Saturday Storytime: When It Changed

Joanna Russ died yesterday. You might not know who she is, but you should. Annalee has a post at io9 that explains why she was important (and she was), but she was also simply one of the most imaginative of the early science fiction writers. Beyond that, unlike many of the classic writers, she could write.

“When It Changed” is a deceptively simple piece. A simple meeting, but what the characters stand to lose tells us so much about what we’ve never had. An excerpt:

“Plague?” he said. “That’s most unfortunate.”

“Yes,” I said. “Most unfortunate. We lost half our population in one generation.”

He looked properly impressed.

“Whileaway was lucky,” I said. “We had a big initial gene pool, we had been chosen for extreme intelligence, we had a high technology and a large remaining population in which every adult was two-or-three experts in one. The soil is good. The climate is blessedly easy. There are thirty millions of us now. Things are beginning to snowball in industry do you understand? give us seventy years and we’ll have more than one real city, more than a few industrial centers, full-time professions, full-time radio operators, full-time machinists, give us seventy years and not everyone will have to spend three quarters of a lifetime on the farm.” And I tried to explain how hard it is when artists can practice full-time only in old age, when there are so few, so very few who can be free, like Katy and myself. I tried also to outline our government, the two houses, the one by professions and the geographic one; I told him the district caucuses handled problems too big for the individual towns. And that population control was not a political issue, not yet, though give us time and it would be. This was a delicate point in our history; give us time. There was no need to sacrifice the quality of life for an insane rush into industrialization. Let us go our own pace. Give us time.

“Where are all the people?” said the monomaniac.

I realized then that he did not mean people, he meant men, and he was giving the word the meaning it had not had on Whileaway for six centuries.

“They died,” I said. “Thirty generations ago.”

I thought we had poleaxed him. He caught his breath. He made as if to get out of the chair he was sitting in; he put his hand to his chest; he looked around at us with the strangest blend of awe and sentimental tenderness. Then he said, solemnly and earnestly:

“A great tragedy.”

I waited, not quite understanding.

Keep reading (including the author’s afterword).

True Equivalence

J. J. Ramsey, in a comment on a recent post, suggests that accommodationists aren’t being extra harsh and burdensome to confrontational atheists because the accommodationists treat fundamentalists poorly too. Specifically, he responds to a comment by Jason:

I suspect what Stephanie actually meant was that accomodationists don’t take the same pains in treating “New Atheists” with the same kid gloves they treat religious folks.

With:

But “accommodationists” don’t even uniformly treat the religious with “kid gloves,” as you put it. Toward the creationists, fundamentalists, and other denialists, they are quite willing to be aggressive. The NCSE has, for example, even mocked Expelled.

I’d really just like to put my head down now and say, “We’ve had that discussion. Get over it.” But hey, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. Once more, with feeling.

This is what we call “false equivalence.” The fact that two positions within an argument are the most polarized you, personally, have seen doesn’t make them the same thing. Nor does it make the point somewhere between them a moderate position. This is particularly true when one “side” is distinctly in the minority, with the majority in control of most of the channels available for distributing messages. Even more true when the minority is heavily stigmatized.

That false equivalence is the only reason to compare “New Atheist” communications to fundamentalist positions. Confronting religion head on is no more “mean,” “distorting,” or “prejudicial” toward the religious than mainstream religious messaging is toward atheists. Need examples?

New Atheist: Religion is a delusion.
Mainstream: None so blind as those who will not see.
Fundamentalist: Satan resides in your heart.

New Atheist: Religious experiences and belief are the products of cognitive processes. They do not constitute evidence of god(s). Denying that denies science.
Mainstream: I believe in God because I have had these religious experiences. Denying that denies me.
Fundamentalist: Doubt is a personal failure to be fought against.

New Atheist: Religion requires assumption of facts not in evidence and/or contradicting our knowledge of reality.
Mainstream: Atheism requires assuming that what is tangible is the sum of what there is.
Fundamentalist: Denying your god is evil.

New Atheist: Raising a child to believe in sin and hell is a form of child abuse.
Mainstream: It would be cruel to deny your child the experience of God’s love.
Fundamentalist: You risk damning your children to eternal torment by allowing non-religious influences into their lives.

New Atheist: Religion provides a source of authority that is used to hurt others. It is also used to define an outgroup, who are “fair game” for persecution.
Mainstream: Religion provides the source of morality that keeps others from harm. It also provides a sense of brotherhood.
Fundamentalist: Our authority is God’s authority. Those who would threaten that authority must be dealt with or excluded in God’s name.

New Atheist: We must not allow any religion to use the political sphere to promote itself.
Mainstream: We must not allow other religions or atheists to use the political sphere to promote themselves.
Fundamentalist: We must root out all other influences in the political sphere.

And the one most important to the accommodationist promotion of science.

New Atheist: Science undermines the idea of religious myths as a rational interpretation of the world.
Mainstream: We recognize that science reveals the metaphorical nature of our texts but hold that faith is paramount.
Fundamentalist: Science is wrong because our texts tell us so.

People who buy into and pass on this notion that somehow “New Atheism” is equivalent to fundamentalism are perpetuating a narrative that privileges liberal religious thought as the non-extreme, non-confrontational position. They’re placing a burden on atheists to be more conciliatory toward religion than mainstream religion is toward atheism, simply by not recognizing that this is where the equivalence lies.

“New Atheists” are no more judgmental, dismissive, or offensive than the adherents of mainstream religions. They’re certainly not louder on a collective basis, and I doubt that they are on an individual basis either. The only reason that isn’t obvious is that the mainstream anti-atheism narrative is a constant background to life in our society. But really, it doesn’t take much work to stop and look at the evidence. It takes even less to find the true equivalence.

Taking It Downhill

As biodork (love that handle) pointed out in the comments on my last post, the complaints about “New Atheists” being too…too are hardly any newer than the behavior of confrontational atheists.

In 1969 it was the flamboyant cross-dressers and the in-your-face gays and lesbians who changed the GBLT civil rights movement forever. 40 years later (omg – 40 years???), we’re seeing opinion letters from straight-laced gays and lesbians (pun not intended when it flew from my fingers, but now I’m totally keeping it) who complain about these same people being over the top in the Pride parades with their short leather shorts, glittery, colorful costumes and their loud, effervescent personas.

In her talk at the U of MN Greta Christina touched on the mainstreaming of an identity like being gay or being an atheist. At first the leaders are courageous, spectacular, FABULOUS!, and willing to take fire from the haters. As time goes on more and more “regular joes” who just want to live their lives without making their identity the center of everything will rise up.

When this happens, I think there is a feedback loop that starts to encourage the quieting of these original noisy upstarts by the community that they originally fostered. “Shhh…we don’t need that anymore. They noticed, now be quiet.”

There are many more parallels than this, of course. There are those “radical” feminists who keep insisting on raising a stink because there are plenty of things still broken. They make it so tough for women who have to keep defending themselves from the title in order to go make their comfortable lives a little bit more comfortable. There are those socialists who persist in demanding that poor people be treated like people. It’s so annoying that they won’t just disappear for a bit so the label won’t be applied to those people who want a better tax break on their kids’ educational expenses.

All these pesky crusaders, who just won’t shut up, who won’t just go with the flow for a bit so things can get done, so the people with the keys to the kingdom will give us just a little bit more. Ugh! What is to be done with people so rude, so demanding, so mean?!?

This really shouldn’t be any news to anybody, but those people at the top? The ones who are telling you it would all be okay if you could just get the noisy people to be quiet? They’re not on your side. That stuff they’re telling you? It’s today’s excuse. If you make it go away, tomorrow’s excuse will just be different.

A gatekeeper’s job is to keep people out, not to let them in.

No matter how much you suck up to the people with power (money, position, conformity to the rules), no matter how much you shape yourself to look like them, no matter how much you do the gatekeepers’ jobs for them, you’re never going to receive more than a token award. People in charge didn’t get there by deferring to others. Power is shared grudgingly, if at all.

Those noisy, persistent, aggravating people? What they actually are is threatening. They are the people who have what it takes to grab and hold onto a piece of that power. They’re the ones who aren’t going to wait for it to be shared, not by you and not by the people above you. They don’t have a lot of respect for gates, and less for gatekeepers.

Do they have a chance? That’s hard to say for any given movement at any given moment, but the last couple of centuries suggest that they win in the long run. When they do have setbacks, they aren’t dealt out by the people at the top, either. They come from that complacent, uncomfortable middle. They come from the people who think that getting a couple of inches closer to the gate constitutes a gain worth stepping on others to protect. But in the long run, they’re winning.

So when you find yourself on edge around these people, when you find yourself thinking they’re making your life harder, stop. Think.

Remember that you have a choice. You can stay a part of the gatekeepers’ army, turning around and stomping on those below you. Or you can look at the gatekeepers, step to one side, and say, “These people coming up the hill behind me? I’m with them.”

Argumentative, Aggressive, and Generally Dickish

What to remember when you’ve said that confrontational atheists have made it harder for you to make progress on your shared goals, and some atheist has gotten (eek, gasp, shock, horror, blah, blah, blah) rude with you. This is particularly true for the endless argument over promoting science.

It’s worth remembering where this debate came from. Atheists, only recently starting to stand up and be counted in any number, are seeing the people who have been saying the same things that atheists have been saying for centuries (as noted in comment 5, then largely ignored) being told to hush up because they’re being noticed for once and that’s making trouble. These are frequently also the people who gave your rank-and-file atheist the courage to come out and who provide sympathy when coming out results in the crap it always results in. But hush, because what these other people are doing is really important.

Of course, it is important. But so is being supported and encouraged as an out atheist. So is being able to tell people how religion hurt you or those you love without having to put bows on it. So is being able to tell other people that they have a real choice to get out of abusive religions. So is being able to run for public office. So is being able to keep your job. So is being able to keep your kids.

But hush. And be really nice to the people who are telling you to hush. Be nice to the people who are telling you that you matter less than what they’re doing. Be nice to the people who are doing good work but only talk about why people like you are bad. Be nice to the people who might, someday let you eat at the grown-up table if you stay quiet enough at the children’s table first (and when there are no more grown-up problems you might interfere with). Hush and trust them, despite the fact that they’re calling you the problem.

Yeah, no. Atheists are being aggressive, in part, because they’re being told to go back to being passive. They’re being argumentative because there’s a constant onslaught of messages leveled at them and everyone they have to deal with that becomes the unquestioned social background if they don’t. They’re being rude because everybody is rude sometimes, and they’re not going to be left out if you’re not. They’re being condescending because you’ve been told this before in some form, but you can’t seem to move past the fact that someone insulted you in order to hear it. [from my comment here]

If you happen to be an atheist whose life is arranged so that it never causes you any problems, rejoice. If you’re religious and don’t see why atheists should behave that way in our “Christian nation” or a country with a state church, take a deep breath and two steps back from the argument (particularly if you happen to be a middle-class or better white male to boot). If you don’t know what all the fuss is about, shut up and listen for a bit. Either way, understand what you’re demanding of atheists and figure out why you’re placing the burden for good behavior on them.

Further Reading
The Support of New Atheism
Whither Allies

My God Can Beat Up Your God

Are you done, done, done with Easter? Were you unable to keep it a holiday of chocolate bunnies, Peeps, and zombie songs? Then perhaps it is time to spend this Friday or Saturday night with Vilification Tennis, for a couple of hours of religiously themed insults.

That’s right, it is time for Vilification Tennis to talk about religion. Think your religion can withstand the withering spotlight of Vilification Tennis? Come and see! Free graven images for all audience members!

Just remember, if you’re not offended, they’re not doing it right.

Readings for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in the U.S. It’s been a while since that hasn’t been the case on this blog, but now is a good time to pull some of my posts together in one place.

Of course, if you’d like to do more than read this month, there are opportunities. Claudia Lefeve is dedicating the proceeds of the sale (from April 15 to May 15) of her novella, “The Fury,” to Pandora’s Project (Twitter), which provides resources to survivors and researchers. Wrestler Mick Foley is targeting an unusual audience in his fund-raising efforts for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Tax-deductible donations to RAINN during April are also being matched up to a total of $30,000. Neil Gaiman is also supporting RAINN through the purchase of his story, “Blueberry Girl.”

If you want to help out but don’t have funds to spare, or have donated and want to do more, RAINN also provides information on how to get involved in shaping public policy. Currently, they’re asking people to support the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act, which will require better tracking of DNA evidence in rape cases. You can follow them on Twitter for news.

Now for posts. Note that a lot of these were written in the context of ongoing discussions. I wrote many of them, however, so I wouldn’t have to keep making the same points over and over.

U.S. Rape Statistics

As part of the ongoing discussion regarding Silence Is the Enemy (go read, click, donate), there is a commenter, Thomas, in this thread who is terribly concerned that rape statistics in the U.S. are inflated. He’s citing this article by Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers (PhD in philosophy) suggesting that several studies on rape prevalence shouldn’t be quoted because, well, you can read the reasons if you feel like it.

However, one helpful thing that Sommers does point out in this 2004 article is that the Bureau of Justice Statistics annual criminal victimization survey was revamped to ask about rape and sexual assault directly. It hadn’t before 2004. Really. This means that the numbers are available, although Thomas didn’t go out to find them himself.

So I did.

Why “No Means No”

The way that our culture talks about sex–or, more importantly, doesn’t–is fundamentally screwed up. We’re not really talking, most of us. We’re role playing. We’re taking the things that we’re supposed to think and feel about sex and repeating them to one another in the place of figuring out and talking about our own feelings.

Religion hasn’t helped, of course. The inequality between the sexes and mistrust of pleasure that the dominant religions of our society have promoted place particular pressure on women to deny enjoyment of sex, to deny desire. That means that “no” has frequently meant something other than “no.” This is not a new concept.

However, it is a concept that came to be used by men as a justification for rape. As a means of excusing nonconsensuality, it came to be accepted and enshrined in a not insignificant portion of our media and our cultural mythos. That acceptance had to change.

Caring About Abuse

To those implying* that your friendly local atheist is taking some new-found interest in fighting child sexual abuse because it involves the Catholic church or because Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are supporting the effort to explore legal options:

Oh, there are plenty of things I could say here. Short, pithy, pointed. Angry. Satisfying…but unhelpful. So I’ll settle for this: Are you listening to yourselves?

Do These Social Skills Make My Ass Look Creepy?

A while ago, over at Skepchick, Elyse asked for suggestions for dealing with the “creepy dude factor” as a barrier to women’s participation in skeptic and atheist events. A (thankfully small) number of guys asked whether their geeky lack of social skills or someone else’s would be classed as part of that problem. I would love to be able to say that if you think to ask, then no, you’re not part of the problem. But…

Yes, guys, sometimes your social skills are part of the problem. However, it isn’t in the way that you think it is. It isn’t because you’re awkward or not sure how to manage your body language. It isn’t because you don’t say the same things everyone else is saying.

It’s because you can’t set aside being self-conscious long enough to notice that someone just asked for your help with something really damned important.

Assange and the Presumption of Innocence

The presumption of innocence is a standard that’s incorporated in many, if not most, Western, industrialized legal systems. It is, in fact, a good thing, allowing people to retain most of their rights while allegations are being examined. I say most, because people are generally required to cooperate to a certain extent in determining the truth behind an accusation–to participate in trials either directly or through a representative, to be subject to certain questions, whether they answer them or not.

Even here, however, there are procedures in place that require a generally independent judiciary to make some preliminary evaluation of the credibility of the accusation before cooperation can be compelled. Whether you agree with the decisions of judges in Assange’s case, those procedures are being followed in Sweden and in the UK.

However, the presumption of innocence has also been adopted, to varying degrees, as a social standard for protecting the reputation of those accused of a crime. It’s in the conflation of the legal and social standards that the problem arises here.

Assange and Real Rape

Before I get into more substantive matters, I do have to take a moment to note that I personally can’t conceive of a better way to trivialize rape and its victims than to turn the whole thing into some kind of contest. Right. Onward.

This version of the “real” rape argument requires two things. (1) There is no confusion about what rape is. (2) All rape is the one thing or it isn’t rape.

I’d like to think this whole discussion would be evidence for the widespread confusion over rape and leave it at that, but I believe it’s important to understand the ongoing change in legal and societal definitions of rape that has happened within the lifetime of many people discussing this
situation.

Should Have Known

I want to return to one of those stupid things that people are saying about the sexual assault of Lara Logan. It’s the idea that “I’m not saying she deserved to be assaulted, but she should have known that her hair/her clothes/traveling to a country where (insert Middle Eastern or Muslim stereotype here) would make it more likely that she’d get raped.”

Of course she knew.

We all know. Women can’t avoid being aware of any of the standard trappings of rape, real or fictional. That’s what living in a rape culture is all about. There’s no escaping this.

Transcription “Journalism” Fails on Rape

We know that. We’ve known for decades that most people get things wrong about crime, and we sure as hell know that they’re worse on the topic of rape. We know that people misassign blame. We know that they tend to treat perpetrators as something short of criminals. We know that there’s a lot of special pleading that goes on that makes what happened “not really rape.”

That, my dear friends, is why we employ experts. We employ them in training law enforcement personnel, because they don’t get rape on their own. We employ them to talk to juries in rape cases, because juries don’t know what constitutes evidence of consent or trauma on their own. We employ them to set up programs to prevent rape and to deal with the aftermath, because rape is so entwined in our culture that very few of us really understand all of what we’re looking at when we look at rape.

We don’t–I emphasize–do not let any old schmuck off the street do any of that. Never. We just don’t. Because they get it wrong, as this article demonstrates so thoroughly.

This “reporter” did just that, though.

Rape Myth #1: She’s Probably Lying

It doesn’t happen. We’re not told that people lie about these things. We’re told that women lie about rape.

The implication in the “women lie” narrative is that we must be particularly on our guard against false accusations of rape, that any particular accusation is unlikely to be true. But is it?

The Rate of False Report
The standard figure passed around by victim advocates suggests a rate of false reports of 8% based on FBI crime statistics from 1997. This is comparable to rates for other crimes. However, citations can be found for rates as low as 1.5% and as high as 90%. In other words, huh? How do we deal with a range that big?

Luckily for those who want to sort out the truth of the matter, two papers came out in 2010 that shed considerable light by examining how false rape report rates are generated.

Skepticism and Rape Adaptations

Now, the problem is not that Dr. Shackelford is an evo psych researcher. There are people doing good work in evo psych. The problem is that Dr. Shackelford isn’t doing good work on this topic. In particular, the work he is presenting, relating female infidelity to rape of female partners by male partners, doesn’t tell us anything that the already robust scientific literature on rape hasn’t already told us.

In the 2006 paper that Shackelford will be presenting tomorrow, “Sexual Coercion and Forced In-Pair Copulation as Sperm Competition Tactics in Humans,” (pdf available) Goetz and Shackelford demonstrate a correlation in heterosexual couples between the likelihood of female infidelity (past or present, rated by the male or female partner) and the likelihood of male sexual coercion, up to and including rape via physical assault. This isn’t news. We already know that men who endorse rape myths and the acceptability of sexual violence against women under certain circumstances are more likely to rape. One of the common attitudes that predicts rape is that “sluts” lose the right to say, “No.” (“Nice girls don’t get raped.”) Non-monogamy is used to excuse rape, and not merely rape by prior sexual partners.

Saturday Storytime: Masks

I’ve referred to my friend Naomi Kritzer on this blog before, but generally to point to her political research. What I might not have done is mention that she writes kick-ass short stories. This is very silly of me, since she does just that. On the occasion of her releasing her first collection of shorts for Kindle (other formats and a second collection soon to come), let me rectify my oversight by featuring one of the stories from the collection.

“Masks” is set in the same world as Naomi’s first two books. It is a story of hidden identities set within the context of a masquerade, but there is nothing crudely metaphorical about it. An excerpt:

“What about his Lordship?” That was Marietta, the priestess who’d looked at me earlier.

“Well, we’ve heard unfortunate things about his reluctance to seek out the Lady’s blessing.”

“Perhaps he’s just waiting for the right girl,” Marietta said.

“I’m sure. But he might look harder for the right girl with some encouragement.” Gemino licked his lips. “There are rumors that he has a preference for — other company.”

“You’re not seriously suggesting that we threaten the son of the Emperor with a heresy charge?” Marietta rolled her eyes.

“Is the son of the Emperor above the law of the Lady?”

“Of course not. But while of course the Lord and the Lady wish to see Prince Travan honor them, so that they can bless him with a child, that doesn’t mean he must find himself a girl to bed on a nightly basis. Prince Travan is known to be a bit shy; I’m sure the Lady understands that.” She turned to refill her wine glass and Falco caught her eye. “You seem quite interested in this conversation, Falco. I suppose that’s not surprising — aren’t you always the one we send in to terrorize the fichi?”

My shoulders tensed; fico, fig, was slang for a man like me. Or like Falco.

Keep reading.

The Support of New Atheism

Chris Mooney has a new post up about a study showing positive anti-prejudicial effects of the message that atheists exist, in number, in society. He sees this as a plus for New Atheists, but still adds cautions:

The tactic finding support here is not necessarily being confrontational–that would tend to prompt negative emotional reactions, and thus defensiveness and inflexibility towards New Atheist arguments–but rather, making it more widely known that you’re actually there–as “out” atheists try to do:

Josh Roseneau expands on that point:

But New Atheism is hardly the only way for atheists – or nontheists more generally – to get the word out that they’re here and want to be taken seriously. It’s a myth that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: if no one knows who you are, it’s all the more crucial to present yourself well. And for the reasons Chris alludes to above, and for reasons I’ve laid out ad nauseam, I don’t think New Atheism is the best way to present atheism.

All right. Here’s the thing. Actually, no, let me tell you a little story first.

I work in an office where people around me routinely talk about their weekend plans with their church groups. I can walk into the kitchenette for water for tea, hear someone talk about the bad influences their kids are hanging with, and know that by the time I’m done (our hot water is glacially slow) I’ll hear that the reason is that these kids just don’t go to church!

It’s the only place I’ve ever worked where someone visibly prayed before meals. Sexual minorities are underrepresented and pretty well closeted. Despite the fact that I hosted an atheist radio show for six months, two people in the office know I’m an atheist.

Then, yesterday. We have a whiteboard outside the kitchenette that can be used for announcements. Usually it’s used for silly questions like, “Have you filed your taxes yet?” or “Who’s your pick to win the NCAA tournament.” Yesterday, the question was, “What are your Easter/Passover traditions?”

It hadn’t been answered. The hallway was quiet, but people would be grabbing and heating lunches soon. Quickly, I wrote, “None. No religion.”

Shortly, I needed more water. Someone had written underneath, “Eating ham.” Someone else had drawn an arrow to my comment from theirs. “That’s okay. Diversity is for all.”

Yes, I know. Even for me. When I’m willing to go to the work to make that happen. Glad it’s “okay,” though.

When I washed my lunch dishes, someone else had answered. “Celebrating our lord and savior. Christ is risen!!!” The first sentence is a paraphrase. The last, including all three exclamation points, is not.

By about 2 p.m., the board had been erased and the content replaced with information about texting while driving. There was an article in yesterday’s paper about enforcement, but the law isn’t new.

Did I increase someone’s awareness? Probably. Did I leave a mark on someone’s prejudices? Maybe. Did I deal with stupid crap, from patronage to a defensive Christian to erasure, in doing it? Yeah.

It happens, but that’s my point. As part of the least trusted demographic in a country where the populace is being continually fed a line about how we are attacking them, this stuff always happens. It’s annoying. It’s nervous-making. It’s tiring. And it’s really damned hard to find people who think the responses aren’t just something I should expect if I answer a question about religion–even at work–with an answer that questions the assumption of religion.

Enter the New Atheists. Enter the loud-mouthed confrontationalists who aren’t going to see people behave that way without doing their best to make it quite clear that this behavior in unacceptable. Enter the support team, the cheering squad, the clearers of obstacles. Enter the people who, as PZ Myers’ described his role last year at CONvergence, get angry for those of who aren’t allowed to. Enter the people who make others angry so I don’t have to. Enter the people who put all these topics into the mainstream in ways that can’t be ignored so I don’t have to explain myself endlessly every time I identify myself.

Without them, you would hear less from me. Without me, you would hear less from a rather large number of my friends. Far too many of them had no support for the idea that being nonreligious doesn’t have to mean being invisible when the subject is discussed.

Do the New Atheists do the kind of work that the study says is effective in dismantling prejudices? Well, that largely comes down to how you define New Atheists. But even at the most restrictive, strident, obnoxious definitions, the New Atheists support that work.

If they don’t do it themselves, it still wouldn’t happen without them.

Alcohol and Rape: Twice the Standards

From Melissa McEwen comes a story of an unusual rape conviction appeal:

In what might be the most perfect, clear, hideous example of how rape culture interacts with actual acts of rape, an appellant brief (pdf) was filed last March in the Montana Supreme Court on behalf of Duane R. Belanus, who had been convicted (pdf) of “of sexual intercourse without consent involving the infliction of bodily injury, aggravated kidnapping, burglary, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and misdemeanor theft” after beating and anally raping his then-girlfriend. The brief […] bases its appeal almost entirely on the premise that Belanus was drunk and therefore should not be held responsible for his actions[.]

Yes, you’re reading that right. A legal brief in defense of a convicted rapist was submitted quoting real-life convicted rapist Mike Tyson’s character in a movie in order to argue that if real-life convicted rapist Mike Tyson’s character in a movie can forgive a bunch of drunk characters in a movie for stealing his pet tiger, then a real jury in the real world should be able to consider, and forgive, a real-life convicted rapist who really raped someone in the real world.

Can you not see the perfect logic?

As Jason puts it, “Wharrgarbl.” However, lest you think this is one attorney acting egregiously in an effort to help his client, let me direct you to a 2007 study by Sarah McMahon exploring the shape of modern rape myths in college athletes.

A related and important finding was the belief that rape sometimes happens accidentally or unintentionally. This view reinforced the finding that the participants were able to avoid assigning blame to the perpetrators. It also revealed a clear lack of understanding of consent because, most of the time, by accidental rape they were referring to occasions when alcohol was involved. Alcohol played an interesting role in the explanations given for sexual assault. Some of the men believed that it was not fair to label an act as rape if the two parties were intoxicated, and this is how they believed accidental rape occurs. Yet at the same time, many of the men also admitted to using alcohol to get women drunk at parties to loosen them up and get them to have sex. Again, a lack of consistency and responsibility emerged.

Yes, people believe that rape is an “accident” if those involved are drunk, even if it’s no accident that someone has gotten drunk. Imagine (as you should any time talks about rape) if the same “reasoning” were used for any other crime. “My client is appealing his conviction for criminal vehicular homicide on the basis that he was drunk. These things just happen.”

Of course, if the victim is drunk, that’s a whole different matter, as the New York Times so helpfully points out. Then alcohol isn’t a problem for the victim. It’s a…oh, wait. No, it’s still the victim’s problem.

Prosecutors have revealed no physical evidence linking either officer to a rape, although the officers were caught by a surveillance camera entering her apartment four times. Still, the prosecution’s case may rely heavily on the credibility of a woman who was admittedly drunk at the time she says she was sexually assaulted, and cannot recall large portions of the evening.

I’ll let Stephanie Hallett handle this one, as she did it very ably.

Not so fast.

First off, alcohol causes memory loss, not false memories. When drinkers try to fill in the lost time, they generally assume positive experiences–unlike, say, rape.

Second, the victim’s so-called “credibility” had not yet entered into legal question at the time of the newspaper’s report, so the above statement is purely editorial. The defense had yet to cross-examine the witness or make its case. In fact, according to an earlier Times report, the defense’s opening statement had pointed to the woman’s ability to direct the cab driver to her apartment as evidence of her coherence and ability to “think and have normal conversations” on the night of the assault. The question of her credibility–on account of her level of intoxication–didn’t come up in trial until after it was questioned in print by The New York Times.

Despite this admission, which the defense argues was fabricated in an effort to end the confrontation, The New York Times saw fit to turn the case on its head and put the victim’s credibility on trial. If a woman’s “credibility” is publicly questioned because she was drunk when she was assaulted, it sends a message to attackers that they can get away with raping drunk women, and it sends a message to such victims that their stories won’t be believed.

So remember, kids. If a rapist is drunk, it’s a way to excuse him. If a victim is drunk, it’s a…way to excuse him.

Wharrgarbl.

Related Posts
Rape Myth #1: She’s Probably Lying

Citations
McMahon, S. (2007). Understanding Community-Specific Rape Myths: Exploring Student Athlete Culture Affilia, 22 (4), 357-370 DOI: 10.1177/0886109907306331

Juniper Rants

Juniper Shoemaker is a very busy woman. She’s working on her biomedical PhD while filling in the gaps that an B.A. in English will leave in one’s science education. Plus she’s got her own set of personal challenges she’s meeting at the same time. I admire that woman beyond words.

And oh, the words. She doesn’t have a lot of time to blog, but when she does, or even when she leaves a comment somewhere, she is always worth reading. Her latest blog post is no exception.

Juniper is tired. Yes, I know. She’s a grad student, but even here, she’s remarkable. You see, it isn’t so much the lab hours or the academic load that’s leaving her exhausted. Juniper’s tired because she’s continually dealing with people who can’t or won’t think outside their own circumstances, even when their own experience gives them the tools to do just that.

I’m tired of white feminists who don’t give a damn about bigotry against black people even as they’re castigating “the black community”, which doesn’t fucking exist, for not giving a damn about bigotry against gays and lesbians. No, wait. It’s more specific than that. I’m tired of white feminists who refuse to condemn bigotry against black people with the same compassion and attentiveness with which they condemn bigotry, namely sexism, against white women. In order to get taken seriously, I must confine myself to discussions of explicit statements of bigotry against black people, but you don’t have to do the same when it comes to bigotry against white women? You get to talk about “context”, “tone” and “implication”, but I don’t? You’re capable of developing a nuanced understanding of manifestations of sexism against white women, but you still think that my anger and hurt and frustration are only legitimate if they’re in response to cartoonishly overt manifestations of racism against blacks?

And this:

I’m tired of the idea that you have to be indifferent to an issue in order to skeptically evaluate it. By the way, why does this rule never seem to apply to skeptics who crow fervently about their opposition to “political correctness”– whatever the hell that is– and who eagerly accept every sensationalist claim ever made by someone styling himself as an evolutionary psychologist? Why does this rule only seem to apply to “liberal” skeptics, skeptics who are angry about sexism against women and skeptics who are angry about racism against brown people? Anyway, this idea is poppycock. It is entirely possible to fairly and skeptically evaluate an argument while simultaneously harboring intense feelings about the issue in question. There is even a neurological, not a sociological, hypothesis that the brain’s ability to generate emotions is inextricable from its ability to logically evaluate the world. Moreover, you are fucking insulting me by asking me to be indifferent towards questions such as “Are blacks really dumber than whites?” By ignoring my efforts to treat all questions as worthy of investigation and support intellectual and academic freedom in favor of condemning me for so much as one quiver of my mouth, you are being hypocritical, you are being irrational, you are being breathtakingly cruel, and you are insulting me to the very bone.

This. Because the idea that those in the majority don’t have any stake in these questions is ridiculous. Because thinking so is a marker of an idea that hasn’t been even superficially examined, much less had real critical analysis turned on it. Because the people who talk like this ignore the analysis presented to them in favor of whining that their territory is being invaded and their freedoms threatened. Because the position that the burden of proof lies with the social minority to show that cultural context is behind the poor treatment they receive is just an appeal to tradition, and one generally made from an extremely limited viewpoint.

Because no one should feel “surrounded by an abject lack of introspection,” invisible, worthless, alone, particularly not Juniper.