Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ever Fly a Kite in a Thunderstorm?

Religious Authority
I was raised as a Christian. As such, I was taught to see Jesus as a role model, his actions and teachings as the ideal to which I should aspire. I came to embrace the values of mercy, compassion, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, acceptance, charity, and love. And then I got a little older and started listening to Christian clergy. Some of them said things like, "Anyone who's not baptized can't go to Heaven." As someone who valued mercy and forgiveness, I found that idea offensive. Some of them said that gay people were an abomination, that they were doing something God didn't want them to do. I thought that if God didn't want them to be that way, he wouldn't have made them so. Given that I valued love and acceptance, I thought it was wrong to judge so harshly someone who was just being what God made them. I knew good people following good philosophies and moral codes who weren't Christian, but some of the Christian clergy said these people were condemned to Hell for all eternity, because they had heard the Gospel and rejected it. I felt that anyone whose life so closely resembled that of Jesus ought not be penalized for the fact that he had a hard time believing a lot of highly implausible stories in the Bible.

And in feeling these things--these things that I'd have thought made me a good Christian--I was in opposition to the teachings of the Christian authorities. They were the ones who declared what made a good Christian and what made a bad one, and I was clearly a bad one...because I embraced Jesus' values more than theirs. The mere fact that there was a conflict between their values and his should have been enough to call their authority on such matters into question, I'd think, but I was but a young and insignificant peon, a stray sheep, and not a graduate of a divinity school with a whole church coming to listen to me every week. I was the subordinate and they were the superiors. That automatically made me wrong and them right. They owned the word "Christian," and if they said anyone who believed what I believed was a bad one, then I was a bad one. There's no arguing with it.

For most of my life, I've found myself in a similar position in regard to the word "feminist." The scripture of that religion says that if you believe in equal rights for both sexes, and that if you believe that women are human beings, then you're a feminist. If I hear of a woman being discriminated against or being treated unfairly, I think that's wrong and I say so. I regard women and men as equals. I thought that made me a feminist. That's what all the feminist slogans claim, anyway.

But the matriarchs of this religion, the angry, misandrist thugs who preach their gospel of patriarchal conspiracies and rape culture, disagree. They're pretty much convinced that I and every other man desperately despise every woman alive and are in a conspiracy to rape women and keep them from advancing in society. If a man and a woman both take a test, and the woman fails while the man passes, it's not because those individuals scored according to their own unique, individual abilities. No, it's rigged. It's sexist. They say so, and you and I aren't to say anything to the contrary. It's like the Inquisition--admit to the allegations, and you're a sinner deserving of the worst punishment our society can think up for a sexual predator and a bigot. Deny it, and you must be lying--proof that you can't be trusted. They're the authorities on this. They own the word "feminist." They set the rules as to how it can be used. If they say I'm not a feminist, I must not be. And they not only say I'm not, they say it's not even possible for me to be one, since I'm a man.

"B-b-but...your T-shirt says 'FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL NOTION THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE.' I believe that! I share that notion. I believe women are people."

"My T-shirt??? Who gave you permission to stare at my tits, pig?!? You need to turn off that male gaze and get out of my sight. I'd rip your balls off, but you clearly don't have any."

So I guess I'm not a feminist any more than I was ever a Christian.

Rape Culture

Given that I'm not a feminist and therefore have no need of approval from the feminist clergy, I'd like to raise an objection to one of their articles of faith that's been getting a lot of play in the blogosphere of late. That's the issue of "rape culture." It's one of those dog whistle words where, if you take issue with it, the assumption is that you must hold a position in direct opposition to the one held by the speaker. She's anti-rape, so if you have a problem with her dog whistle word, it must be because you're pro-rape, and that's what you'll get accused of every time for just speaking up. But as I said, I have no need of the feminist clergy's approval, so I'm speaking up.

I'm not pro-rape, and I'm guessing you're not, either. I'm guessing, in fact, that you don't know anyone who is, because if you ever encountered such a person, you'd go to great lengths to dissociate yourself from that person. I'm guessing that when apparently large portions of the city of Steubenville, Ohio, tried to cover up and make excuses for the rape of a teenage girl by some high school football players, you were as horrified as I was, because who the hell takes the side of the rapist??? I'm guessing that you were speechless with shock and outrage hearing news programs that were all apparently sympathetic to the rapists while not seeming to care at all about the young woman they brutally attacked. I'm guessing that even if you were jaded and hardened to the cruelties of the world, you were still experiencing a little cognitive dissonance hearing so many people line up to support the rapists, because since when are sexual predators regarded as anything BUT something to be scraped off the bottoms of our shoes???

Sex offenders are total pariahs in our society. We actually go overboard in punishing them. If you murder someone and do your time, you get out and move on with your life. But if you flash somebody or touch someone's no-no parts without their express consent and you serve a prison sentence for it, that's not good enough. We need to keep on shaming you and controlling you for the rest of your life. We make you register with the Sheriff wherever you live for the rest of your life. We tell you where you can't live, and it may be so restrictive that there's no place in town where you can live. And if you do live around other people, we'll send out postcards with your name, picture, address, and crime on it out to all your neighbors every so often for the rest of your life, because just branding the word "rapist" into your forehead would be too good for you. If we could somehow get away with neutering and lobotomizing you, we'd do it. To hell with the Eight Amendment. This isn't excessive. It doesn't matter if you just brushed against a breast or a buttock in an elevator. In America, there is no crime--not terrorism, not murder, not arson, nothing---that is as bad as causing another person to feel uncomfortable in a sexual context. You can beat them to within an inch of their life. That's okay, maybe just a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. It might warrant disciplinary action at a school or workplace and nothing more. We'll let children play violent games and see all kinds of mayhem in movies. But let someone show a little skin, and we've got to put a triple-X rating on that nasty porn.

In other words, it's safe to say that our society has a pretty serious hangup about sex. That's the culture here.

The word "culture" refers to societal norms. It's the thoughts, behaviors, traditions and arts by which we collectively define ourselves as a people. It's what makes us "us" and distinguishes us from all the civilizations that aren't us. You can say we have a gun culture, and I'd agree with you. The heroes in our movies carry guns and use them. Our authority figures carry guns, and there's no shame associated with that. Our everyday language contains gun metaphors for totally innocuous things. We tell young people to "aim high," and we don't think of that as promoting violence. We "set our sights" on a completion date for a project even if we're not snipers. When we prepare ourselves for a challenge, we go out "loaded for bear" even if we've never been hunting. When we make a wild guess, we "take a shot in the dark." A "flash in the pan" refers to a malfunctioning musket, but we don't have to be black powder shooters to say it. Nobody thinks we're contemplating suicide if we talk about "biting the bullet." These phrases have been normalized in our language because for most of our history, guns have been an acceptable, normal part of everyday life. We have embraced guns as part of our culture.

By contrast, when we say we're "getting screwed," "getting shafted," or "taking it up the ass," it has definite negative connotations. Nobody feels good about "being told to bend over and take it." A disastrous situation is said to be "fucked up," maybe even "fucked up beyond all recognition." None of these are happy or benign images. They're all thick with the idea of unfairness and victimization and violation. And the heroes of our movies and folk stories definitely do not rape people. 

In our culture, rapists are deviants. We even have laws against rape, believe it or not. Pretty serious ones. The culture of the rapists, then, isn't our culture. It's counter-cultural. It's antisocial. But when we say, "We live in a rape culture," or "We're immersed in rape culture," it makes it sound as though we're the deviants and the rapists are the pillars of society who get to define our culture and determine whether or not we conform to it properly.

I don't think that's anywhere close to an accurate reflection of the reality of our society. And for that reason, I have a problem with people using the term "rape culture" to refer to American culture in general. Yes, it makes me uncomfortable--not because I'm pro-rape and the term makes me feel properly ashamed of myself, as the feminist clergy would have everyone within earshot believe, but rather because it sounds...schizophrenic. Listening to a person who's utterly convinced that our entire culture is built around encouraging and protecting rapists is like listening to a person who's utterly convinced that the ruling elite are all a bunch of shape-shifting, evil lizards from another planet. I'm willing to compromise on this, though. We can call it "rapist culture" to make it clear that we're talking specifically about a subset of people (a subculture) instead of about the culture at large.

But really, I don't own these words, so I'm in no position to negotiate. If the feminist matriarchs say we're all rapists, I guess we really are. We must just be repressing the memory of our crimes...or we haven't committed them yet, but the matriarchs know our hearts better than we do.

Blame and Responsibility

And one final point, as long as I'm already putting myself out here as flame bait--what is it with so many feminists' complete inability to compartmentalize on the issue of victim blaming? Rape is a crime against a person, and like any other crime against a person, the guilt or innocence of the perpetrator is not contingent on how easy a mark the victim was. If you steal a car and get caught, whether you get punished or not does not depend on whether you hot wired the car or stole a one that the owner foolishly left running. It's the same crime. In both cases, the thief is legally and morally in the wrong, equally so in both cases. The victim's actions do not have any bearing on the guilt of the offender.

That's established. I concede that the driver is not to blame for the actions of a thief. Nobody has a "right" to steal a car just because the driver makes it easy. Agreed? Okay. Let's set that fact aside in a box and call it "Exhibit A: Guilty Criminals Are Guilty."

Now let's move on to Exhibit B. Let's say you have a car, and it means a great deal to you. You don't have more than liability insurance on it, and you don't have a lot of money to spend on it, so if anything happens to it, you're out of luck. Out of the kindness of your heart, you let me borrow this car. I back out of your driveway without bothering to see what's behind me, and I narrowly avoid an accident. Then I get out my smartphone and see what's going on in the world of Facebook as I drive the car away from your house, never causing any damage more serious than scraping parked cars' side mirrors a little. That'll buff right out. Probably.

It's a hot night, so when I arrive at the bar, I leave the engine running so I can leave the air conditioner on. I spend the next three hours getting drunker and drunker, telling random strangers about the cool ride I've got sitting outside, even suggesting to a few that if they're nice to me, I might let them drive it. When I leave, I'm all over the road, but somehow, I manage to only put a few small dents in your car. (Hey! Who are you to judge? I'll get it fixed!) Anyway, I pull into a gas station. As I step out of the car, I nearly fall down. I'm not stupid. I know I'm in no shape to drive. I see a pretty sober looking man sitting outside the gas station drinking a soda, so I say to him, "Hey Buddy! Can you drive me home? Pretty please? I'll pay you. Here, I have money. See? Please? Here. Here's my key. I'll just be a minute. I gotta go take a leak. Don't leave till I get back, now, okay? Awright, good man. I'll just be a minute."

I fall asleep in the restroom, but when the attendant yells at me, I wake up and emerge into the sunshine. And would you believe both the car and the man who promised to drive me home are both gone? No note or anything! He just stole it! I specifically told him not to leave until I got back, and he did it anyway!

Let's call this "Exhibit B: Victims Sometimes Enable Criminals by Being Reckless, Irresponsible, or Naive."

Who's fault is it the car got stolen? Not mine. We already established that. See "Exhibit A." Oh, you're mad at me anyway? Why not be mad at yourself? I just did what you did--I trusted somebody.

I propose that "Exhibit A" and "Exhibit B" can exist simultaneously. They're not mutually exclusive. The fact that I was reckless, irresponsible, and naive with your car is true, but it does not cancel out the fact that the guy who stole it is wholly and exclusively to blame for his actions. He shouldn't get a lighter sentence just because I tossed him the key, unless he can demonstrate that he really did misunderstand and thought I was giving him the car. Maybe he doesn't speak English and thought I had walked away after he had waited for a couple hours. Even in that case, he still shouldn't get off scot free. There has to be some kind of due diligence to make sure I wasn't coming back. If it's proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew I wasn't giving him the car and he understood that he was ripping me off, he ought to get just as serious a sentence as any other car thief.

So what about me? Do I get off scot free? You've had that car for 20 years and never so much as scraped the paint. Had you not loaned it to me, it probably wouldn't have gotten stolen. It could have! A thief could have sneaked into your garage in the middle of the night, hot wired it, and sped away before you could do anything to stop him. It happens all the time, and just because it never happened before doesn't mean it wouldn't happen eventually. As in the case with my thief, your thief would be wholly guilty. It doesn't matter if his attorney points out that your garage was easy to break into, or that it was such a hot looking car the thief couldn't reasonably be expected not to steal it if he had the chance. No dice. If he does wrong, he deserves to pay.

But can we really say that my actions had nothing to do with your car getting stolen? I didn't ask him to steal it. But am I truly faultless? Does the validity of "Exhibit A" really cancel out "Exhibit B?" When you can finally afford to replace your car, can you think of a good reason not to let me borrow it again? Why? "Exhibit A" says it's not my fault it got stolen. In fact, I'm going to be strident about it.

"It is not my fault that car got stolen. I am not to blame for the actions of a car thief. He did it, not me. You have no business shaming me for something I'm not responsible for. I can get drunk and ask strangers to drive me home if I want to, and that doesn't give them the right to steal from me. I shouldn't have to change my behavior. Don't tell me anything. Tell the people who might steal cars that they shouldn't steal. I didn't do anything wrong!"

Does that strike you as a particularly mature and responsible response to an event like that? Or do you pretty well expect that the next time I get a hold of a car, it will get stolen again? How does that happen, do you think? Fate just picks on some people, I guess. Some people get their cars stolen over and over and over, and other people never have any trouble with car thieves. Why is that? You might be inclined to think that the people who don't have trouble have ugly cars that nobody wants to steal, but sometimes ugly cars get stolen, too. According to the reasoning behind arguments I've heard from some feminists about why rape happens, we are to presume from the fact that ugly, old cars get stolen that nice, snazzy, expensive cars don't get stolen way more often. Because, y'know, it's not about the cars. It's about power. Someone who steals your car for a joyride isn't doing it for the thrill of the ride, especially not the thrill of a ride in a stolen Lamborghini. No, it's just about controlling you and making you feel bad. Yep. Feminism 101. That's on the test. There's no thrill there. It's just about power and subjugation.

Here's the thing--even if cars I drive get stolen again and again, maybe it isn't my fault. Maybe I live in a bad neighborhood. Maybe, through no fault of my own, I've got an enemy who just happens to be a car thief. Maybe I'm too trusting because I overestimate the good in people. I shouldn't have to give up driving and cower in a corner, constantly afraid of what a thief might steal next. I shouldn't. Even if I did, I might get victimized anyway, and it wouldn't be my fault.

And yet still, that doesn't make it okay to get plastered and toss a stranger your car keys at a gas station.

Do you get what I'm saying here? "Exhibit A" is true. Even if you don't act like the person in "Exhibit B," you might still get victimized through no fault of your own. But just because those two things are true doesn't mean that I don't still need to act more responsibly than I did in "Exhibit B" if I don't want my car getting stolen.

Yeah, my car. That's the thing that's different about rape. You're not borrowing somebody else's car. It's yours. What gets taken gets taken from you. No, nobody has any right to rape you, not even if you're drunk, not even if you tell someone to take you back to his apartment and you take your clothes off and start kissing him. Nothing makes it okay for someone to rape you. See "Exhibit A." But if you don't want it to happen, see "Exhibit B"  and don't act like that.

Does that make you mad? Does it feel like I'm putting the burden of responsibility on you for avoiding someone else's bad behavior? Welcome to the concept of defensive driving. Just because you have the legal right-of-way doesn't mean it's smart to drive aggressively to keep a bad driver from cutting in front of you. Just because the guy twice your size who's spoiling for a fight called you a name doesn't mean you have to take the bait. Maybe it won't matter. Maybe you'll wreck anyway. Maybe that bully will still come after you. And maybe you'll still get raped. But if you want to reduce the odds, the first step is to recognize what you do have control over and what you don't.

What you don't have control over is the actions of other people. We, collectively as a society, can do our best to try to look out for each other and keep bad guys from hurting you, but we may fail. The only way you can guarantee you don't get attacked is to lock yourself in a cage where only you have the key--and even that's not foolproof. Liberty is dangerous. Having a free society means we're going to be at risk. We can't eliminate that risk 100%. The only way to effectively eliminate any possibility of rape would be to preemptively identify everyone who might possibly do such a thing at some point in the future, and then permanently remove them from society. History shows us that when social engineers get such ideas along with political power, we get mass graves as a result.

I don't want that, and I hope you don't either. So what can we do to keep you safe? Nothing? No, not nothing, though a more realistic goal is safer, not safe. You can be safer if you don't make yourself an easy target. Be hard to attack.

I used the word "attack," there instead of "rape," for a reason. When we train soldiers and police officers and prison guards how to keep themselves alive, that's what we're teaching them--how to be hard to attack, and how to survive if you are attacked. A rape is an attack. Makes no difference whether the attacker is punching you or fucking you. It's violence. So let's stop treating this like they're two different things. It doesn't matter which part of your body they're abusing. If someone can't attack you successfully, they can't rape you. Imagine cops and soldiers saying, "Well, there's no way to be 100% sure I'll never be killed, so I might as well just get rid of this armor and these weapons and quit paying attention to my surroundings. I can be lighthearted now and skip tra-la-la through the wildflowers and nobody will hurt me, because they're not supposed to."

Our population has a certain percentage of psychopaths. These are people who will try to hurt you just because it suits their purposes, and they don't care if we all think it's wrong. Public Service Announcements instructing them not to attack people aren't going to be effective. You do not have total control over their actions. In fact, you have almost none. Even our society, collectively, does not have total control over their actions. We maybe have some percentage. For the percentage that we don't control, you're vulnerable. They're going to attack you. When they do, are you going to try to increase their odds of failure, or are you just going to roll over and surrender because you don't feel it's your responsibility to keep yourself safe?

If it's not your responsibility to keep yourself safe, who's responsibility is it? The attacker's? Yes, see "Exhibit A." Is that okay with you? Are you going to trust your safety to a psychopath who wants to rape and/or kill you? That's about as smart as lending me your keys a second time. That's the thing--the rapist has a responsibility not to rape you, but if you want to lessen the odds of your getting raped, the smart thing to do is to not let the rapist be solely responsible for that. Don't let him have all the power if you don't have to. Seize whatever bit of power over that situation that you can for yourself. What's that mean? All the standard advice you've heard in the self-defense courses. Travel in groups. Be careful who you trust. Learn to fight. Arm yourself. Learn to size up a situation and learn to avoid dangerous ones. Don't send mixed signals, especially to people you're not interested in. The only person you can count on to protect you is you.

You might say, "But I don't want to have to always be thinking about the idea that someone might attack me. I don't want to live in fear. I'd rather just put it out of my mind and not think about it." Fine. That's your prerogative. Just be aware that you're the one who may someday pay the price for that approach. Maybe for you the day-to-day peace of mind is worth the balloon payment of being the unsuspecting victim of a crisis someday. That's not for me. Personally, I don't see it as being about living in fear. The more prepared I am to deal with whatever is thrown at me, the less afraid I feel, so I've learned to look out for my own safety.

And it may be that none of that does any good in a particular situation. But just because body armor doesn't make you immortal, that doesn't mean you don't wear it when you know you're going into battle. It's a numbers game, not a coin toss. You can't guarantee that you'll win, but you can improve your odds...both of winning and of losing.

And THAT, dear friends, is why I and so many others are incredulous when we hear people promoting the idea that because rapists are responsible for their own actions, you shouldn't feel obliged to protect yourself by taking countermeasures. If you've already been raped, your therapist should be telling you it's not your fault and that there's nothing you could have done to stop it. That's healing and kind. But if you haven't been raped yet and someone is telling you to stop protecting yourself because, gosh darnit, that's just not your responsibility, that person is trying to get you raped. They're trying to increase the odds by getting you to make yourself a more vulnerable, and thus more likely, target. Forgive us for getting mad at these people on your behalf. We're not siding with the rapists. We're not rape apologists. We're not blaming the victims or slut shaming or participating in rape culture or any of the other feminist buzzwords the matriarchs use as labels to discredit anyone capable enough of nuanced thought to disagree with them while not being 180° opposed to their position.

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