Beyond Enabling

Roxanne has a great post up at Pandagon about a recent church abuse scandal, and how apologists for abuse are a huge part of the problem. When people ask “How does this happen?” they need only look to some of the responses to this story (warning: graphic accounts of sexual assault) to understand. Roxanne quotes a few of them, and I’ll present some others, which seem to volley back and forth between “bitchez are stupid” and “the sluts wanted it”:

at some point, people have to take responsibility for their part is something like this.

there is nothing wrong with people wanting to be spanked for sexual excitement. it is kinky light.
getting spanked by your preacher, (as the mad tv guy says) “takes it to a whole notha leval”.

Until women stop being assumed to be vulnerable and take responsibility for ourselves, this kind of stuff will happen. If someone tells you they need to spank and/or poke you to make your problems go away, you are not vulnerable, you are stupid. Waiting years to complain due to embarrassment is just ridiculous.

Are any of these women claiming he physically forced them to submit to spankings or pokings? If so, that’s assault and rape. If you bought some bogus claim of spiritual treatment that includes spanking or poking, that’s stupidity — not vulnerability.

My basic cynicism toward most preachers of any faith prevents my seeing Sherman Allen’s accusers as helpless and/or vulnerable. Unless he drugged or physically forced them into his “treatment” program, they were participants.

Allen is a creep, but his accusers are pretty creepy, too.

I don’t know these folks. If you are out in life functioning as an adult, then you make your choices like one. Some people are into spanking as a sexual act. That is a fact dude! It is not that far fetched. I don’t make these things up, I just report on them.

Yes, the preacher should be strung up by his nuts.
(some people get off on that too) The preacher was wrong. He not the first preacher to be involved in a sexual mess. He will not be the last.

Some folks even fantasize about having sex with men/women of the clothe. Again….just a fact.
My first lover was Thomas Tryon who portrayed the Cardinal in THE CARDINAL. It was a bit of a turn on. Later, I dated a real Bishop. He was more of a sugar daddy. I was young, attractive and adventorous.

Kenneth and all the other weak victims,

You don’t know what may or may not have happened to me. You assume because I’m not willing to be a victim and expect adult women to take responsibility for themselves that nothing bad ever happened to me.

Anyone who equates Christianity with paddling would be better off in a cult or a padded cell.

Kenneth, grow up and get on with your life. Stop being a victim.

Nice stuff, right? And sure enough, the very first comment on the Pandagon thread basically says, “Why are you worried about church sexual abuse when kids are abused in schools, too? Why don’t you focus on that?” To which I give you Chris Clarke.

Sexual assault and abuse defenses always have the same starting point: If only women had done the right thing, they could have avoided victimization. Sometimes that argument is extreme, like in the comments above, where people are willing to flat-out say that rape victims only have themselves to blame (and they might have even wanted it). Sometimes it’s a bit more subtle, like comments about the Kobe Bryant case — “Well, if she hadn’t gone up to his room…” and “What did she think was going to happen?” And sometimes the defenses come under the guise of “concern” for women — see here for an example.

A similar conversation is happening over at Alternet today, in response to a fabulous piece about putting blame where blame is due (on rapists) and still having honest, pleasure-affirming and risk-reducing conversations with women. I don’t think most feminists oppose the idea of empowering all people to stay as safe as possible. What I personally have a problem with is dragging out the “how women can reduce their risk” suggestions every single time sexual assault is brought up. It’s something that we don’t see with any other crime (except, of course, sexual abuse and domestic violence). When a horrific murder story comes up, the first response is rarely a “How to Avoid Being Murdered” lecture — unless it’s a rape-murder, or a murder of an otherwise rape-able (read: young, pretty) woman, and even then the issue of how to avoid rape is central.

Further, the “suggestions” for avoiding rape always come down to the idea that women’s bodies and their very presence in a public space is the problem, and assumes that the female body inherently tempts men to abuse it and take violent ownership of it. For example, this quote on Alternet:

From another board and person, a few days ago:

“If a woman goes into a bar, wearing sexy clothes and drinks alot, and later gets raped – did she ask for it?”

I started out with “Are you really going to sit there and take the position that the woman’s choice of behavior and where she chose to behave that way had absolutely nothing to do with the consequences she later encountered?”

If a man would go into a poor section of town, and make a big display of waving around a wad of $100 bills, simply to lord over people the fact that he had something they wanted and didn’t have, and someone decided to take them from him, are you really going to claim that his actions had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what happened to him afterward? Would you at least agree that she engaged in behavior that a person of average intelligence would regard as ‘high risk’ and if she had not taken that risk, her experiences would likely have been different?”

There is a difference between a woman and a wad of $100 bills, although you probably wouldn’t know it if you internalized these kinds of arguments. That difference, of course, is that one is a human being and the other is a set of valuable objects. And therein lies the problem with the rape apologist “keep yourself safe” suggestions: They are premised on the very idea that a woman, by simple virtue of being a woman, is an object that someone else wants to take. But as a general rule, women cannot escape their own skin. You can put your stack of $100 bills in your wallet, and if some dude at a bar punches you in the face and takes it out of your pocket, he’s a violent criminal and you are, without a doubt, a victim.

What can I do? Well, I can cut off my hair, bind my breasts, work out a lot, grow facial hair, deepen my voice and dress in a traditionally masculine way — and then, if I don’t adequately pass, or if I reveal that I was born a woman, I am again at substantial risk of assault.* Trans people, people who are androgynous, gay men, lesbians, gender-queer people, etc etc face these risks all the time because they have the audacity to leave their homes or, even worse, to pursue romantic or sexual relationships. And who can blame the poor straight dude who takes a woman home only to discover that she has male genitalia, or that she was born a man, and flips out and kills her?

In other words, “protect yourself from rape” suggestions conveniently ignore the fact that it’s not about “choice of behavior” at all. It’s about living in a female or otherwise transgressive body, and doing just about anything with that body. According to rape apology, if you are a person whose body is not normative (i.e., not male), the very act of going out in public with that body is where you went wrong. They rarely flat-out say that, of course. They’ll instead point to going out in clothes which reveal that body to be female, or engaging in behaviors which are fundamental to a variety of social situations (i.e., drinking, dancing, talking), or choosing the wrong street to walk down.

And when you point out that most sexual assaults happen in private, and most women are victimized by someone they know, then the question becomes, “Well why did you let him into your bedroom in the first place?”

For those people who view women’s bodies as commodities, like $100 bills or wallets, to be “taken” by someone who “wants” that object, it makes sense to rely on protective arguments and suggestions. For them, rape is not a crime of violence, but one of passion and of giving in to temptation. Women, like $100 bills, are vulnerable precisely because people want them in a positive way. Thieves aren’t interested in hurting $100 bills, they’re simply interested in having them and having the things that they can buy. But rapists are very interested in hurting women. They may also be interested in sexual gratification, but that gratification is coming from injuring someone else, not from sex itself. Men are not so animalistic that, at the very presence of an erection, they absolutely must put it in someone, even if doing so means physically hurting someone else. But that is what the sex-as-commodity crowd would have you believe: That sex is something women possess and men want, and if some men see sex (also known as “women”) then they will take it.

That isn’t how it works. The best way for a woman to protect herself from rape and abuse is to never live with a man (including male family members), have zero male acquaintances, and simply never interact with men. Suggesting that women put themselves at risk by drinking socially, or going to parties, or walking down the street at night, ignores the basic fact that we are more likely to be sexually assaulted or abused in our own homes than at any bar.

But to hell with blaming the people who commit sexual assault. We should only do that when it comes to other violent crimes — you know, the ones wherein men are both perpetrator and victim (the majority, it should be said):

Blaming men– It’s like blaming the untrained dog for crapping on the floor. It might make you feel better, but it aint never in a million years gonna change things. Not until every last man is locked behind bars will women be totally safe to get drunk at any party. Obviously that is what some people want… for every woman to end up in a single parent home with a child or two on a basket of drugs. All because she’s taught to blame the man for everything that goes wrong.

All women need to be taught a very simple lesson:

girl, if you go get drunk at a party, and you expect some random person to be looking out for you, you best expect to be disappointed. You make sure beforehand what you expect your friends to do for you. You think about the consequences before you take that next drink. Think while you still can. Or learn the hard way. Up to you.

What really bothers me about the whole rape thing is that it’s a loss for everybody. Women seem to forget that. And all this anger and rage gets directed at people who otherwise could have been friends.

Isn’t it a damn shame with a little rape breaks up an otherwise beautiful friendship?

The reality of sexual assault and abuse has very little to do with our conversations about it. Yes, women are raped by violent strangers, but more often they are abused by someone they know. And that’s why the argument of “Why teach men not to rape? Criminals are going to be criminals” is silly. Crime is a complicated social phenomenon — especially violent crimes which target a specific portion of the population. Honor killings in Jordan are very culturally specific, and spring from a greater cultural consensus that women’s sexuality should be controlled, and a misuse of that sexuality is cause of great shame — shame that is so overwhelming, it can justify murder. Rape in our culture comes from a variety of factors, but primary among them is a sense of male entitlement to women’s bodies; the dehumanization of women; the social consensus that it is ok to control some aspects of women’s reproductive and sexual organs; and the emphasis on an aggressive male sexuality and a passive female one. These things are not static. Men — and women — can change. Cultural values can shift.

The “teach men not to rape” idea can have tremendously good consequences, particularly in a culture where rape is often a crime which dare not speak its name — that is, many men who force sex on women do not consider it “rape” when they do it, and do not consider themselves rapists. Many women who have been forced to have sex against their will do not identify their experience as rape. If we begin to make those connections, and men begin to understand the gravity of their behavior, I do think that we will see some change. And I’m not just being a Pollyanna here — since the feminist movements of the 1970s organized around sexual assault and pushed the very ideas I’m discussing here, and since those conversations have become more mainstream and have been reflected in the criminal law, rape rates have dropped significantly. So re-organizing our cultural mentality can yield great results.

In the mean time, it’s not particularly helpful to continue to blame women for being abused. Not even a little bit. It’s not particularly helpful to couch that blame in the language of concern. It’s a great self-preservation mechanism to tell ourselves that if only we don’t do what she did, if only we’re stronger, if only we make better choices, if only we’re more pure, then we’ll be safe. But it isn’t reality. There is hardly a woman alive who could survive sexual assault and not have someone point out what she could have done differently to save herself. Not even the good Christian women who did exactly what their pastor told them — who were feminine, obedient, religious, pure — can escape the criticism and the “helpful” suggestions.

We do not get to leave our bodies at home when we go out and socialize, or when we go to church, or when we lay in our beds. Those bodies are not objects, and we cannot “protect” our very selves in the same way that we can protect the things we own by locking our doors and holding on to our handbags. To continue the conversation on these terms only serves to further dehumanize women and girls, and further reinforce the very mentality which makes sexual violence and blatant rape apologism possible and widespread in the first place.

*Not trying to say that being transgender is the same thing as “dressing up like a man.”


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23 comments for “Beyond Enabling

  1. March 6, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    Psst. Roxanne wrote that post.

  2. March 6, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    *sniff*

  3. March 6, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    Whatevs. All you hairy man-haters look the same to me.

  4. March 6, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    (Kidding. Sorry Rox! I knew it was you when I was reading it, and I apparently had a slip of the fingers. It’s fixed now).

  5. March 6, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    no big deal, piny. ;-)

  6. March 6, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    If a Red Sox fan goes into a bar full of Yankee fans, gets drunk, and starts loudly rooting for Boston, does he deserve to get beat up?

    Well, yes, but you get the point.

    Another effing brilliant post, by the way.

  7. Tricia(freya)
    March 6, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    I get such a disconnect when I read some of those comments — guess what? The guys I picked up (or who picked me up) drunk in bars didn’t rape me…

    The one who did, made a point of “having a chaperone” (i.e. roommate) in his room so that I wouldn’t worry about “being alone” with him. And the other one who tried was a trusted older-brother-figure in my department. No one wanted to believe that he would act that way. Both of those guys got away with their behavior specifically by acting “respectable” and “trustworthy.”

    And yet, somehow this is still supposed to be my fault.

  8. ako
    March 7, 2007 at 12:27 am

    Half the commenters don’t seem to have read the article. The whole, “If you let the preacher spank you, don’t cry about it later,” argument has some major flaws, but would have at least some rational basis if the only complaints were spanking. It’s rather dramatically illustrated by this comment,

    Unless he drugged or physically forced them into his “treatment” program, they were participants.

    where the commenter doesn’t seem to have noticed that physical force and drugging were specific accusations.

    Whereas this,

    Kenneth and all the other weak victims,

    You don’t know what may or may not have happened to me. You assume because I’m not willing to be a victim and expect adult women to take responsibility for themselves that nothing bad ever happened to me.

    looks like a textbook illustration of someone blaming and hating victims (you notice how they use repeatedly as an insult?) to convince themselves that they can stave off possible rapes by being “better than” the women who got attacked.

    Both seem to hinge on insistently not seeing that women were forcibly raped.

  9. exangelena
    March 7, 2007 at 12:49 am

    ‘There is a difference between a woman and a wad of $100 bills, although you probably wouldn’t know it if you internalized these kinds of arguments. That difference, of course, is that one is a human being and the other is a set of valuable objects. And therein lies the problem with the rape apologist “keep yourself safe” suggestions: They are premised on the very idea that a woman, by simple virtue of being a woman, is an object that someone else wants to take. But as a general rule, women cannot escape their own skin.’

    Please take a bow :)

  10. March 7, 2007 at 3:02 am

    If a Red Sox fan goes into a bar full of Yankee fans, gets drunk, and starts loudly rooting for Boston, does he deserve to get beat up?

    Well, yes, but you get the point.

    Oh hell no. A Yankees fan in a Boston bar, sure…

    Oh wait, was that the point that I banged my shin on?

    :)

  11. Bles
    March 7, 2007 at 4:29 am

    I’m delurking just to say that posts like these are why you’re one of my favourite bloggers on the intertubes. :D

  12. March 7, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Hello,

    Just wanted to let you know I linked to your blog in my column on CBSNews.com today. Thanks!

    If you want to take a look, here’s the link: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/03/06/blogophile/main2538575.shtml

    Thanks,

    Melissa

  13. wren
    March 7, 2007 at 10:17 am

    These jerks take a very… capitalist view of rape: there is a finite supply of rapes, which cannot be either increased or decreased. As a woman, it is your duty to make sure that you are not the demand.

    Of course, the notion that the number of rapes could indeed be decreased (by… training our man-dogs? That’s one of the more blatantly misandrist things I’ve hard) would simply explode their puny brains.

    Tangentially, what does “gender-queer” mean? A basic google search is turning up some pretty bigoted and/or inconclusive stuff.

  14. Catherine Martell
    March 7, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Jill – fabulous, fabulous post. I may have to print it out and memorise it so that I can shout “There is a difference between a woman and a wad of $100 bills, although you probably wouldn’t know it if you internalized these kinds of arguments” at people. A lot.

    wren: if no one beats me to it: genderqueer is a gender identity claimed by people who do not wish to define as male or female, but equally don’t consider themselves trans, which would imply changing from one to another. Genderqueers may consider that they fall at any point on a spectrum of gender, at many points on it, or that they are gender-neutral.

  15. Anne
    March 7, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    One of the best posts I’ve read.

  16. zuzu
    March 7, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Blaming men– It’s like blaming the untrained dog for crapping on the floor.

    And whaddaya know — dogs can be trained not to crap on the floor.

  17. C.Exile
    March 7, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    Great, great post. Thanks again for always putting things so clearly.

  18. March 7, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    Blaming men– It’s like blaming the untrained dog for crapping on the floor.

    Um, he’s comparing all men to dogs that take a crap on your floor, and we’re the man-haters?

  19. Deoridhe
    March 8, 2007 at 9:22 am

    Um, he’s comparing all men to dogs that take a crap on your floor, and we’re the man-haters?

    It’s not hate if it lets people get away with doing what they want without any repercussions.

    Or something.

  20. March 8, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Blaming men– It’s like blaming the untrained dog for crapping on the floor.

    As zuzu points out, we do, in fact, TRAIN dogs to not crap on the floor. Are men such useless beasts that we lack even a dogs capacity to learn desired behavioral patterns? I never understand how such “Boys will be Boys” responses are somehow excused from being far more anti-male than anything those who proclaim it could even imagine from the supposed anti-men straw-feminists that they’ve created.

    I don’t accept that men should be excused from civilized society by virtue of having a penis. I don’t accept then men are nothing but fearsome creatures to protect oneself from. No man should accept these excuses. The supposedly pro-male purposes of anti-feminists are wildly betrayed when they launch into this line of thought. There is nothing pro-male about excusing, condoning, or trivializing sexual assault. That’s not what being a man is about. A major factor in sexual assault is the way males are conditioned to view seem themselves as dominant over women. To sex as a conquest rather than an equal partnership. If we want to change a culture of sexual assault, we need to be lecturing and teaching MEN.

    Anyone can take steps to be more safe, obviously. But constantly obsessing over “prevention” as a victim’s responsibility will do nothing to stop sexual assault. We need to change the culture of male entitlement. That means men have to stop making excuses for their gender. We have to demand better of ourselves and we have to teach others, our sons, brothers, and friends, to do the same and to expect others to do the same. We have to put the responsibility for change where it most appropriately lies. With men.

    I wish I had some male insight onto how to get “Men” to listen, but I never really understood male entitlement. I guess we just have to treat men like dogs and keeping smacking us in the back of our heads with great posts like this until we get the picture.

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  22. March 9, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    For those people who view women’s bodies as commodities, like $100 bills or wallets, to be “taken” by someone who “wants” that object, it makes sense to rely on protective arguments and suggestions. For them, rape is not a crime of violence, but one of passion and of giving in to temptation. Women, like $100 bills, are vulnerable precisely because people want them in a positive way. Thieves aren’t interested in hurting $100 bills, they’re simply interested in having them and having the things that they can buy. But rapists are very interested in hurting women. They may also be interested in sexual gratification, but that gratification is coming from injuring someone else, not from sex itself. Men are not so animalistic that, at the very presence of an erection, they absolutely must put it in someone, even if doing so means physically hurting someone else. But that is what the sex-as-commodity crowd would have you believe: That sex is something women possess and men want, and if some men see sex (also known as “women”) then they will take it.

    Hmm. I’d question some of what you’re saying, but in a very subtle way.

    I don’t think that all rapists *want* to hurt women. Some do, for sure, and you can hear it in some of the talk misogynists use. Just like some bullies get of on hurting others, some rapists get off on hurting their victims.

    But there’s another class of bully that just wants to get what (he, in this case) wants. It’s not about the pain; (he might even try to minimize any (physical) pain), but getting what he wants. A rapist has a clear willingness to see another human being suffer, but maybe doesn’t actively desire it.

    I think it’s important to recognize that both types of rapist continue to rape despite clear signs of nonconsent; rape doesn’t happen accidentally. Both have to be sick enough to keep going despite clear knowledge that someone else is being hurt.

    I suppose you could argue that there must be some enjoyment in causing hurt, or the guy would lose his erection, and you might be right. It’s just, well, I know some guys, and I’m sure some of them are able to just blank out the pain. It doesn’t add anything for them, but it also doesn’t subtract anything.

    I could be wrong about this, and I certainly don’t argue with your main point, that rape is an entirely different crime from swiping money (even if it’s a mugging, not theft) because rape requires directly, and obviously, hurting the victim in the very process of the rapist trying to get what he wants.

    And I’m not really sure the difference matters all that much. It certainly doesn’t to the victim! But I think it might matter in discussions of rape as a cultural thing.

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