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Movie director “get out of rape free” card works on public, not on courts

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, February 19, 2009 17:13 EDT
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If you want your stomach turned this early in the morning—or even if you don’t, but you want to read a fascinating account of the automatic nature of rape condoning in our culture—check out Bill Wyman’s account of the whitewashing of Roman Polanski’s crime of anally raping a 13-year-old, a crime that keeps him from returning to the U.S. (because he’s running from justice), and a crime that he’s trying to clear his name of, even though he admitted that he did it. In fact, there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. When there’s so little doubt about guilt regarding other crimes, there’s rarely this sort of public hand-wringing about whether the guilty is really guilty, but we’re talking rape and we’re talking about our rape culture. A rape culture is a funhouse mirror version of the anti-choice culture’s attitudes about abortion. Anti-choicers want abortion to be illegal with the three exceptions being health, rape, and me. Rape apologists, who still sadly dominate the discourse, think rape should basically be legal except for dark alleys, virgin daughters, and me. Even though every single rape apologist claims to oppose rape, they find ways to claim that rape isn’t rape, even when the victim is 13, drugged, and pleading with you to stop as you rape her up the ass. Rape apologists in fact tend to see the victims as the real criminals, with some rape apologists suggesting mandatory criminal charges against victims if the prosecution can’t find the defendant guilty, which is another way they agitate to legalize rape without coming out and saying so. If you can’t report a crime, it’s de facto legal.

Since both traditions stem from the same misogynist place, you occasionally see darkly funny examples where rape apologists see forced childbirth as the appropriate punishment for a rape victim, except one of the three major exceptions. Take Bill Napoli’s famous comment about who “deserves” an abortion:

A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

Anti-choice sentiment is part of the rape culture, of course, because like rape apologists, anti-choicers view women as subhuman and our bodies as eligible for being commandeered for others to their own ends. So this isn’t a surprise. And I read rape apologies (and lately, with the Chris Brown/Rihanna thing, sympathy for domestic abusers) all the time, even ones funded by taxpayer dollars, so I shouldn’t be as shocked as I am to read Wyman’s account of this documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”, but I think I was mostly because the pro-rape tone to the whole thing leaned on every tired cliche that more practiced rape apologists have learned to disguise a little bit better.

They can’t outright accuse the victim of lying , because Polanski admitted that it’s true. But what’s fascinating is whether or not a rape victim’s account is given social weight by being collaborated by a Be-penised American, the same slurs come out as would if rape apologists thought they could get away with calling the victim a liar. This documentary has them all: She’s not a virgin. She puts herself in situations with rascally men on purpose, because she wants to get something out of them. Can’t you see he’s a good guy? In a sense, calling a victim a liar is the same narrative as saying she deserved to be raped, so it wasn’t a rape at all. They fold into the same story, to the degree that, “She’s lying,” is probably code in many cases for, “She had it coming.”

Wyman, and most decent people I’d think, are more shocked when the “deserving victim” narrative is trotted out for someone who isn’t old enough to be in high school yet, but we shouldn’t be. Nobody deserves rape at all, so to suggest minor victims deserve it even less is mathematically impossible. If utterly undeserving (and all victims are utterly undeserving) grown women get the full-blown slander treatment, then of course minor victims will get it. Maybe even more, since they’re even less capable of defending themselves and therefore juicier targets. Interestingly, this is why teenagers get raped more than adult women, as well, so indeed the post-rape victim slander is, as reported by victims, experienced as a continuation of the rape because it is.

Polanski gets all this defense for what he did because he’s a great artist. I’ve argued in the past that his art shouldn’t be spoiled by the creepy bastard that is the man. I think “Rosemary’s Baby” is one of the most feminist horror films I’ve ever seen, and that isn’t changed by my fear that the director was getting off on torturing poor Rosemary. To this audience, at least, it reads like a tale where the patriarchy is literally Satanic. But just as his crimes shouldn’t detract from the greatness of his art, nor should the greatness of his art compel anyone to overlook his crimes. If anything, the extreme lengths the judge in his case went to in order to make sure his celebrity didn’t allow him to escape justice were justified because not only does our culture go light on men who commit gender hate crimes against women, that goes double for celebrities. People are simple-minded in this sense—they can’t swallow that someone who did something they liked (made great movies) also did something horrible that requires justice (raped a 13-year-old), and so they deny that the celebrity is a criminal. In fact, that’s another cheap trick the director of “Wanted and Desired” does—she shows people declaring that Polanski isn’t a rapist, therefore he couldn’t have actually raped the girl he raped. But since he did rape her, he is in fact a rapist, and any and all attempts to suggest otherwise are pure denial and/or a tacit admission that you think some kinds of rape (of non-virgins, even adolescent ones, perhaps) should be legal.

It’s simple in that sense, but in another, it’s actually kind of complicated. Polanski’s defenders clearly romanticize him as a masculine rebel—Wyman describes the portray of Polanski as “Byronic”, which is apt, since Byron was also a romantic figure of rascally masculinity, complete with the misogyny implied. And that’s the fundamental issue with rape apologists—most of them have this deep affection for predatory masculinity. Some are predators, some romanticize predators, and a lot are weaklings who think that being a predator makes you strong. There’s different strains of this romanticization. Most of the troglodyte wingnut rape apologists you’ll meet on the interwebs romanticize frat daddies and kind of wish they could slap on a baseball cap backwards and rape passed-out college-aged women. But then there’s the more “sophisticated” version that Wyman targets here, which he calls “continental”, which is a tad unfair, because I doubt European women like being raped anymore than American women. But I know what he’s getting at. The sort of people who don’t much understand the frat daddy rapists, but think there’s almost something glamorous if you’re artistic and your chosen victims are 13 years old and therefore sure to shock the bourgeoisie, who otherwise are tolerant to supportive of rape, as long as the victims are a little older and more ruined.

Of course, I’m a fun-killing feminist who thinks all rape makes you a suck-ass rapist who should go to jail. I’m sure this puts me and Bob Herbert in the “boring” category, though it’s worth pointing out that bores like me are asking for a world that is in fact more fun for women. Which makes us “fun-killing” only if you don’t think women have subjective experiences like real human beings.

Anyway, read the story. It’s super-interesting, and good for beefing up your resistance to the same slanders when they’re aimed at older and therefore less sympathetic targets than the 13-year-old that Polanski raped.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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