When I read Dorothy Allison’s fiction for the first time, I felt enraged. Not for Allison depicting the truth, wherein another rapist gets away with his crime, but the fact that I was used to this narrative. I thought, “I shouldn’t feel used to such disgraces.” Nevertheless, every year, countless men get away with rape, and Allison does not sugarcoat this fact. She shares the truths that we would rather ignore, like every other noteworthy Southern writer. Consider, for instance, Eudora Welty’s and Flannery O’Connor’s popular works. In “Why I Live at the P.O.” (1983), Welty presents familial discord at its ugliest. When Welty’s protagonist, Sister, is outcast by her family, she “marche[s] in where they were all playing Old Maid and pull[s] the electric oscillating fan out by the plug . . . [and] snatche[s] the pillow [she’d] done the needlepoint on right off the davenport from behind Papa-Daddy.” Then, in O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (1953), when the Misfit, a heinous serial killer, kills his latest victim, he shares nefarious thoughts that other people would leave unsaid: “‘She would of been a good woman,’ The Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.’” Accordingly, Welty and O’Connor make us uncomfortable, force us to confront our inner demons, and haunt our imaginations long after we read their final words. Unlike Welty and O’Connor before her, however, Allison gives us a glimpse at other atrocities. With brutal realism, Allison’s writing portrays domestic abuse, sexual violence, and incest. In her seminal work Bastard Out of Carolina, a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award, she debunks rape myths, which originate from rape culture. Allison writes from personal experience. Like her heroine, Bone, she lived with her rapist—a man who should have protected and loved her—her stepfather. Allison never allowed this injustice to stop her from pursuing her career or helping others. Whether Allison is working at a Women’s Center or writing, she fights for women’s justice.
On April 11, 1949, Allison was born in Greenville, South Carolina, where she spent her childhood and young adulthood. Allison describes South Carolina as “a hardscrabble state. I still have family, although for the most part they have scattered and decimated. It’s a rough place. But pretty. Very pretty.” Allison’s statement speaks to the paradox of the South. Although the South’s sprawling terrain is beautiful, it is the home of the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws, and other political debacles. This past casts an ever-present shadow over life in the South. This public confrontation often reflects the discord happening inside of private homes. Similar to her heroine in Bastard, Allison was born out of wedlock. Her mother worked as a waitress to make ends meet and eventually married a truck driver. When she was five years old, Allison’s stepfather began to rape her and this sexual violence continued into her young adulthood. Despite the sexual violations and the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather, Allison never lost sight of the life she wanted—a life that excluded her rapist. Although no one in her family had ever graduated high school or attended college, she went to Florida Presbyterian College and received her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Shortly after receiving her degree, she attended a meeting at Florida State University’s Women’s Center, and she found her true passion: listening to other women’s stories and sharing her own. Allison remarks upon the impact the Women’s Center has had on her life: “I would not have become a writer if I hadn’t stumbled into that Women’s Center. I don’t know that I would have managed to survive.” Since she walked into the Women’s Center, she has established herself as a central Southern writer.
Of course, by growing up in the South, Allison found inspiration from other rural writers. She discusses how these writers impact her: “[Y]ou read Flannery O’Connor, and she stays with you. You read James Baldwin, and you start repeating the lines out loud. You read Tennessee Williams, and you think, Well, God, I’m not the only crazy person. The people that resonate with you stay with you.” Allison knows how to make her own writing “resonate,” and she has a very clear conception of what makes Southern writing unique:
It’s not just about unique words that are chosen. It is about pacing. Southerners, particularly from the United States, are so church-constructed. A lot of it is the rhythms of the Protestant churches, Pentecostal churches, and Baptist churches. Have you ever listened to Gospel? It’s a certain kind of poetry in which there is cadence and repetition and, to a certain extent, alliteration. All of which is about precise detail. It’s hard to get it right on the page. It’s much easier to get it right spoken. I can read it aloud much more directly and easily. When I have to put it on the page, I have to pay so much attention to where there’s a comma, where there’s repetition, in order to create the same effect in the reader’s mind.
Like a poet, she focuses on the sound of the words she uses, which gives her writing a lyrical quality. Along with paying close attention to sound, she focuses on the overall message of her writing, such as that found in classic literature, which “is an impulse toward justice.” Allison herself has accomplished this feat, but she seems too humble to admit it.
Allison labels herself as a “Southern working-class writer.” This label seems too modest when describing Allison’s opus thus far, though. Since she began her writing career in 1983, she has published poetry (The Women Who Hate Me), short stories (Trash), fiction (Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller), and nonfiction (a memoir, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure and a collection of essays, Skin—Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature). In interviews, she often says that writing short stories taught her how to write a novel. Although her short stories lean toward autobiography, she credits writing science fiction as the catalyst for writing novels. Despite her love for science fiction, she names Toni Morrison as her “model.” And, when she discusses her writing process, she admits that she “never want[s] to let [a final draft] go.” This inability to let go underscores Allison’s dedication to her craft.
In Allison’s semi-autobiographical novel Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), she critiques the society that reinforces rape culture and allows women like her heroine, Bone Boatwright, to go unheard. According to RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network), we live in a country where “68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police [and] 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.” These statistics are reflected in Bastard. Bone lives with her mother, Anney, and her abusive stepfather, Daddy Glen. Time and again, Daddy Glen either beats or rapes Bone, who is afraid to tell anyone about the violence. Bone’s fear makes sense when we reinforce rape myths, which “consistently follow a pattern whereby, [people] blame the victim for [her] rape, express a disbelief in claims of rape, exonerate the perpetrator and allude that only certain types of women are raped.” Consequently, when the truth comes out, Daddy Glen never faces any repercussions for raping Bone, legal or otherwise, except the wounds he receives from a bloody brawl with Bone’s uncles. Toward the novel’s conclusion, even though Anney witnesses Daddy Glen raping Bone, Anney stays with him and releases Bone to her aunt Raylene’s care. Like Daddy Glen, Allison’s own stepfather was never arrested for raping and abusing her. Despite this injustice, Allison found a way to heal, just as Bone does.
Bone’s storytelling leads to healing and “becomes a technique whereby she retains a sense of power in a situation where she has none. And comfort, just sheer physical comfort of retelling the story in which she is not a victim.” Bone thereby has the chance to overcome the trauma of rape and abuse, “becom[ing] her own savior.” This concept sends a powerful message to young girls and women. After all, we live in a culture that perpetually tells women they need men in their lives in order to survive. We grow up reading and watching fairy tales about damsels in distress and the handsome princes who save them. However, Allison never gives us a fairy tale. When a prince fails to rescue Bone, she has to face her rapist and defeat him on her own.
Besides subverting the male savior paradigm, Allison names the rapist as the antagonist. In rape culture, women provoke their own rape because of their clothing, their behavior, their intoxication level, and on and on. Jackson Katz remarks, “Amazing how this works, in domestic and sexual violence—how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.” However, this erasure never occurs with Bone. Allison places us in the middle of the violence, and she tells us from the beginning who rapes Bone. After reading Bastard, I understand that we need to know rape happens, and we need to name these rapists. When a woman tells someone that a man (or multiple men) raped her, often his or her first thought is, “Is she lying?” In reality, however, only 2% of rape allegations are false. With this statistic in mind, I believe that we need to start educating young men and women about rape culture. Consider, for instance, Kate Harding’s remark, “[E]very American boy is at risk of growing up to become a rapist.” However, do not take Harding’s statement the wrong way. She notes 1) she does not say every boy will become a rapist, 2) not all boys have a “rapey nature”, and 3) she does not hate men. Harding merely presents us with the truth: “we live in a rape-supportive culture,” where boys learn about “good girls and sluts,” “aggressive masculinity that reviles the feminine,” and the popularity that comes along with “hav[ing] as many semi-anonymous sexual encounters as possible.” Beginning in middle school, young men and women need to learn about rape culture with programs such as Safe Dates. Accordingly, we will have a better chance at preventing rape and the reinforcement of rape culture.
Besides provoking change in her literature, Allison lives in Northern California with her partner, Alix, and their son, Wolf Michael. When interviewers ask her about living on the West Coast, Allison shares that she wanted to raise her son in a different environment, far removed from the South. Accordingly, she protects her son from falling into the “‘good ole boy’ tradition.” When Wolf was born, Allison faced difficulties adjusting to life as a mother, wherein she had to balance motherhood and writing: “I didn’t get any work done for a year.” Nevertheless, she holds no regrets when it comes to her son. As for the rest of Allison’s family, her mother has passed away, but she remains close to her two sisters. In between spending time with her family, she has been writing her next novel, She Who, and she works as a writer in residence at various universities across the world.
Dorothy Allison utilizes her own experiences with sexual violence and domestic abuse to advocate for justice. Allison’s writing provokes questions such as, “What are we doing to stop rape culture? Why do we perpetuate a victim-blaming and slut-shaming society?” We can either help women like Bone, or we can continue reinforcing rape culture. In Bastard, Allison gives us hope—not just that women like her can survive, but that we can achieve justice for these survivors. A survivor herself, Allison inspires men and women alike to tell their own stories of abuse and how they conquered their abusers. After all she has experienced, Allison is a mother, a partner, a writer, a feminist, an activist, and even a “Zen Baptist.” But these roles do not encompass her entire character. Like the great Southern writers before her, including Welty and O’Connor, Allison is fierce and unstoppable—she never shies away from sharing the often painful truth of the human condition and continues to write about powerful women.
Brittany Barron graduated from the University of North Georgia with a B.A. in English, Literature Concentration in May 2016. Last year, she was recognized for her work on Edith Wharton, winning the undergraduate research essay prize presented by The Edith Wharton Review. Also, her critical essay on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Mary Hays’s The Victim of Prejudice appears in Gender Forum for their 2015 Early Career Researchers issue. Recently, she presented her research on Eliza Haywood at the 2016 British Women Writers Association Conference. Her research interests include feminism, trauma theory, and rape culture. In August 2016, Brittany will attend Georgia College, where she plans to earn her MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry.
 Allison, Dorothy. “Author Interview: Dorothy Allison.” Interview by Robert Birnbaum. Identity Theory. Identity Theory, 21 Oct. 2002. Web. 25 May 2016.
 Jetter, Alexis. “The Roseanne of Literature.” The New York Times. NY Times, 17 Dec. 1995. Web. 2 June 2016.
 Allison, Dorothy. “Marina Lewis Talks with Dorothy Allison.” Interview by Marina Lewis. Other Voices Fiction 19.45 (2006). Web Del Sol, n.d. Web. 2 June 2016.
 Allison. Interview by Lewis.
 Welty, Eudora. “Why I Live at the P.O.” Selected Stories of Eudora Welty. New York: Random House, 1992. 100. Print.
 O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Three by Flannery O’Connor. New York: Signet, 1962. 143. Print.
 See Emilie Buchwald, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth, eds. Transforming a Rape Culture. Revised ed. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2005. xi. Print.; Dorothy Allison. Bastard Out of Carolina. 20th Anniversary ed. New York: Plume, 2012. Print. Buchwald, Fletcher, and Roth define rape culture: “[W]omen perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women and presents it as the norm.” In Allison’s Bastard, Daddy Glen calls Bone a “bitch” and a “cunt,” he masturbates while he touches her inappropriately, and he rapes her on the kitchen floor of her aunt Alma’s house.
 Allison, Dorothy. “Interview with Dorothy Allison.” Interview by Rob Neufeld. The Read on WNC. The Read on WNC, 9 Nov. 2009. Web. 26 May 2016.
 Allison, Dorothy. “Lessening the Damage: Interview with Dorothy Allison.” Interview by Ellise Fauchs. PopMatters. PopMatters, 15 June 2006. Web. 25 May 2016.
 Allison. Interview by Neufeld.
 Allison. Interview by Birnbaum.
 In 1996, Anjelica Huston directed the film adaptation of Bastard Out of Carolina, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as Anney and Jena Malone as Bone.
 “Statistics.” RAINN. RAINN, n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.
 Grubb, Amy, and Emily Turner. “Attribution of Blame in Rape Cases: A Review of the Impact of Rape Myth Acceptance, Gender Role Conformity and Substance Use on Victim Blaming.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 17 (2012): 445. ScienceDirect. Web. 26 May 2016.
 Allison. Interview by Lewis.
 Allison, Dorothy. “Moving toward Truth: An Interview with Dorothy Allison.” Interview by Carolyn E. Megan. The Kenyon Review 16.4 (1994): 54. JSTOR. Web. 2 June 2016.
 Patterson, Laura S. “Ellipsis, Ritual, and ‘Real Time’: Rethinking the Rape Complex in Southern Novels.” The Mississippi Quarterly 54.1 (2000): 57. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 June 2016.
 Katz, Jackson. “Violence against Women—It’s a Men’s Issue.” Online video clip. TED. TED, 30 Nov. 2012. Web. 5 June 2016.
 Grubb and Turner, 445.
 Harding, Kate. “Simple Safety Tips for Ladies.” Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and What We Can Do about It. Boston: Da Capo, 2015. 37. Print.
 Ibid, 39. For more information about Safe Dates, see Sarah DeGue’s Preventing Sexual Violence on College Campuses: Lessons from Research and Practice. White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, April 2014. Web. 9 June 2016.
 Allison. Interview by Birnbaum.
 Allison. Interview by Fuchs.
 Allison. Interview by Birnbaum.
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