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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

people think about rape in very strange ways. certainly, the notion that the real rape victim might be the rapist is bizarre.

this is an incredibly powerful post. i don't know what else to write other than that i will need to reread this post a few times.

thanks for writing it!