“and then one day, I got over him.”
I never thought I’d say this, because I feel like it’s been said so many times and in so many contexts recently, but it’s actually beginning to shock me just how casual an attitude a lot of people in this country have toward rape. I used to be one of those people who never got riled up over things, who rolled my eyes at the kind of person who sees red over every tiny politically incorrect statement. I love comedy and humor, and wanted to believe that every possible human experience has an element of levity in it that anyone can appreciate if we look hard enough for it. When I published an article last week about my own experience with sexual assault (I never called it “rape” because that’s not what it was, but I think it is a slippery slope when people try to define it by degrees of seriousness or declare whether it is “legitimate” or not) and the role of social media in rape cases like that of Steubenville, however, I found it to be quite different from the cathartic experience I hoped it would be.
This was the most personal thing I’ve ever shared on a public level, and was thus very sensitive about its reception. These were my thoughts and feelings about something that happened to me, suddenly out in the open for people to absorb and judge. What I hoped to accomplish by sharing my story was a basic realization that rape/sexual assault is an experience much closer to home than we might realize, as well as a recognition that people need to truly communicate in order to correct misconceptions about it and facilitate institutional change—one thing this experience has taught me is that it is truly harder than it looks to talk about being a sexual assault victim, so I can’t even imagine the bravery of women who speak out when they are ordered not to. At the very least, I expected sobriety from people: an understanding that this is not something to laugh about.
As it turns out, I learned that the problem of casual attitudes toward rape is much more insidious than I thought, and certainly something that can’t be solved by simply writing an opinion piece.
After having the article reviewed in a board meeting of my student newspaper, I walked home with my Editor in Chief. Though he’d said in the meeting that my article was “…good” (note the ellipsis) and that “it’s good to have something different written about Steubenville” (acknowledging the role of social media in furthering victims’ agency, however, is something professional journalists have hardly shied away from), he flippantly joked about high school visitors to campus that weekend and how I should go out and find “horny 17-year-olds” because I was 20 and it “wouldn’t be statutory rape.” I forced a chuckle even though I shouldn’t have, but it didn’t really hit me how casual his attitude was toward rape and my own encounter with sexual assault until the day after.
That’s when he drunkenly came up to me at a party, made a humping gesture against my leg, and said, “oh sorry, did I rape you?” When I responded, “fuck you,” he laughed, sat down next to me, and declared that I secretly loved him (he’s had a history of jokingly flirting with me at parties, including one at which he grabbed my ass and asked if I would have sex with him, which I didn’t even consider sexual assault until my boyfriend called it out as such later…he’d also called me a slut and referred to my clothing as slutty on separate occasions). I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t thinking clearly myself, when I really should have flung a sharp-tongued tirade in his direction.
Needless to say, I was incredibly angry with him. I was also later so angry at myself for not taking him down for that statement, but more than that, I became angry at myself for writing that article in the first place and expecting people to respond the way I wanted them to (several did, however, compliments that became much more valuable to me after this experience). My naiveté had stretched to the point at which I thought I was telling people what they already knew: we need to treat this issue with respect. What I suppose I could not have known is that people can often carefully construct an outer shell of acceptable, non-offensive statements while still harboring very different beliefs that come out in casual moments when that shield is down.
THIS IS RAPE CULTURE, my first-hand knowledge of it: an insistence that this isn’t a serious issue, that a flippant attitude toward rape/sexual assault is all right because stories like mine are figments of melodrama, and that it’s the victim’s fault for getting into situations like that in the first place. THIS IS WHAT WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT. We need to somehow uproot this malignant perception of a seriously consequential problem. I’m not sure how, but I return to my original point that communication and education are the primary bastions of change in this area. I can’t stress this enough.
Why did I write this? Did I think that, like I did with my article, that writing it might change at least a few people’s attitudes? No. I know better now. I can’t do that by myself. I wrote it because I wanted to stop beating myself up about sharing something that I should not feel guilty about, that wasn’t my fault, and that was just as serious as I felt it to be. I wrote it because I wanted to regain a sense of strength and righteousness that telling my story was not the wrong thing to do, and that it wasn’t a melodramatic exaggeration.
I wrote it because I didn’t want to feel small anymore, and because I don’t think anyone else should, either.
I was a visiting professor at the University of Alabama last week, teaching a group of students about how to write difference into our fiction. I thought about how we teach many things in the creative writing workshop—how to read and think like a writer, how to bring discipline to the wilder of…
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment, but at some time early in my
freshman year, certain fellow floor residents decided to collectively brand me as a
hipster. Perhaps it was my refusal to wear North Face or my relatively obscure taste
in music, but there apparently was something distinctive about me that caused the
damning term to creep into the common room vernacular whenever I showed up to
discreetly microwave Leo’s cookies. Soon enough, I felt like I was going around with
a scarlet “H” pinned to my flannel shirt.
Unusual at it may sound, this was my first encounter with hipster shaming,
or frequent use of the label at all. I’d come from a high school environment in which
uniformity (well, there were also uniforms) was the norm and an “alternative” scene
was so small it hardly merited notice, much less concentrated scorn. If the term ever
entered conversation at all, it was a fleeting whisper in comparison with the intense
debate that the “h” word seems to produce on the Hilltop. I apparently hadn’t
realized that I was attending the tenth most hipster college in the nation, even if the
title was bestowed because of our “ironic” preppiness.
As a result, this sudden association produced something of an identity crisis
in me—I questioned whether I truly fit the stereotype and, if so, whether I was
merely conforming to a doctrine of non-conformity. Turning the lens on myself, I
saw that my love of vintage t-shirts, my tendency to read The New Yorker in indie
coffee shops, and my ukulele ownership may very well be red flags for the hipster
inquisition. Nevertheless, I still didn’t really know what exactly I was guilty of.
At its heart, it seems that “hipster” is a derogatory charge because of said
defendant’s blindly insistent deviation from the mainstream; anything popular or
cool is frowned upon, while anything old or obscure is placed on a pedestal hand-
carved in Portland. Admitting to liking anything that several million people are also
fond of is a major faux pas (this situation has probably created a lot of closet Katy
Perry fans). Taste is a fundamental part of identity, used as a marker to measure
oneself in comparison to others. Moreover, anything done or worn “ironically” is
immediately granted protection—lack of sincerity eliminates the hipster as a target
of derision for that button from the NRA.
This is the essential definition of a hipster, yet it’s also a description that no
one consciously identifies with. Therein lies the paradox, which is also what makes
the rise of the hipster such a bizarre sociological phenomenon. Calling someone a
hipster, oddly enough, is often an indicator that one also fits the qualifications. It
can betray insecurity about having truly good taste, since the label denotes vacuity
and superficiality—rather than genuinely liking something for itself, the hipster
supposedly champions everything for its mere status as a cultural outlier.
After all, that’s the reason labeling someone a “hipster” is such a slap in
the face—it’s the same as calling someone an elitist or a snob. Hipsters reject
cultural populism, considering themselves superior by being part of a perennially
unreachable elite. That’s why they’re genuinely maddening—no one wants to feel
like their shameless love of Ke$ha or their failure to read Foucault makes them a
At the same time, hipster shaming is an activity that isn’t helping matters.
Victimizing a Bon Iver fan that happens to own a few secondhand shirts by labeling
him a cultural elitist just isn’t fair, because that’s simply making a whole bundle of
negative associations based on superficial facts. Moreover, calling someone else
snobby doesn’t make you any more tolerant. Calling someone hip doesn’t make you
any more mainstream.
In an ideal world, hipsters would be eliminated from both our collective
lexicon and society at large. People would stop constantly doing things ironically,
choosing to be sincere and forthright in how they present themselves. People
would stop making judgments about what others like, whether that’s something as
universally beloved as vanilla ice cream or something as bizarre as some flavor I
probably haven’t heard of—everything under the cultural sun would be equal.
Until that day, I’m happy to endure eye rolls as I let my freak flag fly. I don’t
consider my taste to be better than anyone else’s, and I certainly don’t eliminate
anything popular from that category. How you decide to label me is your business.
In my defense, however, I still have that new Taylor Swift album on repeat.
just wanted to share something I felt was particularly badass.
heard this song on the ‘Cloud Atlas’ trailer and fell absolutely in love.