LET’S TALK ABOUT TOXIC MASCULINITY, SLUT SHAMING, RAPE CULTURE, VICTIM BLAMING, SEXUALITY AND THE SYSTEM
TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE
Thirteen days after finishing this masterpiece, I am still thinking about The Undoing of Ryder Burke.
That should tell you something.
Rachael did a wonderful job with this book and I hope to God this gets published. The Undoing of Ryder Burke needs to be in bookstores everywhere, in everyone’s homes. Everyone—whatever their gender—needs to read this. It discusses various issues surrounding our society today. This will not be just a book review, but a discussion or an essay. I have so many thoughts—and feelings—regarding this, that I don’t even know how to put them into words.
While I was reading, I remember on the 9th June, I was tweeting about it. I wrote that I had to keep stopping because I kept crying. This story, Ryder’s story, the story of so many girls around the world, and guys, is one that tore me apart. Everything Ryder felt, everything she went through, the flashbacks, was so real, raw and heartbreaking.
I wish that I couldn’t relate. I wish other people couldn’t relate. But the sad truth is, 1 in 5 women in the UK get assaulted since the age of 16. 3 in 10 are under 16. A quarter are 14 and under. Nearly 1 in 10 are 9 and under. Do you know how awful those statistics are? How damaging? How disgusting?
Why is it, that the moment a girl gets the courage to report her trauma, to report the devastating ordeal she went through, the first thing anybody does is question her attire, whether she was drunk or if she’s a virgin or not, did she have sex?—always finding excuses to vilify the victim. Like Rachael wrote through Ryder, it is easier to ignore the crime than it is to accept people can do cruel things just because they can. Because they want to.
“No one believes the girls because no one wants to believe that the boys they love are capable of doing something so harsh, so unjust. No one wants to believe, so they don’t.”
Here is the synopsis:
Ryder Burke is a slut. It’s a known fact in Madison High that Ryder is down for pretty much everything- the stories written on the bathroom stalls are law, after all. Her infamy doesn’t stop her from holding a place at the top of Madison High’s food chain, though, until something happens at Georgia Brenner’s annual New Year’s Eve party.
All anyone knows is that Ryder was seen being led into a room by Ryan Morgan, Georgia’s on again off again, and Mason Brenner, Georgia’s twin brother, and that, two hours later, Ryder Burke was at the hospital.
But who will believe the school slut when she cries rape?
Weston Stark is the new kid in school. The son of a lawyer, he knows that Ryder should be able to tell her side of the story, no matter what the rumors about her imply.
The problem is that no one else is willing to listen.
The truth is, there has been no book, before or after, that has affected me to the point of wanting to write an entire essay of sorts on it, made me sob so much that I couldn’t talk, thinking about it every day since. This book broke me and ruined me for all other books, in the kind of way that I will never love a book as much, because of all the lessons and the truths intricately woven into each word.
The experience of this book was hard. It was tough and I did have to stop because of how heavy it got, how real, heart-wrenchingly so, and how I wished that my parents had reacted the way Ryder’s did. It was everything that so many of us go through, at least once.
If it’s not rape, it is another form of sexual assault, or harassment, or catcalling, or physical violence, or emotional abuse, if not murder. Or maybe it is another way of killing someone.
“Do you know how many ways you can kill someone without stopping their heart? How long does it take for someone to die when they no longer want to live? Do you want to know how many ways? How long does it take? Do you? How long?”
The theme of slut shaming is strong in the book, all throughout. Ryder is constantly shamed, belittled, taunted and libelled because she previously enjoyed having sex. There is nothing wrong with that: nothing wrong with owning one’s body and having the sexual freedom to choose when you wanted to have sex and with whom. Your body, your choice.
But because of this, Ryder was constantly having to deal with the abuse hurled at her and she became the girl who cried rape. After all, she’s a slut and how can a slut get raped?
Mason’s words, “Sluts don’t get to say no” reveal what he, alongside their schoolmates as well as faculty members and townsfolk, thought of Ryder and her accusations that Mason and Ryan raped her. The school librarian, on live TV, also called Ryder a harlot or a hussy or a philanderer, shocking her to the core. It is one thing for people her own age to mock her, to be cruel in their words, but when such derogatory terms come from a member of staff at the school, it is hurtful in so many ways.
As a woman, the librarian should have chosen to defend Ryder, to realise how hard it is in the world for a woman, for a girl, without needing to add to the already mounting odds and beliefs against her.
Those words were later punctuated by a stranger saying that anybody would have taken advantage of the drunk girl.
“I think that this girl probably got drunk, and these two boys did what anyone else would have done.”
This is rape culture: when it is normalised due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. An example of this is Brock Turner. How long did he get sentenced for? Do you know? What did the headlines say? What did they call him? Did you see?
He raped a drunk girl while she was unconscious. He ruined her life. He ripped away a part of her, just because he could. Because he wanted to. He did what “anyone else would have done”. This is what society is teaching men: that because they have dicks, the world owes them women to put it in. Men need to always have the power, the upper hand, to use aggression as a way of getting ahead in life, no matter the cost, no matter who it hurts or damages or destroys.
“( . . .) they’re nothing but the by-products of society. Men who see girls as nothing, but objects to grab and shove in their back pocket. Men who grab girls off the street, hide them in the palm of their hand, and show them off to their friends like pretty little treats. Look what I got! Look what I got!”
Instead of tackling the perpetrators and teaching men to not rape, women and girls are told to change their behaviour or dress a little more different, so that no inch of their skin is visible, otherwise their clothes will say they’re asking for it; to not go out and have fun because then they’ll deserve it. But what of the boys and men who take advantage of their privilege? They know, most often than not, that they will get away with it—because this society favours men and teaches them to be dominant (see: the ‘alpha male’) and this has been ingrained in them from a young age, thus leading to toxic masculinity. This results in actions of abuse and a cycle of inequality within the system and violence against women.
Aisha Gill suggests that a woman’s status is secondary to a man’s (though this was a journal discussing South Asian women’s experiences of domestic abuse, it still resonates with women in society, for centuries) and that this highlights the “dichotomous nature of gender structure and the differential influence on conditions, ideology and behaviour.”
Statistics show that two-thirds of rapists get away with their crimes in the US, and in the UK last year, only 37% of cases sent to Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) between April and September led to charges. This means that in England and Wales, rape prosecutions have fallen to its all time lowest rate in more than five years.
In The Undoing of Ryder Burke, it is evident that all the stacks aren’t in her favour, due to her being a girl who, according to everyone in her town and the rapists, is easy and likes sex. “Is she an easy target? (. . .) A girl isn’t a girl if she has sex. She’s nothing but an object. A conglomeration of parts pushed together for your enjoyment, sir, because you are above all. Above us, above the law, above the girl you love and hate.”
Despite the law clearly stating rape is a crime, and even with the few cases reported, instead of the rapist being subjected to an interrogation, it is the girl. The victim. She is blamed. She is blamed because she had sex, because she dressed a certain way or drank too much or because she left her house and existed or breathed, because she’s a slut and sluts don’t say no.
“No matter if she says yes or no or maybe so, someone will always be there to say that she secretly wanted it, that she was just playing hard to get.”
Here is the thing about the word no: it means no. It’s final. It means stop.
In Hindi, no is nahin. In Bangla, no is na. In Portuguese, no is não. In Arabic, no is la. In Indonesian, no is tidak. In Kurdish, no is na. In Bulgarian, no is ne. In French, no is non. In Russian, no is net.
No. Means. No.
The law is supposed to protect us, but with the way the justice system works, we can’t trust it. When only a handful of perpetrators are convicted, how are victims supposed to feel safe? When their rapists and abusers are still walking free, smug with the satisfaction that they got away with killing someone without stopping their heart, is the world a safer place?
This book examines the unjust reality that the world we live in is a man’s world, the undertones of a universal reluctant acceptance echoing through each chapter.
“Girls are teases and prudes and sluts and whores and bitches and a million other words, and that means that they enjoy being dominated, that they all want someone to overpower them, and take everything they have. Their dignity, the light in their eyes, their ability to trust.”
Through this, the writer shows us the awful connotations attached to every girl who does one thing that goes against society’s norms or takes a step out of line or has sex or is raped or dares to accuse someone of taking away her right, and pinpoints the very root of the problem, the words we have all heard since we were little: “boys will be boys”. She then goes onto say “girls will be girls. And both of those things somehow seem to translate to boys will rape and girls will be able to do nothing about it.”
Society has been raising its men with the ideology that they own girls, they own women, because they are the leaders of this world. They tell themselves and those around them they’re innocent, that they didn’t do anything wrong, especially when it comes to raping a girl who is not a virgin because “sluts get what sluts deserve. Short skirts and tight shirts means she wants it ( . . .)”
However, with this act of victim blaming, rape apologists create a dangerous pattern, wherein they forgive the rapist and condemn the victim, because she was asking for it because she was like Ryder, because she loved sex, because she once wore a shorts with a tank top, because she drank too much Smirnoff and Glen’s and Jack Daniels. This results in other girls being afraid to speak up, afraid that they will receive the same backlash because they dared to go to that party, walk down that alleyway, leave their friend’s house just a little later.
Rape apologists will continue blaming the victim, continue condemning her “until it happens to someone they know, someone who didn’t dress ‘like she was asking for it.’ Someone who was ‘such a nice girl’. Someone who ‘didn’t deserve this at all.’ But what arguments will they have then? What shiny set of words will they use to wrap a shield around such a brutal crime? How will they defend the boys when the girl attacked ends up being someone who is ‘nice’ and ‘respectable’?”
This is how it is. If she’s a slut, she deserves it because sluts don’t get to say no. But what if she‘s a virgin? What if she’s the good pious girl that studies hard and volunteers for a charity? What are the excuses then? What are the words used to silence her and absolve the monsters?
The Undoing of Ryder Burke forces you to stop and think about the words you use to insult people. While I haven’t called a girl a slut or a whore in years, since I have learnt the brittle truth behind them, used to demean and dehumanise a person, it was still earth-shattering to see how much of an impact it can have, even from written words.
In school, there were a few girls that called me a ‘hoe’ and a ‘slag’ because one of the girls I had once been friends with decided to spread some stories about me; howbeit a few of these did have a little truth to them. It was still an awful experience to go through. This is why stories like The Undoing of Ryder Burke are important: though it isn’t said explicitly, calling someone a slut or a whore or a bitch or any other term is cruel and detrimental to one’s mental health.
Men do it to us enough. We shouldn’t be adding to it. These words dehumanise women, it turns them into objects and beings whose worth lies in their sexuality. It is wrong.
Towards the end of the book, there is an introduction of a pansexual character, as well as a Muslim non-binary character with ‘they/them’ pronouns. This was amazing to read, particularly as I have never before seen a book with a Muslim non-binary character and it made me feel ashamed, because of course there are Muslims who fall under the category of non-binary or gender queer. I know a few gay Muslims, bisexual Muslims, lesbian Muslims, but I didn’t think there were any who were non-binary or gender fluid. But there are. The discussion about religion and gender is entirely different to this, but it is an important one to have.
But the incredible thing about this book is that in encompasses all of the hard truths, the authenticity of the world and society we live in and makes you see. It makes you realise and it breaks your heart. It is not for the faint-hearted because of how raw and heavy the content is.
There is no rating that will be enough for this story.
It will make you cry. It will make you think about it, weeks after you’ve finished it. I know that The Undoing of Ryder Burke will always stay with me, years later.