Monday, October 15, 2007

Hit the road, Jack...

Drinking and rape...
Almost any time you talk about rape, the drinking thing comes up. I think, next to criticizing the way that women dress, the fact that people like to drink is about the issue most often brought up. You see it in the news. You see it in the comments on posts about rape.

Despite the best attempts to clarify that a victim's choice to drink or not drink doesn't cause that person to get raped, but rapists choose whether or not to rape, the argument rages on.

In this case, I want to talk about and respond to some of Jack's comments from Cara's thread. Jack's comments are near the end of the thread, and his first question was about rape apologism:

Now, firstly, please elaborate on rape apologism. I read through the ‘no cookie’ guy’s page and I think it’s bullshit. People who believe the oppressed shouldn’t point our their problems to the oppressor are living in cloud cuckoo land. The vast majority of people do not just happen upon the best way of doing things. They wait until someone is so pissed off with them that they have to listen. So, please go on.

I think that this is really important, because it means that either Jack is seriously misreading/misunderstanding the point or that the point has been poorly explained. When we (or, at least, I) talk about rape apologism, it's about people who make excuses for and try to diminish the seriousness of rape and sexual assaults. It's not about whether rape victims should or shouldn't point out or take action against their attackers, it's about the ways that society dismisses and ignores the victims of these crimes. It's about the ways that victims of rape are constantly accused of lying, or how they're told that the crime is, to varying degress, their own fault because they: shouldn't have been alone with that person/shouldn't have had so much to drink/shouldn't have worn that outfit/had consented to sex with that person in the past/etc, etc, etc.

My impression is that Jack is actually responding to the post about whether feminists have an obligation to hand-hold people new to the movement or interested in the movement. I stated that, no, I don't think that women have an obligation to teach men what is or is not acceptable behavior, just as I don't think that people of color have an obligation to teach whites what is and is not acceptable behavior. I stand behind that: it's not the responsibility of the oppressed to point out opression to the oppressors.

Now, the difference between what I said, and how Jack read it is, admittedly, somewhat subtle, but it's an important distinction, none-the-less. I said that the oppressed don't have an obligation to teach the oppressors. The responsibility for not being an asshole lies with the person acting. Each of us is responsible for our own actions, and we each have an obligation to not treat other people poorly. That's not the same as saying that the oppressed shouldn't mention their oppression.

In reality, there are tons of people working to point out and fight oppression from within oppressed groups. There's no shortage of people writing about their experiences with bigotry or oppression every day. So, it's not for lack of resources that a person is ignorant about oppression. The original point was more about any particular person. I can't walk up to any particular POC and expect that person to treat me with kid gloves- to teach me about what it means to be a POC, and in what ways that person experiences bigotry and racism. That person doesn't have an obligation to act as my mentor and teacher.

That's why I went on to point out that it's my responsibility to seek out information and to learn. No particular person is obligated to help me- but that's not the same as saying that people shouldn't help me. If someone feels inclined to help- andy many people do- that's awesome.

I'm going to go out on a limb, and guess that the part that pissed Cara off the most was when Jack gets into discussing the connection between rape and clothing:

However, there are some things that you MUST realise, not just for the sake of this argument, but because it is indicative of human behaviour, drunk or sober, man or woman, rapist or anyone else. When someone gets pissed up at a club or bar and dresses in skimpy clothing, they are saying, “Hey, I want easy sex, for one night only.” That IS what that means. This is a matter of social relationships and these are norms that have been around for a long, long, long time and it applies to men just as much as women. If you don’t want easy sex, you dress down. Most people are turned on by the sight of a bit of extra skin on the right person. If we were all nudists, that would be different, but we are not.

This is the sort of comment that makes a lot of us say that we live in a society of rape apologists. The suggestion that this attitude is indicative of human behavior betrays a really low opinion of mankind, and is, to put it mildly, misguided.

First of all, a person's choice to get drunk and dress in a certain way doesn't tell you a damn thing about what that person is looking for. It most certainly does not mean "Hey, I want easy sex, for one night only." It could mean myriad different things: "Hey, I want easy sex tonight", "Hey, check out this hot new dress I bought that I think really flatters me", "Hey, I'm out partying with my friends", "Hey, I've had a rough week and I wanted to get dressed up and have some drinks and have a nice time, but I'm not looking for sex", etc. So, yeah, sometimes it means that you're looking for sex when you wear a skimpy outfit and go out clubbing and drinking, but the mere fact that you're wearing an outfit that you think is hot doesn't say anything to other people about what you're actually thinking. The fact that some people think that a person's choice in clothing tells them what she IS thinking, is a big problem.

Another issue here is this: Even if a person is looking for easy sex, it doesn't excuse or justify rape. If a woman, for example, decides that she's looking for a one night stand, and chooses to wear something low-cut and short, and goes to a bar and drinks a lot... so what? Just because she's at a bar looking to pick up a guy doesn't mean that she's looking for every guy or any particular guy. The fact that she's wearing something skimpy and drinking doesn't excuse another person assaulting her. Even if she's looking to get laid, she still has the right to say "no" to any particular request.

The fact that some particular person is turned on by that woman's clothing choice doesn't create an obligation on her part to fulfill that person's desire anymore than the fact that some woman or man might think that I'm hot creates an obligation on my part to please that person. Do I realize that if I get dressed up and go out to a club that it's possible that another person might think I'm hot and be turned on by me? Absolutely. That fact doesn't matter, though- it doesn't justify or excuse a sexual assault on my person.

If you think that a person's choice of clothing tells you more about what that person is thinking, feeling, or desiring than that person's actual words, you're treating that person as an object. You're not fighting rape culture, you're reinforcing it. If you're turned on by someone and they don't return the sentiment, it doesn't matter what that person is wearing or how much that person has had to drink.

Jack doesn't do himself any favors when he continues, though:

There are plenty of people (the majority, would you believe it?), who do not see skimpy clothing and drunkenness as a ticket to rape. You make it sound like this is not the case. That is why I find (pending your reply), the rape apologist idea a little OTT. Seeing a load of scantily clad ladies drinking and laughing gives me urges. But I refrain from raping them because that would be utterly abhorrent in itself, not because it’s OK to be a rape apologist, but actual rape is just, you know, not for me… Do you see? Sorry, that was rather a clumsy phrasing.

I think we can all agree, that is rather clumsy phrasing. Sure, I'll agree that probably most people, if asked, agree "rape is wrong". That's not the whole story, though. There are some people who think that rape is wrong, but that if a person is dressed a certain way, or has been drinking, or is a sex worker, etc, etc, that it's not rape. Even if those people are the minority, they're still out there, and they're still a problem. Jack's own comments hint at rape apology. Even if you say "rape is bad", when you follow it up with "but, it's understandable that it happens to people who dress a certain way. They should know that dressing a certain way turns people on", you're treading in apologist territory.

Mostly, though, that paragraph is sort of troubling because of the statement "rape is just, you know, not for me..." Rape is a sexual assault- it's a crime because you're attacking another person. I mean, imagine saying the following: "Actual murder is just, you know, not for me..." People don't talk like that. That's the sort of thing we say about a type of cola or a movie genre: "Coke is just, you know, not for me" or "Crime dramas are just, you know, not for me".

The way it's worded creates the feeling that rape is, somehow, just a matter of personal preference. I doubt that Jack actually feels that way, but that's how the paragraph sort of reads to me, and I imagine it didn't help his case much. Rape is a serious assault, and it's wrong, not because it's "not for me" but because it's a serious violation of another person's personal autonomy.

The interesting thing is that Jack's own analysis of his relationship to rape victims ought to be indicative of the problems that we face. They should reveil to him just how screwed up the situation is. When he notes that, statistically speaking, he probably knows a number of victims of rape, but that he'll probably never know which ones, and that they aren't willing to "put down a dismissive comment about rape in public", that should suggest to him that the ways we view and treat rape victims is problematic. The ways that our society treats rape victims doesn't make it easy for them to talk about their experiences. He almost gets there, I think, when he talks about his own dismissiveness towards rape during his teenage years, but I'm not sure he completely understands the social implications, even as he repeatedly notices and mentions the difficulties that rape victims face: IS the responsibility of the oppressed to speak out. Most men (because let’s face it gents, it’s so overwhelmingly men who commit rape), will never commit rape, but that does not make them devoid of responsibility - because they have neither the personal fear/experience, nor the second-hand emotional information from vocal rape victims, to make a concrete socio-political stand on it, it just might be that many men find it more acceptable or that they are pretty ambivalent about it. This cannot be allowed to continue, but I find it difficult to see how the situation can be improved when women are so divided by personal feelings of shame, or helplessness, or just not wanting to bring it up, that they are not combating ignorance of this issue.

I'm not completely sure what to make of this. I don't know of any feminist who thinks that men are devoid of responsibility when it comes to rape. Ultimately, most of us suggest that it's rapists responsibilities not to rape, but, given how that's not happening, we need to create a society that takes rape more seriously, and doesn't treat rape like a joke, or blame the victims, or excuse rape because the attacker "couldn't help it" or whatever. Many people believe that men have a responsibility to stand up to rape and to confront other men on the issue when they make light of it or excuse rape.

I'm also confused because it's not like no women speak out. It's true that many victims- male and female- of rape feel shamed or frightened about speaking out about their attack, but it's not the case that no victims speak out. We certainly need to make it easier for victims of sexual assault to be heard, but it doesn't make sense to suggest that nobody is trying to raise awareness about rape. Telling the victims of a serious assault "You ought to be doing more" doesn't help- it's just piling more guilt on top of what, for many, is an already tremendously difficult time.

It's true that it's difficult to raise awareness about an issue when the victims are often silenced- but Jack comes to the wrong conclusion. This is exactly an area where he could be making a difference, rather than standing around complaining about how victims don't do enough. Instead, he could be doing advocacy work. He could be, himself, pointing out the problems that victims of sexual assault face, and trying to help people understand the realities of rape. Instead, he says:

The responsibility to improve on the numbers of women subject to rape, on the care victims receive afterwards AND on the conviction rate lies with women and most specifically with rape victims not out of some moral high-ground kind of thing, but because men in general, through thoughtlessness, common stupidity, gender socialisation and because nobody has bothered or been able to tell them, simply don’t know what they are talking about. That’s the crux of the matter and you even said it in one of your posts. If you just get annoyed with people who don’t get it, you can’t wait until they’re interested. Why would they be? They don’t know anyone who has been raped, or rather, nobody they know has let on that they’ve been raped.

The responsibility to improve on the sexual assault rate and the resources available to the victims of assault doesn't sit at the feet of the victims or at the feet of women- it's all of our responsibilities. That some people- even most- are ignorant or thoughtless or even stupid doesn't excuse the rest of us from working on it. If some, even most, men are stupid about it, it just means that the men who do get it have a tough battle to try to help those men "get it". Jack claims to be gender egalitarian, but shoving the responsibility at the feet of women after pointing out that rape is a problem that disproportionately affects women doesn't make sense. If you really think that men are the biggest source of rape, and that women are the biggest set of victims, why would you throw your hands up and suggest that it's women's responsibility to fix the problem?

Ultimately, Jack ended up getting banned after suggesting that Cara- who was, it should be noted, doing a lot of things that Jack wanted women to do (talking about rape, raising awareness, etc)- "part of the problem." You see, her attitude is "essentially the same as the ones which have kept women in the kitchen and the bedroom institutionally for hundreds/thousands of years."

Jack: If you want women to help you understand feminist concerns and issues, I don't think that arguing that women dressing in skimpy clothing is a good start. And after you've annoyed and upset someone on their own blog, telling them to "Grow up" and telling them that they're "pathetic" aren't going to help your case, either.


Cara said...

Hey Roy, thanks for responding to this guy. I would like to state for the record that his final comments weren't really the reason that he got banned. I actually found them to be a combination of bizarre and amusing -- or I would have, if he hadn't already pissed me off so severely. I banned him because he commented after I told him not to. The only reason that I didn't immediately ban him is because I can only ban users by denying them full access to the site, and he therefore would not have been able to see any responses (like this one!) to his comments.

If you would actually like for him to personally see this response, I can pass on his email address (assuming that he provided a real one) to you.

Moving on, I think that Jack displays a lot of really Nice Guy (tm) tendencies. Experience tells me that there are three major breeds of feminist blog trolls. The first is the expletive-spewing, nonsense troll, whose comments usually amount to "bitch cunt whore!" Then there the "you are stupid and wrong and let me tell you WHY" troll. Lastly, there is what I like to personally call the Nice Guy(tm) troll. This troll likes to say things like "of COURSE I think that women are equal, and I would never hit or abuse a woman (etc.). But, little lady, your tactics to fight oppression are really wrong, so let me, with my big bad penis explain where you went wrong, because I want to be helpful." For example, I particularly loved how after his long strange rant about how rape just isn't for him and women should be doing more to fight it, he thought that he would change my mind about identifying as a feminist. And then, when you call them on their shit, like Jack, they usually turn back into troll number 1.

In any case, you did a great job here. He very clearly didn't pay attention to what your post (that I linked to for another user, who thought that I should be nicer to rape apologists) said, even if he did read it. And he also insisted on making arguments that I had already countered both in the post AND in the comments (and then got pissed when I refused to say what was wrong with them AGAIN).

Anyway, cool post. I'll post an update to my original post with a link.

Sovawanea said...

Hey, maybe many men are clueless...but these men aren't:

Maybe Jack can get more explicit instructions on what he could to prevent violence against women from them!