The Oscars and Rape Culture

oscars 2

(Anna Seward)– [Trigger warning for sexual assault] Even if you didn’t catch the Oscars Sunday, you’ve probably already seen rundowns of the sexism Seth MacFarlane displayed throughout the evening. In case you haven’t, they include, but aren’t limited to discussing Quvenzhané Wallis’s potential relationship with George Clooney (she is nine years old), a date rape joke about Chris Brown and Rihanna, calling Jennifer Aniston a stripper, and the joke about Jack Nicholson’s house, which I didn’t even catch until later. The main “joke” I’d like to talk about here, though, is the “We Saw Your Boobs” song.

Just on a surface level, the whole premise of this song is fucked up. Forget talking about how well actresses evoked their characters or the time they devote to transforming themselves for a role, let’s just talk about how many times we saw nipple. No actors would be subjected to something like this. When Michael Fassbender did some serious full frontal nudity in “Shame,” he certainly got quite a few jokes (mostly good natured ones, like George Clooney passing on the torch at the Golden Globes) but his performance was never distilled down to his nudity and catalogued with other actors who have gone full-frontal (which would be a pretty long list, by the way) and danced to on such a national scale.

Beyond this basic problem with the “joke,” there’s another level of misogyny that comes through in the song. Four of the examples of nudity mentioned: Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” Jodie Foster in “The Accused,” Jessica Chastain in “Lawless,” and Charlize Theron in “Monster,” happened in rape scenes. Are you kidding me. So not only was Seth MacFarlane objectifying women, he was objectifying them in scenes while they were being raped. MacFarlane is certainly not the only one to blame here, I’m sure there were a lot of writers who signed off on the idea as well as producers of the show itself, and that’s what makes it so sad. It’s not just one guy who makes sexist jokes, it’s a culture that supports and rewards him for it. The audience laughed. Two of the people who didn’t were Naomi Watts and Charlize Theron, both mentioned and panned to but who didn’t crack a smile. They did a powerful thing by not pretending to find their own objectification funny, and it’s a step we all need to take in the face of such blatant misogyny. [Edit: it’s been pointed out to me that their responses were pre-taped–change of dresses, etc. but as detailed in a comment below, this really doesn’t make it any better.]

My feminist theory class invited Suzanne Coffey, Director of Athletics and Title IX Coordinator (yeah, no conflict of interest there) and a member of the Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct to answer questions and discuss their report, “Toward a Culture of Respect: The Problem of Sexual Misconduct at Amherst College.” This discussion was thoroughly disappointing. When a student asked, “What do you think are the causes of rape culture?” Coffey refused to respond in an official capacity. When a student asked her to call rape by its name and not hedge with a phrase like “mistake,” she responded defensively by saying she could get into much more explicit and graphic language if that student desired, completely ignoring how that could be triggering for members of the class, and whenever she referred to rape directly later in the discussion she looked to the same student again to ask, “Was that strong enough language? Should I say something more?” When asked why misogyny and sexism didn’t play larger roles in the report that largely focused on issues of space on campus and alcohol abuse, Coffey said that if the committee had more time it would certainly have been featured in a report. That if this report could be the “first chapter” in a larger debate on sexual respect, issues of sexism would certainly feature “in the second.”

I don’t know what other proof you need that today’s culture is hostile towards women. The Oscars was watched by 40.3 million people Sunday night. These sexist jokes were supposed to appeal to over forty million people. This kind of mass-scale objectification leads to a really dangerous rape culture. Because if it’s okay to list how many times you’ve “seen their boobs” on screen, basically to view women as a collection of body parts, it becomes okay to ignore a woman’s autonomy and rape her. This is not a second chapter on discussing sexual assault, this must be the first.

I’m tired of talking about the dangers of the socials or being told to watch how much my female friends and I drink. Women aren’t raped because we are drunk. Women aren’t raped because we go to parties that are within ten feet of a rapist’s bedroom. Women are raped because we live in a culture that says it’s our fault when violence is done to our bodies. I’m ready for a second chapter.