Friday, October 18, 2013

This is not good for my Wa, but it needs to be said

I'm bouncing back and forth between the homey task of making dinner and a discussion of "rapenado" over at LGM.  This is not healthy because Rape and Challah don't belong together. However, they go together in this world. Something which has not been said yet over there but which needs to be said is that there is a reason that the moral panic about drinking and girls and rape comes together with a clap of thunder, like matter and anti matter, annihilating all reason. Its because rape has to do with consent, and the way our culture thinks about alcohol and drunknness influences the way we think about consent. Thats because drinking and being drunk is gendered, like everything else--like our ideas about sexuality, responsibility, agency, and desire.  Basically, and I won't bother to go into my analysis i'll just put it out there--sex is something men are seen as needing, something which they "take" and which augments their masculine power. The more sex partners, the more powerful while, for women, the opposite is (largely) true: the sex is something that is taken from a woman, or that she gives up, and the more sexual partners she has, or the more sex acts she has, the more she loses socially.

What does alcohol have to do with this? Well first of all American culture has a very fraught relationship with drinking and with public drunkenness dating back before prohibition and bringing on prohibition. Thats to put it mildly. Drinking is seen as a valorized social act, a well loved social lubricant, that allows people (usually men) to blow off steam and relax and socialize.

Whats so bad about that? Why is alcohol the moral panic of the moment? Admittedly there have been several high profile cases of very young girls who were raped and videotaped while they were too drunk to protest or escape. But there have been some pretty damned high profile cases of girls who were kidnapped and raped and held prisoner for years and that has not produced the same moral panic and cries of "we must warn our daughters."  The drinking seems to be thought of as a form of contributory negligence on the part of the girls even though they were in the instant case definitionally too young to consent to the sex, and even too young to have gone to the party in the first place and done the drinking.

In addition to the hysterical cries that we must warn our daughters, but only our daughters, against the dangers of social drinking and the society of men there is a huge amount of pushback, amounting to some kind of deep seated psychological need on the part of (some) (male) commenters, to insist that it would be both wrong and unnecessary to lecture men about the evils of drinking to excess. Sometimes this is because of a cultural myth that it is merely deliberate predators who rape--its not the drunk guy who doesn't know what consent is and is not able to distinguish between a sleeping woman and a willing partner its some fanged, serial rapist, a nearly separate category of guy.  Sometimes its because of an incohate belief that drinking is a natural and normal part of being a guy but is something women have only lately adopted, possibly because of some stupid feminist equality shtick, and so women should be discouraged from drinking while men should be left alone with their culturally valued social practice.  Myself I put drinking shots and drinking to excess under the heading of "stupid cultural practices that social media encourage" like owning and playing with guns under the impression that because in the movies none of the important people ever die from being shot.

But something else, it seems to me, is going on in some of these arguments. And that is that society is still deeply suspicious of women and women's free enjoyment of public space and their own sexuality. Drinking, and drinking to excess, is seen as sloppy, disgusting, and dangerous. But its also seen as culpable, as though it reveals, beneath it all, a person who wants what happens to her. Meanwhile, for men, drinking to excess is seen as harmless fun--even the violence and property damage that results from a lot of male binge drinking is still put down to "boys will be boys."  Its as though the consequences of drunkeness for women are seen as the fault of the women, while the consequences of drunkeness for men are seen as the fault of the drink.  And you can see that in the way women who get raped are held partially at fault for having "put themselves at risk" and having been too drunk to save themselves from the actions of the rapist, while conversely the rapist himself is excused because the alcohol he has consumed has made him less responsible for his actions.

I'm not talking about the law here--the law in many places in the US has shifted so that it is classified as rape or sexual abuse to have sexual contact with an unconscious person regardless of the intent or capacity of the person who is initiating the sex. But I think thats a pretty fair analysis of the underlying cultural tropes and beliefs that enable rape cases to be dismissed because a drunken 13 year old is thought to have, in some sense, given consent or egged her abuser on while a drunken 17 year old is represented as helpless in the face of his own drinking and sexuality to avoid raping her.


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  2. Now, I'm not overlooking it and it doesn't trump everything. In all of these cases there are some upstanders--in this case the police and most people outside the system who see the case fairly clearly--but in every case there are also bystanders and they are heavily influenced by cultural assumptions (in this case about sex and drinking and class) just as in related cases of male violence there are assumptions about justified and unjustified violence (fighting words, etc...). The AG may have stepped in because of the class and connections of the rapist--in fact I think there is no doubt that he did--but he could only do so using a language that his society understands which was a language of excusing the rape because of the girl's culpability. If she'd been merely murdered you wouldn't have seen that kind of language introduced. But its also the language which is adduced when important teens drink and drive and injure or kill someone. Every case can be distinguished from every other case in some way but anthropology and sociology are not the stories of individual cases: its always about the aggregate. . I'm lumping this case in with dozens of others which fit the same broad model, I'm just using it as one example.