by Valerie Miner
Cut, no. 26, December 1981, pp. 48-50
Her throat is exposed her toes are pointed. She is asking for it. She is enjoying it. A little pain never hurt anybody. There is a line through the middle of the picture. There is a knife in her belly. She is a doll, a pear tree, a piece of meat. She is a ridiculously proportioned, naked witch. She is tits; she is ass. She has pubic hair (sometimes). She is roped and raped. She is goggled and gagged. She is asking for it. She is enjoying it. She is mouth and vagina. Orifices that must be fed, perhaps stuffed. She has wide eyes, which do not see. She is dressed in red, the same shade as her blood. She is a nude mannequin in a downtown department store window, chained to a nude mannequin in the next window which is thrust upside-down into a washing-machine-for-sale. She is asking for it. She is enjoying it. She is bitch-mother-whore-virgin-prostitute-Playgirl-of-the-Month. She is the willing victim. She is Black and Blue from the Rolling Stones and she loves it. She is exposing her crotch to the bared teeth of a vicious dog. "She is young … but not too young to be a 'slave of pleasure.'" She is everything you could want in a kinky, funky fantasy. She is asking for it. She is enjoying it.
We rarely consider the daily dose of pornography we get in our red-blooded mass media. Recently many radicals have become uneasy with the proliferation of hardcore porn, but most of us remain unconscious of the amount of pornography in the popular media. The record-album covers feature battering or rape. The misogynist lyrics of Top 40 punk rock. The chic Vogue layouts, laced with exotic sadomasochism. The tasteless tidbits in feature films. The popular men's magazines that boast progressive politics as they surround their muckraking articles with photos of nude women in full-color gloss. Of course, we tell ourselves, we're not forced to look at the stuff. We can close our eyes, turn the page, walk out of the theatre. Once we start protesting pornography, we fear, we're threatening the First Amendment, which is precious to a radical forum. So we hesitate. We want to distinguish pornography from the healthy pleasure of erotic art and the necessary explicitness of sex education. After all, we don't want to be Victorian, alarmist, or rhetorical.
It's a tricky Issue for the American mass media with its liberal pretensions. The game of "objectivity" demands two sides of the story. On one side, feminists claim that pornography is not only sexist, but brutal. Their broadening campaign links pornography with wife-beating, rape, incest, and child abuse. On the other side, beleaguered defenders of the First Amendment say that banning pornography would further erode the shaky ground of free speech. Reporters are already panicking about weak shield laws and heavy libel suits.
After spending months looking at pornography, reading academic-political-government papers on the subject, and arguing endlessly with friends, I cannot discuss the subject with even a pretense of dispassion.
I am still overwhelmed by questions: Why is our culture so tolerant of pornography? How much of that has to do with confused civil libertarian premises? Why do we scrutinize X-rated films for our children when violent sexism like Hustler magazine is available on corner newsstands? Why has the Left waffled so much on pornography?
Perhaps the biggest quandary is a good definition of pornography. We can turn to dictionaries and court transcripts, but no definition is all-inclusive and every definition can be misread or misused. Right-wing activists have labeled birth-control information as pornographic. A portion of the left says there is no such thing as pornography. Some of us give up and say, "We know it when we see it." For the purposes of this article, and this is my own definition, Pornography is the representation of sexual images, often including ridicule and violence, which degrades human beings for the purpose of entertaining or selling products. An important corollary is that Pornography is more about the exercise of power than about the expression of sex. This article will focus on the abuse of women's images although pornography ultimately exploits all people.
THE PORNOGRAPHY INDUSTRY
Like everything else in the American mass media, pornography has its price. It is already a $4 billion industry in the United States, according to the California Department of Justice. In San Francisco last year, pornography profits reached $20 million. Los Angeles Police estimate that sales of pornographic movies have increased from $15 million in 1969 to $85 million in 1976. In New York, the porn shops in Times Square often gross $10,000 a day. Across the country, child pornography is available in 260 different periodicals. Six of the 10 bestselling newsstand monthlies are "men's entertainment magazines." Hugh Hefner, personally, has created a $150 million sexploitation empire, which ranges from his "groundbreaking" Playboy magazine to movies, books, records, a syndicated TV show and dozens of Playboy Clubs all over the world.
The distinction between hardcore and softcore pornography is at best a temporary one. The Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography observed that
The soft-core porn of the mass media tends to numb public awareness and create a tolerance and/or appetite for more brutal forms of pornography.
ACTING OUT THE FANTASIES
Pornography has increased in the mass media too quickly for many people to ask why. One clue to its popularity is the shock value. In this sensory-overloaded culture, we have developed a self-protective media numbness. Porn sells commodities and ideas. It gets our attention and keeps the product in our minds. Whether they're selling Noxzema on TV ("Take it off; take it all off …") or deodorant in a magazine ("You'll love Tickle with its big, wide ball"), this shock can be very profitable.
Also, as Canadian writer Myrna Kostash has pointed out, pornography takes the responsibility — or mutuality — from sex. It commercializes individual pleasure. It reinforces our right to be separate, regardless of how that impinges on our need to connect. Pornography trains us as voyeurs to be satisfied in our alienation. It's hard to talk about "decadence" without sounding like Anita Bryant or Jim Jones. But I think that our society has tipped the balance between autonomous pleasure and a kind of self-destructive decadence. It has become much easier to consume pornography than to experience sex.
The increase of porn in mass media is also part of the backlash against feminism — a1ong with the assault on abortion rights, the trashing of feminist presses, the packaging of the "Total Woman." Laura Lederer, coordinator of Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media (WAVPM), explained.
The women's movement, following the civil rights campaign, proved a devastating blow to the status quo. Also, feminism has surfaced at a time of declining economic and political stature. In the last decade, American men have lost job security, self-esteem, and have been confronted with massive guilt. They feel angry, threatened, impotent. Women are accessible targets. In the old days there used to be one in every kitchen.
We might be tempted to dismiss pornography as pathetic petulance, as we ignore the impudent schoolboy drawing resentful caricatures of his teacher. However, pornography is both a form of assault itself, and an indirect permission to, larger violence.
The escalation of hardcore pornography and softcore mass media parallels a rise in physical abuse of women. The FBI reports that every 30 seconds a woman is raped in this country, and every 18 seconds a woman is battered. Police observe that rape is increasingly accompanied by whippings, beatings, or mutilation.
Countries that have liberalized their policies about pornography have documented large increases in the reports of rape and attempted rape. In Copenhagen during the first six years that pornography was freely available, the cases of proven rape rose from 150 to 218. In southern Australia, hardcore pornography was legalized in 1970. The rate or reported rapes has multiplied five times by 1976. Meanwhile, C.E. Walker in his 1970 study, "Erotic Stimuli and the Aggressive Sexual Offender," found that a significant minority (39%) of the sex offenders indicated that "pornography had something to do with their committing the sex offense they were convicted of." The Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography published his study.
Despite such evidence, the Commission dismissed any connections between pornography and violent crime. The 17 men and two women decided that none of the testimony was conclusive enough to warrant further regulation of the industry. In fact, its final report of 1970 called for the legalization of all soft- and hardcore pornography. The Commission's opinion was influential in shaping the landmark Supreme Court decision in Miller v. California on June 21, 1973, which virtually gagged local anti-pornography laws. Since then, there has been a large decrease in the arrest and conviction of pornographers throughout the country.
The predominantly male bias of the Commission report is evident in its casual description of lesbianism as "obscene" and in its acceptance of stag films as "a familiar and firmly established part of the American scene." The Commission's conclusions are shaky on several points. First, the findings are severely outdated because of the escalation of pornography in the last nine years. Also. the studies used tested for aggressive behavior in very limited ways. Sadism, pederasty, and bestiality were excluded from the materials sampled despite their currency on the market.
It's hard to prove the connection between one pornographic photograph or one violent TV program and a growing climate of brutality. Usually, our attitudes and actions are stimulated by an accumulation of media images. One startling exception was NBC's 1974 drama, BORN INNOCENT, which showed a teenager being raped with a plumber's plunger. After the program was aired, three girls and a boy, aged nine to 15, raped a nine-year-old girl with a beer bottle in San Francisco. The eldest of the three girls admitted in a deposition that the rape scene in the television program had turned her on. Attorneys for the victim claim that she suffered physical and emotional damage. They sued NBC for negligence. The case, which has been through several rounds in the last five years, is now in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
According to Beth Goldberg, an active member of WAVPM and WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women),
Goldberg points to more than 50 studies involving 10,000 children which have demonstrated a consistent relationship between the amount of TV violence a child digests and the child's aggressiveness.
Another study conducted by the Commission was published by Michael J. Goldstein and four others in 1971. 55% of the rapists they interviewed indicated that they had used their victims to experiment with sex activities seen in pornography. Meanwhile, 77% of those who molested small girls got their impetus from pornography. Dr. Natalie Shainness, a psychoanalyst practicing in New York City, has observed that as rape becomes more common in the media, rapists stop seeing themselves as abnormal.
The Presidential Commission ignored not only the stimulus to violence from the audience, but the actual brutality against models in the industry. Rumors of "Snuff" films, showing the actual assault and murder of women for the screen, are neither the beginning nor the end of this exploitation. Models and actors who survive filming report broken bones from contorted poses and frequent beatings from photographers and moviemakers. One woman who worked as a model for three years told WAVPM that she was raped after one assignment. When she reported the rape to her agency, she was told the photographer was a "lady's man" and that they could not harass him over such a "little thing."
RACISM AND SEXISM
The parallels between racist propaganda and pornography abound. Both racism and sexism thrive on the use of physical brutality and ridicule. The approach is often vengeance or humiliation. The object is to maintain or regain power. Racist propaganda has been considerably threatened since the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Beauharnais v. Illinois, which saw the defendant indicted for distributing pamphlets which portrayed blacks as a sexually craven influence on American cities. He was convicted of inciting violence by promoting literature negative to a minority.
Like racism, sexism flourishes in sarcastic asides, snide jokes, and caricatures. Humor is one of those covert corners of bigotry in the liberal consciousness. Some of the earliest cartoons — drawn in the late 1400s — were explicitly anti-Semitic. We have continued to endure stereotypes about avaricious Jews, sly Asians, and oversexed blacks — the last, long after the alleged demise of Jim Crow.
Racism is explicit in current pornography. Third World women and children are popular models here and in Europe. One reason is that they are particularly easy to exploit, often being economically desperate and naive about the pornographer's intentions.
Both "pretty porn" and hardcore films like BLACK AND CHAINED and SLAVE GIRL trade on the special sexual mystique of the non-white woman. Sabrina Sojourner, a black publicist, told me,
Pornography also serves racial self-hatred. The Ohio Players, a Black group, manage to tangle their anti-woman images with their racism. One of their album covers, "Pleasure," reveals a Black woman, with a shaved head (a sign of humiliation) being hanged by a chain. Their "Climax" album shows a Black woman making love on the front cover while on the flip side she is stabbing her man in the back.
Given all these intersections between racism and sexism, we shouldn't be surprised at the outrageous, often gratuitous, racism in the mass-circulation men's magazines. Hustler's October 1978 issue illustrates an article on the Kennedy-King assassinations with a grotesque layout of a black man (completely covered in black leather mask and clothes) raping a blond woman who is painted white. Their symbolic message about the violation of pure white justice by black power is not very subliminal.
POLITICS AND PORNOGRAPHY
The power expressed in pornography is revealed in the political tension over the issue. Both the Right and the Left have righteously deplored pornography, while people of all political shades have manipulated it.
The traditional Right Wing objection comes from an opposition to sexual freedom — whether it is the right to choose an abortion or the prerogative of unmarried people to cohabit. The Right's opposition to pornography is not so much a protection of women as it is a defense of the family as a basic unit of capitalism. Fundamentalist belief assigns a woman's body to God, her husband and herself in that order.
The rationales for linking feminist protest with right-wing money and power are tempting. After all, pornography could be the issue that feminizes conservative women, much as the peace movement politicized many Catholics. Both the Catholic Church, with its Legion of Decency, and the Mormons, through Brigham Young University Press, have manifested a consistent, considered opposition to pornography. However, the differences in final goals are too vast for a successful coalition. The feminist criticism of pornography is the exploitation of women's images. And the Right sees fit to include literature about abortion and contraception in their definition of pornography.
A socialist criticism might begin with the description of pornography as a sexist, racist, profiteering commodity. Pornography objectifies people, thereby exploiting the models, the purchasers and the society at large. Although porn pre-dates capitalism, mass porn is one of the great capitalist success stories. Marxists recognize that under late capitalism, pornography proliferates as a marketable object: The market expresses the "need." The need is met temporarily, only to stimulate and create larger needs. These needs create the values. Under capitalism, the only source of legitimate needs and values is the marketplace.
Ironically, the Left has often celebrated pornography as revolutionary. Pornography is associated with revolt and accepted as an aesthetic by radical men. This is very evident in the mass media of Eurocommunism. Italy's new wave of liberated television runs amateur striptease, blue movies and features like NUDE ON PARALLEL BARS. In both Spain and Portugal, the new regimes are reported and analyzed in macho Left periodicals rife with sexist illustrations. To a certain extent, this kind of sexual preoccupation is rationalized as a break with the censored patriarchal past. But it would take a real stretch of the imagination to applaud such Commie porn as a vindication of the banning of the Three Marias.
Here in the United States, pornography flourishes around the heavy-duty investigative journalism that some radicals define as "political work." These journalists claim that the only places brave enough (and rich enough) to print their potentially libelous muckraking are magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, which have a combined readership of twenty-nine million. Also, some journalists explain, Playboy and Penthouse give them access to a working class audience.
This last argument ignores the whole audience of working class women who don't usually read the skin magazines and who are often most victimized by them. Besides, we know from reading the advertisements, letters to the editor and other articles, that these popular magazines actually reach a large base of middle class men.
There's also the question of context. How credible is a corporate exposé placed between the left and right thigh? Finally, despite all our conceit about the value of journalism, how much of the audience bothers to turn from the pornographic pictures to the articles?
Clearly, freelance journalists are facing a crisis of survival. With one magazine folding after another, many muckrakers want to do assignments for a publication that's going to stay afloat long enough to print them. The pay rate of the skin magazines, between $1,500 and $4,000 per article, is not, perhaps, incidental to the other arguments for publishing in them. The issue presents radical men and women with an agonizing examination of conscious. Some magazines, Mother Jones among them, receive crucial funding from the Playboy Foundation. It is not an easy issue.
Several years ago, before I had done any thinking on the subject, I submitted a short story to Playboy. Their rejection letter is one of the few I remember with gratitude. By now I'm convinced that men's entertainment magazines use progressive journalism as a front for their real business. Come the time for indictment against pornography, the radical journalist will be right there on the witness stand, drawling on about free speech. Although the crusading cowboy may think he's ripping off the system (by criticizing corporations in the capitalist media and getting paid several thousand bucks for it), it's pretty clear that he's the one who is being ripped off. His politics and his byline are being used to legitimize pornography.
Mass media porn is also a legacy of the sixties "sexual liberation," The Counter-Culture flaunted denim, drugs, socialism and fornication against the Establishment. According to Todd Gitlin, former President of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and now a professor of sociology at U.C. Berkeley,
"Fuck" became a rallying cry. "Fuck Johnson!" "Fuck the War!" (Remember, "Girls say yes to boys who say no.") One of the most popular figures of sexy revolution was the irreverent Realist magazine. The editor, Paul Krassner, later went on to become editor of Hustler. On the Berkeley campus the Free Speech Movement of 1964 was preceded by the "struggle" to sell the scatological Spider Magazine. The right to peddle pornography was inexplicably and inextricably linked with the right to speak out against capitalism, racism and imperialism. Sexist was not yet part of the political vocabulary.
In the 70s, the confusion of pornography with liberation has been exacerbated by the human potential movement and its validation of personal expression as liberation. The crucial difference between sexist power and sexual expression is often overlooked. Throughout the 60s and the 70s, the New Left's attitude toward pornography, lacking in personal sensitivity and theoretical base, reveals the extent to which sexism is still excluded from serious socialist analysis.
Todd Gitlin told me,
Gitlin suggested that we re-read a familiar passage from Marx, substituting "pornography" for "religion."
MASS MEDIA IMAGES
The most familiar examples of mass media porn are in advertising — the focus on women's asses, the acrobatic spread of the model's legs, the mountainous regions of cleavage, all of which have no relation to the product. This type of "pretty porn" makes clever use of camera angle, lighting, color, and props. The subliminal messages start with the fragmentation of female bodies. Male rumps, for instance, are usually seen in relation to their full bodies, but women's asses are often the whole focus of an add for jeans or stockings. Sometimes the sexism or brutality is not so subtle. Max Factor's publicity for a moisturizer somehow turned into the threatening slogan, "A Pretty Face Isn't Safe in This City." In response to many letters of complaint from women, the company eventually eliminated the ad.
Pornography also seeps out into our programming and our editorial content. The obsession with flesh on CHARLIE'S ANGELS is a hackneyed complaint by now. As parental protest forces violence off the screen, there is a noted increase in sex on television, according to Caren Deming, assistant professor of broadcasting arts at San Francisco State University. She told me,
Clearly, the most explicit TV pornography comes on videotapes. In the San Francisco Bay area, the hottest-selling videocassettes are not cowboys or talk shows, but X-rated sex. Producer David Friedman bragged about the state of the videotape business to Forbes magazine last year:
The motion picture industry has survived numerous regulatory techniques. The movie mogul is forever shouting "art" while the cleric is denouncing "obscenity." If we could interrupt these two gentlemen, we might move beyond the flap about suggestive romances to the violent sexism on the screen. The loopholes in the rating system are cavernous. LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, for instance, received an "R" rather than an "X" because the nude scenes focused on fragments of the woman's body. The Presidential Commission noted:
"The increased sexual content of movies not only has been dramatic but also has occurred in a very short period of time. The rapidity of change is exemplified by the treatment of the female body on the screen. In 1967, flashes of female genital exposure appeared in BLOW-UP, a general-release movie. Today, partial female nudity (breasts and buttocks) is very common, and full female nudity is becoming quite common in general-release pictures produced by major studios."
The distinction between general films and hardcore films is getting blurrier. Penthouse has recently invested $15 million in a pornographic version of Gore Vidal's CALIGULA, starring John Gielgud and Malcolm McDowell. The reason for the movement to porn is financial. The Adult Film Association claims that in 1977 its 100 feature-length pornography films grossed $3.5 million weekly — which matches one-tenth of the receipts from all other movies playing in the entire country.
So what are the lines between erotic art that is sexually oppressive and pornography? Audre Lorde, a black feminist poet, said in her essay, "The Uses of the Erotic:"
The distinctions between pornography and erotica are uncomfortable, messy, and subjective. They waver around the issues of mutuality, power and coercion. Some absolutists declare that in eliminating pornography we will censor erotic art. But, as I said at the beginning of this piece, any definition of oppression is necessarily an exposure of moral conscience. The difficulty of making distinctions does not absolve us of our ability and responsibility to make them, especially when the lives of individual women and the sexual fabric of the culture are at stake. The real danger to erotic art is not the feminist protest of misogyny but the increase of pornography.
Last November, 3000 women and men marched through San Francisco's sleazy Broadway to "Take Back the Night." The next month, a similar protest against pornography and dangerous street conditions took place in Times Square. Meanwhile, across the country, women are experimenting with a series of consumer tactics — petitions, letter writing, re-zoning laws, picketing, boycotts, vandalism against porn shops, and class action suits. Taking the lead from other feminist campaigns, woman are asking embarrassing questions of their male friends, making charges at public officials and generally fighting pornography as a political issue.
In Los Angeles, Women Against Violence Against Women was formed to protest brutal images on record album covers, such as the gang rape featured by Black Oak Arkansas. Another target was the Rolling Stones' Black and Blue billboard. Now a national group, WAVAW has organized a boycott of records from Warner, Electra and Atlantic. Although the boycott has by no means bankrupt the record firms, it has been successful in drawing national press coverage to record album pornography. In New York, the feminist protest ranges from legislative lobbying to vigilante window-breaking. In Cologne, Germany, a woman named Red Zora (after Zorro) has proclaimed herself "an avenger of the oppressed." She has raided sex shops of $50,000 in goods, and the porn merchants have posted a $1500 reward for her arrest. The protests are increasing among individuals and such groups as the National Organization for Women (NOW), Women for the Abolition of Pornography, Men Against Sexist Violence, and Women Against Pornography, a Manhattan-based group that grew out of WAVPM. The slogan of the anti-pornography movement is summed up on those little orange stickers that we are suddenly noticing everywhere: "Pornography Is a Crime Against Women."
SOLUTIONS: CENSORSHIP, ETHICS, EDUCATION
It is too easy to make the mistake of assuming allies by identifying mutual enemies. Liberals often think they're fighting repression by defending pornographers. In a great First Amendment flurry last year, 89 publishers, editors, and writers, including Woody Allen and Gore Vidal, took a large ad in the New York Times which compared Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler, with the Soviet dissidents. At such times, one is reminded that the American tradition of free speech is almost as long as the tradition of violent genocide.
Censorship is an issue that divides even those who have worked side-by-side against pornography. The dangers of banning are frightening. Most journalists are born of an arrogance that turns to belligerence when any kind of restriction is introduced. Liberal consumers of the media who deplore pornography would die for its right to be printed, confusing in their tender consciences Stephen Daedalus with Chester the Molester. Likewise, many feminists are afraid that censorship laws could be turned right around against them.
Aside from censorship, the solutions to the explosion of pornography in the mass media include consumer remedies, vandalism, media self-regulation, and public education. The most effective solution would involve a combination of these.
Susan Brownmiller favors the banning of all pornography portraying rape, torture, murder, and bondage for sexual stimulation. She told me she isn't worried about the First Amendment because,
She points to the already-accepted limitations on free speech regarding libel, slander, perjury, contempt of court, copyright violation, disrespect to commanding officers, plagiarism, yelling "fire" in a public auditorium and misleading advertising. Brownmiller prefers legal sanctions that can be shaped by public opinion to laws created in the courtroom on the personal persuasion, taste, or morality of an individual judge.
However, other feminists are more wary of the boundaries of legal protection. Camille Le Grand, an attorney active in the anti-rape and anti-battering movements, told me,
Le Grand claimed that there are enough laws on the books to restrict violent pornography, like regulations against obscenity and the sale of pornography to minors. She said that these laws can be better enforced.
Perhaps the biggest danger with the censorship debate is the way it draws a curtain on further discussion of pornography, Censorship would not control the waves of misogynist images in the mass media or the growth of a profitable black market. Before and after any censorship laws must come consumer activism and self-regulation within the media itself.
Within the mass media, editors are answering some challenges about their professional scruples. During the last couple of years, display ads for sex films have been removed from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, San Diego Union, Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram and the Seattle Times. These cuts were made despite the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars, one million a year in the case of the L.A. Times. In Sweden, feminists organized a protest against Dagens Nyheter, the largest daily paper in Stockholm. Women journalists successfully supported them in pressuring editors to eliminate pictures advertising sex shops and theatres. In Britain, the powerful National Union of Journalists has passed a code advising about the portrayal of women as subjects, workers, and images. Each of these measures has been limited in its scope and enforcement. The solutions are more tedious than censorship and — precisely because of their slow-hammering effect — more powerful than legislation.
The decline of pornography begins with public education. Consumer tactics and professional ethics only budge the stubborn lever of public consciousness. Just as we eventually encountered slavery and the Holocaust in the classroom, the brutality against women will surface there some day. The issue is already addressed at a few courses in journalism, women's studies, and sociology. However, much of the research is financially restricted or burdened with sexist prejudice. Schools and universities still require teachers and researchers to separate advocacy and academia. This separation has kept the discussion outside most classrooms so far. Of course, the real classroom in this country is the living room and the most effective teachers are the network television programs or the daily newspapers. The ultimate irony is that if Americans are going to be educated about the dangerous escalation of pornography in the mass media, they will have to be educated by thoughtful, honest coverage within the mass media.
What may be one man's fantasy is every woman's nightmare. I'm finding it a terrible strain to write about pornography in a reasoned voice. I imagine that Zimbabweans would feel the same tension discussing Rhodes' theories of colonization, or that Jews would have the same problem with Nazi propaganda, so I would like to part from this rational exegesis to tell you a story about this story. This is what happened to me after a day of researching pornography, on one particular night:
I cannot sleep. Even after I have checked in all the closets and under the bed, locked the windows and each door twice, switched on the hallway light, placed the telephone by my bad, I cannot sleep. I do not feel safe. I check the can of Mace and my sound-alarm and my flashlight, but I cannot sleep. I try drinking — which is expensive and unhealthy, but it keeps my mind off Stinky, who has committed sixty (?) rapes. I fall asleep — or rather, I grow numb.
At 3 a.m. I awake to nausea and a headache and a slight sound of shuffling from the kitchen. I lie paralyzed for a moment. The sound is louder (closer?) this time. I move to the side of the bed and switch on the light, hoping to frighten the sound. I can still make it out the front door. That's why, when I sleep alone, I wear a good flannel nightie. I will be dressed to run outside in the cold dark. Maybe all the way to the 7-11 Store where the speedy-dosey clerk, who is used to coping with nocturnal complaints, can phone the police for me. I can still make it to the door. I hear the sound again. Now I am angry. I get belligerent. I'll be dammed if I'm driven out of my home as well as my sleep.
"George," I say, coaxingly, with just an edge of fear. "George," I say, pretending there is a large, strong George sleeping next to me in the bed. A "George" to frighten the rapist. But it doesn't work. There is the sound again. I am humiliated. I have had to enlist an imaginary defender and still the rapist has no caution. I am damned if he is going to win. I slip over the side of the bed and pick up the mace as I approach the front door. Quickly, I button the nightie. People have appeared at the 7-11 in worse. There's the sound again. Please, god, if I believe in you this once, will you let me out, let me go?
I am awake now. When I next hear the sound, it is not so frightening. This scene — which I have rehearsed so often in my half-awake states — is a farce after all. Now that I have broken through my hard-won sleep, I recognize the sound too well, as the sighing of my ancient water heater. I am alone again, vulnerable and sleepless.
I don't sleep because I an afraid. Afraid of being raped or beaten or mutilated or killed with a Penthouse stiletto or a Hustler meat-grinder. I am a single woman, living alone. This is my penance. Otherwise, I should be able to sleep. I am happy. I jog three miles in the mornings. I work hard all day. I am in love. I am, by most accounts, a fairly capable person. I have traveled around Africa alone, given lectures to large groups of people, driven my bicycle through daily rush hour traffic. But on nights like this, when I sleep alone, I do not sleep well.
No sense in wasting the night. I get dressed and head over to the 7-11 anyway. I'll buy some wine and some typewriter paper as alternate solutions. The street is dark and poorly lit, but I can see the bright fluorescence of the 7-11 Store from a block away. It seems a strange synthetic haven in the inhospitable night. The clerk looks more ready for sleep than I do. Ignoring him and the only other customer, I collect my sedatives. Then, as I approach the checkout counter, I see what I have been afraid to see.
The customer is leafing through a copy of a magazine. I don't notice the name. But I do notice the photograph of a woman — struggling against a chain around her breasts and through her mouth.