Necropost: “Rape Fantasies” – Margaret Atwood

This post is mainly a response to the really oddly high amount of traffic that one of my early posts “‘Rape Fantasies’ — Margaret Atwood” gets. It’s been almost 4 years since I wrote the original post — it’s so rambly now and badly written that I feel a little embarrassed that it gets such high traffic. I figure now is a good time to write about it again with a newer perspective.


To begin, it is extremely amusing to me that in the original post, in all of the rambling that I do, I somehow never actually manage to do a discussion of the actual short story itself. It instead becomes more of a biographical background randomness with a focus of the paratextual — the surrounding stories of the specific copy I found or a discussion of anthology vs. a single creator’s collected vision. I think it reflects a lot of my initial excitement at MIT for both the mailing list and my self — the joy of just actually having people to share thoughts with and caring a little less about the analytical content.

(Yes, I recognize the irony of this post itself starting off chiding my past self for doing a lot of biographical minutiae and then me immediately going through the same rambling. Turns out that I’m the same person but I like to think that I’ve gained focus / perspective over the years)


To narrow down more specifically onto the story of “Rape Fantasies” itself, I’ve overall been thinking about the short story a lot, not only because it keeps jumping up in view count, but also because of the aspect of “conversation to stave off a threat”. The main implication of the story, especially by the ending paragraphs, is that the narrator, Estelle, is sharing her story with a man who she has just met in a bar and is sharing these stories in an attempt to frame herself as a human who should not be violated, much like she always attempt to humanize her rapist, “always end[ing] up feeling sorry for the guy”.

This idea has really hit me much more now as I’ve gotten older and understood better what my position as a woman in society means. I don’t really see attractiveness / hotness and was almost entirely asexual throughout high school, so I really didn’t become aware of what a sex drive was, how much it sucks to not have it satisfied, or how people saw me as a sexual object until junior year of college, where I was able to have a lot more frank discussion with lots of people.

Combine that with the Jeopardy thing, where even though I didn’t get hurt by any individual comment, the sheer volume of men solely commenting on my looks and my appearances and making assumptions about who I was (plus the occassional dick pic sent straight to my Facebook inbox) really made me feel incredibly insecure of what people were looking for when they looked at me.

Even noticing how this post consistently gets 5-7 views every week, despite being one of the older posts that I’ve written, makes me feel a bit uneasy. (Yes, I know that it’s in my “essential posts” page, but the other things in there don’t get clicked nearly as much.) Are people really just clicking for the clickbait title of “rape” ? I know that power / control fetishes are one of the most common — indeed in the short story, all of the women eagerly want to jump in and tell their own fantasy even though Darlene simultaneously calls them “disgusting” and comes back into discuss — but it still makes me mildly uncomfortable that the old post keeps getting clicked on.

 

Lately, I’ve been also thinking of how public I want to allow my personal insecurities to be. As I’ve transitioned off of Zephyr (an MIT only network that requires some technical skill / motivation to use) to Discord (a publicly accessible network that is actually being maintained and already used by my gaming friends), opening up to a broader audience comes with a lot more risk.  As this brilliant article conveys, while most social media serves as an “interactive and immersive CV, an archive [where] it all counts, and it all matters”, I use Zephyr and Discord, and even this blog as a way to shout into the void about my insecurities — many personal, many potentially inflammatory, all that could be brought up if I ever decide to run for public office.

I shout into the “void” of Zephyr / Discord / litchin@, just as the male protagonist in “In the Mood for Love” whispers his secret into the tree hollow and covers it so no one will know. Both “voids” are false promises though — I have 60+ people in Discord and 50+ people subscribed to litchin@, and the protagonist in the film is still watched by a Buddhist monk at Angkor Wat.

Yet, I still post here and there, because to some extent, it’s really the same desperate plea of the person in the short story: “If you understand me, maybe you won’t hurt me even though it’s totally within your power”. Again, contrasting from the original post, the genuine excitement of the person I was four years ago to share myself to others has now transformed into a defense mechanism. I share biographical information not because I finally have friends, but because I recognize the potential to be hurt and paradoxically share more of my humanity to say “Please don’t.”

Maybe it’s ok. Maybe it’s like as my friend Travis says, we all “need to have a space to be completely honest”, even if it does require bearing our soul to a potentially ill-intentioned stranger in a bar or the publicly shaming mobs of the Internet.

Stay literary, my friends,

-Lilly

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