I have been having some trouble beginning my response to The Round House, due to the blossoming rage I feel after reading theaccompanying article, Sexual Violence as a Tool of Genocide, by Andrea Smith. Because I am involved in the Vagina Monologues, I am aware that sexual assault violence are prominent issues. However, the relation to race as well as gender is much more serious than I anticipated. Neferti Tadiar admitted that as a rape crisis counselor, she found every Native American survivor she spoke to revealed that they “no longer wanted to be Indian.” I’m not necessarily surprised by this information. Rather, I am now more thoroughly convinced that race and gender are related to one’s sense of security and therefore, pride. Carrying shame about one’s heritage is not specific to the Native American or woman identity. For example, there is a parallel shame or shyness concerning the LGBTQA+ and other marginalized communities. To clarify, the marginalized have not placed their exclusion on themselves, therefore they feel shame that premature and unwarranted. One would not choose to be placed in such categories and they are not proud of their classification,; therefore, it is not unexpected or illogical to want to escape such classification. Native Americans have been exploited, abused, and cast aside as a group who is “less than” in ways that other groups have not. On page ten of Genocide, Smith explains:
Because Indian bodies are “dirty,” they are considered sexually voilable and “rapeable,” and the rape of bodies that are considered inherently impure or or simply does not count. For instance, prostitutes are almost never believed when they say they have been raped because the dominant society considers the bodies of sex workers undeserving of integrity and voilable at all times., Similarly, the history of mutilation of Indian bodies, both living and dead, makes it clear that Indian people are not entitled to body integrity.
This logic has been integrated into today’s rape culture as well, with degrading rationalizations such as “her clothes were provocative,” “she was asking for it,” “she wanted it” and rape jokes such as “if you have sex with a prostitute without paying her, is it rape or theft?” All in all, there is simply a complete disregard for the body integrity of women who express their sexuality as well as women who fall under subcategories. The extent at which state governments of the United States still turn a blind eye to violence against women is repulsive. In 1982, which is considerably current, our government funded the systematic rape and execution of 177 women and children by the Guatemalan government. I was thinking to myself, “Why hadn’t I heard about this?” but the answer is simple, these women were not white.
In the same year, a rape fantasy video game was produced by Stuart Kasten that bore the slogan “When you score, you score, basically rewarding the player for violating Indian women. The entire concept further promotes sex as a singularly violent act, which is not an accurate depiction of what sex can be. I do not move to suggest that aggressive sex is immoral or degrading. Rather, I would like to open a discussion about what exactly sex is. While some people may prefer the BDSM type interaction, this is not the only option. As I ponder this subject, I am reminded of the many codes or standards that have been applied to sex. There is a dramatic binary between the romanticized/christianized/heteronormative option and the opposing perceived notions of BDSM/fantasy and violent option. It seems that in our culture, there are instances of either one or the other. For example, Romantic comedies adopt the former while pornography and horror films adopt the latter. In other words, “making love” is respected and viewed in our culture and is completely separated from BDSM, which is inaccurately grouped with violence and rape. While it seems like I’m going off on a tangent, there is indeed a connection to Kasten’s game. Marginalized sexuality such as BDSM has not been promoted blatantly in the popular culture because it has been categorized with fantasy and suppression (which is why the “catharsis versus stimulation” debate is applicable yet again). However, Kasten seems to sneak in this violent invasion of Indian women bodies in the name of fantasy, “the woman is enjoying a sexual act willingly” but “she’s not about to take it lying down.” His promotion is contradictory and seems to glorify non consensual acts. His use of Indian women further perpetuates the stereotype that this race of women lacks body integrity.
This is why in The Round House, I was not surprised by the expected and eventual haphazardness in which Geraldine’s rape was handled. Joe, a young native male, is aware of his family’s marginalized position. He reflects “The problem with most Indian rape cases was that even after there was an indictment the U.S. attorney often declined to take the case to trial for one reason or another. Usually, a raft of bigger cases. My father wanted to make sure that didn’t happen” (Erdrich, 46). Geraldine’s trauma due to her rape speaks not only to the level of violence she experienced but the specific marginalization she felt. As a Native American woman, it is expected that she remain silent. However, the “stable” relationships she held with her family members before the attack queer the expectations of the Native American Peoples. The support from her husband was refreshing.
Round House queers ideas about race and gender in terms of Geraldine, Joe, and Linda especially, and there are many examples of this. One of these is Linda’s Story. Very rarely, as Joe points out, is someone adopted into the Native American community. This rare instance allows the reader to process the effects of marginal connotations. Even though Linda is not Native American, she is treated as such because of her difference. She is not the ideal picture of beauty and she was raised as Native American; both of which qualify her as lacking in body integrity. She is represented in a drastically different light than Sonja, who is an attractive and self-sufficient Native American woman. She queers the norm of a “dirty” race and completely owns her sexuality and independence. She says “Whitey needed to be put in his place. He think he owns me…Yeah. Thinks he owns me. But he’ll find out he don’t, huh? Am I right?” (Erdrich, 146). Sonja represents what Native American women could all be if they were able to rise above their perceived cultures (which had been made extremely inaccurate) due to colonization and racial genocide.
The connections between sexual violence, race and sex remains prevalent. I am thankful for the more recent announcement by the UK government to spend 10 million pounds in efforts against conflict-induced sexual violence. Angelina Jolie addressed the leaders of G8 concerning wartime rape last year, and again this month, declaring “[rape] has nothing to do with sex; everything to do with power” and encouraging that minority communities and international victims are “just like us,” yet are crippled by lack of health resources. Wartime rape, according to Jolie, “has been taboo for far too long; a crime that thrives on silence and survival.” She declares:
“Rape has been treated as something that simply happens in war. Perpetrators have learned that they can get away with it and victims have been denied justice. But wartime rape is not inevitable. This violence can be prevented… the international political will has been sorely lacking. I have heard survivors of rape from Bosnia to the DRC say that they feel that the world simply does not care about them.”
In these survivors’ confession alone, wartime rape is proven to be enacted as a social hierarchy based on race and social class. Therefore, by continuing to allow rape as wartime tactic, entire countries continue to allow the dehumanization of marginalized bodies.
Jolie’s G8 speech, 2013:
Jolie’s Speech at the London Open Summit, 2014:
What are some examples of heteronormative sexuality in terms of the argument above? (romanticized/heteronormative versus the other)
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich, brings up various issues in race, gender, and sexuality and tends to queer them. This can be very overwhelming for a reader who has little or no experience with these criticisms or theories. Would the novel be more “mainstream” or “marketable” if there was just a strong focus on one? Compare this novel to Gone Girl which deals with many feminist issues but not race. How popular were these books in relation to each other and other popular novels?