The problem with Amethyst

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.

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.

Arielle Sorkin

Generally nervous human being.

14 thoughts to “The problem with Amethyst”

  1. YES!!! i hadnt thought of it as being “Carrie’d” but exactamundo–we nerdy unpopular girls were hyper aware that the guys who claimed to be interested in us were probably being dared to do it to make a big joke of it by their friends, just like that poor girl today whose school prank-elected her Homecoming queen just to say “JK, you believed us! hahaha”–Beryl is like a carichature out of a 50s PSA, not at all believable.

  2. While I’m not entirely on board with the idea of a character like Beryl being implausible–I don’t like suggesting that certain people don’t exist–the rest of this is completely right on. Thank you for writing it. 🙂

    1. You’re totally right! An endlessly optimistic character like Beryl could certainly exist, I shouldn’t have implied that she couldn’t.

      I do think she would be more implausible in the gritty world of DC’s New 52 reboot though, where rape and murder seem to be the norm. She feels out of place in this particular world, which barely reflects on the real world at all, where a Beryl could (and probably does) exist happily.

      1. Y’know, I wasn’t even thinking of it in terms of DCU vs. real world. Sure, if we’re meant to believe that the the “real-world” segments of the book take place in a horrifying town where a person getting gang raped simply means it’s Tuesday–and given the way the scene is set up, that doesn’t seem altogether implausible–then yeah, the idea of somebody not knowing that becomes a hard to believe (although never impossible, which was my point). It’s part of what makes the execution so frustrating; the situation is unlikely enough that it requires additional context explaining how it happened, and yet that explanation is completely absent. That said, I’m more inclined to find Tyler less plausible than Beryl–I can buy awkward, slightly stupid people who can’t read social cues more easily than I can buy serial rapists (if this is meant to be the first time Tyler’s done this, I’ll eat my hat) who prey on people in their same social circle and who nevertheless manage to keep it away from the rumor mill.

        Part of it is because I think that in general, we have several advantages over Beryl when it comes to seeing the writing on the wall. Savvy readers can tell that Tyler is a rapist because the way the book limits his presence so that we never see him not acting skeevy (although its worth noting that some people, like Sims, did not make the leap from “skeevy Tyler” to “rapist” until the scene in question actually happened). Beryl, on the other hand, has presumably seen other sides of him, and would, again, have presumably heard any rumors about him that might have sprung up.

        Part of the reason I’m also willing to cut Beryl some slack when it comes to plausibility is because we just don’t know much about her and her context other than the fact that she’s unpopular, and those do a lot to determine how realistic her response seems. Is she like Lizzy Caplan’s character in “Mean Girls”, who was well versed in the language of her school and would almost certainly understand that no good would come from taking him up on it? If so, her actual response is hella implausible. Is she simply a very reserved girl who isn’t big on human interaction, and wouldn’t have picked up on social cues? If so, what she does makes a fair amount of sense, for her. Is she someone who could read the subtext and was perfectly willing to have a night of meaningless-yet-consensual sex with Tyler until she found out that’s not what he had in mind? I *really* don’t think that’s the case, but there’s nothing to contradict it either–you could make a case for that scenario.

        1. I hadn’t thought of it that way! But you’re right. I’m pretty harsh on Beryl’s writing. It really reflects on the author though– here we are make guesses and assumptions about Beryl because we don’t know anything about her, yet she’s been placed in this situation where we feel we MUST guess at the context of her decision. (And are we ever going to see her again? It seems unlikely. Although it certainly was a lot of build-up with little payoff.)

          All in all, these arguments continue to peel back the layers of what makes this such a terribly executed scene.

          1. As someone very much like Beryl myself in school — glasses, nerd, unpopular but not scary like Amy i feel very safe to say that unless Beryl was home schooled up until this very year, and also was extremely sheltered in addition to being home schooled, by very naive and not-at-all paranoid parents (already you can see how deep in the implausibilites thicket we have gotten!!) she would have already been wary and primed to expect the worst due to bad experiences to date, not to mention the whole “ZOMG all guys only want one thing and if you go out at night by yourself you WILL get raped & it will be YOUR FAULT for leading him on/being stoopit!!” that is drilled into us from before we get our first training bra….might as well have Amy rescue a little kid who was being kidnapped by a stranger offering candy if they just climb into their car, you know??

            No, i don’t actually know ANYONE as dumb and “innocent” regarding sexual threats as Berry, not 25 years ago when i was her age, and not today.

  3. I hate to say this, but Beryl is in some ways, a female nerdgirl fantasy.
    Seriously, these are “popular” guys. Do you really think they have trouble getting better looking girls via charisma and social status, sometimes lubricated with some alcohol or beating up on some unpopular maybe nerdish guy?
    Why would they want Beryl badly enough to gang rape her? Esp, since this isn’t even a case of date rape.

    Then there’s the fact that gangrapes almost never happen at highschools(and I live in Baltimore City with some of the poorest and least safe schools in the country and I can’t recall the last time a gangrape at a high school made news here) and… ah forget it.
    The unrealism , it hurts.

    1. I think the implication was that Beryl was so disliked by the “popular” students, that she was barely human to them. Bullying and hate crimes are perpetuated by the dehumanization of their targets. Rape is about power, not so much sexual attraction. They are “putting her in her place” as part of the prank, telling her that she has no worth outside of being a sexual object, and simultaneously punishing her for believing she is desirable enough to attract a “popular” guy.
      The love and attention shown by someone they think is “better” than them may be a common unpopular nerdgirl fantasy, but the assault in this comic, in a lot of ways, also punishes nerd girls for even HAVING the fantasy.

      I can’t speak for the frequency of gang rape (or even regular rape) actually occurring in the vicinity of high schools, but… Yeah, I would never refer to this as a realistic portrayal of assault. Yikes.

      1. Well, I partly agree, and partly disagree.
        Rape is, at least partly about sex, which explains the frequency of which teens and women between 14 and 40 get raped versus those older and younger. If Beryl was downright repulsive physically (she’s not) I doubt they’d have tried this.

        Still, you might be right that it is to “put her in her place”, though we don’t really have much info in the comic to go on. But then you do have to explain her reaction to Amy’s help (unrealistic as that was, in real life most guys KNOW to protect your nads and most jocks can kung fu too). Either she was shocked that her friend could be so violent in defense of her or, more likely in my opinion, she felt “wanted” when she knew they were going to rape her and Amy either took that feeling away from her (if my view is correct) or (if your view is correct) made her realize that they never wanted her sexually after all. If I’m right Beryl may not have liked the idea of rape, she may not have fantasized about it , but the fact that someone was going to rape her might make her feel more desirable. And yes, that’s screwed up.

        Anyway, between you and I and the three possibilities I listed above, I think we’ve figured out Beryl’s reaction.

        1. I personally think that she probably felt “walked in on,” and she didn’t want anyone to see her looking so “shameful.” Even if those guys didn’t get very far, she would have been left in an incredibly vulnerable state, and she could easily be self-flagellating with the oft-perpetuated ideas of “I’m so stupid, I should’ve seen this coming.” “Embarrassed” doesn’t quite cover what I’m trying to say, but it comes close. (Maybe humiliated?) It’s more than reasonable that she wouldn’t want anybody to see or touch her in that moment of humiliation.

          I’m just very hesitant to say that any girl feels “desirable” due to rape. I’m not saying it isn’t possible (takes all kinds in this world of ours), but I wouldn’t want to perpetuate the unlikely idea that, no matter how screwed up it is, a girl can feel desirable due to rape. (The opposite is frequently true: rape survivors often feel sullied by the experience and can never be desirable and wanted again. Bullshit of course, the only person at fault is the assaulter, but it’s hard to tell your traumatized emotions to think rationally.)

  4. Clarification:
    I meant to say I think we’ve narrowed down the explanation of Beryl’s reaction to one or a combination of three different reasons.

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