Thursday, May 26, 2016

Welcome to the Monkey House

“Welcome to the Monkey House”, where rape is not only sanctioned, it’s encouraged.  Billy the Poet’s oversimplified ideas of sexuality stem from a patriarchal belief that women with no previous sexual experience have no agency over their sexuality.  This points to the sexist historical context (not that these sexist views are all that different today) in which the story was written.  Vonnegut published this in 1968 in Playboy Magazine, who’s audience we might infer to be mainly men at the time.
The passive, blasé tone with which Billy addresses Nancy after he has raped her with the assistance of his gang, points to his compliance in the patriarchy. He tells her that most virgin brides on their wedding night feel detached, cry, and vomit after their first sexual encounter with their husbands.  Ignoring the fact that this heteronormative depiction of an archaic ritual is riddled with male guilt, the issue of consent is never questioned in this analogy of a newlywed couple. It is one thing to have certain metabolic responses to sex for the first time, but to suggest that this is the same, whether you are being assaulted against your will or you are having sex with a partner you love, is problematic to say the least.
From the time Nancy knows she is being taken to be raped by Billy to the point at which she is drugged with “truth serum” Billy’s main words towards her are violent threats to “blow her brains out”.  This violence really underlines Billy’s character. He even goes so far as to say, in response to Nancy’s comment that he makes her feel like an object, to blame the pills. Vonnegut makes it apparent that objectification is only a problem when society restricts sexuality.  He equates here sexual assault with sexual attraction, a common rape defense.

Vonnegut’s story, although aimed to be in defense of birth control as a form of contraception, which at the time was being challenged heavily by the Pope on the basis of morals, falls short in its participation in the patriarchal rhetoric of the time. In all the ways it tried to be innovative, it in fact feels stale and archaic.  A truly revolutionary idea would be to actually attempt to empower women through this same society he has so masterfully crafted. Instead, as always Vonnegut disappoints by being just another white, heteronormative, patriocentric, cis-gendered, male anarchist.

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