My job is to write about popular culture. Fairly regularly, and especially for the past two months or so, as accusations of sexual assault and harassment have ricocheted across Hollywood, that has meant that my job is to write about sexual violence.
Writing incessantly about sexual violence is wearying on multiple levels. Psychologically, it is exhausting to spend day after day filling my head with details about another rape, another man cornering an employee to masturbate aggressively in her general direction, another beloved Hollywood icon issuing a half-hearted apology about how he didn’t know it was inappropriate to shower in front of one’s employees/squeeze a co-worker’s boobs on national television/grope 14-year-olds, etc. After a certain point, you expect that kind of exhaustion; you start to budget time for it.
But what I did not expect was to find that my tools for writing about these stories would be so limited. As I spend more and more time writing about the sexual violence that undergirds American culture, our vocabulary for this kind of violence has begun to seem profoundly impoverished. I’ve started to feel that I am using a language that wants to make it as difficult as possible to describe this particular kind of violence, that wants it to remain unspeakable, in the shadows, unnamed.
It’s not that we don’t have a vocabulary for talking about sexual violence, because we do. But that vocabulary is inadequate. It is confusing and flattening in ways that make it hard to talk about sexual violence without either trivializing it, obfuscating the systems that enable it, or getting so specific as to become salacious or triggering. So whenever I talk about sexual violence, I feel like I’m translating: taking the acts that actually happened and trying to cram them into the language that I have Read More Here