Our friend W.–not the decider, but the engineer–sent me a link to The Doorman’s take on the Duke rape scandal. Bless his heart, I totally see that there’s something about this whole thing that W. thinks I don’t get and I know that’s probably true, but I can’t for the life of me see it due to the glare coming off of what I do get.
So, let’s start there. Rachel can probably talk about the accuracy of the numbers I’m about to present to you better than I can, but the important thing is not whether the numbers are accurate, but that we’re constantly reminded of them. We are told repeatedly that one in four women has been sexually assaulted. I read, in something or other about this particular case, that one in twenty women is sexually assaulted in college.
I don’t think men get this, but we women constantly hear about sexual violence against women. Which makes sense, if you think about it, because rape is not just what one bad man does to one unlucky woman. The way we talk about rape makes it clear that we understand rape as punishment. If you don’t want to get raped, don’t walk alone in bad neighborhoods, don’t dress ‘provocatively,’ don’t get drunk, don’t be alone with a man you don’t know, don’t be in a crowd of men, don’t work in shitty jobs, don’t stand out, but don’t make yourself seem like an easy target. Don’t, don’t, don’t. With the underlying message being "Because, if you do, you will get what’s coming to you." You might be raped.
Unlike almost any other crime–with the exception of, say, a mafia hit–rape isn’t just about what a perpetrator does to a victim, it’s about sending a message to other potential victims, that message being "If you step out of line, this could happen to you."
That’s why we dwell on this stuff, like the rape case at Duke, because we really, truly, and stupidly believe that, if only we can figure out what rape victims do that provokes the rapists, we can refrain from doing them, and thus be safe.
This part, I think, seems straight-forward enough.
But follow me here for a second. BitchPhD links to a photo essay about women in advertising. The basic gist of the essay is that the ways women are posed on advertising is not so much about them looking "sexy" as it is about them looking a very specific kind of powerful–looking like they have the power to hold men’s attention.
The essay argues, and I think rightly so, that, as a society, we reinforce this notion over and over again that the most powerful power a woman can ever have is her ability to influence (or manipulate) men into giving her what she wants by being something worth looking at.
Are you starting to see the Scylla and Charybdis problem yet?
We’re told this story that, if we want to be truly powerful, we must hold your attention, usually, by looking desirable at the same time we’re told that, if we stand out in some way (which one must in order to capture your attention), we can expect to be punished for it by being raped. In fact, rape is directly an assault on an individual’s power. The whole point of a rape is that the perpetrator wants to make it clear that the victim’s desires don’t matter, that the victim cannot say ‘no.’
But there’s another layer to this, I think, which is that we, as a society, don’t come right out and say "rape is our little way of making sure you know that the ways we’ve told you that you can be powerful are a lie. Ha, ha, on you." but instead we say that rape is a specific problem specific men have. And then, we say that the societal implication of rape is that men, just doing normal man stuff, might be, at any time, subject to a false accusation of rape, which is, according to the social script, the worst thing that can happen to a man.
The Doorman says
What you really have to do, unless you have no idea what it means to be unjustly accused of something, or you haven’t the capacity to empathize with those who potentially have been, is wait until you have all the facts of the case before you start throwing fistfuls of shit on the principals involved. Because when someone fingers you for something, and the journalistic profession sanctimoniously brings every single one of your foibles — relevant or no — to the surface, it certainly seems unfair from my vantage point.
I’m not choosing a side here, and neither should you. All I’m asking is: what if? What if the Duke players’ version of events is the truth? Again, any guy over the age of twenty who has never been in the presence of strippers can leave the room. What if the woman in question really did show up to their party in that condition, as they’re claiming? What if that’s true? Can Alexander Wolff, and all the rest of the journalists who’ve been kicking the accused in the teeth for the past month possibly know if it is or isn’t?
It’s almost as if everyone almost gets that rape is both a terribly intimate crime and that it stands for something larger about the fucked up ways between us, but that no one is quite articulating it. I’m not sure I’m doing that good a job.
I mean, it makes perfect sense to keep men in fear of the false allegation of rape, because it reinforces that women’s power comes from our ability to hold your gaze and to manipulate you. What could be a bigger manipulation than to pretend that something very terrible has happened to you in order to ruin a man’s life? What’s a clearer exercise of power than that?
At the same time it makes women seem very powerful–We can accuse you of rape and ruin your lives–it also serves to reinforce that we have no real power–if we’re raped, people won’t believe us.
Sometimes, I just have to stop and wonder, who benefits from this?
I mean, really. "The Patriarchy" is a fun phrase and lord knows I love to throw it around. But I also know that it puts some of you on the defensive and reminds me of a flock of ancient men wandering around with their 50 wives.
But things are fucked up between us. It’s true that not every man is a rapist and it’s true that not every woman is a deceitful bitch, but it’s also true that men are trained from very early to forcefully demand that their needs be met and women are trained to manipulate in order to have their needs met. That’s a proven recipe for disaster.
So, why do we keep doing it?