Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kohlberg, Morality, and Rape

Two girls were raped in and around my home town a couple months back. I'm not going to link to the articles, because although almost no one who doesn't actually know me reads this I'm a little leery of being completely out based on what happened to various people who commented positively on Lena Chen's articles and also what happened to Sady Doyle and to some poeople who tried to defend her. But also because at least one of the victims is underage and easily identified as well. It it what it is, but apparently you can't get your face hit a bunch of times and then smashed into a sidewalk, raped, and then report it without being completely outed at your local high school. And, frankly, that girl (and the other girl I don't personally know of) has to deal with enough crap without her story being linked on various blogs.

So. You're going to have to take my word for it that two girls were raped in and around my home town a couple of months back. You're going to have to take my word for it that the girl I know of was told in the high school after the fact that she deserved to be raped, and you're going to have to take my word for it the accused rapist is being defended with the same old lines about how girls lie, about how he could get any girl he wanted, about how these girls probably wanted a relationship and he said no so now they're getting revenge.

As if beating yourself up and putting yourself in a situation where someone will come up to you and tell you that you deserve to be raped is really worth it.

There's another part of this, too. This isn't the first time sexual violence has hit my town, obviously. It isn't the first time the kids in this age range have had to deal with this sort of thing. Another girl in my town, someone who is close to my sisters and whom I actually actively know, was sexually assaulted by her mom's boyfriend. And when she told her mom, when her mom believed her and pressed charges, people at the school told her she must have liked it.

All of this rattles around in my head, and what comes out is how similar these reactions are to every other rape or sexual assault case. Those two girls above? They were violently assaulted. There is DNA evidence. The girl I know of was in the hospital, had black eyes, had choke marks on her neck, had the blood vessels burst in her eye. And you know what people wrote on the news reports? "What was she doing out there at 11 at night?" "I know him, and he wouldn't do that." "Those girls are ugly, and he could get any girl he wanted so why rape them?" "They're stories are too similar. They probably got together to ruin him." All of these, by the way, are paraphrased, because although any one of these remarks are probably present on any news story dealing with rape anywhere in the nation right now, I really am serious about keeping these particular girls as anonymous as I possibly can.

There were other people who pointed out that rape isn't exactly about sex, not always, but oftentimes about power. There were people who pointed out that these girls were minors, that the guy in question is not, that girls generally don't give themselves black eyes and get semen in them just as a way to secure a false rape conviction.

But the reactions from the deniers are exactly the same, if less prevalent, as the deniers in, say, the Julian Assange case. There is this same thread of "women lie, repeatedly", "women conspire with one another to screw over men", "women aren't to be trusted", "women are raped, but these women clearly weren't", "men may rape, but these men, men that we like, do not and have not". "Don't ruin this man's life just because these women said that this thing happened against their will".

Where did we get the idea that all women lie about rape? Where did we get the idea that innocent until proven guilty meant that it was okay to shame the victim, to call them sluts, to call them liars, to question their moral integrity?

I think it stems from two seemingly polar opposite places: (1) the idea that women are the moral arbiters of sexual action, and (2) that women are less than men, both as moral actors and as people. These two ideas come together in really weird ways.

There's the idea that a man's sexual attraction and sexual action is somehow based on a woman's presentation: her looks, her attire, her attitude. This is the "How could she not want it? Look at what she wears/how she looks/what she was doing with that lollipop!" defense. In line with this point is the idea that women should act in accordance with what will bring men the least amount of sexual attraction. These would be arguments for women wearing more clothing, being more modest, throwing away their sexy underwear and their mini skirts. The realm of sexual morality is, in this philosophical vein, the woman's purview, even if what women are and are not allowed to pursue, in the interests of not arousing men's attractions, are not wholly their own decision.

And that's where number (2) really comes in. Women are in charge of preventing men's sexual interests, but they aren't really in charge of deciding what is or isn't responsible for exciting that interest. That is the job for others.

Number (2) is also, I think, influenced by what we see as objective decisions regarding morality. I remember, freshman year of college I took a class in sociology - because my experience with a psychology class was so bad in high school. In that sociology class, I learned about Kohlberg's theory of the stages of moral development. In Kohlberg's five stages, women consistently only reached level 3, whereas men generally would reach levels 4 or 5, the more theoretical moral levels. Men, under Kohlberg's stages, are more advanced moral actors than women. And although Kohlberg's theories have been critiqued by the likes of Carol Gilligan and others, I do believe that there is this odd bit of thought that runs throughout our culture about women: how the ideal is that they are better moral actors than men because they, as an ideal, are self-sacrificing and the "fairer" sex; but in practice we see women as less reliable narrators of their own experiences, as less moral, as more likely to manipulate interpersonal situations for their own personal gain.

Add that with a propensity to grant more weight to men's opinions, thoughts, and ideas, and there is a volatile mix that leaves women being seen as untrustworthy. As liars. As manipulators trying to pull one over on the rest of society. By hurting a really nice guy. A guy who could go on to do great things. Or who has people who love him. As if those girls are automatically not nice, could not go on to do great things, and don't have people who love them.

As an ending, I can't think of a better one than this post by Sady Doyle, whom I typically quote from too much, on rape and rape accusations.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

News Flash: I Don't Care What You Think About My Fashion

So, you know those articles on Yahoo!, the ones that are forever promising to tell you how to get a date, how to keep your guy happy, the things your guy isn't telling you, is your relationship on the rocks, etc., etc., ad nauseum? Well, yeah, I read those. Like they're going out of style. Which, actually, would be a good thing, because then there would be less of them to read and my life would probably be a little better. I'm not saying it would vastly improve the quality of my life, but I'm sure there's something else I could do with those five minutes.

These articles always rub me the wrong way, even if they don't piss me off. Before we lived together, I'd call The Boy and quiz him about the validity of any number of points the articles made. Looking back, I asked many leading questions so he knew to support my outrage, but still. Now that we live together, I'd actually have to wake him up to do that. Which means I'll blog about it on my poor, neglected corner of the web. The latest one is titled, "What the guys think of your fashion"; and appropriately enough for the title, there are four guys who offer pithy critiques to certain articles of clothing (and, in one case, accessories). Funnily enough, I tend to agree with the boys on which items are horrible and which can stay. Except on the giant sunglasses point. Because I love (and wish I looked good in) those giant sunglasses.

So what's the problem?

Well, my main problem stems from the idea that men are the ultimate authority on women's fashion. This is directly tied to the line of thought that goes something like, "You wouldn't dress like that if you didn't want me to hit on you". (A) That's not why I'm dressing like this. (B) Even if I wanted guys to hit on me, I still have the right to reject you specifically. My mini skirt? Doesn't give you carte blanche access to my person.

So! Men as the ultimate authority on women's fashion. It rubs me the wrong way! Partially because of the point above, but also partially because this article stems from the premise that if these four guys don't like, say, Ugg boots, then you as a woman who do like Ugg boots should automatically trash them. Because these four guys - whom you in all reality probably don't know - say so. Because if these four guys hate your Ugg boots, that means every guy will hate your Ugg boots, and what's more, not date you because you wear your Uggs, potentially with skirts. SO! You like your (insert fashion item here). X, guy down at the end of the bar, does not. If he were to say, "Hey, honey, I'd give you the time of day if only you weren't wearing (fashion item), but that makes you look like a slag and not worth it", would you get rid of (fashion item) in an effort to please X? I hope not. I would think that kind of baseless attack on something you like, along with an arrogant notion of him hitting on you is somehow paramount to your emotional well-being, would be met with a drink over the head. Or into the face. I'm not picky.

Listen, I hate Ugg boots too! And shirts that have writing on them that have witty sayings about how hot the girl wearing said tee shirt is! And sweats that have words on them! You know what I do? I don't buy any of those items. I have friends who like that stuff. I have friends who wear that stuff. And I manage to not go into rants about the sociological and gender problems inherent with things like tee shirts that talk about boyfriend stealing when I am around them. Mostly. But I respect the fact that my friends have their likes, their dislikes, and their ehs when it comes to what they will put in their closet. And if Ugg boots make them happy, then Ugg boots make them happy. And I'm not going to judge that. Because if Ugg boots fulfill a little slice of making them feel good about themselves and their day, then that is enough. And if a guy won't hit on them directly because of the Ugg boots, (a) unless he lets her know, we'll never know, and (catch-22!!) (b) if he does let her know that's why he's not hitting on her, he'll be that asshole X from earlier in this post and not worth her time anyway.