Eat, Pray, Rape: White Girl Loots A Victim’s Horror
July 12, 2011 in Awful Things
“It’s called dissociation, and is a common and quite unsettling response to extreme trauma. She eventually curled into a ball and grew quiet, tears still pouring down her face. But I could sense only a disembodied version of myself hovering somewhere behind me and to my left, outside my window. ‘Who are those people?’ I could hear it asking. ‘What’s that awful thing going on inside that car?’”
These are the words of Mother Jones writer Mac McClelland, describing her experience riding in a car with a Haitian rape survivor when the car passed by the victim’s rapist, causing the victim to come unhinged.
But if Mac McClelland was indeed having an out-of-body experience, it wasn’t so out-of-body that she wasn’t able to liveblog it on Twitter, using the victim’s real name.
And the following tweet suggests that someone warned her about the dangers of publicizing this event the very day she was doing it:
(Yes, K* knows I’m a journalist, and no, trust that I’ve ensured I’m not endangering her. Come on.)
Nine months later, McClelland published this piece for Good, entitled “I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me On This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD,” retelling K*’s story, but changing her name to Sybille. In it, she describes how what took place in the car, as well as how she herself was threatened with rape by a Haitian driver who was assisting the Mother Jones crew, gave her a case of PTSD that she cured by enlisting the help of an ex-boyfriend to fake rape her.
“I did not enjoy it in the way a person getting screwed normally would. But as it became clear that I could endure it, I started to take deeper breaths. And my mind stayed there, stayed present even when it became painful, even when he suddenly smothered me with a pillow, not to asphyxiate me but so that he didn’t break my jaw when he drew his elbow back and slammed his fist into my face. Two, three, four times. My body felt devastated but relieved; I’d lost, but survived. After he climbed off me, he gathered me up in his arms. I broke into a thousand pieces on his chest, sobbing so hard that my ribs felt like they were coming loose…Isaac pulled my hair away from my wet face, repeating over and over and over something that he probably believed but that I had to relearn. ‘You are so strong,’ he said. ‘You are so strong. You are so strong.’”
Marjorie Valburn at Slate perhaps said it best in her criticism of the piece:
I’m annoyed that people are often more interested in a story about poor black people/poor black country/genocide in the Sudan/etc. when the central character in that story is a white person. I mean all of Port-au-Prince is suffering from PTSD and I’m supposed to care about some woman who parachutes in for a couple of weeks and has the luxury to leave whenever she wants because she’s been inconveniently traumatized?
While the violent sex article was not the only thing McClelland published about Haiti, her article for Good and the resulting thud that echoed through the internet following its publication rubbed many people the wrong way. Scores of people lined up to criticize Mac McClelland for turning this woman’s rape into a story about Mac McClelland.
It takes a narcissist to look for themselves in any tragic story. It takes something else entirely to do this to a victim that you’ve met face-to-face and shared a little bit of your life with. The biggest news flash for McClelland after developing PTSD from simply hearing accounts of rape should have been the revelation that these women actually lived through it. That alone could have made for compelling reading.
Instead, McClelland penned a 3,000 word essay about herself.
In response to the wave of criticism, McClelland detracted attention from the real issue people took with her piece, and made it about her gender:
“Nobody would be slut-shaming me [if I were a man]… And if that had happened to a man, people would be fucking horrified. No one would be like, ‘If he can’t handle getting threatened with possible rape then he should just stay home and become an interior decorator, because he obviously can’t do his job.’… I know how people are about sex, and I know how people are about women writing about sex–people hate when women write comfortably about sex…”
This rather clueless misreading of the words of her critics suggests that McClelland just might be the tone-deaf narcissist she stands accused of being.
However, the biggest criticism came on July 10th from Essence.com writer Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American woman who has also covered Haiti, and who met K* in Port-au-Prince at a meeting for rape survivors.
She says that K* found out about McClelland’s Twitter feed back in November of last year, and immediately wrote a letter to Mother Jones stating that she gives no permission for McClelland or Mother Jones to write about her. The letter, written in Haitian Creole, says the following:
“You have no right to speak of my story.
You have no right to publish my story in the press
Because I did not give you authorization.
You have no right. I did not speak to you.
You have said things you should not have said.
K*’s lawyer e-mailed this letter to Mother Jones and to McClelland on November 2nd, 2010, a full seven months prior to McClelland publishing the article on how staging a fake rape helped her overcome what she experienced in Haiti.