Monday, September 10, 2012

Who gets to be the sympathetic character

There is a thing that happens, when there is a high-profile crime and then the accused is found not guilty in a court of law. There is talk - about whether there was a rush to justice, about whether the DA was too quick to prosecute, about whether having lots of money and/ or fame and/ or a good lawyer means you can get away with that crime, about whether the law should be changed to prevent someone from getting away with similar crimes in the future.

Here is the kind of talk that doesn't happen - no one says, "oh, she must have worn something that meant she wanted to be shot. There was consent." No one says, "Oh, maybe he just gave away all his money to that guy on the subway, and now he regrets it, so he's lying about being robbed to make himself feel better." No one casts doubt on whether or not a crime occurred in the first place.

Unless of course the crime is rape or harassment. Then the narrative is all about how that slut just wanted to make trouble for that nice guy. Then the talk is all about how well, if the guy isn't guilty, then obviously the crime didn't happen.

These are the things that ran through my head after reading this post by Genevieve Valentine about the fallout from her reporting her experience of sexual harassment by Rene Walling at this year's ReaderCon. While Walling claims to have regret, he does not deny his actions - this is not a case where the harasser has been found not guilty. But read all the way to the end of Valentine's post, please, and you will see that the narrative has changed here, too. This is what Valentine writes:

"Some people’s primary concern, in the wake of Worldcon, is the reputation and fannish future of the harasser. They are, they say, very worried.

The harasser, they say, has been getting criticism and scrutiny online; they worry about the toll this is taking on him."

In other words, there are people who think the one who we all ought to be concerned about is the harasser. His feelings might be hurt, now that people are calling him what he really is.

Here is some more talk that happens: "That's a big thing to accuse someone of. Are you sure you want to ruin a guy's reputation like that? How sure are you about what happened?"

Acts of sexual violence and sexual harassment are under-reported. In other words, many more people are raped, assaulted, and harassed than ever actually report. But even if the statistic were "just" that twenty percent, "only" that 1 in 5, let's think for a bit about what that really means. If one out of every five woman has experienced sexual violence, how many men have committed it? Why do we still insist on a narrative of the only rapists, the only harassers, being the guys who "can't get any" any other way? That a guy who is handsome, or famous, or powerful, or rich, or an athlete, or nice, or someone we've had drinks with, doesn't "need" to rape anyone, doesn't "need" to harass a woman to get attention.

Do you know how many men need to rape or harass women? None. Zero percent. Not one. And those who choose to? It's not their feelings I'm worried about.

No comments:

Post a Comment