Last night at the University of Northern Colorado, I attended a screening of The Line,a film by Nancy Schwartzman about rape and the line of consensual versus nonconsensual sex. In it, she tells the story of her rape several years ago by a man she had gone to bed with–a fact that attorneys and anti-rape advocates explain would have made her case very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute. She had engaged in consensual sex–but she did not consent to anal rape, and she cried and screamed throughout the attack. The climax of the film is an interview with her rapist recorded via a hidden camera–his face is obscured, but it’s fascinating to watch him squirm and writhe and desperately trying to convince her that everything that happened that night was consensual, and that they had “hot sex.”
The part of the film I found most disturbing was when Schwartzman told her friends what happened–and her friends told her that it happens to everyone. What else did she expect? That’s just the way it is, and she really should get over it because that’s how it happens sometimes. After all, she consented to some sex acts. In other words, they told her that rape is clearly on the continuum of how heterosexuality operates. They read her actions as complicit with the rapist–whereas there was never any ambiguity for Schwartzman. As she related in the Q and A session after the movie, she cried and screamed and repeatedly begged the rapist to stop during the rape, and then went home and wrote in her journal “I was raped last night.” When even her friends told her that what had happened to her wasn’t rape, she bottled it up and tried to forget it.
I’ve got a new lecture on rape as a tool for social control in early America that I’ve added to my classes recently. Last spring, when I gave the lecture for the first time, I was extremely disappointed (although sadly, not surprised) that the first comment on it was from a woman student who told us about how a friend of hers falsely accused a man of rape. Another woman student agreed–yes, apparently, the biggest problem with rape among college women today in their view is that so many men were falsely accused. It was as though in a class of both men and women students, these women were eager to reassure the men that of course she didn’t think they were rapists. (As though my lecture were an accusation?) Like slavery and coverture, my students last spring were desperate to convince themselves that rape is in fact a crime so terrible that it never, ever happens any more. (As we discussed a few weeks ago, postfeminist ideology means that there are no victims any more.)
The response of the students at UNC last night to Schwartzman’s movie was quite different–they were fully absorbed by her story, and asked very smart questions. Schwartzman completed a final cut of the movie last year, and has taken her show on the road this academic year–if you’re interested in inviting her to campus or in purchasing the movie for your students, you can find more information here. She also has a blog to help publicize her campaign to encourage young people to think about sexuality, desire, and consent at whereisyourline.org.