Three fairly prolific things have happened in the past three days that all incorporated the ways in which women are attacked in the public eye, how the media shapes the representation of female victims, and what we think are crimes worthy of solving and what kind of help is worth giving.
Let’s start with Ed. Given the obviously hard liberal bent of this blog, I’m guessing most of you have already determined that my views are aligned with many on MSNBC, despite not usually watching TV for my news (I prefer to read my news, because I hate commercials and because I’d rather get the straight facts than deal with a sensationalized version of a story with a reporter’s personal opinion bending it one way or another). This past week, Ed Schultz referred to Laura Ingraham as a slut.
This frustrated me for a number of reasons. First of all, I don’t care about Laura Ingraham’s sex life. I don’t care how many people she’s slept with, who they are, or what they’ve done. Why does Ed? Why does anybody? To use that as a platform of attack is insulting, crude, sexist, and entirely irrelevant to the argument. Schultz was angry and wanted to be mean – and the best way to be mean to women in America is by calling them out as sex-crazy animals. It’s a double shot – you’re calling them dirty and you’re calling them immoral. Is that the way we’re mean to men in America? No. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Secondly, just take a quick, cursory look at Ingraham’s website. There are…so, SO many things that I would rather have had Schultz tackle regarding Ingraham’s absurd political ideology than calling her a slut. Without even clicking through, I can see about ten things that Schultz’s usually incisive wit and on-target analysis would have been better poised to take on. The last thing I want someone like Ingraham getting is an increased audience size due to sympathy culled because a TV personality called her a bad name. I would much rather have her getting an increased audience size due to a TV personality calling out her intense and callous right-wing agenda and seriously out there hard-core conservative rants against what she sees as Obama’s socialist agenda. He could have killed her mission with facts. Instead, he propped her mission up with an insult.
Next up – the acquittal of the two NYPD officers charged with raping a woman in her East Village apartment in 2008 after supposedly “helping her home.” The officers were called to escort a woman home who was apparently so incapacitated that she could not manage on her own. They entered her apartment, supposedly helped her into bed, and then faked 911 calls multiple times through the night so they could return to her apartment, “talk to her” and “cuddle with her” when she wasn’t wearing underwear. In their words, they were “checking in on her” and one of the officers even said he was “counseling” her on her alcohol use since as a former addict himself, claiming to recognize she may have a problem with alcohol. She reported that she awoke to a man taking off her tights and penetrating her. He said all he did was “cuddle” with her. When a conversation that she had taped became public – she went to his precinct to confront him and ask him if he had used a condom – he back-peddled and agreed that sex had occurred but that it had been consensual. He said, as quoted on the tape, that “yes, I used a condom, you don’t have to worry about diseases or anything.” She insisted on an answer to this to protect her health because she was too drunk to knowingly consent to sex. A story change like that alone – going from “we just cuddled” to “actually, we did have sex” should make one highly suspicious of his defense. It is not the job of an NYPD officer to decide that he should be counseling a woman he was called to escort home. Why, if you were so concerned with her safety, would you fake 911 calls to go back into her apartment? You could have easily reported that you were concerned and noted that you felt there was a need for her to be checked in on.
Ultimately, all the cops were found guilty of was “official misconduct.” Faking 911 calls and repeatedly entering a woman’s apartment without her consent and “cuddling” with her while she wasn’t wearing underwear? How will this precedent serves those charged with rape on the stand in the near future? If a man enters my apartment and crawls into bed while I’m not wearing underwear to “cuddle” with me while I am too incapacitated to agree to it, “misconduct” does not describe how I would categorize those events. More like…breaking and entering and assault. The defense of the officers was insulting – they claimed that she was way too drunk to make it home on her own, but that she was sober enough to consent to sex. Seems like a woman can’t win.
When a few people on the jury were asked how they came to this conclusion, one man said that they “just didn’t believe the woman’s testimony” when it was read back. They also said they felt there were holes in both her and the cops’ stories. Yet they chose to not believe the victim. I understand the concept of reasonable doubt, yes – but, in this case, we had the testimony of a cop whose story had holes in it because he was trying to cover up his actions, and the testimony of a woman whose story had holes in it because she was drunk. If she was too drunk to have a cohesive testimony, what makes one think she is sober enough to consent to sex? It seems that this definition makes people more uncomfortable than the act of the non-consensual sex itself. An NYPD officer, above all, should know this (they go through sexual assault training – did he forget?), and should be in the position of protector. I simply cannot get beyond the idea that if one thought she was so drunk, so utterly incapacitated that you needed to check on her over and over again throughout the night, why – I just have to know – would one think she was in any state to have sex?
And lastly, news recently hit that New York, undoubtedly tight on funds, has proposed cutting the special victims unit teams at hospitals that serve women who were recently sexually assaulted and raped. SVUs are the group of professionals equipped to deal with the aftermath of an assault. They gather forensic evidence from rape kits, which collect DNA and have helped track down and identify many assaulters in the past. (There are already backlogs of hundreds of unexamined rape kits in many U.S. cities, something that rightfully angers and frustrates advocates who point out that these kits are often the most reliable evidence one has in linking an attacker to a victim.) They also provide the essential mental health support for women immediately after a sexual assault, and also help connect her to services that can continue the necessary ongoing mental health support in the future. It seems like a no-brainer that these services should be offered.
These three distinct stories are each, in their unique ways, indicative of one perspective that desperately needs to change – people hate women who have a sexual identity. They blame them for being sexually active and sexually expressive; if a woman has historically had a lot of sex partners, they make sure to bring this to light during a rape accusation and claim that she must have agreed to it, it must have been consensual because she loves sex so much! When they want to insult women they use terms that are charged with implications of having too much sex (Schultz doesn’t actually care how much sex Ingraham is having – he was furious with her political idiocy, and instead of calmly articulating that and making a much needed point about her fact-less rantings, he chose to sling a comment that he thought would be more hurtful – that we socially have decided is more hurtful – one that charged she was sexually ravenous), and use that to delegitimize her. Ingraham lobs a lot of softballs for liberals; why not attack her weak political ideology instead of attacking her supposed sexual proclivity?
Why cut the services that are so obviously needed for women who, after an assault or rape, feel incredibly vulnerable, angry, confused, and scared? Why would you not want a forensic team to gather evidence that could help arrest and implicate a rapist? Why would you not want a team of mental health professionals to support the victim immediately, to help her process it, to continue to help her process it, decreasing the likelihood of her struggling with depression, chronic fear and fatigue, incredible anger, and a serious lack of faith in the criminal justice system? All I can think of is that these people…don’t believe these are real issues. They don’t believe the women who are assaulted and who try to seek justice and healing after their attacks. It seems as thought the burden of being assaulted rests on women here just because they are women. It’s much easier to denounce having sex than have to go after someone who assaulted a woman. But what these people need to remember is that rape isn’t actually about sex, it’s about power over the victim. And these three stories offer up sensational examples of how the greater social power structure perpetrates this dynamic and supports and fosters the rape culture. By acquitting the NYPD officers we’ve shown that those in power will not be questioned, by removing SVU services we’ve told women that they are losing the resources that would have helped them regain personal power and that would have legally stripped their assaulters of theirs. And Ed, who thankfully apologized, showed that those who have a handle on the media, and who are lucky enough to have their voices projected farther than most, can still knock a woman (even those who are ostensibly on their same level in terms of exposure) down by calling her a slut.