When you’re young, not much matters. When you find something that you care about, then that’s all you got. When you go to sleep at night, you dream of pussy. When you wake up it’s the same thing. It’s there in your face. You can’t escape it. Sometimes when you’re young the only place to go is inside. That’s just it – fucking is what I love. Take that away from me and I really got nothing.
-Skater boy Telly rhapsodizing in the Harmony Korine film Kids
Images are more real than anyone could have supposed.
-Susan Sontag in On Photography
“Indeed it is not uncommon for magazine photographs to portray dismembered women, eliminating their heads altogether, focusing exclusively on their bodies or body parts. Archer and colleagues refer to this as a ‘face-ism’ bias…Unger and Crawford have pointed out the androcentric bias of this term, and have argued that the ‘face-ism’ of men actually refers to the ‘body-ism’ of women…the visual media portray women as though their bodies were capable of representing them.”
-from “Objectification Theory” by Barbara L. Frederickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts in Psychology of Women Quarterly
You might want to get drunk first.
Because I’m going to tell you about the time I got Brock Turnered.
The time I got “turnt.”
It was the summer before I started high school.
My friend Lara’s parents were going somewhere, who knows where and who cares, and Lara invited some girls, including my cousin and me, to sleep over. This excited me for reasons that ought to make you concerned. No parents meant we could have unsupervised fun. We could be animals. We could eat bad things for dinner. We could kiss. We could be where the wild things are.
I was freshly fourteen. About two months in.
There was this boy who I talked to on the phone sometimes. I found him interesting because he wasn’t white, he skated, and I wanted to skate, but I’d learned, by watching, that girls are supposed to watch boys skate. My job was to gaze. To passively look upon fun as others had it.
Instead of having fun, I touched my hair. I watched boys skate. I picked at blisters on my ankles and watched boys do the things I wanted to do. When I could, I hung out with the types of boys I wanted to be. I put myself close to boys who were the kinds of boy I secretly was inside and pretty much still am.
This boy, this shadow version of myself whom I talked to on the phone sometimes that summer, had an ominous name: Brock.
Just kidding. His name was John.
In my experience, Johns are terds.
A stick-and-poke eagle tattoo dotted John’s hard calf. The Zodiac Killer obsessed him and hand-drawn astrological signs appeared along the bottom of his deck as he ollied. Flashes of Taurus. Gemini. Cancer. John skated a lot in the mall parking lot and that was where I met him. Near the Carl’s Jr.
Girls I was hanging out with, Lara and them, told me, “John likes you.”
Mall air stank like hamburgers, palm trees cast anorexic shadows across cement and brick, and I remember a girl whispering to me, “John’s totally looking at your ass.”
I remember having a feeling that translated to, “I’m supposed to be flattered.”
When John asked for my phone number, I did feel flattered. In pencil, I wrote the digits on the back of a receipt and handed it to him. I watched John’s fat hand shove the paper down his shorts pocket. He hopped on his board and skated away.
John called a few times. I would answer the phone and sit, cross-legged on my parents’ bed, listening to him. Our conversations were exciting because I wasn’t supposed to be talking to boys, not even on the phone. My conversations with John were a form of contraband. You know how stolen food tastes better? It was like that. John told me about how he liked Metallica, Anthrax, and Christian Hosoi. He explained to me that Axl Rose was a faggot, and that Slash was not, and I was into John because I wanted to talk the way he did. I wanted to be free with my mouth and body the way he was free with his mouth and his skin and his bones but I understood that my job was to fill a skirt. By talking to John on the phone, at least I could listen to a hidden version of myself. I could serve as an audience for this part of myself. John represented a chunk of me that no one knew existed under the Spandex and torn t-shirts. An Andrew Dice Clay high school drop out skater with bleached hair and a unibrow that wasn’t going anywhere. John liked his unibrow. He ran his finger across it sometimes. It drank his sweat.
The day of the sleep over, I called John and told him that he should come to Lara’s. I said he should bring his best friend, Curtis, a shy white kid with a birthmark covering half his face.
Mom dropped my cousin and me off at Lara’s and I remember what I was wearing: white cut-off sweat pants, a t-shirt with an image of a surfboard on it, and black leather sandals. I was wearing this outfit because I was, and am, a California girl.
My hair hung in a bob. It was thick.
I was skinny.
I weighed about one hundred pounds. I know because I weighed myself that day. I weighed myself every day.
After dumping my stuff in Lara’s bedroom, I walked to her kitchen. I found a box of pecan cookies in the pantry, slid back their paper wrapper and set the package on a chopping block. Since I was there for adventure, I reached for a bottle of vodka that seemed to be waiting for me. It, too, sat on the chopping block, near where I’d set the cookies, and I filled a heavy glass tumbler nearly to its brim.
I lifted the alcohol to my fat lips. I mentally cheerleaded myself to chug.
I hadn’t realized that vodka would taste so industrial, kind of deadly.
My parents drank it. It never made them wince.
Gulp, gulp, gulp of Mexico. After each gulp, I took a bite of cookie to chase away the grossness. This strategy allowed me to drink the whole glass.
That cookie, that little round thing, was my dinner.
There may have been more vodka. There was a bottle of tequila. I remember the rest of where the wild things are, lets be poetic, in shards.
Some neighbors came over.
The TV was on.
Kids were talking.
I went outside. I walked through the countryside accompanied by tequila. We wandered past grasshoppers pumping oil out of California.
I ran through fields of blanched wild grasses.
These licked and tore up my skin.
I took off my shoes.
California scraped my knees.
I was back at Lara’s.
John was there.
He picked me up and I think he swung my body over his shoulder. I wasn’t standing when my body left the ground. I was on a tile floor somewhere in Lara’s house.
Next, I was in the bathroom.
Lights were on.
Lights went out.
The back of my head smacked the wall or the light switch or the towel rack.
Metal pressed into my back.
He slammed my body against wall.
My body dropped to the floor.
Head smacked tile.
Things happened to my body.
In the midst of these things, my underwear vanished.
Maybe this article of clothing travelled under the door to somebody’s waiting hands.
People made sounds on the other side of the door.
I seem to remember seeing fingers. Somebody was shoving their hand through the crack in the door. I have a slurry memory of hearing a voice, a boy’s voice, say something like, “Dude, he’s in there with that girl.”
The underwear that vanished had come from Kmart. They were white. Red and blue hearts burst across their cotton.
At some point, I crawled out of the bathroom. Lara’s parents came home. Everybody who wasn’t supposed to be there vanished.
Lara’s mom was making ungly faces. Lara’s dad was making ugly faces. My cousin and I waited in silence on Lara’s waterbed. Mom came and took my cousin and me home. It was like John and Curtis had never been there. There was a one-sided moment in my parents’ living room where Mom and Dad demanded to know what happened. We wouldn’t answer them. We knew better than to answer.
Then it was morning.
My cousin was in the bathroom, doing stuff to her Mexican eyebrows.
I knelt in front of my closet mirror. My knees dug into the brown carpet. I looked at my naked body and deciphered some of what had happened to it. A hickeylike thing near my clavicle. Bruises and bite marks along my arms, chest and thighs.
Bruises the color of cheap prunes.
I decided that although it was August, the best thing to do was to wear a turtleneck sweater.
I didn’t think I was using a sweater to hide anything rapey. In fact, I was scared of what I had done wrong. I was scared of getting in the worst trouble a girl can get in.
Somebody out there had my underwear and they could use it to prove what a horrible human being I was. It was proof that I had failed to protect my holes. My integrity.
This is why girls don’t tell. At least, this is why lots of girls don’t. Because in most conversations about rape, what happened to me, my Brock Turnering, isn’t characterized as rape. But really, how many shades of difference are there between what happened to me versus necrophilia? Or sex with a doll? Sex with something, and dead bodies and dolls are things, is pretty much what happens when a person’s brain is so alcohol-saturated that its ability to manufacture memories has been vanquished. The transformation to thingness is complete.
She is his object.
At least for the duration of the rape.
I hope that you’ve read the letter written by Emily Doe, the Stanford Rape survivor, to her rapist, Brock Turner. I read it and Doe’s letter felt familiar to me. I don’t know how familiar it felt to her rapist. She read it aloud to him in court. It describes her morning after a party: “A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I…remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person…When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing. The thin piece of fabric, the only thing between my vagina and anything else, was missing and everything inside me was silenced. I still don’t have words for that feeling.”
When it comes to rape, language has so many deficits.
It is a strange feeling to find that the thing that veils your vagina from the world is missing.
It is a strange feeling to not know exactly why this veil is missing and to not know who has custody of this veil.
The fact that somebody might have custody of this veil as a souvenir, or a joke, is, to put it very mildly, horrifying.
In such a moment, you are exposed in the most intimate of ways, you are reduced in the most intimate way, and your face, your humanity, feels replaced by shame. A shame generated by absence.
In terms of body, you have been reduced to hole.
Conversely, rapists retain their humanity. The American legal system allows the rapist, our Brock Turners, to retain their humanity. This is because our humanity is, and is in, our faces.
I’m talking about images.
Brock Turner gets to live, gets to travel, gets to burrow himself into our minds and imaginations through two images which are in heavy media rotation: his mug shot and his yearbook photo. In both of these images, we don’t see him exposed. We don’t see his body. We don’t see any sort of unveiling. We don’t see absence and we don’t see holes.
Instead, we see his face.
We see him in portraiture.
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “a portrait is typically defined as a representation of a specific individual, such as the artist might meet in life. A portrait does not merely record someone’s features, however, but says something about who he or she is, offering a vivid sense of a real person’s presence.”
This is how men get to live.
They get to assert their faces.
They get to give face.
They get to be the face of the human race. This is how the male gaze “erects” power. Men privilege their faces. Men get to have their faces serve as their ambassadors instead of having their chests, buttocks, stomachs, penises, testicles, knees, or thighs serve as their stand-ins. Their representatives. Men get to be faces. They get to escape the reductiveness that the rest of us are yoked with.
What could correct this imbalance? Forcing men to use flaccid dick pics as avatars? So that we might know what is really napping between their legs?
In terms of objectification theory, this divergent representation is termed face-ism. Women suffer through bodyism. As an image, woman travels through media as ass, legs, stomach, ribcage, belly button, cleavage, and hair. She is parts. She is not whole. She is holes.
Emily Doe’s letter demonstrates the end result of bodyism. She became a doll to undress. Think of how horribly children treat dolls. Think about Brock Turner and how he chose to relate to an unconscious female body. How easily he ignored her humanity and her face.
Consider how much privilege he receives in that he committed an atrocity but is still allowed to live, in human form, through portraiture.