Friday, 7 October 2011

Unwatchable? Or Voyeurism Run Amok?

I heard about the storm the film 'Unwatchable' has caused when my therapist mentioned it to me. Suffice it to say I have no wish to watch the re-enactment of a woman being gang raped and hideous violence meted out to her family to put across a point about abuses which occur through the mobile 'phones industry in the Congo.

This is in no way because I think this stuff shouldn't be given publicity, and be denounced and taken action against. I believe passionately that wherever there is violence and injustice that the truth must be told and brought to people's attention, no matter how unpalatable. Here in the West we too often sit all too comfortably on our complacent arses and think that as long as life is good for me, then I'm not too bothered about anyone else. We live in a 'me' culture. Even when things that bring us pleasure cause other people pain (pornography being the main example I have drawn upon here in my blogs) we prefer a good old ostrich approach. We need to be made uncomfortable! Only if I am uncomfortable will I move from my armchair and take action.

But to draw attention to rape and torture doesn't necessitate a re-enactment. It just seems to me to be part of the same old same old pattern: people get desensitised to pain and violence, so rather than finding more creative means of expressing the destructivity of rape and violence we simply show it in ever more graphic ways. And so the shock factor barrier gets pushed further and further and the images on our screens become more and more sordid.

The truth is that rape is sordid. It is damaging, it is scarring, it is the fundamental loss of something irretrievable: yourself. As a survivor of rape, and of gang rape, I felt lost even to myself, disconnected, other than my body, betrayed by it. Unable to stop what was happening to it, I removed myself mentally, I split off. My body remained but I didn't: I was there but not there, present but not present. The rapes and the violence remain a part of me, even now: they were my reality, that was my life as a pimped woman, addicted to drink and drugs. And there's no moving on fast from that. Everybody likes a happy ending, boy how we love them! She got away from him, got clean and sober and now lives a happy life. The end! We can move onto something else conscience clear.

Not likely. Not in my experience, anyway. Healing from trauma takes time and help, and healing from severe trauma takes a lot of time and help.

What has been produced is a quick, sensationalist video of graphic sexual violence (likely to trigger survivors of rape), another piece in the ever growing pile of more sexually graphic material that's already coming out of our ears. This has triggered off a flash shock-horror-this-is-what-gang-rape-looks-like kind of response which seems likely to fizzle out soon (we'll see if the hype it's created moves beyond talking about the actual video into actual longterm action and pressure groups). Isn't that the pattern with shocking images? Shocked, then less shocked, then just forgotten as something more shocking comes along. I've watched a video and been outraged and talked about it, maybe even signed a petition so now I can wash my hands and forget... Wouldn't it have been more effective perhaps to draw attention to the psychological damage of rape? Wouldn't a broader conversation rather than a visual shock tactic have had more of a lasting impact, getting people thinking, triggering whole areas of helpful frank discussion and action rather than a routine response?

Why are we still obsessed with watching a woman being raped rather than talking to a rape victim and hearing her voice? Why is the emphasis still on a naked helpless woman's body rather than the whole woman?

Wouldn't it be a refreshing change for us not to be the voyeur?

In a society saturated with hardcore pornography in which women are routinely subject to violence, where lapdancing clubs where women are objectified and bought every day are thought of as harmless fun, where stripping and pornography are seen as empowering for women, in truth nothing is unwatchable. A more helpful and unusual approach given our society's obsession with objectifying women's bodies would have been to actually hear the woman's voice, not linger on her with the camera, frozen in time, as she is raped. If people are uneasy about this film (and they should be: I'm arguing here that there was a better way of raising awareness of this issue, not that this issue shouldn't be raised), maybe we need to ask them not so much why they are distressed by the realities of what's happening in the Congo as why they aren't distressed by the realities of what's happening here and now in our own country.

1 on 4 women will experience domestic violence.

Every week, 2 women in the UK are killed by their partner or former partner.

The incidence of rape still makes it a threat for every woman.

The conviction rate for rape remains at 13%.

Polls continue to show that most people, male and female, believe that the rape victim has some degree of responsibility for being raped.

Our culture is a rape culture, that is, one in which women remain unequal, where pornographic material of an ever more hardcore nature is becoming more and more mainstream, and where this is deemed as a good thing, not at odds with promoting sexual equality. The makers of 'unwatchable' aren't the only ones who realise that more shocking tactics than ever are required to pull in an audience. Pornographers are entering more and more extreme territory to pull in johns to buy it. We are desensitised. The price pornographers are willing to pay is the damage done to a woman's body as she undergoes more and more brutal acts for the punter's kicks. Strikes me, if the people who made the video were really bothered about women, they shouldn't be taking a leaf from the pornographer's books and focussing on more extreme graphically depicted sexual violence. Being a voyeur is not enough. Instead, it would be more helpful if people stood alongside survivors of rape and heard our voices.

I can't speak for every rape victim, but for me? I'm tired of people standing by watching, be it shocked or unshocked, as women are raped and beaten. We need access to help, and beyond that, we need a voice, we need understanding, we need to live in a society where we are not blamed for being raped because of what we wore / said / how we acted, where people stop simply seeing us frozen in time as the woman being raped and see the whole us: our history, how we came to be here, our hopes and dreams. In short, we need change, which can only mean one thing. Action!

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't heard of this film, but can't really say I'm surprised (yeah, I'm a cynic). There are plenty of movies that aren't meant to "raise awareness" that are essentially two hours of non-stop violence. When the original Frankenstein came out, in the 1920's, I believe, people were shocked at one seen where a little boy just disappears by some water. And now?! If those folks were transported to the 21st century, their eyes would bug out, just as in horror movies.

    While I have heard good things about "Whistleblower," I've also heard it's incredibly violent. I'm hesitant to watch or recommend the movie for that reason. If someone's not going to be against trafficking/prostitution before seeing a re-enactment of a woman being brutally violated, do you really think their heart and mind will be changed afterwards? And if it is, are they really worth having on our side.