Friday, November 11, 2011

La Plus Ca Change

The Women of Darius Invoking the Clemency of Alexander

"A widow is like a frigate of which the first captain has been shipwrecked."
- Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

I'm wondering if anybody else has noticed this. There are two parallel news stories that are almost more instructive in the coverage they are receiving than in their content. One is the boy child rape at Penn State. The other is the sexual harassment/assault of grown women by Herman Cain. Both of these stories are about sordid things that happened years ago and are just now coming to light. And yet…

Our national news the media is shocked, SHOCKED, that little boys were sodomized all those years ago and they’re just now hearing about it. The outrage and righteous indignation at the victimization of young boys is breathtaking. Nobody seems to be questioning at all whether these incidents really took place.

The Herman Cain story: not quite so much shock and outrage. Victims of Cain’s sexual abuse are being called – predictably – sluts out for money preying on a virtuous powerful man. The few stories that attempt to be fair and/or balanced to the accusers still pepper their concerns with weak conditional language: alleged, unproven, “he said/she said” and shit. Cain thinks it's all a conspiracy at worst or a joke at best. He called Speaker Pelosi “Princess Nancy” at the recent debate, and was overheard (by Fox news) making a joke about Anita Hill. That guy kills. Is this our image of a Man's Man? Sad.

While I am perfectly aware that there are many places in this world where women treated very much worse by clueless men who are little more than spoiled old children, watching these cases unfold in public simply confirms that discrimination against women happens pretty much all over the world. But here and now, in the virtual community telling us the story of these two cases of sex abuse of a weaker person by a stronger person. And by weaker person, I mean women, and by a stronger person, I mean men.

No matter how enlightened we (and our media) like to think we are about all y'all connivin' bitches, the different approaches to these two different stories, strangely, both reflect the same double standard: Guilt by Gender. Like dirty linen drying on the rope above a sooty alley, our gender-biased judgments are all the more shameful because they are almost subconscious.

Women who are sexually abused and speak out are subjected to something cruel that looks to me a lot like a presumption of guilt. But let a different class of powerless people (who just happen to have penises) be sexually mistreated, and suddenly we will have to fire the entire chain of authority and pay millions to make it right. Otherwise, those poor victims might be further victimized. When the poor Penn State victims do come forward, should we consider whether they might just have been asking for it?

One might argue that the difference that makes it so much sadder is that the mistreatment of boys was witnessed and that of the women was not. Not true. "Allegedly", other people saw Cain being a dick to women and actually told him to cool it. How nice of them, and how nice for the ladies. They also told the man raping boys to cut it out. End of story. But in Cain’s case, there were settlement agreements for Crissake. That is an acknowledgement that - notwithstanding that something inappropriate and possibly illegal happened - we all agree to exchange some money to keep it quiet. In the Penn State cases, it's (as of now) unproven "he said/they said."

The only difference with the boys is that they’ll receive their (probably costlier) settlement much longer after the fact; and of course, that we’ll all feel really sorry for them, poor kids. Meanwhile, let’s drag those “ugly,” “bleach blond” tramps through the mud for daring to challenge a respected (!) man. And should the abused boys accept a settlement? When they do, should they have to sign a non-disclosure agreement in consideration for their hush money?

Ironic isn't it, the guy who is most famous for his epigram in the title of this post considered women no more than vessels who needed men to steer them. It's sad isn't it, that Al Karr would probably identify with the level of respect given to women today. Douche.


Weeping Sore said...

I have been told:
“Wow! I don't reply here often. But, yes, minors make a difference. A HUGE DIFFERENCE!”
“Seriously,???? Do you really forget what it's like to raise a good human??? We have a lot of issues in society, but raping little boys is inexcusable, how do you compare?? Deep breaths?”

Ok, I get it now. Minor children are deserving or more protection and gentle treatment than grown women. But does that justify the different presumptions of the relative innocence/guilt between the two victim groups and their perpetrators? Does that explain why children should always be given the benefit of the doubt, and grownups should always be presumed to be lying? Is the perfectly reasonable approach to protecting innocent minor victims a justification for vilifying adult ones?

I did not equate the relative evil of the crimes, but the relative powerlessness of the victims. I did not equate society’s arguably greater responsibility to protect innocent children than innocent women, but the different presumptions of their relative innocence.

The ad hominem questioning my child-raising skills because I question the framing of the similar aspects of these stories strikes me as an application of a similar double standard. If you don’t agree with the argument, don’t resort to attacking the messenger. And please refrain from advising me to take deep breaths to calm down and rethink what is clearly my hysterical female overreaction.

That is, unless you grant me the right to challenge the validity of your opinions about child-rearing simply because you have never been a single mother raising a child; without child support from the other parent; while struggling to make a decent fulltime living; and while not only being harassed, but being paid 80% of what men were paid for the same work? I don’t have to imagine what would have happened to me - or my dependent child - if I had spoken out. I know.

For the record, just because I see something troubling in the way these two stories are playing out, I do not support rape of children - any more than I assume your defense of innocent children implies your lack of compassion toward innocent women.

Martha Toth said...

I feel your pain. Heard a story on NPR the other day about male rape in some war-torn corner of the Third World and how terribly traumatic it was for the victims. My immediate reaction was resentment: is it not terribly traumatic for women who are raped, too? If your house has ever been robbed, you know how violated and insecure that makes you feel. Multiply it an order of magnitude, and I imagine that is how it feels to be personally, physically, intimately violated. I cannot see how that is worse for one gender than another. Like Weeping Sore, I see a sexism so ingrained that it is not recognized. It's been decades since I was seriously sexually harassed, but I have not forgotten the silent, powerless fury.