Rape culture and the Fantasy of Vagina Dentata

I’m writing the following for a zine! that makes me so cool. so spell check if you are so inclined:

Rape culture and the Fantasy of Vagina Dentata

I saw Teeth at the Auckland International Film Festival. The basic plot according to the press blurb is that a young woman (16 years old) finds out she has vagina dentata “when her ‘nice guy’ boyfriend pressures her into having sex.” This is a far cry from what happens in the film. We learn that that “pressure” means he holds her down and rapes her while she says, “no” and “stop”. In the film it is later revealed that the “teeth” only attack when our hero doesn’t want something in her vagina, such as someone’s hand or penis. You know, when she’s being sexually abused and/or raped. Which means she can have a full an active sex life if it is free from abuse.

The culture we live in shies away from the term rape. The media doesn’t want to call someone a rapist or classify rape as rape. Instead we have “offenders” who are mentioned in headlines as being involved in “forcing sex.” Why avoid a concise and accurate term? Because culturally rapists are seen as men who accidentally bungle the signs. Because the “I thought no means yes” defense is being bought all over the world. Because if it is admitted how wide spread the problem is, and it is classified as a problem, something would have to be done about it.

I left the cinema thinking, “I want that. I want vagina dentata!” I spoke with some other women who were coming out of the theatre and we all agreed how wonderful it would be. We wouldn’t have to worry about being raped. “No” would mean “no”, because men would have to worry about trusting us just as we have to worry about trusting them every time we get into a car with them or decide to go for a drink with them.

It only occurred to me later how shocking that should be. That I should be so afraid of rape and sexual assault that I would want the power to cut off a man’s dick if he attacked me. It is shocking that I am thinking about how someone will sexually attack me. Unfortunately it isn’t just paranoia, there are very real reasons to be afraid. Something like 1 in 6 college women are the object of a rape or attempted rape each year in The United States of America. That’s just the women lucky enough to have access to education in a “developed” country during a short time in their lives.

If I decide to be naked around a man I have to trust he won’t take things further than I want to. I have to trust that if something hurts he’ll stop. That if feel emotionally uncomfortable he’ll stop. Of course It would be great to think I would be able to make him stop. To know that if I misjudged a situation I could to take a positive action and get out of. Even if that meant biting someones dick off with my vagina teeth. I don’t really want to chomp anyone’s genitals off, but I don’t want to be raped. If that’s what’s happening, I want it to stop.

If it was a general known that all women had vagina dentata that only came out during rape, there would be no more (vaginal) rape. Men would know that it doesn’t end well. The tables would be turned and he would have to trust every woman he had sex with not to bite his dick off.

However, right now we live in a culture where rape is part of or the “norm”. It’s odd, the way it’s accepted, because most people will tell you rape is wrong. But we come from a cultural background where rape was theft from the father or husband. In the US laws against marital rape have only been in place 40 years. In the UK only 30. It was not legally possible to rape your wife because the husband owned her body. We’re talking the 1970s and 80s, so called modern times in so called progressive nations. In 2002-2004 I went to a liberal arts college in the Midwestern United States of America. It was in a town where there had been no rape convictions for 60 years, but everyone knew women shouldn’t walk alone at night. TV, magazines, and greeting cards all carry the subtext that women don’t really have a choice. In 2007 Dustin Diamond (Screech from saved by the bell) had a sex tape surface. The focus was on him and if he would market it or not. But there was another individual in the film. The ‘object’, the fucked. Apparently during the film he takes a shit and then wipes it on her face. (From her reaction one can see that she is not expecting or wanting it.) Of course, the reaction of many men who see this is laughter. A women is sexually abused with fecal matter on film and it is laughed at.

In western society, which is supposed to be liberal and give us rights, there is no legal recourse if a women is raped. All actions within the law are fruitless. Reporting a rape and taking it to trial are only ways to expose yourself to more abuse. Women are put on trial for being raped. If you wore a skirt or dress it’s your fault for giving a rapist easier access. If you wore high heeled shoes it’s your fault because you should always be able to run away. If you were in a bad part of town you shouldn’t have been walking alone. If you smiled at the rapist, you encouraged him, not to mention what you owe him if he bought you a drink. If you said “yes” once ever to sex, you are a slut and might have been asking for sex. So they wonder how can we expect the poor bungling rapist to understand the word “no”?

Unfortunately only victims are held responsible for changing rape culture and stopping rape. Blaming the victim is much easier than looking for individual accountability of perpetrators or accepting the accountability for being a society so steeped in rape culture. We must often choose between personal freedom and personal safety. There is little onus for the current patriarchal heteronormative structure to to change this. If we could safely walk home at night we wouldn’t be dependent on men for protection. So we must take our freedom ourselves. No one will give it to us.

An individual may not be able to personally live the revolution of removing the rape culture but that cannot paralyse people. Do what you can do. Fighting back means more than in just the moment someone attacks you. Every action you take to reject a culture of rape is important. Speak up when you feel able. Even if it means being told you have no sense of humour, do not let rape and sexual assault become a joke or over looked in your presence. Share stories and statistics, anything so that people listen and think. I’m not an expert in how to change the world. But I can change the space around me by not tolerating the discourse of rape culture from anyone who would call themselves my friend. I can educate those who will listen. Deconstructing a culture isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. But I can point myself in that direction and take the steps I am able to.

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Published in: on August 14, 2008 at 2:39 am  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey this is a great post, good job! The font on here is terribly hard to see though. Maybe it’s my computer?

  2. Thanks! And I don’t think it’s your computer. I think it’s my theme. I set it up and then realised it was sort of hard to read.. but then never got around to fixing it. but I might do that now that i know it’s not just me.

  3. “…because men would have to worry about trusting us just as we have to worry about trusting them…”

    Love it, and great post. I had heard of Teeth but haven’t seen it. Interesting how it’s marketed as something that should make men uncomfortable, when really there’s nothing to fear as long as they aren’t raping or sexually assaulting anyone. I guess the thought of even the possibility of giving up the kind of power they have over women is enough to cause squirming.

    The only suggestion I have for this piece (and it’s not that big of a deal if it’s too late to edit) is about something in the 4th paragraph. When you say that 1 in 6 women are the “object” of a rape, you might want to change the word “object” to “victim” or reword the sentence in a way that doesn’t make you have to label women who are raped. The word “object” just kind of stuck out to me and didn’t sit well. Really great post, though. Good work!

  4. that’s an excellent point. Thanks! my brain must just be that preprogrammed to call women objects….. uggh…..

  5. Why would you be getting naked with a man if you didn’t want to have sex?

    I don’t condone rape, but at the same time I think there needs to be a level of personal responsibility involved.

    • because I’m a nudist? maybe? ummm I’m naked a lot. and heavy petting does not mean you conset to penatrative sex, or oral sex. there ARE sexual things you do naked that can turn into a nonconsensual situation.

      and there are lots of situations where you could be naked that are not sexual. like nude volley ball. or nude snorkling. or walking down the beach, or sunnbathing, or showering when some one else is in the house, or changing for a party. or its hot and you want to sleep nude because pajamas make you feel 10 degrees hotter. just because you are married to someone doesn’t mean men always have the right to fuck you. right? you did comment elsewhere that you think marraige and rape have never been related. so a wiife can say no, right? what if she just stepped out of the shower and her husband lives wth her. that’s not consent for sex.


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