I See You, Looking at Me

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?

37 thoughts on “I See You, Looking at Me

  1. That wasn’t a smear. That was the truth. There’s nothing wrong with getting soft and smurfy as you settle into middle age. It’s just a little disconcerting for those of us who have grown used to your mean ass ways.Truthfully, I’ve grown accustomed to and kind of fond of your love of saying cruel shit to me and then pretending like it’s for my own good. But knowing that under that gruff exterior is a man who writes such things as "The pain that the family is going through must be immeasurable." like he’s in charge of putting together the death notices in the church bulletin?I’m just saying, it really takes the sting out of hearing you say "no one will ever want you."Maybe for you it’s different, but I’d rather be unloveable, as usual, than defanged.

  2. It is for your own good.Your whining about being unloved one minute, then reveling in it the next is part of a larger sea of issues for you.I show a tiny amount of compassion for a family with a dead kid, while comparing their situation to one of the greatest summer blockbusters of the 20th century, and that makes me "defanged"?Admit that you have been feeling down about your life for the last two days, and the only thing that makes you feel better is to lash out at me. Which is fine, by the way. It just smacks of a sad attempt for attention.

  3. Please, I was totally ready to run with the "Papa Smurf" comparison. You’re the one who let slip that it was the "think about the children" jab that got to you. I hardly think me taking advantage of you showing a little weakness–when you’re the one who showed up here fixing for a fight–constitutes "lashing out at you."As for a "sad attempt" at attention? Again, please. You’re the one who showed up here all like "Oh, my god. B.’s talking about something I don’t give a shit about. I’d better derail the whole comment thread so that I can bring the focus back on something I do care about, namely, when she fights with me."I’m so sorry something that doesn’t interest you caught my attention. I was unaware that your self-worth is so tangled up in believing that you are the only person who reads me and that all of my posts are secret messages to you. But now that I know that, I’ll try to be more accomodating to your needs.Is there some other part of the "larger sea of issues" that I have that you’d rather be swimming in? I know you love those posts where I talk about how delighted I am to know you, but, for some reason, today I’m not feeling inspired to write up one of those.

  4. Wow, y’all. Do we need to go pick out the water pistols and let y’all settle this at twenty paces? Actually, that might be a pleasant diversion. It’s kinda nasty *outside* today, too.

  5. Wrong again.I didn’t come here fixing for a fight. You started it with the "suck my butt" comment. As a matter of fact, I didn’t "derail the whole comment thread". You did. You turned the comment thread into a salvo across my bow. Go ahead and re-read them, they’re right up there. Yes, I do love me some me. The sad fact is you don’t love you some you. Then again, if you did, you wouldn’t have near as much stuff to write about.

  6. "Tiny Cat Pants! / Where every Wednesday is Rape Day!" wasn’t meant to start a fight? I find that impossible to believe.

  7. Kee-rhist On A Kracker.Pudding, I’m thinking of pudding and Batboy, which is disturbing, I tell you.You guys are not afraid to share your emotions are you.I sort of find that refreshing.

  8. ‘I think you think about rape WAY too much.” April 19, 2006 | Exador ‘Where every Wednesday is Rape Day!’ April 19, 2006 | Sarcastro ‘You obsess about rape so much because you fear it is the only way you’ll ever get laid.’ April 19, 2006 | Sarcastro I am probably way out of line here, because you guys all know each other, and I enjoy a good fight as much, if not more, than the next person, but this sort of shit is just flat out MEAN. WTF? This is not the way friends talk to each other, even in the forum of an open discussion.And by the way, I think B is absolutely on target about this issue. We women can NEVER, EVER be totally free of the realization that someone could rape us anywhere, anytime. Can any and/or all of you men say that? Unless you’re in prison, that is? And it IS about power. Age has nothing to do with it. Our size has nothing to do with it. The way we dress has nothing to do with it. We all have this constant radar up, in most situations, about what might put us in peril. Why shouldn’t I be able to go to the grocery store at 10 pm, walking back to my car without my keys between my fingers, ready to fend off an attacker, checking my back seat before I get in, without worrying about this shit? So suck my butt too. Shit, if you’re offended by that, you’re just a big baby. After what you said? Bite me.Sorry B, this has just really pissed me off. Your skin must be much thicker than mine. I would be really hurt if friends said stuff like this to me.

  9. "Why shouldn’t I be able to go to the grocery store at 10 pm, walking back to my car without my keys between my fingers, ready to fend off an attacker, checking my back seat before I get in, without worrying about this shit?"I’m a guy, and if I’m in a bad part of town, I’m doing similar things. It’s called common sense. Regardless of the common sense things we do, as long as there are bad people in the world, women will be raped, men will be beaten up and robbed.No sense living in fear over it.

  10. Let me rephrase that. The second part should read: Because your chances of being raped are infinitely fewer than mine are.But, yeah, we DO live in fear about it.

  11. Let me rephrase that. The second part should read: Because your chances of being raped are infinitely fewer than mine are.But, yeah, we DO live in fear about it.

  12. SS and B,Don’t suck me into your little slap fight.Peg,"women can NEVER, EVER be totally free of the realization that someone could rape us anywhere, anytime."Anywhere, anytime, huh? Opening Christmas presents with the family? During a church service?If you live in fear of rape in every place, every day, all the time, you have unrealistic issues.Remind me never to ask you for the time. I might get a key in the eye.Lee’s right. There are situations where it is prudent to be more on guard. If you want to play Monty Python over who has to be on guard more often, fine. Women are physically weaker. You have to be on guard more often. Bitch at God, or buy a gun.

  13. If it was only the parking lot after 10 pm…or the narrow almost-deserted alley…or the so-called "dangerous" places…But what if it’s your aunt’s porch? Your own living room? Or on a church picnic, when the deacon asks your dad if he can take you off the trail to show you a ladyslipper that’s just over the hill? Surely you can see where the "just use your common sense" thing breaks down? That’s denial about what rape is and where and why it happens. I’m with B. When does rape stop being our problem?

  14. By your logic, someone could stab me "on my aunt’s porch" or "in my own living room". Should I live my life in fear of that happening?Surely common sense dictates that the possibility of that happening is infitesimally small.You might as well worry about lightning.

  15. Exador, one of the earliest points I was trying to make is that it doesn’t actually matter if common sense would dictate that the possibility of being raped in any given circumstance is small, because we women are constantly inundated with the message that we might be, at any time, raped. The fear of rape is a crippling one–which seems to annoy you–but if you find it annoying, imagine how it is for those of us who have to hear about it every day.Peg, leaving Exador aside, yes, I know. You say shit like that to a person you hate or a person you wish to god you hated. I’m slowly getting that.

  16. And WHO’s inundating you with that message and instilling that fear?Those DAMN feminists!Just so they can scare up funding for their womyns’ studies programs.It’s a vicious cycle.

  17. Exador: You accused me of being ‘specious’ and ‘disingenuous’ not long ago in our little dust up over the drug issue. Remember that? So now you take what I said: "We women can NEVER, EVER be totally free of the realization that someone could rape us anywhere, anytime," and extrapolate that into (you) declaring:"Anywhere, anytime, huh? Opening Christmas presents with the family? During a church service? If you live in fear of rape in every place, every day, all the time, you have unrealistic issues."Get a grip, dude. Who is being disingenuous now? Stick to the issue at hand. You know what we’re talkng about here. And it’s not all about semantics and wordplay. And I WOULD give you the time of day, if you asked. If you asked nicely.

  18. reading these comments, i have noticed two people who are very defensive and respond with hostile words, because Aunt B. writes about rape "too much." i am one of MANY ladies who disagrees that rape is an exhausted issue. if Exador and Sarcasto don’t want to run across so much rape talk in women’s discourses, take this issue to the rapists. when we stop getting raped, we will gladly stop talking about how it hurts.

  19. seems a bit weird that if Aunt B talks too much about rape it must either be because she’s got "issues" or that evil feminists are controlling the discussion. what about that 1-in-20 statistic? Which I believe comes from the National College Women Sexual Victimization Study (Fisher, Cullen, and Turner 2000), among others or:Nearly 6 out of 10 rapes occur at the victim’s home or the home of a friend, relative, or neighbor.(these are from <a href="http://www.nycagainstrape.org/research_factsheet_6.html">here</a&gt;, and appear to be statistics cited by the Department of Justice) If even 1/20 of all women talk about rape, I bet we’d hear about it a lot more everywhere.

  20. I’d like to think that maybe these rape posts hit such a nerve with some of B’s gentleman readers because the thought of some creep assaulting one of their loved ones just makes them crazy with anger and fear. And then I read such personal VERBAL attacks and I think, "Whoa, this ain’t crazy with anger and fear on another’s behalf. This is just mean, for whatever reason." If you don’t want to discuss issues and find out what makes others tick, gentlemen, especially when it’s on the blog of a person whose opinions you used to seem to respect even as you disagreed with her, for God’s sake, don’t read the posts that set you off. I fear for y’all’s blood pressure. Now that I look back over it, all I just said is just a longer version of what snowfeet said. So, ibid. snowfeet. Thank you, hon.

  21. All right. Let’s just call it a day on this one, too, folks. Some mean ass shit was said, I dealt with it in outragiously cruel fashion. Feelings are hurt all around. Let’s just leave it alone.We can come back to the important stuff when the personal stakes aren’t quite so high.

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