Monday, July 4, 2016

Kelly Oliver's "Hunting Girls"

Kelly Oliver is W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. Her many books include Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media (2007), Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human (2009), Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films (2012), and Earth and World: Philosophy After the Apollo Missions (2015).

Oliver applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, and reported the following:
From page 99:
For example, on August 11, 2012, in Steubenville (Ohio), an unconscious high school student was sexually assaulted while bystanders watched. Photographs and videos that circulated on social media showed the perpetrators talking about rape while assaulting her. Later, texts and tweets also joked about rape, making light of the fact that the girl was “so raped,” and slept through “a wang in the butthole” (Ley 2012). Two boys on the football team were found guilty in juvenile court. And several adults were charged with trying to cover up the crime or hinder the investigation. Reportedly, the football coach threatened a journalist covering the case, and the school superintendent tampered with evidence. The victim didn’t know that she’d been raped until she saw the pictures. The boy who posted photographs was found guilty of distributing child pornography since the girl was under age. One of the perpetrators defended himself, saying, “It isn’t really rape because you don’t know if she wanted to or not” (Ley 2013). This sentiment makes clear that in these young people’s minds, or at least in this person’s mind, consent and desire are not only mental states but also the same mental state. Furthermore, the fantasy is that if a girl is unconscious, and neither affirmative nor negative consent can be given, “sex” with her is not really rape. Echoing the age-old myth of Sleeping Beauty, along with her pornutopic sisters who enjoy being raped, these boys imagined their unconscious victim actually might be consenting, perhaps even “wanting” it.
This passage from Hunting Girls points to my conclusion that popular culture actually values lack of consent on the part of girls and women. Earlier in the book, starting with various versions of the legend of Sleeping Beauty, I show how fairytales and their contemporary counterparts, valorize rape and sexual assault. Analyzing blockbuster films such as The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, Fifty Shades of Gray, and Maleficent, I trace patterns of violence, especially sexual violence, against girls and women. Even as these contemporary fairytales give us active teen girl protagonists who defy gender stereotypes, however, they continue to circumscribe girls into traditional hetero-normative relationships wherein they care for, and sometimes suffer at the hands of, their traumatized boyfriends. Our contemporary princesses are not waiting for their prince to save them, but they still have to fear that their prince will assault them. Heroines such as Hannah, Katniss Everdeen, Bella Swan, and Tris Prior, “give as good as they get,” and because of that, they are repeatedly beaten and attacked. Their resistance to patriarchal stereotypes becomes justification for their abuse. Even as they defy gender norms, images of contemporary teenage heroines beaten and bloodied contribute to the normalization of violence against girls and young women, including sexual violence.

Analyzing several popular Hollywood films, I consider issues of power, control and danger as they play into contemporary manifestations of sexuality, particularly in relation to rape on college campuses. Almost monthly, a new scandalous case of rape on campus, particularly involving fraternities, rape-drugs, alcohol, and unconscious girls, makes headlines. Sex with unconscious girls and lack of consent is valorized on college campuses, taking us back to the centuries old Sleeping Beauty myth. The dissemination of photographs of rape shows us that the perpetrators see what they are doing as entertainment rather than as felony crime. I conclude that when it comes to sex, contemporary popular culture values lack of consent on the part of girls and women.
Visit Kelly Oliver's website.

The Page 99 Test: Women as Weapons of War.

The Page 99 Test: Animal Lessons.

--Marshal Zeringue