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Rape culture pops up in the strangest places

August 3, 2013

This is a post I almost want to put up on Daily Kos, but I’m thinking better of it, because of the fight it would pick there. There’s a nice community of skeptics there, but there’s also a fair share of rabid catholic defenders there and I don’t enjoy interacting with them. (who would.) Besides, the great orange satan is being overrun by libertarian anarchist types, so…

Anyway, rape culture, catholicism. This should be fun eh?

So I was listening to a little MSNBC today getting ready for work. I didn’t get a chance to see much of it, but I can check it out later at length. I already found the pertinent bit, though.

I can’t embed it, but it’s the first clip of today’s Melissa Harris-Perry show and it’s about the end of the Ariel Castro court case. For kidnapping, imprisoning and raping three women over the course of a decade, he’s finished as part of this society — he gets to be housed in a jail until he expires. But he left society with a bang.

if you’ve seen the youtube video, amanda this weekend, this right there itself proves that this girl did not go through no torture. that woman did not go through no torture. because if that was true, do you think she would be out there partying already or having fun? i don’t think so.

This was Castro offering excuses for his behavior — that since these women have been seen to be happy since they escaped his clutches, they must not have suffered as much as they say.

i seen gina in the media. she looks normal. she acts normal. a person that’s been tortured does not act normal. they would act withdrawn and everything. on the contrary, i heard the opposite. she’s happy, the victims are happy.

Naturally Melissa’s panel had no kind words for Ariel Castro, and it’s amazing that he even tried. He’s the poster case for rape! The lengths to which he went to imprison these women, the chains they found, no one’s going to mistake what he did for anything but rape. But the panel went on to speak of a rape culture, a term I haven’t seen much, but I am aware of the concept. The one man on the panel had this to say about it.

so to me, what i heard there was an appeal to us in the larger community and society and saying, hey, if i did this, would this woman be out there partying? because what happens in rape culture, what happens in sexual harassment is that women are continuously put in a position, where they have to prove their innocence before their perpetrators, you know, are found guilty of what they’ve done.

It was an appeal to men. And why not, who else would it appeal to but men? Well, perhaps some women sufficiently indoctrinated or bullied into going along, I’ll get to that…not that MHP is one of those. She mentioned being a survivor and now I’m wondering about that, but this was her take on rape culture.

you literally must die to prove that you resisted sufficiently. this seems to me, we have policies substantiating this. we were just looking at the fact that in ohio, in fact, in 31 states, in 31 states, rapists can sue for custody of children produced in the context of rape and/or for visitation rights, in 31 states this this country. in only one state where there’s a waiting period for abortion can people who have been raped or are victims of incest even get that waived, right? but that idea of, who has to claim innocence, how much is that a part of rape culture? that you, the victim, the survivor are also the one on trial.

So, up to this point I was considering a DK diary until I remembered one of the many things I despise about the catholic church. This was what reminded me:

you literally must die to prove that you resisted sufficiently.

And there’s a valid argument about catholicism to be had here; but I know the G.O.S. is not that good a place for such arguments anymore. There is a patron saint, however, of rape victims.

Maria Goretti was born in October, 1890 to a family of peasant farmers. Alessandro, her murderer, was the son of her family’s landlord. The attack took place in July, 1902, when Maria was a few months shy of her twelfth birthday. Most accounts say that Alessandro had “propositioned” her before and she had always refused him. After her death, Alessandro went to jail, where he dreamed that he saw Maria in Heaven and she forgave him. He then repented and was forgiven by both the church and Maria’s mother.

And so, the patron saint of rape victims is an 11-year-old girl who was not raped, but who died rather than “allow herself” to be raped.

The Catholic Church holds up Maria Goretti as a shining example of purity and chastity. As Pope John Paul II explained, “St Maria Goretti is an example for the new generations who are threatened by a non-commital[sic] attitude that finds it difficult to understand the importance of the values which admit of no compromise.”

The RCC has several patron saints for this purpose. There’s Agatha, who was tortured and killed for rejecting a man’s advances and refusing customers after being forced into a brothel. Agnes of Rome refused to make sacrifices to pagan gods, and to surrender her virginity by rape, and was killed for it. Antonia Messina fought a rapist to her last breath: a martyr to purity, she’s called.

Detecting a bit of a theme, here.

Maria Goretti is another of these martyrs to purity. She was called that by Pope John Paul II, as recently as 2002. He also had this to say about her. Keep in mind the story of her death.

Her martyrdom reminds us that the human being is not fulfilled by following the impulses of pleasure but by living life with love and responsibility.

Contrast this with MHP:

you literally must die to prove that you resisted sufficiently.

The old pope (two popes back now I suppose) raises some questions about the choices people have, and how the church interprets them, as pointed out by this fellow skeptic

Given the context of promoting chastity, “following the impulses of pleasure” appears to refer to normal sexual desire. If so, what does “following the impulses of pleasure” have to do with Maria Goretti? Is the pope saying that if Maria had “allowed” herself to be raped, she would have been “following the impulses of pleasure”? Or is he saying that Alessandro was “following the impulses of pleasure” by wanting to rape Maria?

If the pope was referring to Alessandro, it still shows the Catholic Church’s lack of understanding about the psychology of rape. The act of a rapist is not the same thing as normal sexual desire. Not for the rapist, or for the rape victim. Rape is a violent act of domination. The fact that this case is about a 20-year-old attempting to rape an 11-year-old should already tell us that this is not an example of normal sexual desire.

There’s no good answer here, for the pope or the church. Of course, these best-case asexual eunuchs to their crucified god aren’t the sorts of people I would go to for any kind of expertise in this area, much less understanding. Empathy seems beyond them as well, when the examples they hold up to women are martyrs to purity. That the only proper path to show innocence is to die resisting. The church teaches that rape victims — survivors — must be in some measure guilty. After all, they’re not dead. There’s your rape culture. There’s a piece of it in church doctrine. I bet their priests teach catholic victims of rape to pray to saints like Maria Goretti, and hidden in the stories of these saints is a message to survivors that they failed.

you literally must die to prove that you resisted sufficiently.

And being a religion, of course, there is no political process by which we can seek to excise this cancerous idea from our midst. The most we can hope for is that most catholics don’t know about this rot in their belief system. I expect most don’t; I sure didn’t, back when I was one of them. But like most skeptics, I’ve learned quite a bit more about religion since I gave up believing in the stuff, quite often we know more about religion than the believers do.

This isn’t an attack on catholics, though. Charitably, one could call it an attack on their ignorance. Worst case, their priesthood knows. It’s on catholicism that the attack comes. And the reason I don’t bother putting this up on DK is that the catholic defenders’ league recognizes no such difference. I would like to think that I’d have a really hard time finding voices sympathetic to Pope John Paul II’s glowing endorsement of the martyr of purity. But this culture, this rape culture is pervasive. Clearly, the 31 states where rapists can sue for custody and/or visitation rights for the products of their violation speak to it.

I think I’ve internalized it to some degree, myself. In my wandering, reading and research I came across this tumblr and started reading. A lot of horror stories seem to start in parties with alcohol as a key ingredient, so to speak. I was thinking how it’s a shame that alcohol is around to facilitate this sort of thing, that I’m glad I don’t drink, it’s a wonder women go to parties at all…

If owning a gun and knowing how to use it worked, the military would be the safest place for a woman. It’s not.

If women covering up their bodies worked, Afghanistan would have a lower rate of sexual assault than Polynesia. It doesn’t.

If not drinking alcohol worked, children would not be raped. They are.

If your advice to a woman to avoid rape is to be the most modestly dressed, soberest and first to go home, you may as well add “so the rapist will choose someone else”.

…and that thought process came to a screeching halt.

It’s true, it’s not the booze. Women ought to be able to drink and have a good time like anyone else. This should not be what happens to women if they choose to have a few drinks. There’s something wrong with this society, and there’s something wrong with me. Step one, I suppose, recognize the problem. This is one occasion where I can quote Matthew 7 at myself.

7 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and [a]by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how [b]can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Perhaps I’ve taken the log out of my eye? Or have I just figured out that it’s there. Progress either way, I guess. As a skeptic, it pays to check and examine what’s in my head as much as anyone else’s. Rooting out those sorts of assumptions will be the work of a lifetime for me. I may have been raised catholic, but I’m not even sure where this notion came from for me. It could just be from being male, in this society.

Anyway, I can work on myself along with those 31 states and the church. No one gets away scot-free. Except for the vast majority of rapists, I suppose. Also cited during the MHP show:

and it’s the rare moment where someone who has committed sexual assault is put in prison for that. right? so that’s the 3% of cases that that actually happens.

Got a lot of work to do.

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One comment

  1. The couple of times that I mentioned sexual assault on Daily Kos, I braced myself for possibly emotionally damaging responses before writing anything. Fortunately, at least for my reputation or lack thereof on that site, I’d already had had run-ins with people in unexpected places like Atheis Nexus. Unfortunately, rejecting religion doesn’t always lead to rejecting traditional notions of male and female sexuality.

    As anticipated, while most people on DK were pleasant and quite a few made an effort to be supportive, there were a few odd responses. One person suggested that the man didn’t know what he was doing because people are often slow perceiving social signals after a few drinks. I asked the person what made him or her think we’d been drinking. He (I believe it was a he.) said that he’d just assumed. Then he said he reread what I’d written and realized that I hadn’t said anything about alcohol. As it happens, we hadn’t been drinking.

    At other times, I’ve joked that one day I’m going to write and experimental novel entitled, What Didn’t Happen, based on all the things people have assumed happened or all the details I’ve had to clarify. We weren’t flirting, it wasn’t a date, I didn’t find him attractive, I told him I had a boyfriend and wasn’t interested, etc., etc., etc.

    If it wasn’t for all the things I have to explain, what I was wearing, how we met, who else was nearby, and so on, the entire incident could be described in two or three sentences.

    What you’ve described is one of the reasons I’ve always objected to rape as being described as a “fate worse than death.” It’s really over the top. If you don’t have a permanent injury, how can it be “worse than death.” Even if you do have a permanent injury, whether or not it’s worse than death would sitll depend on one’s point of view. Is being assaulted in a non-sexual manner “worse than death?” Is being mugged? In those situations, we take the crime seriously without thinking that the victim will never recover. Why we can’t seem to regard rape the same way, I don’t understand. Also, rapists aren’t pure monsters anymore than muggers are. But rape plays a symbolic role that a mugging just doesn’t.

    Anyway, thanks for writing a really thoughtful post. I’d really like to discuss this subject more, but I haven’t mentioned it yet on my own blog because it’s hard for me to discuss it calmly and I’m afraid of upsetting myself if someone comes along and says cruel things.



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