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Random Thoughts

Rape and Guilt: The Lesbian Rapist and the Punishment of the Christian God

 

12.03.17

 

Earlier this month, I was reading about Jodie Foster and her recent political engagement. I spent some time researching her earlier career and found out about her Oscar wins. As I was browsing the information on the internet, I noticed that her co-star in the film in which she had won an Oscar (The Accused, 1988) had been raped. Kelly McGillis was her co-star and she had originally been cast to play the role that Jodie Foster had won the Oscar for. She had refused the role because of the rape incident and the memories that it would bring up, as the film dealt with a rape case. I spent some time finding out the details of the rape incident. What struck me the most was the guilt that Kelly McGillis felt over the incident. Why does the victim in the case of a rape feel so guilty?

In this little piece, I want to suggest that the female victim feels guilt because she cannot move into a position which goes against the men who hold the position of power in our society. The woman cannot directly counter the position of power. I argue that the masculine position of power swallows up the perspective of the female rape victim. I will illustrate my argument with reference to what I have read about the rape case of Kelly McGillis and her reaction to being a rape victim. The piece of writing will be a power analysis of gendered perspectives around the identity of a minority group (lesbians). The rape case does not only involve the female identity, but also the identity of the lesbian.

When Kelly McGillis was raped, issues of identity were foremost. It was the sexual identity in being a lesbian which determined both the nature of the rape and the consequent guilt of the victim. Kelly McGillis is a lesbian and “had been with a lesbian lover in a New York apartment when the two women were subjected to the horrifying sexual assault by two men, who broke in and raped them at knifepoint” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1316999/How-rape-Top-Gun-star-Kelly-McGillis-walk-away-Hollywood.html#ixzz4b86go6T1 ). The details of the rape are typically horrific:

 

Two teenagers forced their way into her apartment on the city’s exclusive Central Park West, tied the two women up and threatened to beat them to death, before raping them as they hurled abusive insults. One of her attackers was 15-year-old Leroy Johnson, a teenage thug on the run from juvenile detention (Ibid.)

 

The rape victim’s guilt was tied up with her identity as a lesbian: “she hid her sexuality after becoming convinced she was being ‘punished by God’ for being gay” (Ibid.) and she believed that the “harrowing rape ordeal […] was her penitence for her sexuality” (Ibid.). Kelly McGillis could not blame the rapist, but blamed herself. The attribution of wrongdoing was placed upon her own unresolved sexual identity.

The question is, why was the attribution of guilt directed towards the self and not the rapist? One simple answer is that people blame the women and not the men. They take the rapist’s side. For example, earlier this week, a female judge warned other women that drunk women are putting themselves at greater risk of rape (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39241470 ). The obvious implication of her warnings is that women are getting themselves raped. It is the fault of the women, rather than the men. Clearly, authority figures tell women that they are to blame. They support the system of power that favours men over women. To some extent, Kelly McGillis has internalised this system in which the men can never do any wrong and guilt has to be apportioned to women.

However, the attribution of guilt seems to have a more complicated basis in notions of the self and agency too. The role of a victim is seen in our culture as too passive. When women are blamed for rapes, they are associated with agency and action rather than passivity. Thus, you will hear people saying that they dressed too provocatively and “were asking for it”. Kelly McGillis could not conceive of herself as a passive victim. She had to give herself agency and self by making her sexuality and her identity as something active. She had to construct her sexuality and identity as an active transgression. And the transgression was conceived of as the ultimate in the Christian religion. It was a transgression against the Christian God, the ultimate source of justice and truth. Kelly McGillis gave herself absolute agency and self. She conceived of herself as at war with the Christian God. Passivity is seen as far too female. Women cannot bear to identify themselves with a passivity conceived of as female. They have to turn to masculine and active constructions of the self.

This imaginary war with the Christian God in the guilt of the rape victim seems to be telling. The rape victim takes on the role of the great criminal rather than the rapist. The rapist is in fact conceived of as the instrument of God’s will, the instrument of truth and justice. This disavowal of facts supports the system of power in our society, a society that is clearly patriarchal and favours men over women. The rapist is, of course, male. He is, according to the Bible, formed in God’s image as his mirror double. When Kelly McGillis sees him as the embodiment of a seeming universal and abstract justice and truth, she sees in him the Christian God. He is God’s representative. Rape victims are not just told that they are at fault, they have also been indoctrinated to believe that males who are rapists cannot commit crimes because they are formed in the image of the Christian God. They represent truth, power and justice. The rape victim cannot attack these coupled terms of masculinity, patriarchy, truth, power and justice when she moves into a masculine and active position. Her female perspective is completely destroyed when she attaches subjectivity, self and agency to herself. She can only conceive of herself in a male fashion due to the patriarchal nature of our society and its obliteration of female subjectivity and the role of passive victim. The problem is clearly exacerbated when the identity of the victim is the identity of a minority in our society, the lesbian. The minority voice is swallowed up in the general voice in a system which favours men over women and the heterosexual majority over the homosexual minority.

Of course, all of my speculations are hypothetical. I have not spoken directly with Kelly McGillis. I have not been able to research this issue thoroughly enough. I have based my ideas in terms of power relations in our society in order to attempt an understanding of the issues. The hypotheses which I have formulated are suggestive of how greater power eats up individuals and their voices, especially when they come from minority groups and less socially powerful groups such as women in our society. The reader is free, as usual, to draw their own inferences from my writing.

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