Posts Tagged ‘rape apologism’

h1

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

h1

Taking a moment to celebrate progress II

October 22, 2010

It’s hard to celebrate progress in the struggle against the rape culture of college campuses when a fraternity at Yale takes their pledges past women’s dorms shouting “no means yes, yes means anal” and university newspapers obliviously (?!) bring rape into their sex position of the week, but I think this apology is a really, really good one.

Maybe I’m naive, but I think real learning happened here.  Overdue learning, but learning nonetheless.

Read the whole apology.  Again, like Bruininks’ letter, it isn’t perfect.  But we’d all do well to bring that much humility and learning to every apology we make.

Jonas

h1

Taking a moment to celebrate progress

October 22, 2010

This is a heavy post to jump back in with.

The opening of the semester at the University of Minnesota saw three sexual assaults at fraternity houses in the first three weeks of school.  The letter that President Bruininks wrote was, honestly, better than I would have expected.  Excerpt below:

The recent allegations of sexual assault in the University community underscore both the awful impact of these actions on the victims and the responsibility we share for ensuring the safety of all our students, faculty, staff, and visitors. As president, I am deeply concerned and saddened by these reports, and my heart goes out to all who have experienced the physical and emotional impact of such violence. The University of Minnesota does not tolerate violence of any type anywhere on its campuses, and we will continue to take swift and decisive action, not only to investigate all such allegations, but also to provide support services to all those affected by sexual violence and make clear to everyone that sexual violence in any context is unacceptable.

We should acknowledge the existence of this problem in our culture—but we should also acknowledge the programs already in place to address it. The University’s Aurora Center provides support services and sexual and relationship violence education and prevention programs to all members of the University community. The Star Tribune recently highlighted the admirable efforts of a student group called Men Against Gender Violence, which seeks to communicate that most men do not participate in sexual violence, to confront those who do, and to address the behaviors that may passively condone or encourage sexual violence.

I want to personally thank all survivors of sexual violence who have exhibited incredible courage and reported their assaults.

Honestly, the letter surprised me.  I’ve come to expect a certain script from these kinds of letters–which often obligatorily acknowledge isolated incidents of sexual assault, but refuse to acknowledge the larger trend they are part of.

But to Bruininks’ credit, he didn’t.  He acknowledged how hard it is for women to report assaults.  He didn’t ask the university community to withhold judgment until law enforcement had time to investigate.  He didn’t implicitly blame the survivors who came forward by suggesting that women should use caution when drinking at parties (which several of the media stories did).  And he highlighted a student group whose founding is based on the fact that sexual violence is primarily perpetrated by men.

That’s four points in my book.

It’s not a perfect letter.  He acknowledged that sexual assault is a “problem in our culture,” but certainly didn’t dwell there long.  And he didn’t name that all three assaults were reported to have happened at fraternity houses.

But part of stubborn hopefulness is naming progress when we see it.

Jonas