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What Is Attempted Rape?

June 4, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 11.50.43 PMMaybe you’ve seen this article that claims that in the final scene of Louie this week, the Louie character “attempts rape.” Here’s another one from a writer who says she will no longer watch the show because rape.

What happens in the final scene of Louie (s. 4 e. 10, Pamela 1) is not rape. It’s just not. It’s aggressive and potentially traumatizing (especially to someone who has a history of trauma), but it’s not rape. I’ve been raped. I didn’t walk out the door after a closed-mouthed kiss. I got raped. There’s a big difference.

I watched that last scene in Louie, laughing. I laughed because it wasn’t happening to me and because it had happened to me, and maybe even because worse things have happened to me. Have I done worse? In my own way. I’ve been abusive to people, I said things I knew would hurt them just to get their goat back when I was drinking. I thought my own feelings and emotions were more important than another person’s: my actions and words said so. I kicked a stranger in the shin. I puked on someone on purpose. But this isn’t about what kind of asshole I am.

The motivations of the character in the scene on Louie are, in essence, motivated by what motivates a lot of rapes. The characters get physical, there’s shoving and Pamela makes herself as clear as she can when trying to get away from him. I heard her say, “This would be rape if you weren’t so stupid,” and my laugh drowned out the second part of the line.

The Louie character is not thinking, “How does she feel?” He’s after what he’s after.

Here’s a tip for all you horny guys out there: look at the face of the person you’re trying to fuck. Ask yourself how that person seems to feel. Is she trying to get away as you grab her? If you think, “I wonder how that would make a person feel,” you’ll probably stop, thereby avoiding the slightest hint of rape. So many problems could be averted if men stopped conquering for just a second to ask how the way they’re acting might affect another person.

The scene hit hard for me because in a similar situation, I capitulated once. I didn’t end the evening and I didn’t leave. I made boundaries so I didn’t feel too bad about myself later. I didn’t feel great about myself afterwards, but I was not raped that night. I had agency, just like Pamela’s character does in the scene.

Sure, if I were a more traumatized person than I am, I might have frozen, been unable to stand up for myself. Maybe I put up with being treated that way because of the things that have happened in my life. Who can say? The point is that what happened in the episode was not attempted rape because no one attempted rape — not just because no one committed rape. To see Pamela freezing and going stiff would probably not have resulted in rape either, but that’s not what happened in the show.

For the concept of rape to have any meaning, you can’t call what happened in that scene in Louie “attempted rape.” Imagining the Louie character going for more after the pathetic kiss he forced on the Pamela character seems, even knowing that this show is fiction, impossible.

Not everyone who has been raped is ruled by that fact. Not everyone who ends up kissing an aggressive guy thinks he tried to rape her. Not every situation that’s uncomfortable and reminds people of rape is rape.

I hate that I am starting to want to throw the term “rape-culture” away. There are so many examples of the way women are minimized in our culture, and not all of them have to do with rape. I believe it’s true that the way women are devalued and objectified without much cultural counterpoint is corrosive to our views of women and to women’s views even of themselves. That’s what a lot of people who discount feminist viewpoints fail to realize. Women know misogyny because we practice it on ourselves. We know these things to be true because the culture has us doing it too: hating the way we look, thinking some extra pounds or saggy titties or wrinkles make us unworthy of love. We get used to being talked down to and don’t protest because we don’t want to make problems with people who won’t listen to us anyway. We give up on being heard because it seems no one wants to hear what we have to say. These facts are about more than rape. To tell us that we don’t know what we know about sexism is absurd. We are experts, and it’s not only about rape. Rape is not the be-all-and-end-all of the evil done to women.

Ultimately, I think it’s great when people are reactionary. Yes! React! Say something, even something I disagree with. But being so reactionary comes at a price. It seems important to me to take rape seriously. It’s valuable to critique the culture and how it shapes our views, our values, our consumption. Media is very convincing, and it seems like we all have the power to influence it now. It’s valuable to see what people have to say about this show. Even the aggressive rape victim has points that should be heard. Yes, guys, there are women out there who have been so traumatized by their rapes that they can’t rational about rape anymore. It’s not a cute plot point a guy should high-five himself over. It’s a freak-out kind of hurt that puts on someone who’s experienced it. It can make any kind of sexual aggression toward your person toxically echo in your system for days. It’s definitely not cool to grab and push and “win” against someone who didn’t sign up for that game. If it’s about winning, it might be about the wrong thing. Because who’s the loser then?

No one seems too bent out of shape about an episode the week before when Louie gets rough with Amia (Elevator 5). There’s a back and forth of aggression and capitulation and they end up having sex: sex she clearly regrets. He shames her in front of her aunt by blurting that yes, sex had happened between them, when she clearly would have liked to keep that information private. He blames Catholicism, rather than his own aggressive and forceful ass-hattery for her need to escape from him. He wallows in his sadness, and it’s okay because he did it all for love. Whatever. It’s a show. And it’s one that’s more provocative than most of what’s out there.

Who would I rather be? I’d rather be Pamela, because even though Amia got laid, was vulnerable and even loved, Pamela is the one making decisions about how she runs her life and also because English is way more practical than Hungarian.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 5, 2014 1:24 pm

    This is the most dead-on accurate article about this whole subject I’ve found online. Well done and very true. The “attempted rape” and “rape” headline commentary has driven me insane for the same reasons you illustrated: neither remotely happened.

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