If you concern yourself with human rights, you surely know that the ‘R Word’ means of course ‘rape’. You might as well have stumbled upon it on a newspaper or on the net. This word structure by being similar to the ‘F word’ and ‘L word’ denotes something very specific: that there’s a taboo around it when it comes down to talking seriously about the topic and that at the same time some people have used the word so much that it has become trivialized.
V-Day stands not only for Valentine’s Day, but also for Victory and Vagina. 15 years ago Eve Ensler decided to organize a global activist movement to end violence against women. Though the protests are usually in the positive form of dance or theater, I decided that my way of participating and breaking the silence will be this post.
Disclaimer: I am not a rape survivor, thus I can’t claim I really know how it feels, but I’ll try my best to present this sensitive topic with the limited knowledge, experience and empathy that I’ve got. Please, feel free to point out if and where I err.
Trigger warning: images of rape in anime and manga.
a. The wound
Our bodies are connected to our souls and I don’t mean this in (only) a religious sense. When we are scared, some of us start sweating, others get dizzy and others nauseatic. Imagine a situation where you are defenseless, your corporal integrity might be on the line, and the boundaries between you and the outside world are falling apart. Your dreams of tender love are crumbling. The damage to your body is damage to your soul; someone is forcibly breaking into your soul. Rape can be the death of your soul. And if you are lucky enough, you don’t get to go through it over and over again.
Even like this, unlike real death, the next day comes and you have to live on. If you live in a close-minded, fanatically religious community, you are simply screwed. Especially if you happen to have a vagina and you lost your virginity. It’s highly possible you won’t find anyone who will lend an ear and a hand or moreover respect you. Women are raised in most parts of the world even today not to love our bodies, to believe that a piece of tissue is our ‘honor’ and without it we amount to nothing. If we are ‘used’, we are disposable.
It’s really tough to talk about rape, describe it and convey the whole horror successfully, much more if you haven’t felt it first hand. Art might be able to convey it more effectively than I; anime and manga, despite the fact they are often drenched in misogyny and homophobia, when done right, they leave lasting impressions.
Kanashimi no Belladonna (Belladonna of Sadness, 1973) is the story of Jean, of her suffering, empowerment, and sexuality. The first minutes of the film we see the heroine being violated by the lord of the village as a price for her wedding – the infamous but dubious jus primae noctis. There’s the malicious ruckus the people in the castle make, while they throw her husband out of the castle, then Jean’s scream is heard once, and after that images speak the words Jean couldn’t: she is ripped into pieces while she wiggles in agony and seeks desperately for help. The threatening red mass is pumping in and out becoming larger with each pump until it reaches the woman’s heart.
In ef- a tale of melodies (2008), Yuuko Amamiya, an orphan, is taken in by someone who had lost his sister. He thought of Yuuko as his dead sister for some time, but when his delusions started fading out, he began to physically abuse her. This abuse transformed to sexual not long after. Yuuko tells of her torturing to the person she had loved since back in her orphanage days. She undresses in a church in front of him, revealing her mistreated body. At first she appears fractured like a glass, then chains become a prominent motif of her rapist and feelings of anguish that tied her down. Her bruises, wounds and scars are shown as red signs (circles, triangles, squares etc) or as an infection upon the touch of her foster parent. Words though play a big role here: her erratic monologue expresses how deep the trauma is and how the boundaries of her sanity were at their limit.
[…]Then I started waiting slowly until the day I would die. But the days of waiting are very painful. It hurts. It’s hot. It’s painful. It’s sad. It’s harsh. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t end it. I wanted to hide. I wanted to scream. I wanted to fight back. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to end it. I wanted to resist. I wanted to oppose. I wanted to rebel. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide. I wanted to escape. I wanted to shut myself in. I wanted to refuse. I wanted to hold it in. I wanted to push him away. I wanted it to end. But I was chased. I was caught. I was dragged out. I was abused. I was forced. I was unforgivingly held up. I was tied up. I was pushed over. I was cut into pieces. Things were thrown at me. I was tortured until I wanted to scream. I want to scream loud. I want to go crazy but I can’t. I was caught again. I was hit until I broke. I was ripped apart. I was kicked. I was burnt. I was stabbed. I was burnt even more. I was dirtied. I was broken. I was thrown away. I was destroyed. I was bullied. I was being fooled around with. I was crushed. I was stepped on until I had nothing left of me. I was driven away and then I fainted. I couldn’t feel pain. I felt pain in my heart. Tears wouldn’t come out. Afterwards I was picked up again. Then i got caught again. I got hit again. I got dirtied again. I got broken again. I got ripped into pieces again. I got cut again. I got burnt again. I don’t want to.. I don’t wANT TO… I DON’T WANT TO…
Moonlight Flower (1989) talks about a woman who falls for another woman and wants to leave her husband and her unhappy marriage behind. Unfortunately, her husband is too self-absorbed and too proud to let his wife reject him, asks her more about why she wants a divorce and when she admits having a lover, he pins her down to the floor, overcome with jealousy. By mistake the gender of the lover is revealing. And that leads to her rape. The bold background lines and the implied abrupt movements underline the forcefulness used. With her chest bared and her skirt lifted up she lies moments later on the floor tossed like rubbish, empty and crying. Her husband threatens her that she won’t get a divorce from him and that he won’t let her see that other woman. It’s one of the very few hate crimes depicted in manga.
Rape isn’t restricted to women only though. Sakura Gari (2007) shows the rape of a young man. Just because someone is a man, it doesn’t mean he wants sex whatever the circumstances may be or that men can’t be hurt. There’s a mixture of violence with ‘gentleness’ which isn’t far from truth, since rapists who are acquainted or related with their victims put masks on or have simply a twisted personality and manic tendencies. The victim suffers anyways, but even more when mind games are involved. This yaoi treats rape as it is; Masataka couldn’t register what was happening at first, and afterwards his appetite was lost for a while. In the meantime, he couldn’t find consolation in sleep either; the nightmare was there 24/7.
b. The facts
As I’ve already mentioned, rape doesn’t strike only white women, but also women of color, lgbt individuals and even men. The hideous crime takes places most often at home or at a radius of one mile around it. Rape occurs in high frequency during wars, as well. It isn’t caused by ‘provocative’ clothes, since women in countries where hijab is worn fall victims, too. In certain eastern countries, like in Afghanistan, a raped woman is imprisoned or forced to marry her rapist!
c. The culture
Lately sexism and violence against women is on the rise again. From the offensive and idiotic GOP scale of rape to the gang rape bus incidents in India things only seem to get worse. But it was always there lurking; patriarchy is still here, what with the ubiquitous rude rape jokes, the idealization of sexual assault in books like Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey and shoujo hetereosexual as well as yaoi manga…
From time to time it is good to refresh our memory about what’s going on around us and about what we can do to help vulnerable people and social groups. Participating in actions like the ones during V-Day is one way. Spreading the word, lending an ear, standing up for victims, not tolerating rape made fun of, not voting misogynistic parties or donating to organisations like RAINN are some of the simplest ways to go.
While we raise our voice and try to stop violence, it isn’t a bad idea to take precautions. In the meantime, we should understand that what we have in our minds as ‘the perfect partner’ doesn’t exist, and most importantly we should disillusion ourselves that someone being ‘dynamic’ shouldn’t translate in being dominant and/or macho; getting turned on by people who take your cellphone without asking you to have your number is… something we must rethink. If we honestly expect someone to grab us, kiss us without us saying anything or initiating a gesture because ‘(s)he read our mind before we even asked’, then we are going to be in big trouble sooner or later.