Rape Apologia in Agatha Christie’s Nemesis

It’s that time o’ year again when seasonal depression settles over me like the thick gray clouds of a Seattle winter, and for some reason, this causes an irresistible urge to read old British detective fiction. There’s nothing more comforting than to curl up in bed with a warm, purring kitty and revisit these familiar tales. Every time, I notice a detail I missed in the other ten thousand readings.

Of course, now that I’ve become one of the dreaded Social Justice Warriors™, I also notice problematic elements that escaped me during prior, rather more unenlightened, readings. There’s a lot of casual racism, xenophobia, classism, and sexism infesting these stories, although their authors often weren’t as obnoxious about it as some of their contemporaries. Still. They’re definitely a product of their times, and their times saw nothing wrong with many of the things that horrify us today.

I’m in the midst of Nemesis, one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels. She’s often rather hard on women, a tendency I suspect comes from being a public woman in a man’s world, in addition to the intense cultural sexism. Nemesis reflects an elderly woman’s view of changing times, when younger women were freeing themselves from certain shackles and beginning to explore things like having careers and enjoying casual sex. I’m not expert enough in Agatha Christie’s personal biography to discern how much of the attitudes within the book stem from her own views, and how much is her being faithful to the character. So we’ll just treat the character as a reflection of cultural attitudes and leave the author’s deeply-held convictions for another day.

A paragraph leapt out at me, one which had escaped my notice during other readings. One gets immersed in the story world, and takes certain things for granted, quite often awful things (such as the many things we’ll forgive in the protagonists that we’d abhor in the villains). Characters can say things we’d find outrageous in our normal settings, but which fit with the time and mores of their story so well that they don’t stand out particularly, especially not when we’re reading for the mystery. But when the mystery’s solved, and we’re familiar with the characters and the world the author’s placed them in, and when we’re a little older and possibly wiser and have lots more practice seeing certain patterns, aspects pop suddenly, garish and unavoidable.

I hadn’t seen all the rape culture apologia when I first read this book, but now, it’s unmistakable. See, for instance, this paragraph, as Professor Wanstead is telling Miss Marple why he thinks a man imprisoned for murder isn’t the killer, despite the fact he’s a rapist:

“That told against him, of course. Not in the jury’s mind, because of course they did not hear about that until after the judge’s summing up, but certainly in the judge’s mind. It told against him, but I made a few enquiries myself afterwards. He had assaulted a girl. He had conceivably raped her, but he had not attempted to strangle her and in my opinion–I have seen a great many cases which come before the Assizes–it seemed to me highly unlikely that there was a very definite case of rape. Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be. Their mothers insist, very often, that they should call it rape. The girl in question had had several boyfriends who had gone further than friendship. I did not think it counted very greatly as evidence against him.” [emphasis mine]

Here we have rape culture in action in what I’m assuming is roughly mid-20th century Britain. There’s the idea that if a woman enjoys sex, you can’t rape her. There’s the insistence that rape is really just regretted sex. There’s the idea that most reports of rape are false, and that consensual sex is reported as rape just to get the woman out of trouble. Throughout the book, rape is treated as a myth, a tale told by girls to get boys in trouble.

Image is a cover of Nemesis with the words RAPE CULTURE INSIDE imprinted in red.

It’s not jarring to me to run into that attitude in a book from the perspective of an elderly person during the sexual revolution, written by a woman who was elderly herself. I expect that sort of thing, and I’m willing to put up with it in older stories. What dismays me is that attitudes haven’t substantially changed. We still hear the same fucking apologia for rapists. We still hear the same slut-shaming shit. We’re still told there’s real rape, which is a terrible crime that is done to virgins mostly by strangers and involves force, but most things ladies call “rape” is just self-serving lies told by total sluts in order to destroy men. A woman’s sexual history is still considered relevant in rape cases. We’re nearly half a century on from when this book was published, and yet we haven’t significantly advanced the mainstream cultural conversation around rape.

I hope, by the time I’m an old woman boring people with back in my day stories, these attitudes about rape will be considered just as horrifying to mainstream folk as casual denigrations of Jews is. I want us to cringe in horror and embarrassment over these rape culture mores, just as much as we wince in disgust every time the n-word pops up in our turn-of-the-last-century fiction. I want people to struggle to get past the casual sexism and misogyny, have a very hard time overlooking the anti-woman attitudes even in fiction written by a woman, rather than blithely accept it or barely notice it because, really, it’s not all that different from the way things are now.

And I think we’ll get there, despite all the menz screaming about feminazis and manginas. Feminism is here to stay, and will eventually get through enough of the thick skulls to allow the revolutionary idea that all rape is wrong, no matter the victim’s sexual history or fashion choices or state of intoxication or any other favorite excuse of rapists and their allies, to go mainstream. It’s just that I wish we’d got there a lot bloody sooner.

Why Everyday Sexism Matters: A Personal Tale

Culture taught me to ignore women.

I wouldn’t have put it that way, back in the day. I’d have told you that the reason I didn’t read many female authors or didn’t know about many female scientists or like many female artists or musicians was because they just weren’t as good. I’d point defensively to the few women on my shelves or in my CD collection and say, look! I’m not prejudiced or anything, I’ve got women there, it’s just that there aren’t that many doing stuff I like.

Sound familiar? It’s the cry of every dudebro and unique-chick™ out there. [Read more…]

Some #Gamergate Links Hand-Selected for the Curious

A lucky few folks have heard the word GamerGate, but have no idea what it is. If they’re anything like B, they’re getting curious, and would like some links about it. They may even have a feminist friend who’s made their eyebrows rise to their hairline with stories about the shit GamerGaters get up to, like driving women from their homes with death and rape threats.

But, y’know, they may also have heard rumors that it’s actually about ethics in video game journalism.

Image shows Dr. Evil doing air quotes. Caption says "#Gamergate is about 'Ethics in journalism'"

I collected several select links at B’s request. Then I figured B probably wasn’t the only person in the universe who wants said select links. So I offer them to the internets at large, plus some explanatory verbiage, knowing I risk having a bunch of angry GamerGaters appear in my social media. They can howl their lungs out, if they like: that only gives me ammunition.

Right. So, let me let other folks introduce you to the raging bunch of misogynist shitstains who hide behind ethics figleafs in order to viciously attack women. [Read more…]

Yeah, Not So Nice and Complimentary, Is It? #DudesGreetingDudes Hashtag Unmasks Catcalls

This is one of the most hilarious consciousness-raising exercises I’ve seen in a while. One of the reasons I love Twitter is because it’s the perfect medium for this sort of thing. Sometimes, like with the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag, it’s heartbreaking and intense. Other times, like with  #DudesGreetingDudes, it’s pointed and satirical.

Screen shot of a tweet from Elon James White. Tweet says, "You see a dude looking all hard & shit. Roll up on him like "Aye yo, smile, son. Damn." BRING SUNSHINE TO HIS DAY. #dudesgreetingdudes."Elon James White started the hashtag after getting into a Twitter discussion about street harassment. “I’m surprised women don’t just tweet “go fuck yourself” every hour on the hour. It would be a really reasonable response to this bullshit,” he tweeted. Shannon Miller suggested, “Since there’s such a wealth of these ‘nice men’ who just want conversation, why can’t they just strike up one with each other?” Elon took her suggestion and ran with it, birthing the #DudesGreetingDudes hashtag. [Read more…]

Dear Atheist Leaders: If You Sound As Sexist As William Lane Craig, Ur Doin It Rong

Adam Lee at Daylight Atheism has read William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith column so we don’t have to. In the process, he found something that sounds almost exactly like some of our supposed leaders. Craig is responding to a woman who’s concerned about the sexist stereotyping Craig had been spewing. See who this response of his reminds you of: [Read more…]

Disgusting Little Cowards

So the #gamergate fuckwads have taken to threatening universities with massacres for allowing women to give talks. If I didn’t already know they were pure scum, this would have informed me that their opinions need to be treated the same way I deal with nasty shit adhering to the bottom of my shoe.

I know quite a few of these shrieking shits think they are big-time heroes for managing to throw tantrums and threaten people for so long. They’re not. They’re the kind of people that every society has disavowed and discarded as it became more civilized. They have the same social value as contagious disease. They mistake small-minded spite for courage. They think that threats make them big, important men. They have to think that, because they’re shallow little personalities with nasty, small-minded ideas. They’re too terrified to fight fair in the court of public opinion, because deep down, they know they’re losers and will fail. So they have to send out death and rape threats, and rely on other cowards to give them cover.

unacceptable

Guess what? They’re still losers, and they will fail. [Read more…]

Why I Won’t Be Sporting a Scarlet A Any Longer

The Out Campaign’s scarlet A no longer graces my blog or my social media feeds. I’m still an out and proud atheist, mind you. I still think atheism is important and can do the world some good. But the scarlet A, that doesn’t do enough. And I could put up the A+ logo derived from it, but while I support the idea of Atheism Plus, I want a different and better symbol, one that suitably reflects the fact that no one on the other side of the rift is interested in bridging any divides, and so those of us who want a heaping helping of social justice to go with their atheism are going it alone. Perhaps one of you here will design it, or point me to it.

Image shows me leaning against an a-shaped sea stack at Ruby Beach, WA. The Scarlet A has been superposed over the rock. A red X is drawn through the whole picture.

My former Facebook profile pic. Fuggedaboutit. Time to replace this sucka.

Hank_Says has a succinct summary of the fuckery of the past few years, when we went from superficially-cohesive movement to Deep Rifts™. It’s what made me decide it was time to retire that particular atheist symbol: [Read more…]

A Rant Against the Dual Nature of Marketing Towards Men and Women

In which our own RQ riffs off my Fifty Shades of Fucking Abuse post. (say something about the gender binary) The floor is hers:

I got to thinking about your post during the day, and on what it means regarding who is reading what, and what kind of reading is marketed to whom. Especially romance and/or sex-related stuff, or, hell, just books that might have sex in them somewhere.

Because all those tired housewives? What’s marketed to them? Insipid romance where the man saves the day (or is horribly abusively ‘romantic,’ right, because what woman doesn’t love a good stalker?), magazines on housewifery and how-to-keep-your-man-interested… What else? Not much – I read a pretty decent science magazine (GEO, not to be confused with NatGeo) that explicitly states in its subscription description that it is geared towards middle-income, successful men. And what is in this magazine? Well, it’s not women in any state of undress – it’s very interesting science and geography articles, with nary a nod towards ‘typical’ male interests (except in advertising, and even that – alcohol, watches, suits…). Why can this kind of stuff not be geared towards women, too? Those bored housewives who are so uninteresting to their husbands – wouldn’t this kind of thing be perfect for them? Educate themselves while gaining a broader perspective on the world (they’ve had some neat articles on transgender children and non-traditional relationships, plus a very feminist one on the role of fathers from a scientific perspective), while acquiring information useful in ordinary, daily conversation with their far more worldly husbands. Sounds great to me, so why not market it as such?

Then there are the women’s magazines, which are… well, cooking, interior design, and, on occasion, nicely dressed and fully clothed men (there was that one comparison of Hugh Jackman on the cover of men’s and women’s magazines a while back). And that’s all fine, until it’s the only thing ‘appropriate’ for married women with children, and the thought of showing a bare-chested man in a housewife magazine (YUMM) is considered racy and borderline non-permissible… Where’s the women’s equivalent to FHM and Playboy? And I don’t mean just erotic shots, I mean the intelligent interviews with the interviewee posing in his underwear as eye-candy. I can think of a few local candidate athletes who would be perfect for this.

But no.

Women, especially women in long-term, childed relationships, don’t have sexuality. Not one worth talking about, at least, except as a ‘haha I bet you never have sex’ joke. This is something that needs to die a very, very painful and quick death (I’d say slow, but I’ve had enough of slow).

And that leaves me to wonder, from whence do women get their ideas about their own sexuality, in a fairly puritanical society that deems them worthy only of having children and being satisfied only under the wing of a man?

And that is what leaves them wide open for books like 50 Shades – because, unfortunately, with all the abusive aspects of it, and the childish language (they can’t even talk dirty enough because it will hurt the sensitivities of women? what?), it does speak plainly and openly about sexual love within the bounds of a relationship. I mean, I read a lot when I was young, and my first awakenings into sexuality came through SF/Fantasy novels (Hel-lo, Lions of Al-Rassan). And then for a while I made sure that all the books I read had at least one sex scene in them, because that shit was awesome! Masturbation material! (Sorry if it’s TMI.) And it was in all kinds of books!

Which leaves me to wonder, are people really so limited in their reading choices (and more specifically, are housewives really so limited in their reading material) that they have to resort to such ridiculous trash as 50 Shades to re-awaken those feelings? To allow them to feel like sexual beings again, to let them know that it’s perfectly normal to want sex and love your body and have someone do wonderful, touchy-feely, hot things to it? Is it just the marketing this time around? Is it a lack of resources to know that, hey, having kids doesn’t automatically turn the pleasure-centres in your vagina and environs off? Because there’s so much literature out there that can get people hot and bothered – if they bothered to look at it that way. But I think I’m slowly discovering that, indeed, there’s a very narrow lane you have to walk when you’re set in a certain role, a very narrow set of interests you’re supposed to cultivate in order to be the right kind of wife/mother/girlfriend. Because the gods forbid you start having fantasies about imaginary characters or unattainable athletes or actors on-screen… Because Hugh Jackman would set a bad precedent by taking his shirt off in a women’s magazine, while being all bare-chested and manily aggressive is perfectly fine for the men to see (because that’s how they should be, too!), but there’s no reciprocating audience to accept him as such, from a sexual point of view (I feel like there’s some underlying homophobia here, too, because sexy pictures of men might be looked at by gay men, and ew, right???).

I suppose this is a rant against the dual nature of marketing towards men and women (and never mind those who aren’t straight and cis, because… well, because, right?), how men are allowed to be sexual, women are too nurturing to understand, and women who want sex for the sake of sex and pleasure are sluts and shouldn’t be treated with respect… Yes, that’s rape culture. But is it really so ingrained that it subtly limits everyone’s reading choices? That it denies such self-examination and acceptance of all of one’s self?

I’m sad to think that the answer is yes – that the only way to awaken women’s ‘lost’ sexuality is through aggressive marketing piggy-backing on the coattails of an already-terrible romance. That there’s so much beautiful, sexy stuff written out there, that would appeal to both men and women without resorting to silly cliches and harmful stereotypes of romance that doesn’t get a single note of attention because… because it doesn’t fall neatly into a box. Because it doesn’t fall under the definition of ‘housewife’ or ‘husband’ or ‘sex after marriage’ (I’m pretty sure there isn’t even a box for that last one). And this is only in the context of plain, vanilla relationships (which can be pretty hot too).

The Lions of Al-Rassan isn’t marketed or ever described as a romance novel – even though, in essence, that’s what it is. No? And it’s not the only book that avoids the ‘romance’ label even though it is chock-full of romance.

Anyway. I’m not sure how to end this in a good way, because it’s saddening and slightly angering that this is what women have to resort to – that this is what is pushed at men as a model – because society is too afraid to acknowledge sex and sexuality as a real, living aspect of all adults, whether single, married, with or without kids, of any orientation or sexual proclivity. Sex is too awesome to be demeaned and swept under the rug like that – why does it happen?

(And yes, I have some idea… I just wish there was a better way to stand against it and make a change.)

*sigh*

Sigh indeed.