Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.

-C.S. Lewis

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Aruba

Over at Echidne, there is a running exchange about the underlying cultural and sexual mores in the case of the missing girl in Aruba. What went wrong? Should she have done anything differently? Are we wrong even to ask that question? As is often the case in heated discussions, both “sides” basically agree with one another on the main points. Of course it is agreed that the only culpable parties are the men who committed the crimes. Also more or less universally accepted is that women cannot be said to have provoked or deserved or expected any form of assault as a result of their dress, conversation, manner, or otherwise. The only real disagreement is one of balance. To my mind, the extremes on the spectrum of What To Do About Sexual Assault are, on one hand, to wrap up women in burqas, protecting the males from “temptation,” but denying the women’s very femininity, and, on the other hand, to stride headlong into danger, righteously defiant, in a red dress and six inch heels. Most of the contention arises when someone believes another is leaning too far toward one of these extremes and seeks to reel them back. For the record, I don’t claim that there’s any moral equivalence between the two extremes. Clearly, forcing women to cover themselves is much worse than a woman merely throwing caution to the wind.

Obviously, no one is championing either extreme (at least I don’t think so), so the question becomes “What does the middle ground look like?” And from that question, there springs another: “What do we do once we get there?” Indeed, the true goal of the middle ground in this case is not readily apparent. It seems that most of what is being discussed are standards of behavior operative only after the assault has occurred. This almost seeks to be a framework for channeling blame to its proper recipients. In this context, we look upon sexual assault as something that always already has occurred. All we can hope to do is shield the victim from further trauma by deflecting any attempt to assault her with culpability as well. While to protect the victim from further harm is certainly desirable, to look at sexual assault in this way, as a foregone conclusion over which control can be exerted only in its aftermath, carries a sense of fundamental powerlessness. There is nothing that can be done about the assault because it already happened.

There is something problematic about the very nature of the spectrum of responses that were under discussion. If we assume that the middle of the spectrum is somewhat like the ends, then we’re left to conclude that all of our responses to sexual assault have to do with what women are doing. Seeing as the perpetrators of sexual assault are nearly always men, the protests of women who say that the most common response to rape is to even further attempt to control women seem confirmed. The language that is missing from our discussion is a substantive way to address the behavior of men. Of course the fatalism of seeking to control only the aftermath completely removes the man from consideration because, of course, the assault has already occurred. But if people are correct to complain about the “The man’s is 100% at fault, but…” line, and I think they are, then the discussion needs to center on what happens before the assault occurs. If we only speak in terms of post-assault, then there really is no need to “address” the man’s behavior, because the only appropriate framework for the man at this point is the criminal justice system.

So what now? If we’re going to talk about the man’s role in the sexual assault, then we necessarily must talk about it from a pre-assault mindset. At this point it’s common to fall into the trap of talking about the woman’s behavior exclusively – her outfit, her judgment, her attitude, her level of intoxication. Why? Because it seems much easier to control the behavior of the woman than that of the unruly man. To be honest, I have absolutely no idea what a substantive discussion about modifying men’s behavior would sound like. What can we do (and, at last, that must be what the point of this whole exercise is) to stop men from raping women? What can the community do to raise a young man who will be more respectful of women and less likely to commit rape? Because these questions are so broad and so general, we tend to stop short of the worthy challenge they present to us. So instead of tackling questions that may well be unanswerable, we move to something relatively easily accomplished like insisting that the women not go out alone, that our daughter wear a different sweater, that our sister never give out real name or number. Of course, more demurely dressed, mild mannered women than you can count are raped in "safe" spaces every year. They didn't wear the wrong clothes, talk with too sassy a tone, and they didn't leave their house. What are those women to do? I'm sure there is some way to effect large scale changes that reduce the likelihood of men committing rape, but finding out how will be a hard task indeed. Like with so many other things, we take the easy way out.

echidne said...

Nice. I like this one. There is a discussion on Pandagon, I think, on some of those things that men can do. Many of them caring parents do already, like teaching their sons how to act.

You write well.

hello said...

re: kos/pie ad imbroglio.

i noticed men were quick to give other a pass when they displayed sexist attitudes.
how many times do men get to air sexist views before another guy will call him out on it?
but that isn't done is it. somehow it's a faux pas for a guy to tell another guy that they're being a pig. that would feminize the guy complaining, i think. he wouldn't want anybody to think he's a pussy (as the lexicon goes). sure, some will be brave enough to object, but they seem to be a minority.

racists are quick to be called out on, but not sexists. so as a result sexist attitudes are allowed to fester. even with liberal males, whom you would think would know better. which was a shock to me, to tell you the truth. then i remembered some of the past off color remarks i myself let slide because i kept seeing it as a slip, not reflective of a deeper attitude. or i wasn't in the mood to be confrontational. when i stand back and consider all the past "slip of the tongues", it really did amount to a bigger aggregate than i realized. in the end, i shouldn't have been suprised by the hostility in defense of the ad.

sexism isn't going to be improved by women. their voice become tuned out or not worth considering. it's male peer pressure that needs to come more into play here. it's men who are needed to keep sexist attitudes in check. once sexism is considered in the same bad taste as racism, then i believe misogynistic attitudes are less likely to turn into rape.

just speculation on my part of coure. not expert on this topic, so for all i know, there could be a biological brain chemistry component i'm not aware of. such as dopamine level of thrill seekers, for instance. maybe science can help solve the propensity for men to rape.

Noose said...

I think it's pretty simple really, first off have a sex harassment class in schools, and secondly kill the men who commit acts like this...

we give them a coupla years in jail and it's like it's no big deal, you start lopping off heads in the middle of mainstreet and all of a sudden everybodies more polite....

but in the case of this girl, she shoulda not be a whore and got in the car with three men at one in the damn morning...

if my daughter had done that, even though I'd kill whoevers responcible for her dissapearence I'd have to admit that she asked for it by her behavor...

this ain't the forties, you don't give or take rides from strangers... or men you meet in bars....

but know teach the kids that this won't be tolarted in schools as it is now (you should here the stories my 13 year old brings home) and start killing men for their behavor....

I'm sick of this new-age love the criminal garbage... it's okay for things like low end drug crimes and such, but all murders, rapes, bribery, and kindnapping should have only one penalty, and that is death....

hello said...

some more ponderings over this puzzle.

Jas said...

Well...for one, we teach our daughters to be less trusting of men. Tell them that no matter how a guy is raised, or whatnot, it's no guarantee of safety.
two, we stop making getting laid such a status symbol for guys (good luck). I remember in high school one guy showed off how certain liquors were easier to slip roofies in. And the younger guys thought he was the Mr. Miyagi of sex.
Finally, realize it's not just about sex. Dressing ugly won't protect you if a guy has something to prove to himself or his buddies.
One pt I talked to cried about being attacked when he was joining the military. "i was only 17...just a boy".

This blog is based on a true story.