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.

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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.

Signal Boost Sunday

[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.

Welp.. Apparently, rape culture is still a thing. Steubenville’s Football Coach has been Rehired for Two More Years.

According to Dave Leach shooting abortion providers “will be a blessing to the babies.”

So, Tyler Perry’s most recent movie features a scene that looks and sounds a lot like a rape scene.

In continuing coverage of the protests in India over the rape of a 5-year-old girl.

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is still discriminating against people with trans bodies. We are still boycotting them.

On the positive side:

Trans* people in Pakistan are trying to move into the political arena! Here’s hoping for trans* inclusion!

New Zealand legalized same-sex marriage last week, in style!

France has become the most recent country to legalize same-sex marriage. Way to go France!

In more human rights news: Idaho has revised there requirements for changing your gender marker on your driver’s license! Way to go Idaho!

Have you ever thought or wondered about fisting? Want to make sure that you are doing it in a risk aware, consensual, and enjoyable way? Looking for a guide that isn’t hetero- or cis-normative? Well, you are in luck!

Another study has been published showing that biological determinism is not a thing. You know, like feminists have been saying for about 100 years now.

Ever wonder what intersectionality is? Here’s a guide.

Weird, Wacky, and Awesome:

Think that getting a disability means the end of sexuality? Think again.

Did I miss something? Did you write, make, publish, or upload something you would like everyone to know about? Let us know in the comments below.

The Nebulous Definition of Rape: Critique of My ‘Diet Caffeine-Free Rape’

Hello everyone,

Right now, I likely should be sleeping, but I thought that I would quickly write a post about something that I just read. The article that I am referring to really pissed me off and, what’s more, is that it wasn’t meant to. It was meant to be one of those articles that all feminist/women positive people really agree with. It was meant to be one of those scary yet affirming stories about a young woman battling with the role and identity of being a sexual assault survivor. And, like most of these stories it ended with the woman understanding and accepting that identity, in effect highlighting the nebulous definition of rape that society uses.

For those of you that aren’t mind readers the article that I am referring to is linked here. I strongly suggest that you read it and form your own opinion on the topic.

As I mentioned above, in my opinion this article has one major flaw: in this case, it wasn’t rape! This is likely to really annoy and piss off people, but please bear with me as I explain. I am not trying to claim that everything that this guy she mentions did was saintly, I am not saying that it wasn’t a bad situation, and I am NOT claiming to know all of the context. For all I know, the context was cut out of the article in editing, or it was too painful or too long to write into the article in the first place.

So, I am not saying that this woman is not a sexual assault survivor. What I am saying is that what was described in the article is not something that I would call rape, and there is one passage in the article that really drives this point home for me.

I never said, “No, no, no.” When I’d cry — almost every time we had sex — he asked if he should keep going. Keep going, I’d say. Just finish. And he would. He could.

My issue is not that she never said “No, no, no.” There are millions of ways not to consent to sexual activity. My issue is that when he asked her if he should keep going, she agreed that he should keep going. For me, as someone who focuses a lot of time and effort on consent during sexual activity, this means, well, keep going.

If my partner and I are engaged in sexual activity, whether it be vanilla sex or intense pain and edge play, if I ask my partner if she wants me to continue and she says yes, I take that as consent.

That being said, it is fair to point out that the consent that this woman gave was far from unequivocal, and that is something that should give anyone pause. However, what she went on to say was not something that completely negated the consent that she gave; Instead it changed the consent from something clear (a “yes” or “keep going”) to something a bit more murky. That is, she made the answer to his request for permission to continue a “yes, but…”.

In answering the question in this way, she moves from giving her full consent to giving conditional consent. That is important, and it should be respected (as all consent should be)! This means, at least to me, that the condition that she made should be followed out, and if it can’t sexual activity should end. And from my reading of the next sentences, that is exactly what happened.

I mean, don’t get me wrong here, when she starts to express displeasure with the sexual activity, and asks for it to end sooner rather than later, this should sound all kinds of alarm bells in her partner’s mind. He likely should have stopped at that implication and done a more in-depth check-in making sure that she didn’t feel pressured to continue and the like.

But in my mind that is exactly the problem, this was based on an implication; this wasn’t based on verbal speech or intense, clear signs of transgressionsee notes. The removal of consent was done through implication. This is a huge problem for me, as it should be for all feminist/women positive people, because this is one of the main ways for rape victims to be ignored and blamed for their rapes!

I mean, how many times have we heard that a woman implied that she was wanting sexual activity based on how short her skirt was, where she was, who she was with, when she was out of the house, how tall her shoes were, or any other absurd thing? I think that I can safely assume that all women positive people think that this defense and victim blaming is completely and utterly ridiculous; But, how, exactly, is implying one’s non-consent any more or less relevant than implying someone’s consent?

Even though this seems like it is simply airing on the side of caution, relying on implication to remove consent still strips women of agency over their sexuality. It takes the power and control that comes with consent and places it in the hands of the person interpreting the consent, rather than in the hands of the person consenting (or not) to the sexual act. This is a major problem!

On top of that, this heavy reliance on the implications around women’s consent during sexual activity feeds right back into the old social tropes about women not having a voice and about how women are always manipulative in relations with men. Again, this is a huge problem, and one that feminists have been fighting for more than a century. 

So, whether this woman is a survivor of sexual violence or not (which, sadly, she likely is given the stats), can we please not hold this description of rape up as shining example of the complexities of sexual assault? It only serves to further undermine women, not empower them.

Notes:

As many of you know, this is a blog written by someone who identifies as kinky. As such, I read things a bit differently than other people. Many people would assume that her mention of crying during sexual intercourse is an “intense, clear sign” that this woman is not consenting to this sexual activity. However, this is not the case for all women, nor should it be assumed to be.

I, for one, happen to strongly enjoy crying and screaming (something else the author mentioned) during sexual activity. In fact, there have been times where my partner has ended a sexual encounter because she was uncomfortable with my screaming and crying, and I was still asking for more. Whether this is your brand of sexuality or not, the statement stands that the author’s removal of consent was based more in implication than it was in verbal cues, and thus, I feel that the critique is still relevant.