In the giant traffic contest that is the blogosphere, it’s tempting to want to make your headlines as sensationalistic as possible. Everybody does it, self included. At times, headlines may even be intentionally misleading, like when you angrily clicked on Ashley‘s Things Women Do That Cause Divorce post, only to find it was actually a hilarious parody of those kinds of listicles. This can be a great comedic device! But one area where I think we can all agree that it’s bad to be misleading is when the misdirection is not in service of a funny joke, but a blatant distortion of a story about something serious. Something serious that women are often accused of lying about, even.
Such is the case with XOJane’s recent headline “IT HAPPENED TO ME: I WAS RAPED AT DISNEY WORLD AND NOBODY CARED.” This story is not, as you might think, about someone who literally got raped at Disney World, but after hours at a Disney co-worker’s apartment. The real story is that when she tried to report the rape to her superiors at “the happiest place on earth,” they handled it in a cartoonishly awful way that re-victimized her very badly, blaming her for her own rape and failing to investigate her case or discipline her accused rapist in any way. For all we know, that guy is still selling ice cream to kids in a Mickey Mouse costume and attending after work parties full of unwitting potential victims. Not good!
I don’t take issue with anything else about this story. In fact, I’m glad the author was brave enough to write it and also that XOJane published it, because stories like this are important. The way the author was treated by Disney is a shockingly awful case of rape culture that you can hold up as one more example to anyone who refuses to believe that such a culture exists in America. But the headline irks me, because it implies that XOJane’s editors did not think the facts of this story were outrage-inducing and attention-grabbing enough on their own. As Jessica Coen at Jezebel writes, “It’s not enough to just be someone’s rape story. No, to get peoples’ attention it has to be a CRAZY rape story. It’s gotta be a real freak-show rape! Not your average rape!”
The story becomes ironic when you see that Jezebel’s original headline for this item, “xoJane Lied and Said She Was Raped at Disney World,” had a similar problem, in that it implied the author was lying about being raped, not just being raped at Disney World. It has since been changed. Even when discussing this phenomenon, it’s hard not to fall into it. (I realize The Gloss is not immune from criticism either, although we really try to be careful about these matters.)
It also just seems like a bad idea to introduce a lie into a story about rape, a subject about which women are already accused of lying. And indeed, rape victims sometimes squander their chances at getting justice because they believe, perhaps correctly, that they have to lie about certain details of their assaults in order to make their stories fit some pre-conceived “proper rape narrative” that will result in sympathy instead of victim blaming. Let’s hope everyone can learn from XOJane’s mistake and remember that despite being depressingly common, rape is always an outrage, no matter where or how it happens.
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