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Becoming Unbecoming by Una

Becoming Unbecoming (2015)

by Una

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735231,298 (4.08)24



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There's a powerful condemnation of sexism, the police, the media and society in general hiding in this autobiographical story of a girl who grew up in the shadow of a serial killer terrorizing her community. Unrelated (and yet related) to the killer, the author is the victim of sexual molestation and rape. Unfortunately, the structure and presentation of the work itself obscures more than it enlightens. First, it is one of my major pet peeves, an illustrated story disguising itself as a graphic novel: sketchy art is unbalanced and overwhelmed by giant blocks of text. Text blocks are strewn across the page in a way that makes it difficult to ascertain the proper reading order. Powerful facts are tossed in but not fully explored; analysis is put aside in favor of pages laden with symbolism. The very structure is nebulous as the story seems to progress more through free association than building strongly toward its central point. I was moved by the intent of this work, but found the end result wanting. ( )
  villemezbrown | Jul 28, 2018 |
A book about the consequences of male violence and sexual assault of women and children, from the clear headed perspective of an abuse survivor. The protagonist's childhood was haunted by a serial killer who hunted women. ( )
  questbird | Dec 25, 2017 |
Please read this.

She puts into words so many things that I've never been able to, that few people have been able to, and that even fewer people understand, with artwork to match.

It is beautiful, powerful, and important. ( )
  BrynDahlquis | May 11, 2017 |
Raw, powerful, necessary.

(Trigger warning for violence against women, including rape.)

Canon Gordon Croney, vicar of Leeds, considers police-controlled houses of prostitution to be impractical. "I know it's an easy answer, but I believe it could make the problem worse," he said.

"If prostitutes came under police protection, then it could make a psychopath like the Ripper prey on innocent women."


So many popular cultural monuments to Sutcliffe have been built by men. Perhaps it's easier to see it as just another story, if you don't belong to the group of people the Ripper wanted to kill?


So what's the truth?
Maybe it's something like this:

Ordinary men are capable of extraordinary violence.
Women and girls are neither virgins nor whores.

None of it is funny.


Between 1969 and 1981, Peter Sutcliffe - who would eventually become known as the Yorkshire Ripper - attacked at least twenty women, killing thirteen of them. He primarily targeted sex workers, either because he was conned by a prostitute and her pimp - or because God commanded him to. (When caught, he pled not guilty due to diminished capacity, on account of a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He's currently serving a life sentence.) However, not all of his victims were sex workers; the investigators' inability to reconcile this inconsistency is perhaps one of many reasons they bungled the investigation, for example, by ignoring important evidence from an eyewitness who survived, 14-year-old Tracy Browne. Sutcliffe was caught in January 1981 - after he was brought in for driving with false license plates. The police had interviewed him nine times at that point, and had countless "photofits" bearing his image in their files.

The author - who goes by the pseudonym Una - was just entering her teenage years when the attacks escalated. Born in 1965, Una lived in west Yorkshire; her formative years were colored by the hysteria and misogyny whipped up by the killing spree. By the police and in the media, the Ripper's victims were deemed complicit in their own assaults; what else could women with "loose morals" expect? As his body count grew and came to include "regular" women (and girls), evidence of immorality could be found everywhere: going out drinking at night (with or without your husband), dating outside your race, arguing with a boyfriend.

No one was safe, and that's kind of the point: Peter Sutcliffe was a misogynist and, to the extent that he targeted sex workers, it was because he felt he could get away with it. And he did, for far too long.

Nor was the Yorkshire Ripper the only threat facing the women of England in 1977. According to current rape stats for England and Wales, 1 in 5 women aged 16 to 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. Only about 15% of victims choose to report; some 90% know their attackers. Furthermore, 31% of young women aged 18 to 24 report having experienced sexual abuse in childhood. The Ripper may have been the face of violence against women in the mid- to late-1970s but, in truth, danger lurked much closer to home.

A fact Una knows all too well. Una was assaulted on at least three separate occasions, by different perpetrators, between the ages of twelve and sixteen - including her mother's boyfriend (who also physically abused her mother, fwiw). After the first rape, she began to act out, skipping school and engaging in risky sexual behaviors (where consent wasn't always clear, it's worth noting; once she had "a reputation," men felt entitled to use her body as they saw fit). She had nightmares and likely suffered from PTSD. She began to see a therapist - a series of them - yet no one even guessed at the underlying problem: that she'd been raped, and that that assault - and the subsequent lack of support - left her vulnerable to further victimization.

In Becoming Unbecoming, Una explores her own sexual abuse against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper - and then interrogates and eviscerates the rape culture undergirding them both.

This is unlike any other book I've read on rape and rape culture, owing in no small part to the format Una chose. Telling her story in pictures as well as words (and there are large chunks of text, including newspaper recreations and statistics galore) makes her experiences feel so much more raw and visceral. A nondescript, ordinary-looking girl in a babydoll dress and bangs, Una looks vulnerable, almost frail. She seems stuck in childhood, even as the years advance, forever doomed to shoulder an empty speech bubble - empty not because she has nothing to say, but rather no one willing to listen. The artwork, both lovely and infuriating, humanizes the author and puts on face on statistics that otherwise threaten to overwhelm.

If comic books aren't really your thing, please don't let the format discourage you! Becoming Unbecoming is also unlike any graphic novel I've read, with end notes, a bibliography, and a list of resources and further reading at the end. While some pages are quite minimalist - a storm cloud here, a metamorphosing Una-bug there - others are very heavy on text. It almost feels more like an art project than a comic book (although I suppose the two aren't mutually exclusive!); think: Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia student who carried her mattress around campus to protest the administration's failure to punish her rapist.

Una's artwork and commentary are smart and witty and simmering with righteous anger. In a book filled with memorable images, two stand out. While Una mostly avoids more graphic details of her own rapes, in one series of panels we see her rapist's face - from Una's perspective, as she hits and slaps and tries to push him off her. It's deeply unsettling, yet also satisfying in that it puts the focus where it belongs - on the perpetrator. In a culture saturated with images of sexy female corpses, this is ... refreshing.

On the book's final pages, Una laments our fascination with violent men, while simultaneously erasing their victims, relegating them to footnotes and mug shots. She wonders what the Ripper's thirteen victims might be doing with their wild and precious lives now, had they not been so callously and violently stolen from them? What follows is a series of thirteen portraits of the women - Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Patricia Atkinson, Jayne MacDonald, Jean Jordan, Yvonne Pearson, Helen Rytka, Vera Millward, Josephine Whitaker, Barbara Leach, Marguerite Walls, and Jacqueline Hill: some of them well into middle age, others elderly; mothers and sisters and grandmothers; office workers and gardeners and dog people; happy, sad, bored, or just getting through the day. Living and loving, before Peter Sutcliffe - and a culture that enables and emboldens men like him - engaged in the ultimate demonstration of power and control.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2016/11/25/becoming-unbecoming-by-una/ ( )
2 vote smiteme | Oct 30, 2016 |
Becoming Unbecoming by Una is one of the most difficult graphic novels I have read because of the issues it explores. It takes place in the latter half of the 1970s when the Yorkshire Ripper terrorized England and murdered over a dozen women. Beside this, Una juxtaposes her own sexual abuse and the responses to it. She reproduces headlines from the era concerning the killings which seemed to suggest that the victims were to blame for their fates since they were prostitutes and it is only when a young schoolgirl is killed that anyone seems to care and the search actually becomes serious. Even then, it is believed that this murder was a mistake, that the Ripper’s motive had been to clean up the streets of prostitutes and he had mistaken her for one, this despite her school uniform and her book bag. Beside this, Una talks about how girls were divided basically into two groups – girls who were sexually active or ‘sluts’ or those who weren’t and she discusses the slut-shaming she received from her classmates both male and female as well as adults and how it coloured all aspects of her life. She uses reams of facts and figures to discuss the issue of violence against women as well as different graphic styles that work exceptionally well in telling both the Ripper story and her own. As hard as her story must have been to tell, she never flinches from the memories of what happened to her. As difficult as I found this to read (I had to put it down several times just to try to deal with the impact), it is a very important story, one that I hope receives a very wide audience. ( )
  lostinalibrary | Oct 5, 2016 |
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A devastating personal account of gender violence told in comic book form, set against the backdrop of the 1970s Yorkshire Ripper man-hunt

It’s 1977 and Una is 12. Other kids are into punk or ska, but Una is learning to play "Mull of Kintyre" by Wings on the guitar, and she thinks it’s a really good song. There's another song, chanted on the terraces by Leeds United fans. It might not have made it on to Top of the Pops, but the boys all sing it on the walk home from school: "One Yorkshire Ripper . . . There’s only one Yorkshire Ripper . . . One Yorkshire Ri-pper . . ." A serial murderer is at large in West Yorkshire and the police—despite spending more than two million man-hours hunting the killer and interviewing the man himself no less than nine times—are struggling to solve the case. As this national news story unfolds around her, Una finds herself on the receiving end of a series of violent acts for which she feels she is to blame. Unbecoming explores gender violence, blame, shame, and social responsibility. Through image and text Una asks what it means to grow up in a culture where male violence goes unpunished and unquestioned. With the benefit of hindsight Una explores her experience, wonders if anything has really changed and challenges a global culture that demands that the victims of violence pay its cost.
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Becoming Unbecoming explores gender violence, blame, shame and social responsibility. Through image and text Una asks what it means to grow up in a society in which male violence goes unpunished and unquestioned. With the benefit of hindsight Una explores her experience, wonders if anything has really changed and challenges a global culture that demands that the victims of violence pay its cost.… (more)

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