#WhyINeedFeminism – Staci Stutsman (5 September 2014)
Recently, the anti-feminist movement has gained increased visibility thanks to the popularity of the tumblr #WomenAgainstFeminism. Women have submitted photographs of themselves holding up signs that list all of the reasons that they don’t need feminism. These reasons range from “because no one should be shamed for being a stay at home mom” to “I don’t like to degrade men” to being tired of being “represented by hysterical hipster whores.” The two reasons that I saw most often repeated were that “I am not a victim” and “not all men rape.” It would take a much longer post to fully theorize and explain the reasons why I disagree so heavily with many of these posts, and I don’t want to “fem-splain” why I think they’re wrong about the goals and aims of feminism. But I do want to take the time to outline one of the reasons why I do need feminism in my life, and why it’s important to my life and to my teaching.
As I was keeping up with reports on this tumblr trend a couple of weeks ago (and loving the cat parody rebuttal), I started watching the first season of HBO’s True Blood. I know I’m about six years behind on this, and I know that much has been said about the intersection of vampire narratives and rape discourse, but one scene in particular struck me as particularly horrifying and relevant to this debate. In the episode “The Fourth Man in the Fire,” Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) visits the graveyard to visit her vampire boyfriend Bill Compton’s (Stephen Moyer) human grave. She thinks he was caught in a house fire the night before and has “officially” died. While she exits the gravesite, a hand thrusts from the ground, grabs her leg, and attempts to pull the screaming Sookie into the ground. A low voice says her name, “Sookie.” The viewer and Sookie realize that her attacker is Bill, and that he is not attacking her but is instead rising from the grave. Sookie’s fear of attack and death transforms into relief and, incidentally, lust. Sookie embraces Bill’s dirty, naked, and newly resurrected body as he raises her hemline and roughly enters her. This scene feels uncomfortably akin to a rape sequence. At the moment that I think this, Bill bears his fangs and moves to bite Sookie to suck her blood. A breathless Sookie says “No, not the neck.” After a beat, Bill does it anyway and Sookie throws her head back in raptured lust and pain. The scene is no longer ambiguous; it is definitely plugging into rape discourse and the close-ups on Sookie’s orgasming face assures viewers that, even though she explicitly said no, Sookie wants it.
I need feminism because images like this have become so prevalent and so naturalized in media and popular culture. I need feminism because I need the tools to understand the discourse that this is tapping into. I need feminism because I need a way to teach my students how to recognize these codes and think critically about the images being handed to them on a daily basis. To deny victimhood is to deny the daily traumas forced upon both women and men. It’s not as simple as declaring yourself “not a victim.” Yes, not all men rape and yes, some rapists are women. Among many other things, feminism is interested in helping rape victims find a voice, regardless of the gender of the attacker or the victim. I need feminism because it helps me process and respond critically to a scene like the one from True Blood, a scene that is just one among many in the sea of popular culture.
Images from hbogo.com
Staci Stutsman is a fourth year PhD student and teaching associate in the English department. She will be taking her qualifying exam on film and television melodrama this fall. She teaches introductory level film and popular culture courses and spends her free time binge watching TV, board gaming, and working out.