Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rationalizers, Stop Rationalizing

You're victim-blaming. You should leave your doors unlocked and just ask thieves not to be thieves.
Slate's Emily Yoffe is taking it on the chin for an article warning college women about the dangers of heavy drinking, vis-a-vis sexual assault. Not that she didn't know what she was getting herself into:
But a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.
The Atlantic was quick to pile on, apparently looking to one-up the clickbait headline that Slate attached to Yoffe's article with one of their own: Slate Forgot That the One Common Factor in Rapes Are Rapists. And the article itself is just as strident:
Yoffe failed to realize that there's one thing that's more common than alcohol when it comes to rapes. That would be rapists. While alcohol plays a part in a number of rapes, I can assure you that in every case (both male and female) of rape, there is at least one rapist. And, well, Yoffe's column isn't titled "Rapists, stop raping women."
But isn't the common factor in ALL crimes the fact that someone engages in criminal behavior? In the comments section of the Altantic article resides the snide comment that I opened this post with, which comes across as snide precisely because we would consider that to be absolutely moronic advice. I doubt that I could manage to convince any reputable online magazine to publish an article titled: "Thieves, Stop Stealing People's Stuff," that made the point that calling for things like deadbolts and burglar alarms was little more than a way to blame the target of thefts, rather than the perpetrators.

While I understand what's in play, the overall effect strikes me as an attempt to Newspeak misogyny and sexual violence out of existence. Declaring a broad range of topics to be "victim-blaming" and forbidding discussion of them is unlikely to get to the core of the issue. If a woman is raped, does anyone think that many people who are otherwise inclined to consider the perpetrator guilty would change their mind upon hearing that the woman as drinking beforehand? Treating victim-blaming tropes as if they were actually considered affirmative defenses, rather than after-the-fact rationalizations of a predetermined conclusion does everyone a disservice - and presumes that the rationalizations spread the conclusions, rather than the other way around. We have any number of reasons, some tied to the perpetrator(s) and others tied to the victim(s), for looking the other way when crimes occur, and the result is an uneven culture of impunity, that allows, if not encourages, predation under certain circumstances. What is now commonly termed "rape culture" is only one facet of this - previous manifestations have included what one could call "lynching culture," and perhaps even a "kidnapping and conversion culture" foisted upon Native Americans by Christian missionaries. These likely had both their warnings to potential victims and pushback against the idea that it was the job of the targets to take care, rather than the perpetrators to cease their behavior. While these things have been largely done away with, it was not that pushback that did them in - it was, instead, the fact that the greater society stopped the self-righteous rationalizations that allowed them to thrive.

Viewed from that angle, perhaps the message shouldn't be to rapists to stop the assaults (which seems that it would fall on deaf ears anyway) but to the rest of us to stop enabling them and/or looking the other way - and then blaming the victims to justify that behavior.


John McGuinness said...

I think what Yoffe's critics don't realize is that rapists aren't reading >Slate articles about how to prevent rape!!!

Oh, but we all contribute to the rape culture. Really? The experiences described in that article are far afield of my experience now, and my experience in high school and college. I simply was not a part of the culture where these things took place. Nor, I suspect, were most Slate readers.

Lecturing me about rape culture isn't going to prevent rapes because I am never going to rape anybody. Nor will I condone, excuse, or enable a rape. Nor will I be be likely to be anywhere near a rape.

Telling a young woman not to get drunk might actually prevent her from getting raped, though.

Aaron said...

While I agree that "rapists, don't rape," isn't my idea of a workable strategy, I think that most of us in general are too quick to dismiss the idea that we condone, excuse or enable rape. Mainly because of that understanding, as you articulated, that it will likely be something that happens someplace else, and so we won't ever know anyone accused of it. But I think that we can make the behavior less socially acceptable, without having to have a personal connection to it. And sometimes, it's our very distance from it that's the problem.

John McGuinness said...

The other thing that offends me about this commentary is that it seems to rely on one of these assumptions:

1. Rapists can be prevented from raping by a sternly worded Slate column.

2. Most men would, but for the grace of some sternly worded Slate columns, be rapists.

This from the same crowd that is often quick to tell us that abstinence-based education is a waste because you can't change people's sexual habits.


I don't see more lectures about how bad rapists are as bridging that distance. Reading the MO story, I see a culture that has opted out of the larger culture. More lectures aren't going to change that.

Rape is something that happens somewhere else, because, in part, people who know me know that I would never condone or accept it. Nor would I put myself in places where it would be condoned or accepted.

Aaron said...

For me, I think, the issue is more that there must only be ONE message, and it must always be directed at "rapists," as if they were a specific group of people that one could single out for such a message. And that, as you say, simply being stern enough for long enough would work.

I like to think that I'm in the same position that you are - that no one who knows me would think that I'd condone such behavior. But I've been surprised about that before, so I don't take anything for granted anymore.