A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts

San Diego Zoo Doodle Book

Lately I have been thinking about rape.

A tough subject, I know.

However, sometimes when people talk about the elephant on the table it helps the other baby elephants in the room.

Lots of us have been raped. Or almost raped. Or at least threatened with sexual attention we don’t want, directly or indirectly. Most of us are pretty literal when we say something like “could you give me a ride?” or “I only want to kiss” and yet many people we work with or have dated or are married to will try to put their hand somewhere uninvited and say something that seems really weird along the lines of like “I must have read you wrong”.

Remember, I’m talking about husbands and friends, not strangers.

How has this come to pass? I think the answer is easy. I have been reading a lot of church and theatre history lately, which means I’ve been reading about history, period. History is mostly about war and boundaries. Who the “other” is. Why it’s okay to kill the other. Or rape them.

One thing is not like the other

The “other” is someone who doesn’t think the way we do.  In ancient Greece, the attitude was simple. You were Greek or you were a barbarian. That went for men or women. But in Athenian culture, even a woman of the highest class was thought of as a kind of animal. Women were considered “wild” and in order to control them, they had to be caged up in their houses. They never even went out of the house unless there was a funeral.

They were rape captives.

Think about the fact for one brief second that most of what we have been taught is wonderful about Western Civilization: the philosophy, architecture, ideas that we have about the sexes, theatre, literature and art were created by one group of people.

No, I do not mean men.

If you are a man, chances are you were not among these people. Think of it like this. If you were a man then most likely you would have been a slave.

You would have been rape fodder.

Satyr Loving a Maiden, Hearst Castle, CA

The warrior class, the rich, the scholars, the artists who were savvy or financially supported, they were the ones who had leisure to write all the beautiful literature and design the beautiful buildings and paint all the naked ladies and men. It is true, of course, that they were also men. But the statistic likelihood is you would have not been one of the elite. If you can imagine that being castrated and then having a life as some man’s sexual toy is normal then you can start to put yourself in the shoes of most people of the time.

 Everyone had slaves prior to the Medieval Era. Greece eventually was enslaved by Rome along with much of the known world. The Greeks and everyone else who wasn’t a Roman citizen then became the “other”. That included in particular a new sect of people called Christians who were excessively tortured and butchered and raped. Over time, various emperors stopped the butchering, sanctioned it and then stopped it again. When an emperor named Constantine came along, the murder of Christians stopped for the final time. Then guess who became the “other”?

 Anyone the emperors decided wasn’t a Christian.

Jelly Belly Stained Glass

Bear this in mind, until the 10th century Christianity was a peaceful sect. There were no Christian soldiers. It was forbidden by their faith to shed blood. But when Charlemagne came along, he wanted Germany (aka Saxony) for his own, so he rewrote the Eucharist. A little later, Pope Urban II became sick of all the medieval local people who were killing and raping each other and again rewrote Christianity. That meant that for the next two hundred years his soldiers were conscripted to try to force the apocalypse.

 They called it the Crusades.

 Not long after, a man named Christoforo Columbo came along with a similar vision. When he wandered into the Americas he was so sure of his place in heaven that he believed he had been mentioned in the bible. Yet he and his people raped the native women over and over and eviscerated them along with their husbands and children. They cut off their hands and noses and body parts and laughed.  How could this explorer and his men think there was a place waiting for them in the afterlife which would reward them for such behavior?

 Because, the Native people had become the “other”.

Lots of Little Sallys, Knott’s Berry Farm, CA

We all know who the Nazis thought of as the “other”. We know 11 million people were killed in their Holocaust. But here’s an evil fact you probably did not know about the noble events of D Day. When our Russian allies entered Germany at the end of World War II, they raped two million little girls and their grandmothers and mothers. Some of them over and over.

To death. And the U.S. hushed it up. Why?

Because these little girls and women had now become “the other”.

Are you surprised that the Russians were not hauled up on war crimes along with the Nazis? I was. But then I realized that the Russians weren’t the only ones who did this during the war.

 American GIs raped too.

Fire Burn in the Petrified Forest, Calistoga

Rape camps exist in America. Here and now. They are not officially sanctioned by our government but they are allowed and supported by our rebels within every city and state but especially in Los Angeles, New York and…uh, believe it or not, Oklahoma. They aren’t just something that just existed in wartime Bosnia (50,000 women and little girls in three years) or Rwanda (half a million women and little girls in 100 days). It would be nice to think that the environment which has allowed women’s stories about their sexual abuse in the entertainment world would have a trickle down effect and that the little girls and boys and women being held hostage in our country would be rescued. After all, Charlize Theron and Lady Gaga are the elite among women. When I heard them speak out I felt such a flood of relief. Finally, the stories we performers had told each other, told our agents and friends and boyfriends and the entertainment unions and police officers to no avail were now being heard! We were so tired of the dance, so tired of trying to avoid James Toback (I have three stories about him) and Warren Beatty (three) and Kevin Spacey (one) and Harvey Weinstein (two) and Matt Lauer (several) and the agent Lionel Larner (one) as well as Mary Tyler Moore’s New York agent (two) in order to have careers. By now I have read lots of autobiographies by highly successful and respected actresses of the 60s, 70s and 80s. I am convinced in order to have much of a career during those years, you had to be a party girl.

And if you were, I respect you.

Sally, a prostitute survivor in Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday”, Monterey

And we should. We should respect our party girls. Sometimes you can only navigate change in the trenches.  Rape survivors do the same. The dissociate during the act(s), they forgive their rapists or they don’t forgive them, whatever works best. Sometimes they tell their stories. Some of my girlfriends who survived rape or prostitution have told their stories to me. The ones I know that have escaped that life with their sense of self intact have an inner light difficult to explain. They look like movie stars.

Sometimes they are.

However, I must confess that I think the primary reason for this media attention is not because we have become more evolved as a nation. I think it’s because of the bottom line. There used to be more money in hushing up all of this “sex” stuff that movie producers and directors and actors have been doing to us for years. But trafficking is big business. And trying war criminals is expensive. No wonder the women of Bosnia see their rapists in the neighborhood every day and no one does anything. No wonder the Russian solders have not been hauled up on their war crimes. As for our own backyard? Well, some of us love the boy who crossed the line. In America we often protect his life at the expense of the little girl whose life has been destroyed.

Perhaps if there is hope for an egalitarian future, it’s in those men who love women and respect them enough to understand that we ARE “other”, just not “other” in the way which has been determined for us by a history of warmongers.  Those men never asked women what sexuality meant for them. Instead, they took. It is they who defined sexuality long ago as the thing that most men want most: coitus. When we say we don’t want it we are called names. This has given us no chance to fight for what we really want any more than we can fight the idea that “The Hero’s Journey” is the best structure for writing a play.

A contemplative couple at the Sutro Baths, CA

The truth is, the act of coitus has never been the safest or most logical thing to do. Until recently with the advances of birth control and health support for pregnant women (not to mention raising the age of consent), one could argue that it is something that hasn’t made any sense to do except on rare occasions and only if a woman is willing to risk her life. Now it’s safer and things are a little different and yet they are still the same: If you want to know what women want, just ask. We will tell you. The answer is usually something like, “We just want a fellow, warm and snuggly, not presuming.” We’re pretty simple. I think that’s what men want too…no presumption. We are more alike than different. In fact, our primary source of pleasure is almost exactly the same.  We have very similar anatomy to men in that regard. It just gets ignored.

In any case, all avenues of pleasure are fine for lovers who respect each other but “no” means” no”, whether you are single, married, a co-worker or a soldier.

Wait to be invited.

Sources: See Bibliography.

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