Rape Culture (or, Roman Polanski, I can’t even)

11 Oct

There are few things in life that make as incredibly, blindly, need-to-punch-a-wall-right-now angry as Roman Polanski. Any mention of him makes my blood boil; even just having someone tell me about one of his movies leads to me shouting obscenities for a significant length of time. So imagine how I felt when I saw the following headline on Yahoo News:

Former teen who had sex with Polanski writing book

The article then goes on to say that,

Polanski … fled the country in 1978 on the eve of being sentenced for unlawful sexual intercourse with Geimer, 13 at the time

Let me just sit here a moment while your head explodes a little.

Let’s get a few things straight: Roman Polanski did not have “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 13 year old girl – he raped her. The victim, Samantha Geimer, testified that the sex was not consensual; in fact, according to her testimony, she explicitly told him no. And you know what? Even if she hadn’t told him no, it would still have been rape. Even if Polanski hadn’t given her alcohol it would have been rape; even if he hadn’t drugged her it would have been rape; even if  she had said yes it would have been rape.

Know why? Because she, a vulnerable 13 year old girl faced with a millionaire film director in his 40s, was subject to an extreme imbalance of power. As Geimer said in her testimony,

We were alone and I didn’t know what else would happen if I made a scene. So I was just scared, and after giving some resistance, I figured well, I guess I’ll get to come home after this

She didn’t fucking know what else would happen if she made a scene. Here was a girl, who had been given champagne and qaaludes, who was faced with unwanted sexual advances from a man more than three times her age, a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer. She was afraid for her life.

What Polanski did was rape. I don’t care that he was later offered a plea bargain (because Geimer’s lawyer did not want her to have to endure a trial) that lessened his charges from rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor to the much shorter and nicer-sounding unlawful sexual intercourse. I don’t care that the only thing Polanski plead guilty to was said charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. I just don’t care.

Let’s be really clear on one thing here:

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old girl.

Roman Polanski raped a 13 year old, plead guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse” and, when he realized that he was facing jail time, fled the country. He continued to make movies, continued to receive the financial backing and participation of major studios and A-list movie stars, married a woman 33 years his junior, and had two children. He has suffered basically zero consequences because of what he did.

This is what rape culture looks like.

Rape culture means that we refer to children who were raped by celebrities as “former teens” (what the fuck does that even mean?), and use terms like “unlawful sexual intercourse” instead of “rape” when describing what happened to them.

Rape culture means that Johnny Depp, Adrien Brody, Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Catrall, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Helen Bonham Carter Walter Matthau, Harrison Ford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley are, by appearing in and promoting Polanski’s films, all tacitly saying that they are just fine with the fact that he raped a 13 year old girl.

Rape culture means that a lengthy list of celebrities, many of whom I used to admire, have publicly defended Polanski.

Rape culture means that Whoopi Goldberg has gone on record saying that what happened wasn’t rape rape.

Rape culture means that so many people are willing to ignore what Polanski did because they just want to sit back and enjoy his movies without having to feel guilty.

Rape culture means that a young girl’s life was destroyed, while her rapist went on to win Oscars for his movies.

Rape culture means that we live in a world where celebrities, the media, and even our friends and family normalize, excuse and condone rape to the point where a rapist can continue to live a happy, normal life with very limited consequences.

Look, I’m not normally the type of person who can’t dissociate an artist from their art; I still love Picasso, even though he treated women terribly. Ditto for Ernest Hemingway. Truman Capote was pretty awful, especially to my girl Harper Lee, but I can still read Breakfast At Tiffany’s and love every word of it. I recognize that the art and beauty a person creates are separate from who they are.

But I will never, ever see a Polanski film. I will not in any way, shape, or form give my tacit support for what he did.

I will not knowingly participate in rape culture.

Samantha Geimer in 1977

Edited to add: A few people have brought up the 1969 murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and the fact that he is a Holocaust survivor.

A bit of clarification – I am aware of both those facts. I do not like the fact that people use them as an excuse for what he did. I am certain that Polanski was deeply, irreparably damaged by these events. That being said, he made a CHOICE to rape Samantha Geimer. He was conscious of his actions; he even underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation after his arrest. I do not think his past can be used as an excuse or justification.

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14 Responses to “Rape Culture (or, Roman Polanski, I can’t even)”

  1. Sarah D. October 11, 2012 at 1:22 am #

    Besides the obvious sexism implicit in rape culture generally, I sometimes wonder if there’s a certain sexism in this particular case given his victim was a female as well. I look at Jerry Sandusky and the complete repudiation of this ‘monster’ as a human being because of his actions. He raped boys. I find myself wondering if he’d raped 10 preteen and teenage girls, what the reaction would have been – would the level of outrage have been comparable?

    • bellejarblog October 13, 2012 at 2:07 am #

      I was thinking the same thing when I was writing this out. It’s funny how people are so quick to say that Samantha Geimer wanted to sleep with Polanski, was physically mature, etc. No one said anything like that about the boys Sandusky raped.

  2. Matt October 11, 2012 at 1:29 am #

    The icing on the Roman Polanski Is A Complete Fucking Monster Cake–for me,anyway–is that he has consistently used Sharon Tate’s murder and his escape from the Holocaust as some manner of excuse for having DRUGGED, MOLESTED, SODOMISED AND RAPED A THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD.

    No. I’m sorry, but no. As monstrous as Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler are, and were, respectively, these events generally do not make people DRUG, MOLEST, SODOMISED AND RAPE THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLDS. Plenty of men escaped the Holocaust. Plenty of men have had their wives murdered. Most of the former group probably joined the latter roughly around the same time.

    But, I’m willing to bet that very, very few of them turned around, DRUGGED, MOLESTED, SODOMISED AND RAPED A THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD, even the ones who became fabulously wealthy; I’m sure Polanski isn’t the only Holocaust survivor to find himself possessor of a shitload of money.

    I don’t even know why I’m looking up information about the joke that was his arrest in Switzerland in 2009, and everything involving his release. It’s only making me yet angrier. I’d just love it if somebody was willing to find his ass in France, drug him, bring him back to California and leave him on the steps of the Los Angeles Superior Court, and let the D.A. bring back all six of the original charges. Curiously, because that scumbag fled *before* sentencing, in the event that he ever shows up back in court, he’d be facing all of them, with all of the *years* of sentences that they could bring, instead of the shamefully short stint in a minimum-security psychiatric ward he was facing.

  3. Judithann October 11, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    Thank you for this post; what Roman Polanski has gotten away with is outrageous, and just, thank you for calling attention to it: I knew about Whoopi Goldberg but wasn’t aware of all the other Hollywood stars who have defended him. I don’t pay all that much attention to Hollywood; it is a little strange that the prominent feminists who were calling for Clarence Thomas’ head on a platter have been, for the most part, silent about the whole Roman Polanski situation. I commend you for speaking out; I wish that feminists in high places would also speak out.

    • bellejarblog October 13, 2012 at 2:15 am #

      I am blown away by the number of people (many of whom I used to respect) who are defending Polanski. It totally kills me. You’re right; there need to be more people speaking out about what he did. I have no qualms saying that he is a monster.

  4. Steven H. Noble October 11, 2012 at 3:53 am #

    I think that it is worth noting that there has been one extremely vocal voice against Polanski in recent years. Someone who didn’t listen to the celebrities condemning him. The district attorney of LA Steve Cooley refused to ignore the crime and forced an official extradition request to happen when an opportunity arrived 30+ years after the crime.

    He doesn’t speak particularly artfully and he’s not an ideal looking hero. But he does happen to believe rape is a crime worth prosecuting. One way to encourage more people to stand up to the Polanskis is to make sure to applaud those who have taken risks to do exactly that.

  5. sarahannaoriginals October 11, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Disgusting. There is nothing really more I can add to this discussion that hasn’t already artfully been said by other commenters. I’ve never seen one of his films, and never will. I never knew much about him other than what my husband told me (he raped a girl and fled the country), but it’s shocking to hear just how beyond horrible it was, and fuck. Sorry, just fuck. I know how that little girl felt. I’ve known it 3 times. Fuck. I’m getting sick to my stomach, I shouldn’t have read this. It’s all too common that the victim gets punished and the rapist goes free with little to no consequences, and it makes me sick.

    • bellejarblog October 13, 2012 at 2:18 am #

      I’m so sorry you had to go through this *hugs*

      The justice system & the way that society views rape are so, so incredibly fucked up.

  6. Robina October 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    “Roman Polanski, I can’t even” has basically been my take on it for a long, long time. It’s all so mind-boggling. Thanks for writing this.

    • bellejarblog October 13, 2012 at 2:20 am #

      I JUST CAN’T EVEN. I can’t believe that there are people I like and respect who are willing to defend him. AUGH. I can’t even deal with the fact that I have to share a planet with him and the people who are busy not incarcerating him.

  7. Mary Sue March 3, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    what really blows me away is all the people who are defending roman polanski style themselves as political “progressives”! As in, NOT “right wing”!

    I thought left wingers were supposed to be against rape?

  8. Timothy September 9, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

    Who cares? It’s been long time ago. She knew what she was doing. They had TWO. TWO photo sessions. Come on. It’s not like he groomed her, or met her on the Internet and then forced her.

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