So I actually made a file pertaining to Amethyst/Sword of Sorcery #0 as soon as I read it on Wednesday. But then later I saw Chris Sims had written (almost) exactly everything I wanted to say, and I felt alright about maybe not writing a post. But then this guy decided to prove how ignorant people can be, so now I’ve gotta address it.
On one hand, I’m thankful for jerks giving me writing opportunities I’m passionate about.
On the other, SERIOUSLY YOU MAKE MY BRAIN SHRIEK WITH RAGE LIKE MILLIONS OF NAILS RAKING A DESERT OF CHALKBOARDS.
It took me a while to get past my initial rage (I quote, “I will pull this guy’s lungs out through his urethra”), but I think I’m calm enough to evaluate him objectively. After all, I don’t think he’s a bad guy. His heart seems to be in the right place, his head’s just wedged securely up his ass.
Maybe I’ll just start with why I thought the scene was inappropriate to begin with. Despite being a HORRIBLE event given the potential demographic for the comic (young girls), the scene itself felt like a gaudy, anachronistic exploitation of a real issue. The foreshadowing scene of Beryl accepting the shady football player’s invitation was the first flag. Beryl knows she’s unpopular, that’s why she’s so shocked and flustered that this oh so popular guy deigns even to speak with her. She says as much to Amy. Any nerdy, unpopular girl is hyper-aware of being Carrie’d, okay? Even the most optimistic nerd girl can recognize a social interaction that is out of the norm, potentially humiliating situations. More than that, Beryl is a woman, and even a teenage woman is going to be leery of potentially dangerous encounters with men.
Especially when “meet me behind the bleachers tonight” is on the invitation. (Seriously?)
The fact that she naively shows up is the most baffling part. This is going to loop around to my next argument, so let me detour.
One of the main offenses of both the critique-er’s article and the comic itself, is that it pretends that this scene is empowering or righteous. It is THE OPPOSITE, and I cannot stress that enough. The message that is taken away from this isn’t, “wasn’t it cool when Amy punched all those guys in the throat?” It’s “Beryl shouldn’t have tried to meet that guy at the bleachers at night, what was she doing?” This REINFORCES rape culture, not refutes it! It punishes Beryl for foolishly trying to achieve her naïve quarterback dreams. We take this away from the scene instead of Amy’s badass kung fu because for most girls, a kung fu badass isn’t going to jump out of the sky to save us from assault. (And make no mistake, Beryl is the us, the reader stand-in, not Amy.)
Beryl is the exception, an unrealistic one at that. It sure is lucky that Amy not only had her suspicions about that guy, but also the skills to come to the rescue! But if she hadn’t? Well, poor Beryl.
Which relates to the idea that Beryl never would have gone in the first place. We are taught, as women, not to trust strange men. To be leery of rape at every corner. Beryl would be raised in the same environment; she would have the same health education that, in middle school, would tell you “always have a buddy, always keep an eye on your drink, and don’t let a man get you on your own unless you really trust him. In case you’re raped, this is what you do. Beyond that, you’re on your own and responsible for your own safety.” THIS IS WHAT THEY TELL US. (Although honestly, you’ll be lucky if they tell you about rape kits.) The artificialness of Beryl’s choices pulled me out of her story, and looking at it from a few steps back made it especially exploitive.
And all this makes it especially clear that this is not for women. Sims’ critique’s writer’s argument relies heavily on pushing the “reality of the situation.” You, my friend, have been socialized. I understand that you understand that rape is bad, but I don’t think you really understand rape. The situation Beryl faces is the media idea of rape, that some suspicious guy will telegraph his shady actions at you, so you better learn to avoid him! (This is called victim-blaming, by the way, the idea that somebody should have known better.) There are cases of this happening, I’m not saying there aren’t. But the majority of rape is committed by men that women are familiar with, and trust. Our fathers, brothers, cousins, friends, boyfriends, husbands, babysitters, bosses, and neighbors aren’t the ones we have to be suspicious of, right? Because they would never hurt us? These are the guys that commit the most rape. So why, when people talk about this (which is rarely), is it treated like an isolated case?
Amethyst uses the tired old trope of “girl gets caught in a dark alley, has to be saved.” This is the rape education we’ve been receiving for years! It doesn’t work, we don’t need MORE OF IT. Not to mention that it places the responsibility “not to get raped” on the victim/survivors’ shoulders, rather than the responsibility “NOT TO RAPE” on the rapists’ shoulders. Like I said before, this guy knows that rape is bad. Everyone knows that rape is bad, but not everyone knows how to identify it if it’s not being committed in a dark alley against a girl who’s kicking and screaming. Which, unfortunately, is not usually the case.
(Here are some good “DON’T RAPE” campaigns, for positive examples of how to not be a victim-blaming asshole: x, x, x)
Critique-er also chastises Sims for not understanding women and the troubles we face, resulting in an “overly PC” rant against Amethyst, but he doesn’t seem to understand women all that much either. In his arguments for the aborted rape scene as “empowering,” he writes that the scene is “written by a woman, resolved by a woman.” He misses, however, that women can be just as ignorant to sexism as men. There are female rape apologists dude. In fact, I don’t even know if you are a dude! You could very well be a very misinformed woman. Women are socialized in the same culture men are. We’re taught the same bullshit rape culture “facts” that everyone else is. Being a woman may make us more sensitive to rape education, but we’re not magically more educated.
Rape is too sensitive a subject to be handled as clumsily as it was in Amethyst. And it was the completely wrong place for it, but I think Chris Sims did a good job of getting that across.