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.

DOMA Didn’t End, It Wasn’t Struck Down, and Stop Saying That It Was

Unless you have been living under a rock the last couple of days, you likely know that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). However, if you have been reading about the decision in many online sources, you may have been misled.

In many of the news outlets that I have been looking at over the last 48 hours, I have seen one HUGE mistake being reported again and again. This mistake is news outlets reporting that DOMA has been repealed or struck down.

[Image] Now that DOMA'S dead, will Obama and Clinton take fight to Illinois[Image] Obama hails court decision striking down DOMA[Image] Court Overturns DOMA, Sidesteps Broad Gay Marriage Ruling[Image] Dems voted for DOMA, cheered its end[Image] How the end of DOMA will affect Obamacare, Federal Employees[Image] Same-sex couples cheer DOMA's demise

 

Sadly, this isn’t what actually happened. The ruling that the SCOTUS handed down did not strike down the entirety of DOMA, but rather, the ruling struck down a specific section within the larger law. Specifically, the ruling by the SCOTUS struck down Section 3.

    (a) IN GENERAL- Chapter 1 of title 1, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

`Sec. 7. Definition of `marriage’ and `spouse’

    `In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word `spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’.
    (b) CLERICAL AMENDMENT- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 1 of title 1, United States Code, is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 6 the following new item:
        `7. Definition of `marriage’ and `spouse’.’.

Assuming that your legalese is up to scratch, you know that Section 3 of DOMA was the section of the law that was being used to stop same-sex couples (i.e. those who have been legally married in a state which allows same-sex marriage) from accessing the same benefits that are given to heterosexual couples. So, by striking down this section, the SCOTUS paved the way for a lot of really positive things… in the states that have legal same-sex marriage.

In these states, the federal government can no longer deny access to the benefits of marriage based on the fact that the marriage is between two members of the same-sex. This means that, unlike the day before the decision, immigration, pension, healthcare, and tax benefits have to be extended to same-sex couples in the same way that they are in heterosexual couples.

Needless to say, this is great news, even if it only truly impacts a select subset of the LGBT subset of the population of the US.

However, what would have been ever greater news would be if the entirety of DOMA was struck down. If this were the case, not only would Section 3 (the federal ban on benefits) be removed from the books, but so would Section 2.

    (a) IN GENERAL- Chapter 115 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by adding after section 1738B the following:

`Sec. 1738C. Certain acts, records, and proceedings and the effect thereof

    `No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.’.
    (b) CLERICAL AMENDMENT- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 115 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 1738B the following new item:
        `1738C. Certain acts, records, and proceedings and the effect thereof.’.

This section of DOMA is the section that bars the federal government from enacting any legislation that would open the ability to marry up to same-sex couples. Basically, it makes it so that same-sex marriage, as it is at the moment, must be won on a state-by-state basis.

Should this section had fallen to the pen of the SCOTUS as well, the federal government could have, and likely would have, drafted a bill aimed at making same-sex marriage legal nationwide. While this would not have likely been successful (as you could imagine given the Republican controlled House), it would have almost definitely been stalled for the remainder of the Obama presidency, giving the Democrats strong political fire power come election time.

What is Sex? No, Seriously.

[Image] A lit up red sign reading "Sex in Progress"

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
Photo by: Jean KOULEV

A while back, I wrote a post on my personal blog about how my lack of a definition for sex (and, thus, sexuality) caused me issues understanding asexuality as it related to me. So, I thought that I would try to examine the topic a bit more closely.

What is sex?

This is a question that I have been struggling with for years without any formal answer to it. When I was younger, I thought that sex was simply the act of one man penetrating one woman with his penis. But as time went on, my definition grew to include people who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. When I did this, my definition moved from centering the phallus and the act of penetration to centering sexual touch and orgasm. In this definition, I thought that sex was an act between two people with the goal of one or both of them having an orgasm.

This then shifted again as I started hearing about the possibility that more than two people could be involved in sexual activity at a time, and it shifted again when I found out that consent was an active process that is continuous, shifting, and explicit. At this point, the definition was something to the effect of “sex is an act between two or more actively consenting adults with the goal of one or more of them having an orgasm.” In this definition, the acts themselves aren’t really defined, you could really have a thing for shoes, masturbate looking while licking someone else’s shoes, and that would be considered sex (in this definition). Likewise, sex would also include touching, groping, massaging, or penetrating with the goal of, orgasm.

But then things shifted again. As I started reading more about sex positivity I learned about the move by many to remove orgasm as the center of sex. The reason is that there are many people in the world who enjoy sex but do not have the ability to have an orgasm. This doesn’t necessarily make it so that they are broken people or that they have a sexual dysfunction or something, but instead that they have sex like everyone else, just without orgasm.

This, truthfully, fucked over my definitions of sex. If it isn’t centered around particular parts of the body or particular acts or particular goals. What is left to define sex? It is just a case of “sex is what I call it?” Or, even worse, “I know it when I see it?”

So, hitting a bit of a bump in the road at this point, I did what every 25 year old person would do when faced with this question: I asked my mother!

After my mother stopped laughing at the fact her 25 year old, married daughter asked her this question, the conversation continued much like the development of my personal definition. We went through definition after definition countering each one with an example of sex that didn’t fit. Eventually, she too got stuck. But throughout my discussion with her, the conversation seemed to center around intimacy-which she defined as physical and emotional closeness-and genital manipulation.

Then I went over to my facebook, and I started asking my friends about it. Again, this conversation took much the same form as the last, moving from definitions based solely around penetration towards more broad definitions. For a while, however, there was one definition that stuck (until it was ultimately defeated yet again). This definition is that sex is a consensual act between two or more people which includes penetration and/or orgasm.

While I do still have issues with both of those ideas, somehow the combining of them seemed to make a lot of sense. But shortly after this was posted, someone mentioned that sex is something that you could do by yourself and should be about something pleasurable. I really like this idea that sexual pleasure or sexual arousal is a part of the definition, but this reconstruction of sex as something that you can do alone, without penetration or orgasm, really sent the discussion all the way back to square one.

While these discussions didn’t really get me the definition that I was looking for, I did find some things that seem to be rather important to the definition, should there be one. Placing consent and pleasure at the center of the definition, as the place that all sexual activity originates, is one such idea I found to be extremely important.  Further, the fact that emotional and physical intimacy seem to be recurring themes, while not perfect by any means, suggests that these also play a role in sex in someway, even if it is just a socialized, scripted one. And lastly, the idea that orgasm and penetration, while both very problematic defining attributes of sexual activity, seem to be very culturally linked to the idea of sex as a whole.

Being that I had a long trip of self-discovery prior to asking others for their input, I am sure that I am biasing the analysis in some way. But, more than that, I am not really surprised that the conversations seemed to center around what it did. Rather, I am surprised that, while everyone I asked seemed to treat the question in such a blasé manner, no one had a clear, consistent definition which they stuck to.

But, what are your thoughts on the matter?

Given that I have yet to come up with a consistent definition of what sex is, perhaps you can help me out. Tell me your thoughts or the definitions that you use in the comments below. Perhaps, with your help, we can plug this whole in the English language once and for all!

Signal Boost Sunday :: On the Twelfth on of May

[Image: A black and white cartoon like drawing featuring a radio tower in the background with visible circles of radio waves extending on all sides, a pond with catails and reeds is in the foreground]

Signal Boosted.

Elizabeth Smart contends that part of the reason she didn’t seek escape from her captors was because abstinence only education made her feel worthless for being raped.

You know that guy we placed in charge of preventing rapes in the military? Yeah, probably a rapist.

In case you thought that brutalizing woman was all serious, here is a sexualized, zombified verision of your ex that you can shoot at. Oh? That’s problematic too?

All that sex that teenagers are having, all that sex that adults are decrying as THE WORST THING EVAR!? Apparently, it is a lot safer than we like to assume.

Also, military rapes? Still rising in number.

More military rape bad news: Air Force releases a brochure that tell rape victims to submit to rape and tell rapists… well, nothing.

Still on the military: Rape is just “hookup culture” gone wrong, according to a misinformed top general.

In fashion news: Slut shaming is big this year, especially in the school dress codes.

Once again, false rape reports are extremely rare.

Again, again, rape does happen to men, and it isn’t fucking cool.

Politifact, you are wrong. Gay people can still be fired in 29 US States for being gay. Also, Maddow schooled you.

Good news: Asshat extraordinaire, and founder of “Girls Gone Wild,” is going to jail for general asshattery.

North Carolina seeks to win the prize for worst idea ever by forcing teens to have a notarized letter of parental consent to get an STD test

Why trans* rights matter: Graduating student denied use of his chosen name at graduation ceremony, outing him to all his peers, their families, and friends.

Now for the good news, I wish there were more:

California has passed a trans* equality bill!

Delaware has legalized gay marriage, making it the 12th state to do so.

Signal Boost Sunday :: May the Fourth!

[Image: A black and white cartoon like drawing featuring a radio tower in the background with visible circles of radio waves extending on all sides, a pond with catails and reeds is in the foreground]

Signal Boosted.

Apparently, FoxNews thinks that sex between teenagers is illegal. Hint: it isn’t.

Feminism has a bit of a transphobia problem.

What does affirming verbal consent like? Not this

So, tell me again how men can’t be raped?

A Nova Scotia boy has been blocked from playing soccer because he is trans*

Have you ever wondered what feminist porn looks like? Ask Rachel Rabbit White

What is it like to have a transgender parent? It’s, well, normal.

Maybe you heard that Jason Collins came out as gay. Well here is a history of professional sports women who have been out for years.

Good news:

Rhode Island becomes the 10th US state to legalize gay marriage.

Do it online now!

Awesome kickstarter of the Day: Assigned Sex, a documentary exploring gender roles from a trans* perspective

The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network is holding a T-shirt design contest. Your design could end up at San Francisco Pride.