Ah, the Slate family of publications. Here I sit, sifting the Internet’s vast riches, wondering if I will find anything interestingly offensive (as opposed to “boringly offensive,” of which the Internet offers a great deal) today. And you are always there for me. With your many criminally silly headlines! Such as this one, on lady-Slate counterpart DoubleX:
Buh wha HUH? WHOA!
Now: it is a fact that most writers don’t get to choose their own headlines. So we (probably) cannot blame Slate intern Kate Gittelson for this one! It is probably just one of Slate’s endless line of pre-fab “controversial” or “contrarian” traffic lures, along the lines of, “Sticking Quarters Up Your Nose: Not Such A Bad Idea After All,” “The Great White Shark: Actually Less Scary Than Bunnies,” or, most puzzlingly, “Publishing William Saletan’s Creepy Passive-Aggressive Rants About Women’s Reproductive Choices: An Excellent Decision!” And the overall quality of non-Saletan, non-Hitchens writing on Slate is usually really high, and Dana Stevens is there which is super, so, you know. Je vous pardonne, Slate.
Je even pardonne this one article, which, while silly (is it important that William Golding tried to rape someone? Or is it more important that Slate intern Kate Gittelson did not like his book? I’m going to go with Option A) is actually not alone in its silliness, or even the most extremely silly article on the subject. For, if the history of sexual misconduct allegations against prominent writer dudes (see: Derek Walcott, Harold Bloom, etc.) have taught us nothing else, they have taught us this: the important thing, when a famous intellectual or writer dude is accused of sexual misconduct, is never how the girl is doing. It’s never about her. It’s not even about the more interesting point at hand – the pervasiveness of sexual assault, and the ever-present question of what it means (because this is what always kills me) that a man who would commonly be acknowledged as “brilliant” can’t apparently wrap his brilliant brain around the fact that women are people who do not exist solely for the purpose of his sexual or sadistic gratification. Nope! It’s about whether or not this will hurt his reputation.
Of course. In one of the offending articles (which Gittelson links to) someone even pontificates on the merits of including it in the biography, worrying that including it will detract from critical appraisal of his work, as if the occurence of that attempted rape (and other problematic instances of treating women like doo-doo, such as dumping his fiance because she was “frigid,” like, geez, your TOTALLY VIOLENT AND REPREHENSIBLE UNDERSTANDING OF FEMALE SEXUALITY probably did not contribute to that at all, Will!) couldn’t shine any light on the work itself. Second, it theorizes that the attempted rape was actually totes consensual, somehow:
Is Golding’s attempted “rape” quite what we would understand by the term? Could it not, instead, be better described as a botched seduction scene?
Um, no. Actually, it could not. Let us understand here that any “seduction” that results in the lady saying no, and fighting the man off, at which point he continues to force himself on her, saying, at one point, “I’m not going to hurt you” (ha ha, KILL ME) is actually what we would understand as attempted rape: that is, an attempt to force sex on someone in the absence of consent. It is really fucking sad to have to type out that definition, actually! But, whatever! William Golding wrote books, and therefore we should bend over backwards and shove our heads up our own asses to avoid seeing him as a “rapist,” because that is somehow incompatible with evaluating him as an “author.”
Here’s my theory: the fact that Golding not only attempted the rape but wrote about it – using phrases like “[I] felt sure she wanted heavy sex, as this was visibly written on her pert, ripe and desirable mouth,” eroticizing the victim and projecting his desire on to her in an attempt to show that she deserved and secretly wanted it (“depraved by nature,” “beginning to burn” at thirteen, “sexy as an ape” by fourteen, sexually assaulted at fifteen) although her actual response to sex (“should I have all of that rammed up my guts?”) shows that she was not nearly the “depraved,” devouring sexual dynamo Golding apparently wanted to believe she was, or even very enthusiastic about sex – should, in fact, affect our evaluation of him as an author. It shows, for one thing, that he had a piss-poor apprehension of human character – as misogynists almost invariably do, being unable to actually apprehend the presence of an inner life (let alone the specificities of one) in half the human race. There’s a reason his only widely read novel has no women in it, and that’s because he couldn’t write well enough to include them.
And that novel? Aside from being larded with cliches, it just shows that he wasn’t very smart about the subject: which is, according to every class in which I’ve ever been forced to read it, Human Brutality and Human Nature. First, you can’t really write about human brutality unless you involve women as well as men, so male brutality is really the subject about which we should be talking. Second, he didn’t even get that much. Because the whole Lord of the Flies experience is meant to bring us to some Moment that your English teacher is really enthusiastic about, the Moment where you realize that, hey, we are all actually monsters and civilization constrains us! Um, no, actually: depending on who we are, civilization encourages, permits and protects us in committing monstrosities. Evil doesn’t only surface on some abandoned desert island, it is within us and all around us and enculturation does not restrain it, it shapes it, it shows us how to victimize and who to victimize and in many cases (rape being the prime example) even restrains the victims from naming or resisting or seeking retribution for the crimes committed against them. That is why rape happens primarily to women, it’s why men whose sexual assaults are publicized are always treated as the victims, and it’s why even “brilliant” men don’t always get that sexual assault is wrong: culture creates evil, determines the shape evil will take, and instills in all of us the blindness to evil that is necessary to evil’s continued existence. Maybe Golding was trying to get to this, but instead of dealing with it, he put Evil out in some uncharted wilderness, apart from the civilized world. A responsible author wouldn’t have let us distance it that way, wouldn’t have let us infer that evil is the result of innocence or isolation or an insufficient number of fast food restaurants. He would have shown us that it is right here. Or at least, it was right there in William Golding.