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4/2/2019 "Not Rape Epidemic": The Modeling Industry Is Anything But Immune

"Not Rape Epidemic": The Modeling


Industry Is Anything But Immune
TatianaTheAnonymousModel
12/30/08 2:00pm

The modeling industry sets up


camp at the crossroads of youth &
beauty and age & wealth — and
moreover, it's an arena where
those qualities cleave to the most
predictable gender and power
divide.

Latoya Peterson's excellent essay,


"The Not Rape Epidemic," a
version of which was published in
the brand new anthology Yes
Means Yes, and was blogged about
last week by Megan, isn't exactly a
gentle holiday season comedown.
But I was struck, reading the piece
— which is both moving and important — by a strange feeling of
recognition. Peterson defines a new term, "not rape" — the kind of sex
and sexual attention young women get from men which is, if not outright
unconsenting, some measure of coerced. Not rape is every kind of
uncomfortable experience you're made to feel complicit in: for choosing to
go to the party, for wanting the kisses but not knowing how to say 'No' to
what came next, for ending up alone with someone you thought you could
trust — or, in Peterson's case, for opening the screen door a few inches to
a friend-of-a-friend one summer afternoon while her parents were out.
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Not Every Sexual Assault Starts With A Man And A Gun


Latoya Peterson has a harrowing account of her first (and one hopes only)
first-hand experience…

Read more

The essay made me think of all the times I've not been raped. And all the
other women in my industry who've not been raped.

Most models start working in their early teens. The youngest girl I've ever
lived with in a model's apartment, a girl who went to the same grown-up
job castings our agency gave me, was 12 years old. (We were working a
fashion week in a secondary market, and her show list was easily twice as
long as mine and our 16-year-old roommate's. The clients just loved the
5'11" middle schooler; she gave her age as 14.) My first real modeling job
was a photo shoot for a major European magazine — and when I got to the
studio that day, I was greeted by the sight of a 17-year-old Russian,
posing topless, smoking a Marlboro. She told me in broken English that
she'd been working full-time for three years. I think I'd gone a week in
Paris before I met an Arkansan, also 17, who'd dumped her boyfriend of
several years to sleep with with a man old enough to be her father who
happened to be the director of her (major, well-regarded) agency.

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I can't count the number of girls I meet in this industry who speak in
regretful tones of that short-lived "relationship" they had with that older
photographer or client; I can't count the number of men I meet who
radiate the unmistakable sense that they have literally been sleeping with
17-year-olds since they were that age themselves. Agency directors in the
mold of Gérald Marie. Financial backers. Clients. Or any of the industry
hangers-on, the restaurateurs and the importer/exporters and the gossip
columnists who end up at the parties we go to (because, you soon learn,
going to parties is sort of part of the job).

And the fashion industry, which is an industry I love and whose vital
importance as both an economic engine and a field for the projection of
women's dreams I affirm, probably has a case to answer for perpetuating
the idea that teenaged girls — or the occasional leggy 12-year-old — are
the equivalent of grown women in every way. There are some
photographers — Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, for
example — who will only work with models over the age of 18, because, as
Inez told me once, before then, you don't really know who you are or what
you're comfortable with, anyway. And the modeling industry, or at least
some of its players, probably should be more careful about the level of
supervision and the kind of working environments it provides for their
youngest charges.

You spend a lot of time in this line of work away from your regular support
network of family and friends, in cities where you may not speak the
language, working with an agency that, while technically in your employ,
pretty much feels like your boss, down to telling you how to dress and
comport yourself. I won't even pretend I know the intricacies of the sexual
assault statutes in Milan or Paris or Hong Kong — let alone the
responsiveness of the local police to such complaints. A 15-year-old from a
small town in Ukraine probably wouldn't have a hope. Being not raped is
something our work environment tacitly encourages us to shrug off.

A few months ago, a 19-year-old friend of mine told me a particularly sad


story about a model we both knew who had just turned 17. Part of the story
was that she had been dating a man in his mid-twenties, a sorta-famous

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musician, and the relationship was over. (The other part of the story
involved heroin.) There was a long pause. "The thing is," my friend said,
with a rueful laugh, "I was sleeping with him when I was 16, too."

I know these kinds of relationships — which, at the very least, are


characterized by regrettable power dynamics — are not unique to the
fashion industry. And even within it, they're not exactly normal, just more
common than perhaps would be ideal. But I think it is worth considering
whether these kinds of inappropriate behaviors are connected to the fact
that, in this industry, you're treated as an appropriate professional stand-
in for adult women from menarche — or from when you hit 5'9",
whichever comes first.

I reached that height threshold when I was barely 13; I remember that was
the year men started leering at me on the bus, or pestering me with
awkward come-ons. It has not gotten any easier since. As women, we are
so often compelled to see ourselves as nothing more than our bodies — to
look, in essence, through the eyes of the men who objectify us without our
consent, and to want to dislike what it is they see. As someone who is
complicit in my own objectification for a living, as someone whose work is
in my body, I think I maybe even feel this discomfort more keenly. I
sometimes buy into the whole notion that life would be easier, somehow,
if I were less attractive, if I didn't have a job that required me to hit the
tight/revealing/short clothing trifecta every day I have castings, that I
wouldn't get this kind of unwelcome attention if I could somehow change
myself. (I know that's not true, because it isn't a function of my choices,
and because I don't think a single one of my women friends from outside
the industry has experiences that are in any way different.) The other
night I got briefly out-of-step with my boyfriend, and as soon as I turned
a corner, the rolling public commentary on my looks that is the reason I
usually keep my headphones on even if they're not plugged in to anything,
not to mention why I wear dark glasses whether it's sunny or not, started
up, courtesy of a group of middle-aged men who were standing on my
street. My boyfriend heard and when he caught up he looked at me, aghast.
I thought at that moment, At least now he gets, if only for a moment, what
it's like to be us.

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Sometimes it's difficult to define yourself as a woman in this culture by
any other measure than your persistent fear of men. Men can do things
that we will never be able to do without first brokering some kind of peace
with the fear. In case the fear doesn't produce itself in your gut whenever
you're alone in public, in case you don't know any survivors of sexual
violence yourself, rape is made a plot element of television shows and
movies every single day, male violence fills the news, and even the media
created for us and by us constantly interrogate what it means to be raped
and what "counts" as rape, as if we didn't know, or might forget. And as
Peterson's essay illustrates so aptly, there are a million male behaviors
that are not so much rape as rape spectrum, or rape-ish, or not rape by
degree instead of by kind, an entire constellation of potential violations,
that almost every sentient woman has more than enough reason by
experience to be afraid of. We are taught to put such extraordinary faith in
such ridiculous talismans — I can go jogging if it's still light, I can walk these
three blocks if I hold my keys out, I can leave my drink unattended while I go to
the bathroom if I put a napkin over it, I can trust him if he's so-and-so's friend —
that, if we stopped with the bargaining for a minute and actually thought
about the chances we have to take to live as men take for granted or to try
and have some semblance of trusting romantic relationships, we might
never leave the house again. Refusing the fear — walking home alone
when the buses have stopped running, doing anything at all alone after
dark to make the point that you can — doesn't feel entirely liberating,
either. It mostly feels stupid. (I still do these things, sometimes, because if
I'm going to feel putting-a-napkin-on-my-drink stupid, I might as well
occasionally feel walk-home-drunk-alone stupid.) How to contend with
this fear is, I am convinced, the major question of 21st century
womanhood. Are there any positive ways to define yourself, as a woman in
the Western world? I'm still trying to come up with some.

The last time I was not raped was earlier this year. I had flown to a major
market for work, and rather than stay at a hotel or in agency housing, I
thought it would be more fun to sleep on the couch of a guy close to my
age, who I think I suspected even then would not prove a lasting or
dependable friend. One night, he had his girlfriend and a few of his friends
over for a late dinner, and afterward, we all had a couple drinks. I think I
was nursing my third glass of wine around 1 or 2 a.m. when my friend
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called it a night; two other guests left shortly thereafter, and soon it was
just me and a part-time male model, sitting on my friend's porch. We were
talking about David Foster Wallace, who was at that point still alive, and I
liked the conversation right up until he put his arm around me, grabbed
my breasts, and tried to kiss me. I was in a (different) relationship then;
I'm the kind of boringly faithful girlfriend who mentions her absent
boyfriend to new acquaintances at least once every few seconds. If my
talking points that night had a chyron, it was Not Interested Or Available!
And what's more I could hardly see how our nerdy patter could be misread
as an attempt at flirtation, let alone an invitation to suddenly slide my
sundress down my shoulders and make a grab for my breasts. I stopped,
told him curtly that wasn't acceptable, and scooted away. He made some
dismissive, faux-innocent comment — Really? That's not OK? — that
implied I was the one with the problem, but he promised not to do it again,
and I uneasily returned to our conversation, hoping that he'd leave soon.
Within five minutes, he tried to kiss me again. I wrenched free and went
inside, but my friend and his girlfriend were asleep, and the male model
was my friend's close buddy — they went back much further than he and I
did. Since it wasn't my place, I didn't feel like I could ask him to leave.
When he followed me into the living room, I turned on the loudest, most
grandiose, least romantic movie I could find — Scarface — and sat as far
away from him on the couch as possible. He kept on creeping closer to me,
and he rebuffed any hint I gave that he should think about going home.

I thought if I consented to his rubbing my shoulders, he might limit his


other activities. (I was wrong.)

I thought if I stiffened at his every touch, he might get the message.


(Wrong.)

I thought if I said clear, standard-issue stuff like "Don't do that," he


might abide it. (Wrong.)

I thought if I joked, changed the subject, made light of Tony Mottola's


creepy relationship with his younger sister, he might cease the pawing and
get a clue. (Wrong.)

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I thought if I hunched my shoulders so he couldn't work my sundress off
them, he might not decide to reach for my zipper instead. (Wrong on that
count, too.)

We watched the movie until 7:30 that morning; he would find a way to put
his hands on me, as if to say, "I'm in control here," and eventually I think
I got too tired to always be swatting him away. He only got up to leave
when my friend walked through his hallway to the bathroom as the credits
were rolling. The male model said, "Well. I suppose I'd better get going,"
in a tone of voice that meant, since you are clearly no fun and I locked my
friend's front door behind him. It felt like a very long time before I heard
his car start.

When my friend suggested hanging out with the male model a day or so
later, I tried to explain what happened, and why I didn't want to see him
again, but he avoided my gaze, and said something that implied I'd
misunderstood his model friend's intentions. My then boyfriend, never
having had the opportunity to witness the diligence of my long-distance
fidelity, was suspicious and mistrusting of me as a rule — rightly or
wrongly, I thought if I told him, I'd get an argument about why I was
"always" in strange cities with strange men, and why I'd been so
thoughtless as to end up alone with this creep, and drinking at that. It
wasn't really any of my agency's business, plus my booker in that city —
one of the only straight men employed there — had long made a habit of
standing too close to me, and once rubbed my knee under a table, so
telling him was out. And, besides, as violated as I felt, I know it could have
been much worse. It was not rape.

A major theme of Latoya Peterson's essay is the importance of words,


because articulating an experience can help stop it from being reproduced.
"This is how the Not Rape epidemic spreads — through fear and silence,"
she writes.

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Women of all backgrounds are affected by these kinds of acts, regardless of
race, ethnicity, or social class. So many of us carry the scars of the past with
us into our daily lives. Most of us have pushed these stories to the back of
our minds, trying to have some semblance of a normal life that includes
romantic and sexual relationships. However, waiting just behind the tongue
is story after story of the horrors other women experience and hide deep
within the self behind a protective wall of silence.

I polled the other Jezebels, and virtually all of us has been not raped.
Megan has written bravely about her sexual assaults before; the rest of us
can remember, variously, high school boyfriends who pressured us into
doing things we weren't comfortable with, guy "friends" who helped us
through breakups, only "he decided to take advantage and I decided to let
him," and all the older men who magically started hitting on us when we
turned 13. One of us had a college professor angle for some "side boob
action" and the same Jezebel had to deter a friend of her parents by
punching him in the stomach. Another had her mom's graduate student
assistant corner and grope her in an empty office when she was 12. Only
one of us says she's been lucky enough to never have to contend with
these kinds of situations.

My Sexual Assault Is Not Your Political Issue


A lot of electronic ink has been generated this week talking about the story
that 3 Welsh…

Read more
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As Peterson writes,

At age fourteen, I lacked the words to speak my experience into reality.


Without those words, I was rendered silent and impotent, burdened with the
knowledge of what did not happen, but unable to free myself by talking
about what did happen.

I cannot change the experiences of the past.

But, I can teach these words, so that they may one day be used by a young
girl to save herself

Related: The Not Rape Epidemic [Racialicious]


Yes Means Yes: Visions Of Female Sexual Power And A World Without Rape

Earlier: Not Every Sexual Assault Starts With A Man And A Gun
'Cosmo' Tells Me I Was 'Gray Raped'; Feministing Says It Was Rape. Are
We Really Arguing About This?

'Cosmo' Tells Me I Was 'Gray Raped'; Feministing Says It Was Rape. Are
We Really Arguing About This?
Language is a powerful thing. Like: when the Zionists first began settling
in the holy city I just…

Read more
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IMMIGRATION

Rapper 21 Savage Arrested by ICE


Rebecca Fishbein
17 minutes ago

Image: via Getty

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took rapper 21 Savage


into custody in Atlanta this weekend, alleging he is in the United States
unlawfully. They are reportedly threatening him with possible deportation.

According to The New York Times, ICE agents claim that 21 Savage, real
name Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, is a U.K. national who came to the U.S.
in 2005 at age 12. He entered the country legally on a one year visa, ICE
said, but that visa has since expired:

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The New York Times says 21 Savage “faces deportation proceedings and is
expected to appear before a federal immigration judge,” though his
spokesperson did not respond to the paper’s request for comment.

Why ICE decided to arrest 21 Savage now is unclear, though agents appear
to be terrorizing Atlanta in advance of the Super Bowl:

Free 21 Savage.

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Up Courthouse Arrests in New Amputee's Prosthetic Arm as Turning Asylum-Seeking
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Against Their Families

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Rebecca Fishbein


Fishbein
Contributor

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