“If Only?” I Think Not.

by Cara on February 9, 2009

in marketing, media, paternalism, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

Trigger Warning

Like Lauredhel, I think that the Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) almost certainly meant well by this PSA.  I don’t know how else they could have meant.  But somehow, that doesn’t really matter to me while I’m watching it, at all.

(For those unable to view video, Lauredhel has a transcript.)

The commenters at Hoyden About Town express numerous problems with this PSA: a lack of real educational value, its triggering and unserious nature, references to rape as “sex,” and the treatment of women as sexual property to be handed from one man to the next (as if it would be okay if there wasn’t abuse involved).  Lauredhel herself criticizes the idea, presented in the PSA, that this would be an ideal outcome of abuse.  I agree wholeheartedly with all of these criticisms.  I think they’re spot on.

But I’ll tell you what bothers me most about this PSA. What bothers me most isn’t even the portrayal of the abuser, which I think is atrocious.  What bothers me is the portrayal of the victim.

This PSA portrays the woman in question as though she liked the abuse.

Far from being upset about the abuse, she’s not even embarrassed by her father’s decision to bring up the supposed “sex” (read: RAPE).  She thinks it’s funny.  And by responding to her father’s comment to her new husband that he’ll give him some “tips” for the bedroom with a giggle and playful slap to the arm, it’s suggested that providing those tips wouldn’t really be such a bad idea.  And how could supplying “sex” tips to her new husband not be a bad idea, unless she liked the abuse?

This is horrendous.  Portraying a victim as enjoying abuse — of course not discounting the fact that many children (as well as adults) feel a physical sexual response during abuse, but recognizing that it’s not the same as “enjoyment” and instead a side effect that usually brings its own trauma with it — is never okay.  Ever.  It’s just not.  Even if it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.  Or “ironic.”  Or whatever.

And back to Lauredhel’s comments, the fact that they’re suggesting this as something we should aim for?  Portraying as ideal a world where your childhood abuser is unproblematically invited to your wedding with joy, where all is forgiven and new relationships with the abuser easily forged, where childhood rape really is just “sex” and the abused child (whether male or female) likes it, so it’s all okay?

I am not amused.

[That being said, I am not a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, at least not in the context seemingly defined here (pre-adolescence and at the hands of a family member), and am therefore very interested in the thoughts of others, especially those who have survived such violence.]

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{ 14 comments }

1 thordora February 9, 2009 at 12:55 pm

It’s…not conveying what it likely means to, but as someone molested as a child, I do get the message-that there is no getting over or getting used to what happened-the commercial using irony and all that good stuff…

But it doesn’t work. To someone who hasn’t been through it, I don’t think this will make an impact unless confusion is the end goal.

2 Amapola February 9, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I don’t have any extra reasons to add to the list for why this ad is so fucked up (though portraying it as the ‘ideal reconciliation’ and the portrayal of the victim are top of the list). As an incest survivor though, it’s infuriating, and makes me wonder if there were actually any survivors involved in making this clip.

Because even if a few thought this was a good way to portray such an uncomfortable issue so that it wasn’t too heavy or triggering by being more realistically descriptive… you’d think there’d at least be enough overall awareness that it would be upsetting to some other survivors, since everyone responds to triggers so differently.

But yeah. It’s infuriating. And totally plays into a lot of families’ dynamics where everyone wishes it would just go away so they don’t have to deal with the fact that someone in the family did something so horrific. Though I think my family would be mortified by the actual speech given in the video, my mother was both sad and surprised that I’m not inviting my abuser to my wedding and actually asked me why I wouldn’t invite him. (This is more than a year after I’d told her he’d sexually abused me).

I think my parents desperately wish we could “go back” & be a big happy family as though none of it ever happened, which has caused no end of guilt and fear for me– oh god, am I destroying the family? What if they get mad at me? This will be so devastating for Mom, how will she cope with this? I just shouldn’t tell any of them so they aren’t burdened with the knowledge. What if they don’t believe me? (that one actually happened, though they skirt around the subject).

As if I didn’t have enough to process just around the actual abuse without managing my family’s reactions.

In portraying that wedding scenario as the ideal, it kind of just promotes the idea that survivors need to ‘just get over it,’ even though they say “it’s not that easy, blah blah” in the blurb afterward. It reminds me of when a (very well meaning) friend who– after I confided in him that I was dealing with repressed trauma and severe PTSD– read some blurb about PTSD on the internet and then told me the people who recover got better because they just decided to let it go and not let it affect them anymore. He meant well, but I nearly punched him.

3 Anonymous February 9, 2009 at 1:15 pm

I may not have posted here under my regular name, but I do post infrequently at Feministe, and I prefer to remain anonymous for this.

I fall into that category of abuse (pre-adolescent and at the hands of my father) and I couldn’t watch the video. I read the transcript at Lauredhel’s.

My father’s pastor actually was aiming for a world such as this (or a similar one in which nobody used the word “sex”). He testified as a character witness for my father. He exerted incredible pressure on me and my sister to forgive him. The result was that I feel unsafe around men of a certain age, and doubly so if they are “good Christians.”

I never had any idea what sort of world to aim for until I saw Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding. In the commentary she said that she wanted any abuse victims who watched her film to feel protected. That’s the world to aim for: Where those who have strength and power use it to protect those who don’t, or who don’t have it yet.

Thanks for everything you do. I truly appreciate it, even though I limit myself to lurking so much of the time.

4 O February 9, 2009 at 3:37 pm

I couldn’t watch the ad.

Warning to others: some of what I have to say may be unpleasant for survivors to read. I don’t like the word ‘triggering’ but that’s what this comment is.

I’ve linked some of my own story above, but I was never physically sexually assaulted by my family. I suppose it could be called ‘emotional’ incest, but i’ve never liked that term. There was a lot of physical abuse and I think more should be done to recognise the uneasy crossover between physical and sexual violence, particularly when the abuser is a male adult and the victim a female child. No one talks about this, but it’s there. If you can feel that your father gets hard when he hits you–if he lies on top of you strangling you and calls you a whore and you can feel that he enjoys it–isn’t this all a form of sexualized abuse? I suspect that this happens much, much more than we want to admit, given this culture’s linkage between sex and violence.

The transcript made me sick and made me angry. I don’t even know how to describe that ad– ‘tonedeaf’ doesn’t begin to approach it. Like Amapola above, I had sad reactions from other family when I wouldn’t invite my abuser to my wedding. A better ad could have been about a wedding but would have focused on all those bullshit reactions and rationalizations that survivors have experienced, telling us to get over and forgive and deny our experience.

This advert, by ignoring that reality of women’s lives, does far more harm than good in my opinion.

5 AshKW February 9, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Goodness, as if the victims of molestation don’t have enough pressure on them to “forgive” and “stop making people feel guilty.” Then comes along this garbage.

@Anon, thanks for sharing. All of you, thanks for sharing. I’ve never been where you’re at, but I empathize.

6 little light February 9, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Yeah.

Not. Funny.

Who greenlighted this? Who, that was involved enough with the cause to want a PSA broadcast in the first place, thought this was a good idea? The little oh-you playful slap, and the–and–this is the ideal–and–I’m just incensed. I just can’t wrap my mind around who let this thing air and thought it would be helpful.

I mean, clearly the target audience is people without the direct experience of incest and sexual abuse–it has to be. So, then, why is that the target audience? And why does it have to be a joke? Jesus.

7 Lena February 9, 2009 at 6:14 pm

I just forced myself to watch the video. All I can say is, I just want to be sick. I wish I hadn’t watched it now…

Everything I could say has been said. This is revolting.

8 karak February 9, 2009 at 6:48 pm

This made me sick–which was the intention. The shock and outrage we feel– and the pressure we’ve felt from our own selves and families to forget what happened and make it “not such a big deal” is here. What, am I supposed to laugh, now? It happened years ago, and I just pretend it is all okay?

The goal of the commercial was to induce rage and physical illness. And it did. And maybe it will get some people thinking about what they expect when they think an abuser should be invited to a wedding.

9 harrietsdaughter February 9, 2009 at 7:05 pm

I’m glad there was a transcript. I will not watch the video. I’m a survivor and I get that they wanted to send a message. However, the collateral damage that such an ad is sure to incur…. I don’t think it’s worth it.

I agree with the language used above – revolting. The memories that it brings up of how we all should just act as if everything is normal and lovely… sickening.

Cara – thanks for your work and for asking the question.

10 OuyangDan February 10, 2009 at 3:56 am

Wow…just wow.

I am not a rape and incest survivor, and I had to switch to the transcript b/c it was too much. It was hard enough to be physically abused and have people try to convince me that it either didn’t happen or that I needed to get over it, or that it wasn’t as bad as I thought…but if I were a childhood rape survivor at the hands of a family member, this would probably enrage me all the more.

The language is so wrong…sex =/= rape, not in any universe.

11 anon February 10, 2009 at 6:11 am

rape and incest survivor freaking outomfg

12 Anna February 10, 2009 at 5:02 pm

molested by step-grandfather as a kid, watched video, went and threw up. literally. fuck you, PSA.
worst thing I’ve seen all year, and I sat through an ‘apparently funny’ oral rape scene at an ostensibly gay friend’s house the other week. didn’t think it could get worse than that, but cheers PSA, you proved me comprehensively wrong.
like so many others in this thread when I finally came out and told the world what he’d done it completely split apart my family. my stepfather’s mother stuck by him (due more to the size of his wallet than any misplaced sense of affection), his sister/my step-aunt kept taking her prepubescent daughter to their house and leaving her with them despite repeated warnings from the police and social worker until HER partner left her and so now she basically lives with them. stepfather doesnt speak to his mum or sister, his step-parents don’t speak to his other step-parents, there’s animosity and hatred on all sides and I’ve been told in no uncertain terms by several family members had I just kept my stupid mouth shut they’d all be sweetness and light.
why did I rant at such length about something I’ve spent maybe twelve years supressing and attempting to move on from? more than I’ve done for years? that fucking advert. christ almighty I feel bad.

13 Cara February 10, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Anna, I’m really sorry to hear that it triggered you so badly.

If it would help to talk to someone, you should consider either RAINN’s phone or online hotline.

14 Anna February 10, 2009 at 8:26 pm

It’s honestly okay, it’s what I’d been asking for ever since the psych discharged me this morning for being so positive about it all really!
I’m okay now. Helping make posters for Reclaim the Night tomorrow.. all my bitterness goes into feminism :)

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