Saturday, September 30, 2006

And Now For Something Serious - and Long

Just warn you all - the title wasn't meant sarcastically.

There's discussion going on over at Alas about rape. (yeah, ok, so, a little sarcasm there) The initial post was mostly about Restorative Justice, which is interesting and all, but what sucked me in was the discussion about what constitutes rape.

Two possible scenarios that are examples of not good behavior, but don't meet the legal definition of rape, were brought up. The first is in the post itself and is essentially the story of a teen girl "giving in" to her (hopefully) teen boyfriend, partly because they're alone, she has no car, and she lied to her parents about where she was, so her options for leaving are limited and carry a lot of risk. The second one was a short description of a woman who "gives in" to her boss's advances because she fears she'll lose her job.

Sailorman replies to the second with:

... the “acceptable” option was for her to quit and sue under the various acts and statutes preventing sexual harassment. Then she’d get her job back, or get paid, and he’d get fire/fined/what have you.

Nobody thinks she should “suck it up” and have SEX with him. Yuck. But if she elects not to use the alternative avenues, and decides to sleep with him because she doesn’t want to deal, it’s not rape. It’s BAD, and it’s punishable under more than one law, and it’s morally reprehensible. But it’s not legally coerced.

Now I'm going to assume that Sailorman meant "it's not illegally coerced" since he just said that it's not rape and illegally coerced sex and rape are synonymous.

While you are mulling that over - as well as the supposed absolute certainty that she 1) can afford to quit her job, 2) can manage to bring the case to trial 3) manages to win the case and 4) that this entire process is less of an ordeal than just sleeping with her boss a couple of times - I'm going to switch gears for a moment and pick on the 16 year old author I love to pick on.

so - be warned - spoilers ahead for Eragon

Although that's kinda like saying "warning: I'm going to give spoilers for Joseph Campbell's synopsis of the hero's journey, as well as some typical elements of modern fantasy!"

But seriously.

I was thinking about that stupid scene the other day and I realized why it's always bugged me so much. It's not just that it's disturbing that the desire to own, er, I mean, rescue, a virginal maiden is ingrained in young men's psyche's at such a young age. It's not even just that it's frightening that it's so important that she be virginal and something he, and he alone, owns that Paolini would feel the need to insert sexual violence into a book in which sexual desire is fairly rare - just to show that she is both virginal and his.

The main problem is that Ayra is supposed to be a hero, but she is praised for a decidedly selfish and un-heroic act. In fact, she is considered worthy of being the object of Eragon's (and the reader's) affections by this very act. Tens of thousands of people are counting on her, an entire kingdom relies on her strength and wisdom; but she uses her last bit of energy, not for one last attempt to live so that she can return to the people who need her nor to make a probably unsuccessful attack on her nations foe, no, she uses it to save herself - sexually - for Eragon.

Now, technically, plotwise, she was just saving herself. But saving herself from what!?!? The woman had already been tortured and was described as being not just on death's doorstep, but straddling the threshold. Even if, for some weird reason, she could really only affect the guards in ways unhelpful to her escape, why not fight back, even if it's just one small punch? What did her actions really gain her, anyway? Are we under the impression that the guards just looked down at their crotch and said "Oh, well, it's not up for it today, guess we'll go back to playing cards."!?!?

Now, I can see lots of reasons why her choice made sense - but it wasn't a heroic choice. I'm sure she's a very nice person, but this should present a problem to her heroic status - not a leg up.

So why did she do it? Or rather, why did Paolini have her do it?

For the same reason Sailorman wrote
Nobody thinks she should “suck it up” and have SEX with him.

Well, why the hell not?

What if she has a dying parent or a sick kid relying on her? You'd expect a father to "suck it up" when it comes to a lot of crap, wouldn't you? To the point of risking his life, even. Isn't that what heroic father figures do all the time in the stories?

Yeah, yeah, this is real life, not the movies. But that's why I brought up Eragon. (see, there is a method to my madness) Women are supposed to scarifice everything for their loved ones as well, in the stories. Everything except their "purity."

(ok, so, um, spoilers forFirefly too.)

As uncomfortable as it is to watch, there is a part of me that loves the scene in Objects in Space, Firefly's last episode, where River calmly talks Kaylee through freeing the rest of the crew, despite the villian's threats of brutal rape if she tries to do so. Sexual violence is pervasive in mass media and women fighting back - and winning - is fairly uncommon, but it's even rarer to see women risking sexual violence to save others. Oh, they'll submit to it (ahem, see: Inara in the episode with the duel) - but they don't risk it.

Why not? Well, partly because "yes means yes and no means no." Except when it doesn't. What if yes means "yes, I'd rather you fuck me than endanger the life of my child" or "yes, I'd rather you fuck me than move my parents to a dodgy nursing home in their last days" or even just "yes, I'd rather you fuck me than get grounded and not be able to go on the trip to DC" or "yes, I'd rather you fuck me than than have to deal with finding a job in a crappy economy."

Talk about the fallacies of choice feminism at it's finest.

The question is, though, are such actions on the part of the person doing the fucking illegal, and if so, is it rape?

I wrote:
If it’s a crime to threaten or attempt to do it, why isn’t it a worse crime to actually do it? As I understand it, attempted extortion is different from actual extortion. Just like attempted murder is a different crime from all the different levels of murder.

So, if threatening someone’s job in order to get sexual “favors” (don’t you just love that term?) is sexual harrassment, why is “accepting” sexual “favors” as a result of threats (overt or otherwise) still only sexual harrassment? It may not be rape as we generally use the term, but it most definitely is not sexual harrassment as we generally use the term, either.

To answer my own question: "Because Paolini wrote that even heroines avoid rape at all cost, to the point of endangering the people they are supposed to protect."

In other words, yes always means yes. You can't criminally coerce a yes except through physical threats, because nothing short of death is worse than real rape, not even torture - and even the death part is debatable. If she said yes, she must have been at least ok with it, so it's only bad in the abstract, like attempted crimes. Still punishable behavior on his part, but no trauma or victimhood on her end. No more than someone only threated with a crime, anyway, probably less, really.

The real commonality between Sailorman and Paolini is that they both deny women's ablity to be heroic when sex is involved, although they would probably disagree with my assessment. In a lot of ways, going through the ordeal of a sexual harrassment lawsuit is a heroic act (that is, after all, how they were able to make a movie about the first big lawsuit). But Sailorman denies this fact by assuming that not having sex is always the easier choice. I'm all for people being heroic, but I think it's ridiculous to make heroism a requirement for being a "real" victim of a crime. I think it's especially silly of a country whose Good Samaritan Laws exist to protect would-be heros from lawsuits, rather than anti-heros from criminal prosecution, to do so.

Can you think of a better way to cut down on sexual harrassment than to make harrassers guilty of an even more serious crime if she does ever say yes?

And can you think of a worse way to combatt sexual harrassment than for society to almost always see no crime at all if she does ever say yes, no matter the reason why?

If my giving money to an extortionist solidifies his crime, saying "yes" to sex with a sexual harrasser should do the same - not the opposite. If I can give someone money, and still be a victim of blackmail - without any physical threats involved - then I should also be able to say "yes" to sex and still be considered a rape victim, even in the absence of physical threats. It may be a lesser degree of rape, just as we have different degrees of murder, but it's still rape.


BetaCandy said...

Okay, it took me a very careful reading to get what you're saying, but that's a very good point.

If you submit to extortion, that escalates the level of the crime (from attempted to actual). If you submit to sexual extortion, that should escalate the level of the crime.

One problem we have is that most people assess the seriousness of rape based on victim suffering rather than criminal intent - or rather, their warped perception of victim suffering. Like that judge recently who thought a victim of gang rape didn't seem upset enough, and therefore no crime had been committed. The only question to answer in that courtroom was the intent of the alleged rapists: did they intend to coerce a woman into sex?

For me, that's really the only determinant of rape: did you mean to coerce sex rather than waiting for it to be freely given? Then you're a rapist. The rest of the circumstances don't matter to me.

But I think part of the problem comes from the fact that in our culture, men are supposed to pursue sex and women are supposed to give in and submit to it. If you assume every act of consent is therefore an act of submission, the issue of coercion becomes cloudy indeed.

Mickle said...

"Okay, it took me a very careful reading to get what you're saying, but that's a very good point."

Sorry - it made much more sense when I was writing it. They always do. Mostly because I know when I'm being sarcastic and when I'm not.

"But I think part of the problem comes from the fact that ...if you assume every act of consent is therefore an act of submission, the issue of coercion becomes cloudy indeed."

Oh, most definitely.

That's actually what Dworkin was saying in the passages that are falsely condensed down to "all sex is rape": that if you have a cultural definition of sex that confuses consent and submission, then you have a culture of sex that can't properly tell what is rape and what isn't.

I've actually had someone tell me in a debate me that women's sexuality = men desiring women. I begged to differ.

tekanji said...

Mickle, I agree with your article wholeheartedly.

Except for the part where you refer to "choice feminism". I've actually just written a piece on why no feminist should use the term.

Long story short is that "choice femnism" is a strawfeminist argument specifically coined to attack and discredit any woman/feminist who disagreed with Linda Hirshman's approach to feminism. That it's being perpetuated in the blogsphere is really upsetting to me, especially since there is no such thing as a "choice feminist" (anymore than there is such a thing as a "feminazi").

Mickle said...

tekanji -

Sorry if it wasn't clear (and I can see why it wasn't) but was using the term "choice feminism" to refer not to actual feminists, but to a fake-feminism often trotted out in response to feminist complaints. For example: "But it was your choice to sleep with him. And feminism is all about being able to make your own decisions. blah blah blah." (As if any type of feminism ever pretended that we are islands unto ourselves.)

Perhaps I've been misreading others, or I have a faulty memory - both are likely - but that's how I've commonly seen it used.

So, really, I was just trying to say that the strawfeminist was made of straw. That the idea that one can't make "pressuring" someone for sex a criminal act because doing so would infantilize the woman in question - by treating them her like a child who can't make decisions for herself - is false and inconsistent with how we treat adults when it comes to other types of crimes. And that it's not true that criminalizing such acts is inconsistent with feminists beliefs about autonomy.

Like my sarcasm, I probably didn't think through enough how the sentence would read to other people.

Just for future reference - if I ever seem to be bashing any type of feminism - especially without any type of lengthy explanation as to why I think it deserves to be bashed - please ask me to elaborate. 'Cause chances are I meant to say something completely different from what ended up on the page.