Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Female rape apologists

I was really interested to see the discussion that developed at Pandagon around the recent NYT glorification of rape-apology. I happened to leave the first comment (frist!), and said:
Ech. I think this brings up the thing that people ignore when they go off on “only rapists can stop rape” rants: women enforce rape culture too - she’s still pushing it, even if her ex-boyfriend at least has an understanding of what he did wrong.
To which Amanda Marcotte replied:
It’s a very good example of how women can be in denial, for sure. In fact, some prosecuters I’ve heard of have experiences of women on juries being a lot more eager than any of the men to let the rapist off, because they simply can’t allow themselves to believe rape is as common as it is.
This same idea of the columnist's "denial" and "delusion" kept coming up in the comments (here and at Pandagon), and it began to rub me the wrong way. Ashley Cross, the columnist in question, surely is indulging in self-deception so as to hold on to the picture of her innocent boyfriend, but I really can't work up a lot of sympathy for her. The way she's holding onto and propagating these rape myths doesn't just serve to protect her fragile hold on a doomed relationship with a rapist, but much more importantly, serves to enforce rape culture.

Further on in the Pandagon conversation, things turned toward whether or not a rapist can be rehabilitated, and whether or not you, personally, could ever date somoene who had been convicted of rape. For complicated reasons, people were tripping over themselves to be sure to emphasize that rape is not okay, but still there was good discussion about the lies rapists tell themselves to excuse their behavior, and whether combatting these lies can help combat rape. (I think it can.)

In all of this, there's a sort of double-standard lurking, and I think it would be instructive to sort out. On the one hand, we have Cross, who's hiding behind victim-blaming and slut-shaming and male entitlement to women's bodies. On the other hand, we have the attacker - Drew Douglas - who is indulging in the same hand-waving. Cross may be in denial, but so is (was?) Douglas.

I feel like the term "denial" is a little too lenient, but it's still interesting to apply it to Douglas - or any rapist, for that matter. Part of the difficulty in helping people understand that rape is so common is convincing people that rapists are so common, and that there simply have to be a large number of guys who don't seem like rapists until they're actually in the act. softdog puts it well in the Pandagon thread:
I think prevention involves making people realize the act is always monsterous and that anyone can become a monster by buying into the thinking and attitudes which lead to rape, that you don’t have to be a psycho serial rapist to act like one.

To those giving Cross wiggle room when it comes to her excusing rape, I'd also add that you don't have to be a psycho serial rapist - or even a man - to help rape go unpunished. Indeed, with the way men often assume women have some sort of secret communication device in their uteruses ("You're a woman - why is my girlfriend doing x?"), any woman's excusing rape might be used as proof of what's going on inside a victim's head. Female rape apologists play an important role in enforcing rape culture, and as far as cultural influences go, they exist for the same reasons that rapists exist.

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