The Red Eye reports a sensational event this Saturday. So what? Does it take us to the next level of comprehension? I admit I’m curious to know more about what these protesters have to say.
The Saturday protesters may, like those in a Melbourne demonstration pictured on the Red Eye site, carry signs saying “Stop Victim Blaming.” They may have other signage as well, instrumentally speaking with their bodies, baring flesh, and questioning the assumption of—scare quotes required—“dressing like a slut”.
Okay then, let’s question the assumption. Where do we begin? I’ll lay out a couple routes and let others add and subtract.
1. Within the sentence. Slut seems the operative word, assumption being: that’s bad.
2. Within the proposition. Dressing may or may not be good. It depends on the context.
3. Within the judgment. Is an ethics possible where someone’s dress in any way ameliorates the consequence that a society imposes on a perpetrator of rape?
Further questioning of the assumption isn’t necessary to prove the fundamental point. That is, we’re grown up enough not to be so crude as to take it for granted that all expression lies on a level. Psychological, literary, scientific, or philosophic levels could be recognized to exist in an act of expression according to the interpreter, and their critics.
Assuming you’ve linked to the article, you read of the reported assault and rape. A 22 year-old woman, according to prosecutors, accepted a ride to her Roger Park’s home in a police SUV from two on-duty cops. The report contends other facts, but for the moment lets’ break down two points. First of all, rape is a word I don’t like to throw around. But I have used it to make a point along with other words such as Jesus, and the Holocaust. Rape and the Holocaust are wrongs. They denote violence and connote soul devastation. They are evil but not of a level and therefore do not mean the same thing as words used metaphorically to denounce the violence of aggressors. Even as acts of coercion they differ as interpersonal direct violence in contrast to structural violence of a government aiming to exterminate a vilified people.
To go further with a Socratic maieutic art defining rape would mean for me to reveal some personal experience, of which I have none. However, I dealt with the threat of rape. Prison is statistically described as a place with an inordinate amount of rape. Some cited the statistic to me while I had the luxury of contemplating prison. I suppose they wanted me to know what I was getting myself into. Indeed, one of my celly’s told me straight up that in a world of predator and prey, I was prey. (Another inmate told me his worst fear was rape, not death: “What could be worse than losing your manhood” he said.) My reaction was “Why? What did I do to deserve that distinction? I have a slender build.
Second, it should be obvious to assume the innocence of the suspects until they are found guilty. But, and this is the strange truth of a condition, these suspects are Chicago police officers. I have to say I’m surprised. Again rape is an act of power. Not to belittle the disrepute of a Chicago police officer, I won’t; It wouldn’t be the first time a person in a position of authority became corrupt or went on a power trip. Cops use coercive power, generally, and that is the choice that gives me the most sadness. The choice, after all, is a choice, not a need; I believe the use of coercion is never needed. The so-called need to use coercive power is so unnecessary—and then, perhaps because of this same instability, it readily gives way to access.
Finally, I want to see the Saturday protesters. Not literally. I don’t have that choice right now, so, no pontificating here, I am choosing to see them spiritually. What could it look like to see the group as God sees them? Maybe not as a subjected group but as a crowd of self-realizing individuals who empower all to share beauty with confidence.
In a world where we had more integrative power our news could continually reinforce a world view of trust so that beloved community’s found affirmation and free publicity. Then a positive multiplier-effect triggered by the vulnerable self-offering of one to another or the multiple hands required to build a bridge would reproduce creativity, not disintegration.
To that end, here’s a brief anecdote for the weekend. A week ago I spoke at the White Rose in response to a statistic fatigue about the prison system. In brief I said hope derives from a practiced way of seeing the prisoner, as well as from a discipline of decoding for your neighbors the news reports of crime. To that end I have written today. Then at lunch as the conversation reached a moral, my neighbor turned the topic back to the root problem of blame. He said, “I used to blame but I stopped that. I wanted to keep that power for myself, you know what I’m saying? When I blame I give someone else power over me.”
For further reflection, recall the various avenues to question the assumption that blames the victim. When we say someone “dresses like a slut,” haven’t we some work to do on ourselves? Personally, since I read Colum McCann’s Let the World Spin I’ve developed imagination into the life of, well, realistic sluts. The prostitutes portrayed in relation to a pivotal character in the novel who is a priest, these women remain in my mind, alive! Not as objects of affection, nor even objects of compassion. I wonder if, when I next attend a funeral, I will think of one of McCann’s character’s named Tilly who knew no other way to raise her daughter but in her own trade and then, after taking a guilty plea to cover her daughter’s illicit prostitution, learns in jail that her just freed daughter, driven home by the priest who attended the courtroom proceeding, so tragically died in an accident, flung through the window of the van, her body crumpled against the shoulder railing, a yellow heel left under the passenger seat.
Biases are hard to iron out. I discovered my own while considering the context for “dressing like a slut”. Letting alone someone scantily clad to go out and paint the town red, what about the example of dressing “skanky” given by demonstrators? But wait, is a protest a context in and of itself, meaning that I attribute to its participants a moral character and endow them with a benefit of the doubt—assuming that the attire “of a slut” itself is not necessarily condoned? No, larger contexts subsume the context of a protest and therefore I believe the outward behavior is still morally reprehensible. I hope the demonstrators do not condone of the style of dress. I hope the underlying message is that some people are willing to risk solidarity with victims of rape, meaning they are willing to sacrifice the consequence of a voyeuristic and misogynistic male-majority. I hope the demonstration is about taking up the unjust burden placed on women in this society where a double standard of behavior structurally protects suspects of rape-crime.
To those for whom the risk-taking lacks right-intention, being with a mixed motive of wanting the thrill of “liberation”, I recommend the Catholic Saint of the day: St. Clotilda. Wooed by men of all the neighboring kingdoms, and demanded as a bride by the King of the Franks, Clovis the Great, this beautiful, witty, modest and pious woman sweetened the temper of her warlike husband. Then she won him over to God.