Rape-Revenge: This Victim Survivor’s Favourite Genre.
Still from the original I Spit On Your Grave, 1978, written and directed by Mier Zarchi.
Onamatopeiacally, revenge is a nasty word. With its initial ‘gRRRR,’ vicious ‘V’ and final Joust, revenge is phonetically not a very nice thing to do. However, in the reality of rape culture, the sound of the word and the justification for the act are not in sync.
And neither are the reasons for why not to wreak revenge when one is revenging rape.
“Don’t do it,” is proclaimed on on-line self-help lists to dissuade the vengeful.
“Why?” This victim and survivor retorts.
“Let it go.”
“How can I and why should I when I was brutalized and my life was changed forever and he will undoubtedly do what he did to me to others?”
“It’s not healthy.”
“Oh, and being sexually assaulted was?”
“Don’t be as bad as him.”
“Not to worry. I don’t go around raping people.”
“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“My revenge isn’t wrong.”
“It might make you feel worse.”
“You’re wasting precious time.”
“There is no better way to spend my time than fight to end the reality that one woman every 17 minutes is raped in Canada, one woman every 2 minutes in the US, and one woman every 18 seconds in Mexico—and it’s been estimated that a good 50% go unreported.
“You could get caught in an endless revenge loop.”
“That is much preferable to a constant rape loop.”
“Really? Not very expedient to rely on new-agey karma crap.”
“He’ll get what’s coming to him.”
“Not very likely when he hasn’t been getting what’s coming to him since the beginning of private property and the corresponding onset of patriarchy and women, with their ability to procreate, became the first slaves/private property and rape became an act of discipline.”
However, happily, because of rape-revenge, both in real life and in film, he’s starting to get what should have been coming to him from the get-go. In popular culture, rape-revenge is now out in the open, it’s hit the mainstream and, not only is it justified, it’s being celebrated. This celebrant survivor would like to think it's a start.
In 2019, Chanel Miller, who was sexually assaulted while unconscious, published Know My Name. In her book, Miller focuses primarily on what happened during her trial. The tedium. Her demonization by the press. The waiting for hours in what she calls “the victim closet” before finally being called to the stand; the waiting for years for the trial to even begin; the trial stopping and then starting again when she had thought it was done—her life being on hold for four years. She tells the story of how victim-blaming closed in on her life. She tells the story of the further trauma inflicted upon her when Brock Turner, the man who had assaulted her and was in the process of all-out raping her if he hadn’t been stopped, is portrayed as more of a victim than she is—the hardship he suffered when losing the impunity of a privileged white male in white-supremacist patriarchy is deemed more important than her losing her ability to ever again be able to live, in her words, ‘unguarded.’ For Miller, it is the fact that she can’t remember the sexual assault, that her body was violated when she wasn’t able to fight back that torments and haunts her most.
But, there is a happy ending to Miller’s story. Like mine, as a victim/survivor who reaped rape-revenge, as happy an ending as a terrible tale can have. In the end, in Know My Name, the victim does win. This is because outside the courtroom, the public, our culture, listens to her. At last. We believe her. In the thousands of emails and letters Miller received after her victim statement goes viral—with the landmark opening line of “you don’t know me, but you’ve been inside of me”—people believe her because they empathize with her. Many have been victims too and, instead of being shamed and blamed even to the point of blaming ourselves, we’re not only talking about it now: we’re raging about it.
Carey Mulligan stars as 'Cassandra' in director Emerald Fennell’s PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features.
Emerald Fennell’s 2020 rape-revenge film Promising Young Woman also tells the story of a woman who was sexually assaulted while unconscious. And, as is horrifyingly common in a sick culture where trauma is considered fair game for exploitation, the assault was filmed and then shared with classmates; the violation of a woman’s body is laughed at, even by other women.
In patriarchy, rape is an act of discipline regardless of race or class. In Mikki Kendall’s words: “rape has been used to repress, to undermine, and to control.” However, in terms of the race of the rapists, Kendall also reports how: “statistically speaking, white men are most likely of all groups of men to commit sexual assault.” Maintaining power turns the privileged on. Like Toni Morrison says: “If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a very serious problem. And white people have a very serious problem.” In the twenty-first century, systemic sexism and racism are now out in the open; our culture is starting to acknowledge this truth. Hierarchy, with white privileged men on top, is starting to topple. Slowly.
Carey Mulligan stars as 'Cassandra' in director Emerald Fennell’s PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN,
a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features.
I’m not going to spoil Promising Young Woman for you in case you haven’t seen it yet (and I highly recommend you do). But let’s just say that the film narrates how common it is that men, and even men of colour, will sexually assault inebriated women. Instead of pointing the finger at women and how it’s their responsibility to change their behaviour to put an end to the epidemic of sexual assault, the film portrays the rapists as buffoons, lethal, heartless, but buffoons nonetheless. Fennell shows how rape isn’t a cultural problem caused by women over-drinking (as is claimed by male rights defenders and mainstream feminists who are not feminists if they participate in victim-blame). Rape is caused by raping. Sure, it’s a good idea not to drink oneself to the point of unconsciousness—which young men do as well—but why is it the young woman’s responsibility to not be raped? What about the rapists? Are they not involved? Does rape have nothing to do with the crime the young man—who (poor pathetic darling) apparently is so testosterone-tortured that he can’t help himself—is committing?
Carey Mulligan (left) stars as "Cassandra" and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (right) stars as "Neil“ in director Emerald Fennell’s PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features.
At the beginning of Promising Young Woman, the main character Cassie, played by Carrie Mulligan, is striding home from another all-nighter of rape-revenge. She’s devouring a hot dog; the ketchup is running suggestively down her forearm. I was happy. Yes, I admit it. I thought: “Oh, this is going to be a happy movie! Like the landmark 1978 cult rape-revenge film, I Spit on Your Grave, absolute rape-revenge is going to be wielded!” As a victim, my mind just goes there: violence against rapists. Violence against the kind of men who imposed their violence into my body and my psyche. Don’t worry. I wouldn’t murder anyone. In cold blood anyway. But I would certainly fight if a man tried to rape me again. Who knows what might happen when you’re fighting for your life. Let’s face it: there is no guarantee that you’re going to be raped by a rapist who is not going to literally kill you.
In Promising Young Woman, no blood is shed—by the rapist anyway. I was a bit disappointed by this, but I got over it because revenge is had in the end. Unlike the ending of Thelma and Louise in 1991—what can be described as soft-core rape-revenge—where the only way the two heroines escape further sexual exploitation and guaranteed victim blame is to literally drive off a cliff, a legacy is left by Cassie’s resistance. Like in Know My Name, the rapist’s life is destroyed. As Miller’s white privileged rapist says: “I just existed in a reality where nothing can ever go wrong or nobody could think of what I was doing as wrong.” Both Brock Turner of Miller’s life and Al Monroe in Fennell’s movie aren’t allowed to have their culturally entitled fairy tale patriarchal futures. The smug impunity of those who have lounged about impervious at the top of the hierarchy is being chipped away.
The real-life Miller and the fictional Cassie are examples of progress. Ironic progress, a tad paradoxical, where progress is based on triumphing over sexual assault. But progress nonetheless. In rape culture, a term that is now part of the vernacular, role models are women who have not let their culture get away with the violation of their bodies. Miller and Cassie are women who have learned (unfortunately the hard way) how to stand up to a culture of male—and especially well-off white male entitlement. Cassie and Miller are warriors out in the open because the war is being acknowledged. Victims are finally being listened to; they are at long last being believed. As one of the would-be rapists laments in Promising Young Woman: “Why do you guys have to ruin everything?” Because, fun as it is, it would be great if there were no need for rape-revenge anymore.
This essay is an adaptation of an excerpt from Karen Moe's Victim: A Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor. Vigilance Press, 2022.
 Onomatopoeia is the literary term that means words sound like what they mean.  See http://www.assaultcare.ca; Valenti, Jessica “Why we need to keep talking about ‘rape culture.’ The Washington Post. March 28, 2014 http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-we-need-to-kee p-talking-about-rape-culture/2014/03/28/58acfec4-b5bf-11e3-8cb6284052554d74_story.html; http://www.mujeresenred.net/spip. php?article13  Read Victim: A Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor to find out how.  Kendall, Mikki. Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot. New York: Penguin Books, 2020: 59; 57.  Male rights activist ant-feminist Jordan Peterson speaks about the ambiguity of consent and says that women may accuse a man of rape when they have ostensibly consented to a one-night-stand and, as Peterson says, ‘regretted it the next morning.’ This is possible and would be a malicious action on the part of the woman but serves to delegitimize the literal accusations and experiences of rape. Peterson talks about 50% of rape and murder crimes being committed under the influence of alcohol and calls for a new prohibition, especially on college campuses (which is unrealistic because young people would find a way to access alcohol as happened with the speakeasies and bootlegging during the prohibition of the ‘roaring’ 20s). I would ask: what about the remaining 50%? And, add that alcohol or no alcohol, men need to learn empathy and how to control themselves. Period. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=O8jgdR5k_9Q; Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia on Sexual Assault Allegations October 6, 2017. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= mPQ0xsjBzeI)  See Koa Beck’s White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to the Influencers and Who They Leave Behind where she describes the phenomenon of ‘white’ feminists who often aren’t literally white (as in Caucasion) and, because they aspire to have what men have in patriarchy and participate in victim blaming, are not feminists at all. Feminism is about eradicating patriarchal hierarchy. Aspiring to reach its summits through the nevessity of power abuse is, obviously, not feminism.  Miller, Chanel Know My Name. New York: Penguin Random House, 2019; 2020: 282.
About the Writer:
Karen Moe is a writer, art critic, visual and performance artist and a feminist activist. She has a degree in English Literature and Feminist Theory. Her work focuses on systemic violence in patriarchy: be it gender, race, the environment or speciesism. Karen has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico. Karen’s critical writing has been published in magazines and anthologies in Canada, the US, Mexico and Cuba. Tomorrow, Karen is the recipient of the “Ellie Liston Hero of the Year Award 2022” from the District Attorney of Ventura for being instrumental in the life sentence that was given to the serial rapist who abducted and brutalized her and countless other women. She lives in British Columbia, Canada and in Mexico City. Victim: A Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor is her debut book.
Cover Design by Bobbi Sue Smith.