Sorority Girl Uprising: Empathy and Writing Sexual Assault

When I sent in the proposal for Cash Braddock, my publisher was like “yeah, cool, here’s a contract for four books.” Which was batshit because, you know, I only pitched one. I included titles and half a sentence about books that would maybe follow that one, but I swear that’s it. The result of this madness is that I’m currently writing book three in the series. It’s titled Cash and the Sorority Girl and it involves Cash. And a sorority girl. (See what I did there?) When I pitched it, I wrote “Cash and the Sorority Girl looks at the abuse of young women who drink the wrong thing at the wrong party.” Basically, in the summer of 2015 I knew book three would look at sexual assault on college campuses. Obviously, I had no clue that 2017 would launch the #metoo movement to it’s current heights. I’m glad we’re in this moment, but I’m not really sure what to make of my accidental prophecy.

I’ve known for years, of course, that more women have been sexually assaulted than not. Avoiding talking about it serves no one except the patriarchy. Ergo, the movement. But I always feel like discussing rape culture is borrowing a narrative that isn’t mine. By default of my gender presentation (and luck, I suppose), I have managed to remain a bystander in this culture that modern society is built on. The subjugated are for raping. The entitled are rapists. So often those categories are blurred by power and entitlement and gender and race and age and the multitudes of other categories the kyriarchy uses to regulate people, but often we can generalize the subjugated as women and the entitled as men. I am neither and I am both. I witness the sexism and power that fuels rape culture. I am granted access to survivors’ stories. I participate—however unconsciously—in the power that fuels rape culture. I subjugate and objectify even as I rail against the patriarchy.

When friends, colleagues, family members, students tell me about the ways they have been assaulted, I am perpetually at a loss. It is impossible to hear the story of a sexual assault and not carry a sudden, excruciating weight. But admitting the pain of carrying that load seemingly minimizes whomever has just unburdened themselves—if only a modicum. We can debate who has the broadest shoulders, thus carries that responsibility, but doing so is a waste of effort. We know who is at fault. It is the society that has convinced us the weak are expendable and white men (in their vast redundancy) are lacking the one thing the subjugated have always possessed: their subjugation.

The only choice really, is for me to examine myself. Much the same way I actively grapple with my inherent racism or heteronormativity or sexism, I must also examine the ways I participate in rape culture. I must examine the ways I benefit from my masculinity.

Regardless of the moment we find ourselves in, I’ve known this story was coming for three years. Writing a book like this requires certain behavior not just from my characters, but from me. I worry that I won’t center survivors’ voices enough in the book. I am worried I didn’t center survivors’ voices in this blog. But I know that, unfailingly, I must listen.

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