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A Step-by-Step of Hayes’ letter

October 22, 2010

Flying Whale has asked me to explain my take on Hayes’ letter in a bit more depth–both what makes it great and what keeps it from being even better.  So here goes:

On the good side:

The unqualified apology in the first sentence.  She doesn’t apologize if the cartoon offended anyone, she apologizes for publishing it.  Period.  And then at the end, she writes:

We erred and we’re sorry – not because of your response, but because we were wrong and would’ve been wrong even if nobody had said so.

She rehashes what the cartoon depicted without spin and writes that the problematic interpretation of the comic is an “easy” one, about as far away from accusing those who complained of “reading too much into things” as you can get.

She doesn’t offer those defending the comic a blank check of gratitude.  Rather, she challenges them to learn from this experience alongside the paper they were defending, writing:

And to those defending us: While we appreciate some of your arguments on our behalf, ladies and gentlemen, suggesting that someone was “asking for” rape is misguided and precisely the problem here.

And, best of all, this segment:

Women are so often told vicious little cautionary tales: “Don’t go walking alone in the dark, or you’ll get raped.” “Don’t wear short skirts, or you’ll get raped.” “Don’t get drunk, or you’ll get raped.” None of the women I know were raped because of something they did or didn’t do; they were raped because someone they trusted betrayed that trust.  Now, I’m angry with myself because [it’s] as if I’ve betrayed them and every other survivor of sexual assault.

First, an Amen to calling out those “vicious cautionary tales.”  But beyond that, the act of rape isn’t what creates a culture of rape.  It’s all the other seemingly less extreme things that–to use Bruininks’ words–condone or encourage sexual violence.  Here, Hayes’ makes that rhetorical connection, using the exact same vocabulary to describe men who rape and her actions in publishing the comic.  Rhetorically, she acknowledges that they’re connected to one another.

So let me emphasize one more time how great I thought the letter was.  But since you asked, there are a few things I didn’t like quite so much.

Hayes’ writes:

I am particularly angry with myself …While I’ve never been raped or sexually assaulted, one of my close friends was raped about two years ago.

The implication here is that she should have seen why the comic was problem because her good friend was raped.  There are a lot of reasons why that comic should never have been published.  Whether or not the editor personally knew someone who had been raped is not one of them.

In continuing to talk about her friend’s experience:

She never ended up reporting the incident to the police. I will never be persuaded that not reporting it wasn’t a mistake.

Hayes knows the details  the situation and I don’t.  But I don’t think its helpful to imply that a survivor should always go to the police.  There are lots of really really good reasons not to that don’t have anything to do with being in denial about whether or not you were raped.

And saving the worst for last, Hayes writes:

I’ve always been fortunate in that my male friends, coworkers and acquaintances are and have always been decent people. None of them would consider forcing themselves on another person.

I doubt that’s true.  Statistically, it’s unlikely.  And besides, it’s foolish to think that Hayes would even know whether a friend or coworker–never mind acquaintance–had ever perpetrated a sexual assault.  But more importantly, she’s saying that sexual assault doesn’t happen in her community.  But we know sexual assault happens in every community.  To say it doesn’t is to commit the same act of denial she accused her friend of in the paragraphs prior.

So.  That was a quick and incomplete run through, but I hope it makes my thinking a little more transparent.  Additions or challenges welcome.

Jonas

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