When I was six years old, I was sexually assaulted. I learned that day that my body would never be safe as long as men saw my needs as worthless. My existence since has been tailored to protect me. I’ve looked over my shoulder often, and I’ve found men following me home. I’ve avoided and blocked men I know who are twice my age who’ve stalked me online. I’ve held my tongue as men catcall me.
I’ve been warned about rapists - one is even a part of the UW-Madison theatre department. And this year, I’ve written this in response to UW-Madison theatre’s sexist play Rashomon as it ultimately supports this rape culture I’ve run from.
Rashomon has two female characters: “The Wife” and “The Mother”…literally. That being said, the Wife actually has a complex role. Unfortunately, though, the language and events of the play surrounding the Wife are sexist and make fun of rape. The Bandit gleefully describes his planned and executed rape. In response, a character claims women enjoy being had by this rapist. The husband is angry with the Wife for not killing herself after the rape. After unsuccessfully attempting to drown herself, she asks if she “is really that worthless?" Directly afterward, a character mocks these words. This character gives us some other gems, such as how it’s hard to know what is on the minds of women and how women always cry. The play also continuously spouts phrases that objectify women. For instance, the Bandit says rich womens' hands look like toys.
During the play, I was recoiling in my seat reminded of how I’ve been treated. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, “Among undergraduate students, 26.4% of females and 6.8% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation." 1 in 4 women. 1 in 20 men. And even more people of different genders, abilities and ages. And how disappointing that the Wife is depicted as weak, dirty and deserving of death due to her apparent 'contamination'. Victims of sexual assault and rape are much more likely to have PTSD, depression and drug dependencies. Depicting them so darkly only adds to the isolation and pain that assault causes.
The most disappointing part for me is that these statistics aren’t new. Ever since the Me Too movement, awareness of rape culture has risen; the department probably knew that many students had experienced rape/sexual assault. Additionally, the truth is there are rapists among the department; in the playbill, I had the joy of seeing that an alleged rapist and someone who stalked me on social media is listed as a donor to the program.
I’ve been speaking out against sexism and rape culture, and so have many of the other students. But we are still ignored simply because the university wanted to do this show. It makes me wonder, are we really that worthless?
Editor's note: Rashomon was first performed in 1959. The plays are based on Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's two short stories "Rashomon," written in 1915, and "In a Grove," written in 1922.