Barbarism


Testimonial: Doin’ the Rapewalk!
October 19, 2010, 4:09 pm
Filed under: SARAH | Tags: , , , , , ,

A fact: Sometimes when I walk, especially if I’ve had something to drink, my ass swings from side to side—probably because each ass-cheek is connected to a leg and we bipeds walk forward by putting one leg in front of the other. My hips are so structured that this walking thing produces some swing about my waist. Simple as that.

I enjoy the swing. My rhythmic walking is like a form of dance, and when I’m walking rhythmically, I am reminded of how much I love to dance.

In another regard, this fact of my body is a potential problem. You see, the swing attracts the attention of those who howl at the sight of hips. (A claim I make based upon the notable increase of stares and catcalls I receive when I’m in swing, as opposed to when I’m not.)

What’s the problem here? For one thing,  I consider this type of attention to be no compliment but a form of sexual intimidation—How else would you characterize shouting after a stranger, “Nice ass” ? And if it’s late at night, and I’m alone, and you, the ass-commentariat, is shouting after me, often in the presence of other ass-men, well, I feel a bit threatened. Usually just a bit. But a bit is enough.

They’re just idiots! Oh boy do I know this! But what I don’t know is which idiot is of the very-angry-raping variety.

Rape!? You mean, why would I anticipate such aggression?

You’ve got to be careful, Sarah. You can’t afford to be careless. My parents drilled this warning into my brain. Beginning in early childhood, I was also thus instructed, again and again, by teachers and other Authority Figures. And of course our culture catechizes us female-categorized individuals from birth to live with this fear, in ways both subtle and not so subtle. (Not subtle: Watch what you wear. Don’t drink too much.  You were raped? Hm. Had you been drinking? What were you wearing? – This line of thought still emerges in our courthouses and too often persuades juries that the rape victim is “at fault” for her own rape.)

The not-so-sub subtext of this Be careful! advisory is :  Watch your ass, girl, lest ye get raped!

More subtextual is this message: Sarah, it’s your responsibility not to get yourself raped.


From time to time I wonder, what if the culture decided to instill fear into would-be rapists?  What if we—parents, teachers, citizens, creators and purveyors of pop culture—drilled into the heads of would-be rapists that it is their responsibility not to rape? It seems more logical than demanding that I protect myself against something which, under many circumstances, I won’t be able to prevent.

Hmmm….

In any case, it so happens that we don’t live in that culture.

And so, some night last week, as I made my way home at 3 a.m., I came up with the Rapewalk. The name is misleading. For this isn’t the “Rape Me Walk”—that’s my I’m-just-walking walk. The Rapewalk of which I speak is probably more aptly, but less snappily, called the “Rape Prevention Walk.” (See? No fun.)

Before describing the Rapewalk, I think I should first mention that I consider my neighborhood to be “safe.” I’ve embedded this word in scare quotes because, as I noted above, I’ve been taught to doubt my safety at all times. I’ve been taught to be scared—and for good reason: I might get myself raped.

So my neighborhood is “safe” in the sense that, of course it’s possible to get raped here, but unlikely without the investment of some energy on my part.   Nevertheless, if I’m walking home at 3 a.m., more often than not I take precautions to discourage my rape, even as I resent the belief, the culturally-constructed fact, that it is necessary for me to do so.

Some of the precautions I take include:

1)   If I’m listening to music, I will lower the volume so I can be sure to hear any surrounding activity. On nights when, for whatever reason, I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, I will turn off my music entirely.

2)   I carry a large metal container. Typically this container contains liquor. This is an important function of the container. But this container also serves another vital function. I consider it a weapon. As soon as I exit the subway, I remove this container from my bag.

3)   Body language. I walk like “Don’t you dare.” I walk with purpose (no hesitations, although I will make complete stops if I so desire) and with my shoulders squared. I hold my container in a way that I hope communicates: I beat skulls.

I do these things automatically. In fact, it wasn’t until about a year ago that I realized the reason I was doing these things was because I believed they would discourage my rape. That was a discouraging, if enlightening, revelation.

This returns us to the Rapewalk.

During last week’s late-night walk home, I was listening to music, in a state of mild intoxication and thus in full hip swing—until, that is, I caught sight of my shadow while crossing a particularly desolate-feeling intersection. My god, I thought. How absurd and depressing that I fear the ramifications of these hips. At the same time, the sight of my swinging self, on reflex, induced fear. And this, too, was aggravating to me. How aggravating that, at the sight of myself, the appreciation I feel for my swinging shadow is shadowed by unease, worry, a little bit of fear.

My thoughts then turned to those who walk without much hip, and so, as I supposed, without much fear of rape. For example, the rapper Jay-Z. Yes, he was on my mind that night. A few hours before, in the bar where I was drinking, that song of his “99 Problems” came on. (Sample lyric: “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.”)

Thinking of Jay-Z made me think of the last time I’d seen him, which was in the music video for “Empire State of Mind.” I’d enjoyed a number of things about this video, including how admirably it performs that ultimate feat of Hollywood-style movie magic, which is inventing a fairytale New York City from the  mess that actually exists.

Also of interest to me was how Jay-Z moves, and how he doesn’t.  In this video, you see Jay-Z doing what a lot of men-type performers do: he articulates with his arms, bobs his head, and is otherwise stationary. Alicia Keys, meanwhile,  is wailing away at her piano in a crouching stance while wearing VERY TIGHT PANTS. In the scenes where the two artists appear together, the contrast is striking and quite funny.

In “Empire State of Mind,” Jay-Z sings about making it big in the big city, and doing so despite all the odds stacked against him. Sounds damn appealing. So, I wondered, why not try walking down the street like Jay-Z? I mean, if my swinging hips attract so much rape-potentializing attention, what if I altered how I walk so that my body moves in emulation of someone, such as a Jay-Z, who walks down streets like he owns them? Such an individual is, no doubt, less frequently targeted for rape.

So I started to walk how Jay- Z walks. The legs go forward but the hips don’t rotate much. And you walk WIDE. Soon enough I realized that I was moving my legs in the same the way I might move a heavy bookcase, by pivoting one side forward and then the next. Watching my shadow, I began to laugh. Who’d want to rape this? And then I laughed again:  Here I am attempting to walk in a way that most would characterize as “masculine.” In other words, it’s the way that men obsessed with enacting a particular idea of masculinity walk—men such as Jay-Z.

Why would I want to walk like this? Well, I want to be mistaken for a man, or for some form that does not scream, as my form screams, Rape me! For another thing, it occurred to me that most men probably don’t walk down the street late at night as I do—burdened with the fear of my potential rape. To be clear, I don’t always walk wearing this burden. But even if I’m not consciously frightened, the awareness of the possibility, no matter how unlikely it may seem, is always there. So I thought, How nice it must be to inhabit a form that doesn’t carry such a fear.

The pleasure in the Rapewalk is its ludicrousness. How ludicrous to walk like this, in this hyper-macho way. How ridiculous that I am perceived to be lesser, that I’m a fair target, because I don’t walk like this and I don’t inhabit a body that walks like this.

As I pivoted along, I began to sing (softly!) to myself: Doin’ the Rapewalk! The Rapewalk! At the time, it felt like the name had popped into my head out of nowhere. Later I recognized it to be a variation on the Cakewalk. The Cakewalk, of course, was a dance which researchers believe began on slave plantations in the South. As Wikipedia informs us, “The Cakewalk originated as a parody of the formal ballroom dancing preferred of white slave owners, including satirical exaggerations of European dance moves.” But that’s not how it was perceived by the slave owners.  Brook Baldwin tells us — also by way of Wikipedia — that while the Cakewalk was intended “to satirize the competing culture of supposedly ‘superior’ whites, [s]laveholders were able to dismiss its threat in their own minds by considering it as a simple performance which existed for their own pleasure.”

Goddamn! Existing for another’s amusement and pleasure, no matter what you do, not so long as you occupy the position of subordinate in an oppressive system. That said, I want to be clear, I’m in no way claiming my situation to be the equivalent of those who invented and performed the Cakewalk.

More to a point :

The thing is, I CAN walk without hip. I can walk “like a man.” But this remedies nothing. I mean, doing so won’t prevent me from getting raped. Besides, I don’t want to be thinking about how I’m walking. I want to walk as I want to walk and not be haunted by fear.

Conversely, while acknowledging that some bodies are a lot hippier than others, I maintain it’s bullshit that any man can’t walk with ass.  It’s just that those categorized as male are encouraged not to. I believe this is a sadness for our culture, that we do not instruct and encourage the male-categorized to walk as I have been instructed and encouraged to walk—with a swing. (A double-edged instruction: Hips might get me raped, but my worth, I am told, is dependent upon the attentions of the ass-gazing grazers.) As I said to a friend recently, imagine how different our world might be if Jay-Z had been encouraged to embrace his swing. Imagine the song: “99 Problems (but my ass ain’t one of them).”

Alas, in the context of my rape prevention system, my ass is a problem. So is my being labeled a bitch (i.e., a non-human, a lesser) by such an ass-abnegating superstar as Jay-Z. More in truth, and further alas, Jay-Z probably would not have survived his childhood and become the pop culture power player that he is today by swinging. He attained his current stature, for sure, by his determination and talent, but also off the, ahem, backsides of such songs as “99 Problems (but a bitch ain’t one).”

It has taken me all of this writing to realize that what I want to say is this: I’m tired of abiding by the lessons I’ve been taught: that the form I inhabit is wrong, inferior, and at fault for the violence done against it.

It’s none of that.

I think it’s great that I’ve realized this. What I need now is for the world to realize this. Until that happy days arrives, I and those who share my form will be doin’ the Rapewalk.

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