Wednesday, January 25, 2006

the real story.

the real story i wanted to write this morning was not about moving and jeans. nothing against either topic, as they are nominally important to the functioning of my own life at the moment, but the willful frivolity of the post below is not really truthful.

the headline on the Tribune's website today is Chicago's Rape Epidemic. this actually elicited a wry smile from me when i first read it - this is news? the prevalence of rape is news to people? this just in: the pope is catholic. then, against my better judgement, i clicked through the morning news. on CBS2 we got a report of an unidentified man in his 30s who is breaking into women's dorm rooms at northwestern. he isn't assaulting them or stealing anything; apparently, accordingly to broadcaster man, he just likes to "watch girls sleep." over on NBC5, we get a story of one woman in aurora who was not quite so lucky. she came home to her apartment to find a man in a ski mask jumping out of her closet, who then raped her, stole her stuff, and fled.

ok. this is a big part of why i go through phases of attempting to avoid news media in general. the combination of sensationalism, voyeurism, and plain old fear-mongering become hard to handle after awhile. but still, when i see two particular stories like i did on tv this morning, combined with the Trib's "yeah, no kidding" headline, i feel sick to my stomach. because regardless of the statistical improbablity of being assaulted by a stranger, it happens. statistics are no comfort to that woman in aurora today. and what did she do wrong? nothing. her problem was being a woman. that's all. being in the wrong place at the wrong time (which, ironically, was her own home) and being female.

really, how can anyone look at the reality of these three news stories and not be struck by how our society treats women? how can anyone reconcile the prevalence of rape with the idea that feminism "got what it wanted" and women are considered equals? how do you take two and two and not come up with four?

if society truly valued women, the incidence of rape would be vastly diminished. i don't think you're ever going to eradicate rape - it's hard to eradicate anything - but it would certainly be less widespread that it is today. and don't talk to me about declining crime statistics overall, because i know and that's great, but it doesn't change the fact that women are still raped every day. but beyond the actual instance of rape, the issue grows roots and takes hold in the way that a society actually reacts to rape - which, in our case, is without a real sense of seriousness or condemnation. according to the department of justice, the average time served on a rape conviction is about five years. for a sexual assault conviction, it is just under three years. and we all know how many rapists actually end up being convicted.

truthfully, we don't forcefully condemn rape because it is not in society's interest to do so. rape is a tool of any patriarchal society, and a very powerful and effective one at that. it is used to instill fear, to keep a portion of the population cowed and frightened, back on their heels in a defensive position. how often do we see the burden of preventing rape put on women? don't walk alone at night! don't live alone! carry mace! take self-defense! don't talk back, don't go to his room, don't drink, don't wear that skirt! and by god, it works. we live in fear. it doesn't matter if it's a statistically improbable fear - when i am walking down a street at dusk, with the streetlights barely on, and i hear footsteps behind me where a second ago there were none, that momentary flush of panic is real.

i resent that. i resent the way that my society forces me to live this way. i resent the fact that if i were raped tomorrow, in the year 2006, what i was wearing would still be a matter of discussion. i resent being told that it's up to me to stop men from assaulting my bodily integrity. i resent how the anchorman on NBC reports a rape, shakes his head sadly, and then moves on seamlessly to the traffic report.


Toast said...

Fascinating post. I'm not quite sure how to react to it. Rape is a tool of a patriarchal society??? The instance of rape would decrease if "society" respected women more? You really think so? I think of rape as being perpetrated by individual males who are really fucked up in the head. I think these people are largely beyond the reach of the influence of "societal" norms.

It's funny what you say about the "footsteps behind you at night" thing. Often, when I'm leaving work and walking across the garage at night, I'll see a woman walking out to her car, and she'll turn and glance at me, and I'll wonder to myself "Is she experiencing some sort of low-level freak out right now because I'm a guy walking in a garage near her with no one else around?" And then I think "Because if so, that's gotta be a shitty way to live."

Anonymous said...

Rape is consistently used as a method of terror and control in countries at war. It has occured in Africa for decades and continues to this day. It is often a punishment for some perceived infraction against male authority all over the Middle East. It happened in Europe during WWII. It happened in Bosnia.

Zendo Deb said...

Is it my responsibility to stay safe? Who's responsibility should it be? This is why I live in a state where I have access to effective means of self-defense (mace isn't really very effective in high-wind, in rain or in-doors).

A Woman is raped in America every 5.6 minutes.

Zendo Deb said...

Also, though the violent crime rate is down, the numbers for rape don't look that good.

2004 FBI Uniform Crime Report (most recent available) shows that the incidence of rape is still 0.6% higher in 2004 than it was in 2000. (It was marginally lower than in 2003.) This was the only component of violent crime that was higher in 2004 than it was in 2000.

kate.d. said...

toast, it's late and my thought process is going to be whacked out, but:

i think this is one of those instances where you have to take a 30,000 foot view of a problem that happens among individuals. because really, when you think about it, what makes men decide to rape? why does a certain guy who's angry about something decide that the best thing to do about it is forcibly penetrate a woman?

it has to do with power dynamics, with what women are viewed as, the ways in which they are denigrated and also (also!) they ways in which they are feared.

in short, yes, rape is perpetrated by individuals, but where did they get the idea?

and you're absolutely right - it is a shitty way to live.

elizalou said...

Wow. Not quite sure what to say to this. I think you're so right on. It's incredibly ridiculous what news programs will do for. . . well, I don't know what they get out of anyways, besides maybe a flock of mindless followers waiting to be warned of the next big threat. Oh yeah, that's exactly what they want.

Here's the thing. A rape epidemic? That right there says so much to me. First of all, the word "epidemic" usually refers to a disease. Which, what, rape is now a disease? It would be fine to define it as such, I suppose, since it isn't actually something pleasant. But it would be more understandable if it were something that could actually be eradicated.

But then do something to cure it. The government is spending billions on trying to prevent avian flu, which hasn't even made it to our country and may not ever touch our soil. But god forbid they try to deal with something like rape.

If you're not going to do anything about it, stop sensationalizing it. Because, while it's true that women should be aware of their surroundings at all times, this "epidemic" is going to be taken further than that by a lot of people. I'm sure many Chicago area daughters are being reminded by their families not to do anything that might put them in any situation where they might possibly be raped. Leading to the thought that, yes, we as women are fully responsible for rape. The victims themselves, then, can turn into the "disease".

I'm going to be honest and say that I nearly choked on my diet coke when I read toast's comment about rape as a tool of patriarchical society. I was surprised because I think there is virtually nothing about rape that isn't a tool of patriarchical society.

When the media talk about rape, which victims specifically get the sympathy. Young, wealthy, white women, right? People are all up in arms about the whole Aruba case (don't even get me started on the international colonial implications of that), but what about the not so rich, not so privileged, not so smart, not so beautiful, or not so white women who are assaulted every day? It's of no use for the media to talk about it for all the reasons you've stated. Unless a woman is the "perfect" victim she is out of luck.

True, I'm a bit bitter and take it all a little personally, but I sincerely think I'd be just as pissed off if I hadn't been a victim of all of this myself.

Overall, I one hundred percent agree, is a shitty way to live.