“Boys will be boys,” Vigilance, and Survival in Machado and Dani’s “The Low, Low Woods”
At the end of Carmen Maria Machado and Dani’s The Low, Low Woods, El and Vee uncover the generational violence against women in Shudder to Think and they confront Josh, the teenager that sexually assaulted them at the beginning of the series, as he and other assault Jessica. When Vee punches Josh, she narrates, “I’ll never forget how small he looked. How I felt like if I clasped his body in my hands, it would collapse under my strength, pus-filled chambers, oozing and bursting, until I reached some kind of horrible center — a burning, solid core.” Vee sees Josh’s weakness, which Josh covers with his bravado and predatory actions.
As I reread The Low, Low Woods and taught it, I kept thinking about the final issue and how the culmination of the story fights back against a myriad of lies that society perpetuates when it comes to victims of sexual assault. These come together with Vee punching Josh, but they come into clearer focus following the encounter with the skinless at Heaven on Earth, after Jessica opens up herself and swallows the skinless, Josh, and others into a sinkhole.
While Jessica lies in the hospital, Vee sits by her bed. El stands at the door of the room and speaks with a male police officer. Vee tells us about the community’s reaction to the events that occurred, and she narrates, as El and the officer stand at the door, “It isn’t that no one believed us. It’s worse than that.” Here, Vee causes us to think about the ways we listen to victims, the ways that society pushes victims’ experiences aside, choosing to argue that nothing happened or that the victim merely says something happened in order to get something.
Following this panel, we see a closeup of El screaming, we assume, at the officer she speaks with. We don’t see what El says to the officer, but we do see Vee’s narration. She tells us, “They knew.” Over the course of the series, El knows something happened to her and Vee in the theater, and she knows it is part of a larger horror inflicting the town. Vee’s assertion, “They knew,” undercuts the community’s position that nothing happened…