[This is part two of a two-part essay, the first part of which was published last week. Please, as with the first part, remember: we are discussing hard topics here today, so be wary and be good to yourself.]
And it’s not just rape, either
If we saw jokes and victim blaming only about rape victims, I would be inclined to agree that eliminating them would be a great step towards lessening rape in our society. However, that’s just not the case.
Take this great article on the Good Men Project. The author describes the tragic accident at the Pittsburgh Zoo in which a mother lifted her son up to see a painted dog exhibit. The child jumped out of his mother’s arms and into the pit, where he was attacked and torn to pieces before his mother’s eyes.
I suggest caution while reading the article.
The author then goes on to note the virtual lynching of the mother in question, in which people make up facts which have not been reported, create stories and motivations that aren’t corroborated, and do anything in their rhetorical power to convince the reader that the mother was negligent or malicious in this tragic death, even though by all objective standards (including a police investigation), she was not.
Why would people ignore clear, objective evidence that the mother was not at fault and that this was a complete accident? Why would people ignore clear, objective reasoning that says that no matter how a person behaves, if the person does not consent to sex, then it’s rape and wrong?
Clinical Psychologist Ed Hickling thinks he knows why:
“We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.”
The parallel between Hickling’s and Emily’s observations are striking but not surprising. We are vulnerable. We are weak. We cannot accept the chaos of the world, so we construct a narrative to escape the reality of the situation: It could happen to anyone at any time, whether or not they play by the rules.
But childhood tragedies and rape are different.
The reasonable person replies to what I have presented here with a simple rebuttal: childhood accidents are just that: accidents. Rape involves an agent, a person capable of making decisions. They are fundamentally different.
The answer to this is simple, and reinforces the point made earlier: people are afraid of chaos, and there are few things more chaotic than human beings.
Human beings are not machines. Though societal pressures and constructions have an impact on our being and the way we are shaped, we cannot deny the fundamental independence, and, ultimately, randomness of who we are and the actions we take. Even with “proper socialization” people still steal; they still murder; they still lie. At the core of our society, we don’t have a problem condemning these acts, yet they still occur. This is largely because people are independent actors. Thus, people, en masse, are ultimately as random and chaotic as the world we live in.
This is why acts committed by thinking agents are still, ultimately, akin to random childhood accidents. Because even if we removed all the victim blaming from the world, there would still be childhood accidents, and there would still be rape. Our reactions to both of these things stem from the same fear: fear of something terrible happening to us and realizing that there is nothing we can do to stop it.
Victim blaming occurs in response to all kinds of horrific things that happen in our world. It’s our way of avoiding the ugly truth about our reality: The world is messy, scary, and dangerous. It can happen to us at any time, because shit happens, and some people are shitty.
Focusing on eliminating victim blaming and rape jokes as a way of lessening rape is ultimately a misguided notion for these reasons. Victim blaming doesn’t cause rape; rapists do, and in the vast majority of cases, we are powerless to stop them. To say that if we get control of these things, we can control rape is just another way to impose order on a world that is ultimately random. We are only misleading ourselves in the attempt.
It is not my intention to say that rape is an inescapable fact of the world and that we should just accept it. However, I do think there are better and more effective ways of eliminating rape than to somehow pretend that people blaming victims is somehow an attempt to normalize rape. Unfortunately, blaming victims and making humor out of our discomfort are normal reactions, and people who care about such issues would be better off spending their time on things that actually have to do with rape, and not about tragedy and our discomfort with it.