Rape culture has been on my mind disturbingly often this semester. It started by doing The Vagina Monologues, a show which opened my mind in so many ways, not least to how culture and society undermine women every day. Since the show, I have been involved (literally and through writing, rallying, etc) in the conversation around rape culture on campus as instigated by various high-profile allegations of sexual assault. The plays we’ve read in this class, as well as readings for a women’s studies literature class I’m taking, have also often touched on this subject. So it’s something from which I haven’t been able to get away.
And then last night I saw Hookman, and I was caught off guard by how much of the play is about rape. I knew it dealt with themes of “female sexuality,” but it went way beyond that. When Lexi, in the first scene, says, “I think I was [coughs something that sounds like ‘raped’] last week,” I was immediately on edge. This is a play about rape, this is a play about rape…I’m going to hate this. But I didn’t.
In the end it’s not a play about rape; it’s a play about how horrific events haunt us and make us unable to function for a time, and ultimately about dealing with what happened and being strong enough to move on.
I thought the play handled rape well, considering it could have gone horribly wrong. The idea that every man Lexi encounters turns out to be her attacker (Hookman) shows how survivors of sexual assault have a hard time trusting people afterwards, and how their experience colors everything else in their world. The play was also clearly coming from a point of social satire, which made the humor acceptable. One of the main tenants of rape culture is trivializing sexual assault by joking about it, but that is not what was happening here. Still, even recognizing and accepting this, I didn’t laugh often during this performance. It’s just not something I am personally ready to laugh about, and I wonder if I ever will. People in the audience around me thought the scene where Yoonji is drunk in the snow with Hookman was hilarious, for example. And it was funny, because you have Mariah Carey playing while this girl almost throws up on a guy and then he slashes her face off. It’s so absurd that it’s funny. I get that. Except the situation of a severely intoxicated girl alone at night with a guy is not absurd, it happens, and it’s not absurd for the girl to get hurt. And that’s not something at which I can laugh.
Ultimately, the scariest thing about Hookman wasn’t the blood or the violence or the urban legend, it was the fact that real rapists don’t have a distinguishing feature like a hook for a hand. They could be anybody. It’s not the hook that’s scary, it’s the man. But Lexi, very much an “every-woman” character, having the strength to fight, overcome and let go of her attacker shows that she is a survivor, not a victim, which is an important, empowering message.