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Talking About Rape Culture and Our Teens

We’ve talked a lot on Teen Librarian Toolbox about sexual assault (in YA lit, in the media, in commercials, etc.). Going around the Twitterverse the other day was a piece by Patton Oswalt, a comedian out in LA entitled A Closed Letter to Myself About Thievery, Heckling and Rape Jokes, that was published by the Huffington Post. If you want to read it I linked to it- the part about rape culture is in the last third, although it is connected to his first and second parts.

At the end, he states:
And just because I find rape disgusting, and have never had that impulse, doesn’t mean I can make a leap into the minds of women and dismiss how they feel day to day, moment to moment, in ways both blatant and subtle, from other men, and the way the media represents the world they live in, and from what they hear in songs, see in movies, and witness on stage in a comedy club.
There is a collective consciousness that can detect the presence (and approach) of something good or bad, in society or the world, before any hard “evidence” exists. It’s happening now with the concept of “rape culture.” Which, by the way, isn’t a concept. It’s a reality. I’m just not the one who’s going to bring it into focus. But I’ve read enough viewpoints, and spoken to enough of my female friends (comedians and non-comedians) to know it isn’t some vaporous hysteria, some false meme or convenient catch-phrase.
I’m a comedian. I value and love what I do. And I value and love the fact that this sort of furious debate is going on about the art form I’ve decided to spend my life pursuing. If it wasn’t, it would mean all of the joke thief defenders and heckler supporters are right, that stand-up comedy is some low, disposable form of carnival distraction, a party trick anyone can do. It’s obviously not. This debate proves it. And I don’t want to be on the side of the debate that only argues from its own limited experience. And I don’t need the sense memory of an actor, or a degree from Columbia, or a moody, desert god to tell me that.
I’m a man. I get to be wrong. And I get to change.

What gets me is that he has to talk to his female friends in order to be
aware of the rape culture. It’s not like it’s some invisible wall until someone lifts the shield, like the little kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s a daily part of life. Don’t believe me? Check out The Everyday Sexism Project, or their twitter. The stories are heartbreaking, and happen EVERY DAY.
Not to mention the problems in the gaming culture. Check out this article about The Creepy Side of E3 and the stories about business cards being pushed down dresses. Or the crap Microsoft played off during their scripted demo during E3 (note that there’s a noise from the audience, but at the end of the fight, there’s no applause, nor is there anywhere during the demo- where their would actually be if it wasn’t insulting)
It’s hidden in movies as well. I showed Hotel Transylvania for our Tween Night (8-12 years old, mostly 8-10 years that night), and near the beginning of the movie there’s a scene where the zombie crew is catcalling a female zombie in a business suit:
Hotel Transylvania
It was meant to gain a laugh from adults, and went over the head of most of my kids. When I did hear laughs, I paused the movie for a minute and asked them a question- did they think it was funny when the guy zombies were talking and whistling at the girl zombie, and they said maybe.  Then I asked them if they thought it would be funny if someone did that to their mom walking down the street, and the answer instantly changed to no. Just that one dynamic change shifted their ideas. 

Just shifting things a little bit can change the course of thinking- enough that we can make a difference.