Quick Hit: Lidia Yuknavitch on the pervasiveness of male violence

*Trigger warning*

Lidia Yuknavitch, whose wonderful new book I just finished reading (review forthcoming), has a must-read piece at The Rumpus on how women “travel through male violence like it’s part of what living a life means.” It begins:

In a bar, with friends, listening to a man I’ve admired for years saying this: “Enough with the sob stories, ladies. We get it. If I hear one more story about some fucked up sad violent shit that happened to you, I’m going to walk. You win! You win the sad shit happened to me award! On behalf of my gender, I decree: We suck!” Laughter. The clinking of glasses. Again the secret crack in my heart. Stop telling.

The first time I saw my father’s specific sadistic brutality manifest in physical terms, I was four. My sister was flopped across his lap, barebottom. He hit her thirteen times with his leather belt. I counted. That’s all I was old enough to do. It took a very long time. She was twelve and had the beginning of boobs. I was in the bedroom down the hall, peeking out from a faithlessly thin line through my barely open bedroom door. The first two great thwacks left red welts across her ass. I couldn’t keep watching, but I couldn’t move or breathe, either. I closed my eyes. I drew on the wall by my door with an oversized purple crayon — large aimless circles and scribbles. Not the sound of the belt—but her soundlessness is what shattered me. Still.

The rest is about molestation and domestic violence and rape and abortion and just generally how “we are forced to watch how our culture still doesn’t get what it means to live every moment of a life in the body of a woman.” You should really read the rest.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted August 23, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    This piece is above all an autobiography, a hard hitting one at that. It’s not great at making specific points, though it doesn’t completely fail. It doesn’t explain male violence, but only because Yuknavitch is telling it from her perspective, and obviously can’t read minds. It does however show her reaction to it. The weird mix of her knowing that these acts were objectively wrong, but also accepting it and blaming herself.

    When she described the guy reaching up her shirt, and later the beautiful man I had a hard time deciding if they were supposed to be assaults or not, did she want it, did she consent? But it seems the point is that she didn’t know either. Rape culture makes it impossible to draw a line between consensual sex and non-consensual rape, causing almost every sexual encounter to bring mixed feelings. She seeks out the beautiful blonde man, not once, but twice, because apparently this is how sex is supposed to happen, IF you’re immersed in rape culture. (Yuknavitch doesn’t say “Rape culture” anywhere, but my reading of this matches my understanding of rape culture)

    I apologize in advance for derailing, however I believe it is important to note that female violence does exist. Though masculinity does encourage men to be more violent. “A child called It” is considered a classic. Domestic violence against men is less common, but not massively so. Nantional Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010 report, 32.9% vs. 28.2% for physical violence. There are also anecdotes of women raping men. A statistic from the NISVS 2010 report suggests that 1 in 21 have been made to penetrate someone else. Though it didn’t ask who they were being forced the penetrate, man or woman, the rapist them-self or a second victim. I plan to write a post in the community section about that.

    • Posted August 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      I think it is abundantly clear that both situations you mention were assaults. In the airplane, the fact that she did not say “no” does not mean that she consented. Also, she was a 12 year old. So there’s that. In the other situation, she had “passed out drunk.” It pains me to think I need to remind any commenter here that someone who is passed out cannot, by definition, consent to anything.

      “Rape culture makes it impossible to draw a line between consensual sex and non-consensual rape, causing almost every sexual encounter to bring mixed feelings.”

      No, it doesn’t. It may make it difficult to recognize that you’ve been assaulted. It may make it harder to realize that you did not, in fact, “deserve these violences.” It may mean it takes awhile to stopping feeling like this is “just the way things are” and so you should take it. These are the complexities that Yuknavitch so eloquently describes in the piece. But the line between consent and non-consent is not complicated–it’s bright and clear.

      Apologizing for derailing before you do so does not make it any less rude. This is a personal story about male violence. It is not actually “important to note” that female violence also exists, since no one said it doesn’t. It is just not the subject of this piece.

      • Posted August 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Violence exists, and both men and women have to live with male and female, violence. The author makes it clear that men are also victims of male violence, and are also subjected to silencing efforts; it is only brought up indirectly because it is autobiographical, and the author does not have experience as a man.

    • Posted August 24, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I agree with Maya. And really, apologizing for derailing doesn’t make it okay. Its just another way of intruding and bringing in watabouttehmenz into a dialogue about women’s experiences.

  2. Posted August 27, 2012 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Isn’t male violence the cornerstone of civilization?

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