The Rape of Alice: An Exploration of the Abuse in The Killing of Sister George

* * * TRIGGER WARNING :: Depictions of Abuse, Stalking, Rape, and Homonegativity * * *

Hello again!

For one of the courses that I am taking at University, I have been tasked with writing 6  reaction papers over the course of the semester. Many of these take the form of psuedo- film reviews, where my reaction is to a film that we watched in class. The first of these was to the film Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). This was not published here as, well, I didn’t think about it at the time. This, the second reaction paper is in reference to The Killing of Sister George (1968). However, before I begin with my write-up, I just want to point out again that there is a trigger warning on this post, as well as on the movie being referred to, for depictions of rape, stalking, abuse, and homonegativity and discussions thereof. Please tread carefully and remember self-care.

[Image] A person with painted nails holding up a card saying "It's NO until I say YES without coercion"The Killing of Sister George (1968) contained quite a few problematic elements. Ranging from conflation of femininity with infantilism to the complete inability to resolve the plot, the movie seemed quite content to make wild, unfounded generalizations and then leave the audience hanging. However, perhaps the most problematic elements of the movie did not lay in the mechanics of plot development or basic storytelling, but instead with the depiction, and implicit normalization, of manipulation, abuse, and rape within lesbian communities of the time.

These themes were almost omnipresent throughout the film, but were mostly tied to those who took an interest in Alice ‘Childie’ McNaught. From the very first scene, it is shown that the relationship between June ‘George’ Buckeridge and Alice is one marked by alcohol, control, and abuse. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, June is aggressively questioning Alice about who she has been drinking with, as if an empty glass on the table is an indication of sexual indiscretion. Despite this concern being quickly dispelled, June follows up by once again accusing Alice of sexual impropriety, this time with her boss at work. This leads into one of the most awkward and blatantly abusive exchanges in the movie when June screams at Alice “If that’s what he’s like, then why hasn’t he had a go at you?” This is quickly followed up by June exasperatingly adding “No one ever tells me anything” to Alice’s assertions that she is being honest, forthright, and true.

This seemingly confused behaviour on the part of June seeks to throw Alice off balance and pressure her into a certain pattern of responding. This is shown more clearly later in the film when June unexpectedly shows up at Alice’s work to find that her boss is not the sexy, suave, lady-killer that she was expecting, but rather an older, married, Jewish man. In this scene, June insists that Alice lied to her about the sexual appeal of her boss; However, Alice did no such thing. Rather, she gets pressured into responding in the affirmative simply to defuse the anger that was being directed her way by June. This pattern of denial, followed by continued abuse, and finally complete surrender is one that repeats itself throughout the film, and a truism of long-term abusive relationships: learned helplessness.

Alice isn’t the only person to be a recipient of June’s abusive behaviour, however. Rather, this list includes a pair of random nuns in the back of a taxi, as well as the entire cast and crew of the BBC soap opera June was working on. In both of these cases, alcohol fueled her exploits, leading June to act inappropriately. With her peers on the set of her soap opera, June simply hurled abusive barbs at those members of the cast she didn’t appreciate. However, with the nuns earlier in the film, it is suggested that June sexually assaults either one or both of these women, a fact that she uses to taunt Alice later on.

As with many abusers, June also shows a history of abusive, consent violating behaviour. In a scene detailing how June first met Alice, June recounts the story of how she stalked Alice, violated many of her personal boundaries, and even took a piece of her property as a souvenir, all prior to even speaking a word to Alice herself.

June: That takes me back years. When I first met you…

Alice: That awful boarding house.

June: You know, for weeks I watched you come and go, and I never spoke a word to you. Every morning, you set off for work punctually *giggle* at 10 past 9. You were always in such a rush.

Alice: I had no idea you were watching me.

June: Then, one night I went into the bathroom just after you had had a bath, and the mirror was all steamed up and the bathmat was all wet and glistening where you’d be standing on it. And, there was a smell of bath crystals and talcum powder. It was like an enchanted wood. And I stood quite still on the bathmat in your footprints and then I noticed that you’d left your comb behind, it was a pink plastic comb and it had your hairs in it and I kept that comb as a souvenir. And all that time, I’d never spoken a word to you.

This extreme example very much mimics the way that abusers and rapists choose their victims. They often violate social norms and minor personal boundaries as a way of testing whether the victim would be likely to rebuff their advance or challenge their presumed power. If these small invasions are successful, the abuser moves to larger boundary breaches and more controlling behaviours. Often, by the time the victim realizes what is actually going on, the abuser is far too close or far too connected to push them from their place of power and control. [Dick pictures as minor boundary breaches]

This entrapped nature of abuse, and the random, often unpredictable nature of the abuser pushes the victim in to a state of learned helplessness, much like that exhibited by Alice. In this, the victim often surrenders to the abuse, even when it is over things that aren’t factual or believable, simply because they know that correcting the abuser will only make matters worse. With this in mind, the sex scene at the end of the movie begins to look less like a failed attempt at romanticism and more like a new abuser using the learned helplessness of Alice to take a place of control and power. At the beginning of this scene, Mercy Croft places her hand on Alice’s breast, Alice pushes her hand away, not once, but twice, Mercy continues to push Alice’s limits until, finally, Alice gives up, “allowing” Mercy to do as she wills.

This pattern of learned helplessness does not imply consent; However, in the many years since the films release there is little to no discussion about how the sex scene at the end of the movie may actually be an act of rape. This may be because of general perceptions of rape as a wholly violent act, against a thrashing, fighting, completely unwilling victim. Patterns such as the one described with Alice are often not only discounted from rape discourse, but actively eroticized by generations of romantic comedies. This, along with the passing reference to a sadomasochistic relationship between June and Alice, offers real life people who act like June and Mercy social license to operate. This allows them to use the benefit of the doubt created by “gray rape” romantic comedies, and other aspects of rape culture, to continue their track record of manipulation, abuse, and rape.

Considering that Alice, June, and Mercy are the only developed lesbian characters, and given that not one of the three of them is a positive, strong role model (to say the least), it is safe to say that this film, much like Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) is highly homonegative. Further, since many of the major character flaws present within Alice, June, and Mercy can be tracked back to stereotypes and beliefs about the butch/femme dynamic of lesbian relationships (butch as sexual and physical aggressor, femme as childish, innocent, and passive), the film actively supported the hatred, fear, and misunderstanding that surrounded lesbian women and gay men at the time.

International Day Against Homophobia

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) banner

Today, it was brought to my attention that tomorrow, 17-May, is the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia. Much like last year, I was very skeptical that the inclusion of Transphobia in the title would lead to anything real or substantial in the way of including the lived experiences of transgender people, and it seems that I was right to be skeptical. In searching the website, which is still at http://www.DayAgainstHomophobia.org/ despite the inclusion of transphobia in the mandate, I found very little in the way of information about transphobia or transgender people. Instead, I found that most of the time, the only inclusion of trans* experiences was when the website mentioned about sexual orientation and gender identity. Almost like it was just thrown on there to make sure that they are good with us trans* folks.

That being said, I did manage to find a section in the news section of the site to do with transphobia; However, even this section had major issues which made it completely impractical. The main issue that I had was that there were so few stories even on the page. In total, there were 4 unique stories, and some of these were over a year out of date. There was no mention of the events which happened to CeCe McDonald, there was no mention of the death of Lorena Escalera, there was no mention of the trans* movement’s success in Argentina, and there was no mention of the murders of trans women in DC.

This is a MAJOR problem, but it gets worse still.

I then went over to the section on the site which contains the press releases for the organization. Here I was shocked by what I saw, or more correctly, shocked as to what I didn’t see. On this page there were a number of different press releases; there was one about the death penalty, there was one about an event that happened in Malawi, and there was one about International Women’s Day. However, there wasn’t one about Transgender Day of Remembrance or any other trans* day or event of significance.

This, to me, was extremely distressing. This is because Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is an international day of remembrance on which, those trans* people who were killed for being trans* or gender non-conforming are remembered, and the transphobia that led to their death is highlighted and questioned. This places TDoR directly in alignment with the mandate of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and, as such, demands some acknowledgement by those in charge of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

However, I worry that things go a bit deeper than that. You see, TDoR is a day to remember murdered trans* people which was started and run by trans* people. So, to not include this important date in the trans* agenda, those who are in charge of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia are not only showing that they are out of touch with other movements with similar goals, but also that they are out of touch with the trans* communities entirely.

So, while I do not advocate a boycott of tomorrow’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, I do ask you, the reader, for just a couple of things.

The first, and most important, is for you to take a moment to think about both Transphobia and Homophobia. In doing this, I hope that you come to the realization that both of these prejudices are aberrant, and both must be challenged at every opportunity no matter the day of the year or the way that the prejudice appears.

And the second is for you to speak up and make it clear to those in charge of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia that, in order to effectively challenge these prejudices (and meet their own mandate), they must take notice other events, and work with other organizations, that have similar or overlapping mandates.

Morwen

P.S. You may have noticed that I didn’t shorten International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to the acronym which appears in the banner above. This was done deliberately because the acronym IDAHO seems to lose something important from the main title; Namely, the focus on transphobia.

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International Day Against Homophobia

[Image: Two Goldfish facing each other, looking as though about to kiss. Words to the left of the fish: Same-sex Couples: A Love Story. Below that, the site name is visable: homophobiaday.org. Words to the right of the fish: May 17: International Day Against Homophobia. Participate! This day belongs to you (with you being in block letters).

Image source. Copyright Gai Écoute / Fondation Émergence 2011. All rights reserved. Used with permission

Hello everyone!

So I thought that I would let you all (I know that there is only like one reader at the moment) know that 17 May, 2011 marks the 7th annual International Day Against Homophobia. While this has nothing to do with the kinky lifestyle that I lead, this has everything to do with what I stand for as a person.


Some Interesting Facts:

  • On this day in 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) made the decision to remove homosexuality from their list of mental disorders.
  • Before this, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the book used by psychologists and psychiatrists in North America and other parts of the world, removed homosexuality as a mental illness in 1986.
  • The International Day Against Homophobia is officially recognized by the following governmental bodies:
    • The United Kingdom
    • The European Union
    • Mexico
    • The Netherlands
    • Costa Rica
    • France

Notably absent, though is Canada, my home and one of the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. ( =( )


Events:

There are a number of events planned near me. As usual, the most active area around me seems to be the heart of Downtown Toronto. However, there are events in Chatham, London (Ontario), Windsor, Barrie, Thunder Bay, and just about the entire Golden Horseshoe, in Ontario. There are also events in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Quebec (the city), as well as internationally. For events near you, ask the oracle using terms like “Anti-Homophobia Day” or “Day Against Homophobia” and your area.


A Transgender Critique:

On the official website, the full name of the day is called “International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.” However, I struggled to find a single mention of Transphobia, other than in the Frequently Asked Questions section. The history of the movement, and how the movement is often described seems to make it about homophobia and prejudice towards people based on sexuality, not based on gender identity or gender expression. I feel like the addition of the word Transphobia serves to try to make the movement sound more inclusive than it actually is. I actually wonder if this addition was mostly to do with the critique that the Gay (GL and sometimes B) communities don’t actually include gender identity or expression. I think that is notable for those that are heading this movement to recognize this; however, I feel like this is only superficial. And I feel this way because of the lack of mention on the official site. I feel that if the movement genuinely wanted to address the issue of Transphobia, there would be some mention, some reference to more knowledgeable projects dealing with Transphobia, like Remembering our Dead or Transgender Europe’s Murder Monitor project.

So, until I feel that Transgender people are truthfully and earnestly included in this day, I will continue calling it the International Day Against Homophobia, as the day was originally coined.

Here’s hoping that my opinion changes next year!

The Problem with Giving Hatred International Spotlight

Being a subscriber to the GLAAD blog, I heard on Thursday that the Westboro Baptist church would be appearing on a radio program to talk about the shooting that recently happened in Tuscon. This angered me. I know what the Westboro Baptist church is going to say, and whether it is insane and extreme or not, there will be people who will agree and be motivated by their hate to hurt those with Rainbow identities.

I researched a bit more about what is going to happen with this radio program and found a video, from the host of the show, describing why he made the decision to extend an invite to the Westboro Baptist church. The gist of it is that the host of the program felt bad for the families of those that have died because of the violence in Tuscon. So, when he found out that Westboro Baptist church was planning on picketing the funerals of the dead, he felt that he needed to act. So he invited them onto his show on the condition that they do not picket the funerals of those that died in the Tuscon shooting. This seems like a kind move, and when he says that he feels that the Westboro Baptist Church is neither a Church nor is it Baptist it almost lulled me into believing him.

However, there is one glaring flaw: More people will be subjected to the hatred of this group than they would have been if they had picketed. This is amplified by the fact that the show will be hosted on a show that is affiliated (or run by) FoxNews. Should we really be giving people who already delude themselves with nonsense like a Obama being a Muslim (which he isn’t) another, possibly even more right-wing and extreme view? Should we really be allowing a company that encourages people to come to peaceful protests with loaded guns to hold a fair conversation with people who advocate killing people who are gay?

I am not sure what Mike Gallagher was thinking when he offered this. Maybe this is just the story of someone who feels that they can show up the Westboro Baptist church in a public arena. Maybe he hopes that his l33t debating skills will silence Westboro Baptist, at least for a while. If this is the case, he is truly deluded. People with extreme views like those of the Westboro Baptist church will not concede defeat, even when faced with masses of evidence and years to think about it. No matter what Mike Gallagher says to the Westboro Baptist church, no matter how scientific or intelligent the points he makes are, the Westboro Baptist will come out of the interview thinking that they won. Worse yet, those that are listening to this interview, could have their personal anti-homosexual view strengthened. And if even one of these people later goes on to continue the cycle of violence and oppression of Rainbow identified people, we ended with a worse result than the pissing off of a few families and the (completely unnecessary) making a bad day even worse.

So, please, in the future, could we just ignore, or counter demonstrate against hatred rather than giving it an International stage to preach its hatred?