Monday, December 16, 2013

Jana Leo: Rape New York

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The Oakland Public Library recently joined Link+, a union catalog for libraries throughout California and Nevada. All of a sudden I have access to all of the books on my list, for free and just as quickly as if my local bookstore had them- after years of wishing and hoping and typing in titles over and over- I can read All The Things.

Enter "Rape New York." This book is near the top of my list, which means it's been on the list a very long time. I had no idea why I put it there or when or what it was about. When my boyfriend picked it up he read the back of the book and rolled his eyes: "I hate those books that don't tell you anything about the book." It's a series of blurbs, and I agree, I don't like those either, but he read off words like "crucial analysis, screed and feminist theory" and I knew "Rape New York" was on my list for some good reason. And it was.

"Rape New York" is 142 pages of impossible-to-put-down feminist theory/architecture/some-other kinds-of-theory-that-I-can't--explain genius. I literally wished that I could read slower so that I could absorb the words more thoroughly, something that I have never found myself wishing before. The book is so dense that I can't possibly summarize here, but it does bring up the point that the publisher was right to only include blurbs on the back: any 3 sentence back of the book summary would be an insult. Those of us who know how to read between the blurb lines and pick this up, will pick it up and hit the jackpot.

Leo moved to New York with her partner and they settled in Harlem because it was cheap- what they could afford. The building plays a crucial role in the assault she subsequently suffers: the front door doesn't lock and the grate on her window- an escape route- doesn't open properly. Her notion of "home" and what home means to her, and to women in general: "rape remains shrouded in secrecy. The sanctity of the home and the body, and the fear of the ultimate invasion of privacy, is perverted by society distancing itself from the victim. The crime occurred in your home, not mine. Shrouded in secrecy and silence, the victim is implicated as at fault." She goes on to discuss the complex connection between home and the homeless, or those whose "home" is prison. Many women are raped in their homes. This ideal of having a house, a home is fraught: people worry about losing their home where home is house as property, and the "home turns into a cage, a physical enclosure, from which they are unable to leave." They're trapped, financially, which strips the house of any home-ness at all. Prison has replaced the house for many, especially for black men. Leo traces the predatory development process through the "unsustainable price of property, and the celebration of wealth as the only social value." She is not glamorizing or vindicating her assailant but following important threads with the emotional and academic authority to do so. It's genius.

Read this book and try not to be blown away, I dare you.