Why Do We Still Have To Talk About This? (Trigger Warning)
There are some subjects about which I would prefer not to write. At or near the top of that list is rape. For some reason, people on the right end of our political and social spectrum have been talking about this subject for that past couple years. Usually, when they do, I’m torn between wanting to weep and wanting to scream. The latest entrant, in case you didn’t know, is George Will.
Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.
There has been a whole lot of blowback against this particular formula, such as calling him “The Worst Person In The World” which is a bit hyperbolic. I’m sure someone, somewhere, is worse. For that day, though, I might just go with the appellation.
In any event, I was going to allow this particular click-bait back-and-forth continue, until I read this post at Lawyers, Guns, & Money. In particular this comment, nymed “Anonymous” so I don’t feel bad reprinting it in full.
When my (now) wife was raped I was out of the country and she called me to come back. When I came back the police demanded to know what time I returned so they could check the airport tapes. They also demanded a DNA test to make sure she hadn’t “saved” my semen to turn in a false report to gain my sympathy. It was bizarre beyond belief. Since she wasn’t crying and hysterical the detective in charge decided it was all a plot to get me to marry her. If it was a movie nobody would believe it. It is hard to describe how angry I got when I read Will’s excretion.
A few years back I wrote on the subject of rape, the whole Slut Walk phenomenon, and you can find that archive here. What you won’t find are the comments that, for all intents and purposes, blame the victim, insist that if women didn’t go out dressed like sluts, get all drunk and stuff, then there wouldn’t be rape.
I suppose that comment above was more the tipping point. Yesterday, while in the car, I heard an NPR report on a recent UN Study on rape as a weapon of war. Then, there’s just the general ubiquity of rape threats against women on-line. Should a woman write something – anything – that criticizes some part of male culture, the threats – often detailed and disgusting – come fast and furious. These aren’t harmless jokes to be laughed at and deleted. A person angry enough to threaten violence against another human being is something to be taken seriously.
Which is where I start to wonder: How can we in the churches start to turn this whole discussion around? Obviously, offering space for support groups for victims of sexual violence is a marvelous place to start. Another is not to dehumanize the perpetrators of such crimes. This has been a particular bugaboo of mine for a while, and I’ve finally found at least one person who agrees with me, Stephanie Zvan:
[C]alling people who harass others, much less only the men who street harass, “pigs” is incredibly unhelpful for those of us who are actually working to decrease harassment. Harassers aren’t pigs like rapists aren’t monsters. “Pigs” and “monsters” denote creatures incapable of change, unable to be held fully morally accountable for what they do and without the resources to make other choices.
They’re not. They harass because they’re told they can. They’re raised to think it’s part of their rights. They watch other people harass and be excused. They see people who are harassed complain and be made to shut up. They’re taught to harass. Calling them, “pigs”, suggests the fault is in their genes, not in our society. We know better than that.
Before we get all feel-goodie, however, we Christians need to recognize thousands of years of complicity in the dehumanization of women, supporting violence against women, and the degradation of male-female sexual relations. From Scripture, we have this variant on the story of Lot in Sodom, “The Crime of Gibeah”, in Judges 19:22-30:
While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a depraved lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, ‘Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.’ And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, ‘No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.’ But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.
In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. ‘Get up,’ he said to her, ‘we are going.’ But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, ‘Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, “Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.” ’
From our history, we have thousands of years of teachers, preachers, monks, confessors, and even saints denouncing women as nothing but ordure and vomit; that their sexual organs are little more than a filthy hole through which we are cast in this world, covered – as on late Medieval commentator put it – in snot and sin. Finally, there was the view that, while necessary for the procreation of the species, sexual relations between men and women were filthy, primarily because of how dirty, smelly, and capable of bleeding a woman’s sexual organs are. More than just a temptation to sin, lust blinds men to the utter vileness of sexual union, a state the reduces human beings to animals, our own “vile sperm” coursing through the woman’s disgusting womb, where the fetus is fed on the worst kind of blood, menstrual blood.
We in the churches have a whole lot of repentance to do, when it comes to violence against women. We have a whole lot of repentance to do when it comes to dehumanizing women. We in the churches have a whole lot to do to rehabilitate a healthy, positive view of human sexuality and sexual intercourse. We most certainly can and must work to reduce rape and other forms of sexual violence; we must also rehumanize ourselves, and make atonement for our complicity for a society and culture that makes sexual violence against women acceptable (“boys will be boys”). So, yes, we still have to talk about it. When someone with some major opinion real estate prints a column in which he insists that being a victim of sexual violence incurs favors and status rather than physical, psychological, and emotional trauma, then we most certainly need to continue talking about rape.