for, but I guarantee, it will not be “gutsy girl escapes rapist” it will be “poor Sam shaved and painted blue some crazy bitch”. 

And that’s the other problem: why don’t we know that girl? What’s her name, her story? Why does she lure in sexual predators and paint them blue? WHY ISN’T THIS HER STORY?  (Although, there is another a trope that needs to die, and that is “rape turns woman into vigilante/ superhero who is somehow EMPOWERED by the POWER OF REVENGE. Don’t ever go there. PLEASE).

So that’s that.  The Rape Culture and how you are unintentionally depending on/ reinforcing same.

Luckily there is a way to fix it.  Next story you write start with a female character. Write her like you write your (non-rapey) males.  She wants something.  It doesn’t have to be stereotypically feminine (though it might be).  Give her a name. A background. A motivation. An obstacle. Make none of them dependent on men (Sarah wants to learn to play the guitar solo from [Song X] because it’s her best friend Meli’s favourite song and Meli is in hospital! But Sarah is broke and can’t afford a guitar! See, a story, no rape culture!)

After that, every story you write make sure women are active, not just props for the men.

And, some homework: follow these links from a blog I follow, about rape culture.  They are much more articulate than me.  You might learn something.

OK, Little Bro.  Hope this gave you something to think about.

And may I post it (name free) to my blog?

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