August 2013
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Rape culture thrives at victims' expense

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Reviewing movies on Netflix is one of those things you know you shouldn’t do — one, it is an exercise in vanity, and, two, it is a waste of precious sanity points as you start wading through other people’s reviews of the same movie. But sometimes it is revelatory, and not in a good way.

This is what I found recently, as I attempted to review a movie (name not important) about a woman who exacted vengeance on her rapist. The upshot of my review was that it was tedious minutiae sandwiched between bursts of violent porn, but that’s not important, either.

What was important to me: Other people’s reviews, which showed the “she asked for it” mindset is alive and thriving.

Yet at least some of my fellow anonymous reviewers will deny there is such a thing as a “rape culture,” and others will deny the existence of a war on women, or even sexism, since, after all, women done got th’ vote an’ all. But there is a rape culture, there is a political war against female autonomy and there sure as hell is sexism, when you have a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist like Kathleen Parker bewailing a recent report that college-age women like to have sex.

Parker’s take on that was — and I wish I were kidding: “We expect more of women because civilization depends on it. For centuries, we’ve relied on women to rein in men’s passions, to channel men’s libidos in constructive ways — building suspension bridges, for instance.”

I hate to use another woman’s words to demonstrate the hold sexism still has. And Parker’s column is actually about how much easier it is for males to overcome the fallout from sexual transgression than it is for females, particularly politicians; there is, she rightly notes, a double standard.

But her overall point is undercut when she in effect starts out by suggesting that a woman’s role is to act as an outlet for a man’s pent-up sexual energy. (And of course, to never enjoy said out-letting.) It is also fairly sexist toward men, since she is implying that men are helplessly under the sway of their penises at all times, and were it not for ladies lifting their skirts, why, then they would just go crazy and the world as we know it would not exist. (Because no woman can build a suspension bridge, if given the opportunity to become an engineer or a construction worker?)

Parker also says that men have greater libidos, apparently because she has never heard of multiple orgasms, and: “Popular culture seems determined to change this timeless truth by encouraging girls to be more like boys and vice versa.”

Pardon me for saying that it’s not true and sure as hell should not be “timeless” that a woman’s value lies in what she can do for a man, or that sex for her own pleasure makes her somehow inappropriately masculine.

Worst of all: “If girls can be portrayed as just as bad as boys, then males have no obligation to mitigate their natural dominant, exploitive inclinations.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Parker is saying that if the ladies don’t “behave,” men, apparently being weak and helpless upstairs, not only won’t behave either, but they don’t have to. The woman has violated some social contract; the man cannot be responsible.

Or, to put it another way: “She asked for it.”

I can’t believe this sort of Victorian-era tripe gets published in the 21st Century, let alone that it actually rattles around in the highly accomplished head of another woman.

But perhaps I should not be surprised.

The University of Southern California was in May hit with a Title IX complaint, alleging that the school did not correctly respond to reports of rape. One woman had audio recordings of her ex-boyfriend admitting to rape; she was told that the alleged rapist should be educated, not punished, the Huffington Post reports.

You know, because rape is just a silly little indiscretion. It’s not like anyone’s life should be ruined by it, at least, not the man’s.

Another complainant was reportedly told her complaint of rape would not be sent on to police — because her attacker hadn’t reached orgasm. That’s right: The man committed sexual intrusion, but because he didn’t get off, it doesn’t count. Conversely, if a woman does have an orgasm (an involuntary biological response) during rape, then it is argued she “enjoyed it,” so it’s not rape, either.

Then there was this classic misogynistic garbage: A woman who reported being raped at a fraternity event at USC says she was told by an officer with the Department of Public Safety that women shouldn’t “go out, get drunk and expect not to get raped.” This statement, if true, is shocking. It admits a crime occurred, but says it simply does not matter, because the victim’s behavior is the defining factor.

But I don’t think it is at all unreasonable for a woman (or man) to expect she can leave home and that other functioning adults will choose not to break the law.

Apparently, though, that is an unreasonable expectation, at least when it comes to women who dare to have a drink. Somehow, being incapacitated is seen as an open invitation, when it ought to be seen as what it is: a state of helplessness in which consent cannot be given. We can argue the livelong day about whether anyone “should” become heavily intoxicated; it does not change the fact that a woman is not responsible for someone else’s behavior. Frat boys who encounter drunk girls have options other than raping them. For instance, they can keep on walking, or, you know, see if she needs medical attention.

One would have thought the Steubenville rape case would have made that clear. Instead, it just provided another forum for tired excuses.

A CNN reporter appeared to wax sympathetic about how the guilty verdict in the case was going to affect the young men’s lives. (You could argue she was asking a valid reporter’s question about, “What’s next?” but she chose a profoundly stupid way of framing it.) Then there was tennis great Serena Williams, who told Rolling Stone that the Steubenville rapists “did something stupid” but their sentence might be unfair and that a 16-year-old girl should have been taught not to get drunk.

Williams’ comments remind me of what a peace officer said during a presentation about drug use among youth: That girls should be discouraged from drug use, not only because it is dangerous and unhealthy, but so they will be alert enough to “defend their honor.” This man meant well, but appeared blissfully unaware of how he was coming across: “If she’s high, she’s technically asking for it. If she’s sober, she can fight them off, or won’t be a target in the first place.” Implicit: a female’s sexual purity is her only source of “honor.” And of course, the male is never, ever responsible for his own choices. As for Serena’s comments, to borrow from a pertinent Facebook meme: “Teach your sons not to rape.” Some rape apologists offer an oldie-but-goodie that compares rape to burglary. If you didn’t lock your door, well, you asked for it!

That’s funny, because even in cases in which a burglary victim has failed to lock up, no one insists that the burglary never happened, or that the victim “wanted,” it, “consented” to it, made his or her home so impossibly attractive that the burglar just couldn’t help it, or knew the burglar and had allowed him or her to come inside before.

Rape is the only crime in which the victim’s motives and behavior take center stage, rather than the perpetrator’s. That’s a problem for me. It should be a problem for everyone.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is a journalist in Montrose, Colo. Disclosure: She once sat on a jury in a sexual-assault case. The defendant was acquitted. The acquittal was based on evidence, not her personal views about rape, and, for her at least, not on what the complaining witness did or did not do.


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