“She got all red-faced, which in Jas’s case is very red indeed. It made me feel much better. Violence may be the answer to the world’s problems. I may write to the Dalai Lama and suggest he tries my new approach.”
—the estimably wise Georgia Nicolson
In response to Z's v. good post (read it first!):
[Trigger warning; probably implicit.]
I’m all for getting rapists out of safe spaces, and, hell, most spaces in general. The benefits are too obvious to elucidate. Take the example of rape on a college campus where both survivor and rapist are students: for the survivor’s (and other students’) safety, one of them has to leave, and it sure as hell shouldn’t be the survivor. Because these are our goals, yes? Safety and prevention.
I have some thoughts on logistics and specific suggestions (because really, do I ever not have thoughts on a subject?), but I'd rather talk about strategy and philosophy more broadly. With oru primary goals--safety and prevention--in mind, I'd like to talk about violence.
Some of the violent measures Z described may appear purely punitive, but punitive measures are also preventive, or at least they’re supposed to be. We put rapists in jail because 1) while they’re there, they can’t rape anyone else, and 2) the fact that we put rapists in jail deters other men (and these men after their release) from committing rape. A memorable statistic from Michael Kimmel’s Guyland suggests that this works: depending on how you ask the question, about 15-45% of college men admit that they’d commit rape if they knew they wouldn’t be caught. And most of them don’t, apparently due to fear of punishment.
But we can’t discount the third, Old Testament-y reason we put rapists, and murderers, and thieves in prison. Imagine that we could sentence rapists to receive an injection that prevents them from ever committing rape again. (And don’t say, “Yeah, it’s called a lethal injection.” That’s a whole different post.) Would we be satisfied with just giving them the shot and letting them free, go and sin no more? My instinct tells me no. Because we have this instinct as a culture, perhaps as humans: Rapists/criminals/bad people should be punished for their crimes. (Other thing I will not be getting into: the gross cultural trope that celebrates prison rape as a rapist or other criminal’s just deserts, which falls under either Codex Hammurabi or Codex Sublime.) One term for this belief is “accountability.” Another is “revenge.”
(By the way, I’m sure S knows a lot more about the prison stuff than I do, and hopefully she will weigh in.)
And you know, I love all that Gandhi shit about nonviolence and peaceful solutions and “makes the whole world blind.” But sometimes you get sick of sit-ins and tertiary prevention and consciousness raising. Sometimes you want to get medieval on somebody’s ass.
Believe me: I get that. And it’s tempting, oh so tempting, to think that beating up rapists will fix the problem.
This brings me, improbably but inevitably, to Buffy.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is widely lauded as a feminist show, for many good reasons, partially because it’s grrl-power wish-fulfillment fantasy. Buffy is a petite blonde teenage girl who happens to possess superhuman fighting abilities. And it is so, so damn satisfying every time a few creeps corner her in an alley, leering and threatening her, and she ends up kicking the shit out of them. Get it? They thought she was a defenseless girl, they’re ready to victimize her like they’ve victimized so many before her—and this time, they’re getting what they deserve.
In general, Buffy (the slayer and the show) is firmly in the “Violence is, in fact, often the answer” school of thought. The show lampshades this constantly. Whether confronted with the season’s Big Bad or just another monster of the week, Buffy often cuts off librarian Giles’s lengthy explanation of the new creature’s habits and mythology with a blunt question: “How do we kill it?”
And in Buffy, this is literally the solution: the demons are slain, and that’s the end of it. Heck, when she stakes a vampire, it turns to dust—no clean-up required. At most, the school might have to be rebuilt, the furniture repaired, Willow sent to England for a few months. But the problem is not a culture that encourages, condones, and perpetuates violence, which is committed by individual humans. The problem is the such-and-such demon, the so-and-so vampire, the Master, Adam, Glory, the First—each an indisputably evil being. Once the creature is destroyed, the problem is solved, and Sunnydale is safe (until next episode).
The real fantasy in Buffy isn’t that the good guys are powerful. It’s that the bad guys are monsters.
Rapists, however, are not monsters. Rapists are men, women, boys, girls, human beings. It is our responsibility as fellow human beings to remember this.
I cannot accept that the solution to dehumanization is more dehumanization. I cannot accept that the solution to violence is more violence. We may as well be fucking for chastity, as a previous generation of idealists pointed out.
Should rapists be held accountable? Absolutely. Are they fully responsible for their crimes? Absolutely. Do we have the right and responsibility as a community to prevent them from raping again? Absofuckinglutely.
But our response to rape—our interventions, our preventive measures, and even, yes, our punishments—has to be grounded in the recognition that rapists are human. And if we’re fighting to end all violence against all people everywhere (and aren’t we?): well, you can follow the logic.
I have exactly zero sympathy for perpetrators of sexual violence, but I’m trying, really trying, to have empathy. Because I know we have to understand violence in order to prevent it. Because I am a human being, an anthropologist, a feminist. And because a nice, clean staking is not an option.
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