Yes yes, the title is a bad joke. I'm in a bad-joke mood right now, and I've written this post six times and am officially giving up and posting it, because ugh.
This is about a simple truth: Right answers are almost never easy answers, are they?
It's much easier to just be wrong, especially when tradition is on your side, than to admit the correctness of an answer that demands uncomfortable amounts of change and action. (And that's why being right is awesome, and worthy of admiration: Because it's damn hard to do.)
For example, it is far easier to punish victims for speaking out than to face the changes we need to make in order to stop their repeated victimization.
It's just effortless, in comparison, to take apart the story and look for emotional "outs". To autopsy the victim's character in public. To point out every "but what if?", no matter how irrelevant or far-fetched — instead of just hearing what's being said, and giving it at least a baseline benefit-of-the-doubt, prima facie and all that. Which is what we say we'd do logically, of course, but we don't, because, well, that way lies some Really Hard Answers.
We know, without a shred of legitimate doubt, that most people who come forward with painful stories of victimization stand to gain nothing from it — on the contrary, it often costs them as much or more, to come forward, as the crime itself did. We know that the vast majority of the time, people claiming to have been victimized are not outright lying. Criminals lie close to 100% of the time, and victims lie close to 0% of the time — even though we hear about "false accusations" with far higher frequency than they happen, for reasons I figure are obvious. And on top of that, there's all kinds of social and life-impacting horrors in store for anyone who accuses anyone, truthfully or not, which even further drives the percentage of false accusations (and accusations at all). So no, there's no logical or legitimate reason to silence or disbelieve victims. But there is a very big practical reason.
To even listen long enough to say "I hear you" or "you can press charges for that criminal act"…it's a terrible burden, isn't it?
The result of listening — even just listening — might very well be damning to some of our favorite cultural mores. And once it's damned repeatedly or, heavens forfend, in courts, it becomes a whole lot harder to ignore, not just legally but socially too. Keeping such things off the books and out of serious conversations is critical for maintaining the cultural view that "this is acceptable, or at least okay to ignore".
Look at the cultural norm that says that women's bodies are not, in fact, fully owned by them, and therefore that they don't acutally, in reality, have the right to determine how and when they will engage in sexual activity. That norm is deeply embedded in our social mindset, and even though it violates our own constitution, it's still pretty visible in our written laws, too. Hell, here in the 21st century, we're still not even sure if a woman is allowed to decide when she wants to be pregnant, up to and including if she has hard medical reasons to avoid it — so really saying and believing, as a society, that she should be allowed to say "yes" or "no" to sexual advances is quite a leap! The law technically says that all citizens own their bodies and nobody can force them to do stuff with those bodies…but the reality, for women particularly, is way, way off from the law. And that makes anything that shoves our faces in how badly we need to change it dangerous.
As long as you don't acknowledge that you see a problem, you aren't morally or in other ways required to DO things about it.
Simple as that: Victim-blaming and disbelief is ostritch syndrome.
And there are plenty of people who know this and still defend it, too. They'll claim that the change is just too hard, and that even though it's clearly the correct thing to do (to enforce sexual assault as a real crime, and to treat its victims like we know we should treat victims), it's simply impossible to actually face down that change.
These people, by the way, would have (and often do) say/whine the exact same thing about ending racism, and a zillion other horrors. Their opinions should be shot into the sun, still attached to them if necessary…but let's go ahead and look at their claims briefly anyway, just so we can say we were fair.
Dear gods, say the inevitably-white-guys-in-power, how would that even work? If we had to enforce, really enforce, the law that says that no-one is allowed to sexually assault anyone else without criminal consequences — what would that even look like?
Well, it would look different, sure. Just like it looks different now that we enforce child-labor laws, and no longer allow people to sell heroin over the counter as snake-oil remedies. Enforcing laws changes things, and change is scary, but listen to what we're saying here: We want to keep abusing women and girls (and others), because moving away from it involves prosecuting a bunch of (mostly) guys, and that's difficult and scary. How such an argument as that can hold any water is beyond me, but I swear I've heard it from sitting congresspeople at least five times this week.
The social calculus they, and those who think like them, are doing is clear: Years of trauma for X women is way better than civic punishment for X men. By not enforcing the law, we're enabling the behavior and we know it … but godsDAMN is it easier.
Not right. Easier.
What if sexual assault was just, like, a misdemeanor and a fine, but it actually happened to most people who did it, like traffic tickets or doing jail time for robbing gas stations? While it's easy and simple from one angle, from another, it's daunting even to imagine. How many men do you know who'd have records? I can't count, and I know mostly awesome, sex-assault-free men. I mean geez, when it comes to things like congresspeople, we'd probably have to make at least half of them women just to fill in the gaps from the ones now in jail! (Sorry…not sorry? Yeah, not really sorry.)
"How many men would be left?" someone actually said to me.
And that's a damn good point, but it's sure as hell not a point in favor of keeping the status quo, and keeping victims silent.
That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be.
But oh man, it's much, much easier to just ad hominem the problem away than to conduct a fair investigation.
Let's just do it among ourselves, or on the news, where misdirection and word-slinging and emotional appeals have much more power than they do in a courtroom.
That'll keep our chances of being able to ignore this a while longer at maximum.
It's just SO. MUCH. EASIER to find a reason, any reason, to not believe this one person this one time. Even if it's the 10,000th time this year, and the third woman this week.
Let's say "he said/she said" every time, when even little news blogs understand by now the psychosocial mechanisms that make it appear (falsely) that way — but it's so, so much easier.
Let's also claim, when we can, that it's about political parties, even though all political entities are beholden to uphold the law — and with the strictest and most careful hand, when we're talking about something serious like a Supreme Court nomination. If the person in question had counterfitted $5 in his life, he'd never have gotten the nomination in a million years…but let's say that this is political, because again, soooo much easier.
The thinking seems to be, let's say anything we can in order to avoid having to admit that we need to fix this.
That we need to prosecute sex-offenders, even (especially!) when they're powerful/privileged, and their victims are not.
It's so hard to admit, isn't it, that everyone has the right to not be victimized — assaulted, raped, murdered, robbed.
Black, white, anygendered, child, adult — you know, that whole thing we say we do, and take credit for at every opportunity, America.
It's the much-harder answer. it is. Shutting up or shouting down the people who complain about being victimized is sooooooo much easier. But it's provably wrong, and you can prove it by simply noticing that it hasn't worked. Silencing victims, shredding the reputations of women who speak up, continuing the grim march of unprosecuted and unpunished offenses, hasn't improved a damn thing since Anita Hill, who I heard my mother slut-shame when Ms. Hill was testifying on TV and I was still a child in elementary school — but had already been sexually assaulted once.
My own mother, who I'm sure if she'd known it was about me (i.e. affected her) would have changed her tune fast, taught me a good solid lesson with that comment, a lesson about how "good women" in this country don't make a fuss when they're assaulted, or abused, or cost their livelihoods because men wanted to do criminally-unallowable things with their bodies.
What if, I wonder, we admitted this, as a start at the hard path of right answer: People who are victimized deserve the space to speak up, without being shouted down, or shamed for not staying silent. What if kids sitting in front of the TV today didn't hear their parents say, "She's probably promiscuous" (figuring that you don't know the word, but being wrong) — but rather, "oh crap, that sucks, I hope there's a good and fair trial for her and that this douche gets jail-time if it's true"?
That's not so hard to imagine, I think.
Would there be any men left? Yes of course, there'd be plenty, because it's not a miracle when a man doesn't sexually assault women, or even when he screws up and does it a little and then learns his lesson and stops — you know, like regular people do with every other wrong thing out there. Criminals don't actually get shot into the sun, you know, and their lives aren't "over" — they suffer less than their victims most of the time, remember. That there's a victim standing there talking about it is a pretty good sign that the criminal will survive their punishment and be just fine, assuming they choose to, you know, stop assaulting women.
Repeat offenders, well, I'm all for the "shooting into the sun" solution if anybody else is. But probably they'll just be in jail a lot, like most serial criminals are.
Not exactly the scary apocalypse it's made out to be by those who are afraid of change. The people willing to sacrifice women and our entire national, and human, goal of equality to avoid the scary-scary change are defending…wait for it…the right of some percentage of men to avoid having to do time and pay legal reparations for their criminal behavior, after which they'd then (hopefully) go about their lives and be better people afterwards. That's the system we've got, and all we're talking about here is applying it fairly.
That's it. That's the scary thing we're avoiding by shaming, silencing, picking apart and refusing to listen to victims…over and over again, more every week and month. For what? To protect whom, and why?
And the men who wouldn't be "left", i.e. who would be convicted of their crimes and punished–yes, maybe even severely– we can do without. In the Supreme Court or elsewhere.
We'll be fine without their, uhh, sterling leadership. Promise.