Feministing reports on a CNN news story that women in the armed services received diagnoses of personality disorders, which got them discharged from their respective branches, after reporting that they had been sexually assaulted.
The gist of it is this, a woman reports a sexual assault. Shortly thereafter, when she tries to get medical and mental health treatment, she gets diagnosed with a personality disorder and administratively separated from whatever branch they're in. Now, to explain a bit of the military and mental health terminology: a personality disorder is viewed by the military and the medical profession as something that pre-exists before the time that someone is old enough to enter the military. Generally, these types of disorder develop early on. So the military views this as pre-existing, and says that you shouldn't have signed up for the military in the first place. That means you forfeit benefits under the G.I. Bill, have to give up any recruitment bonuses, and because these personality disorder are "pre-existing" conditions and not related to injuries sustained during the time the women are in the military, they don't get VA (Veterans Affairs) benefits for them.
So, in case you can't tell, this is a particularly pernicious form of discrimination. You have people who complain, kick them out! It's an extremely effective way of getting rid of the original "problem" of the woman who reported the rape and discouraged future reports. And while Feministing and CNN are reporting ably on it, I wanted to comment a bit about what I think it reflects in society.
We, as a society, don't like the idea that women can be raped. It's scary, it's horrible, and we like to forget that it happens. There's a lot of ways we do this. One, is that we overly stress the frequency of "stranger rape" as opposed to acquaintance rape. And then we push towards women these ideas that they can "prevent" rape by taking safe practices when walking home at night and things like that. And while I'm not saying those are necessary bad practices, they are not practices that will protect you from the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults, which are committed by persons who know the victims. Other ways we do this is by saying that women were "asking for it" by dressing certain ways, having certain body parts, and things like that. The message we try to say is that women whom are raped aren't "normal" -- they did something wrong.
It's comforting in many ways. If I check so-and-so boxes, do certain things, dress a certain way, I (woman) will be alright.
This is the same thing that the military seems to be doing. Maybe it's not the "you shouldn't dress a certain way," or act a certain way (though I bet that's part of it), but they're pathologizing rape victims. "You were raped, so there was something wrong with you before this happened." And moreover, something that should have kept them out of the military to begin with!
That's comforting in the same way some other rape prevention strategies are. It's a way to get women to think, "I don't have this disorder, so rape can't happen to me" in the same way that prevention strategies like "If I don't dress a certain way, I won't be raped." Of course, that's not true: women are raped because someone raped them, not because of something they did. And the military, by not only abrogating their responsibility to help these women and prosecute their attacks, commits a horrific injustice against them and society, but also actively hurts these women, by destroying their careers, denying them adequate care, and pathologizing them as victims of crimes.
Sexual Assault & the Law
A very unfortunate fact that ends up coloring many a man's perception of sexual assaults is how the legal system deals with sexual assaults. A man is most likely to hear about rape and sexual assault through the media, which frequently filters that through a lens of the law. If you ask a man about examples that came to mind, he'd probably mention Kobe Bryant, the Duke lacrosse case, Ben Roethlisberger, or maybe Julian Assange.
First, we have to face some things: our legal system is not designed to discover the truth behind every alleged crime. It is designed to take allegations of crimes that prosecutors believe they can prove in Court to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Secondly, we have to deal with the matter of jury nullification. Jury nullification is an act that occurs when a jury acquits a defendant of a crime for reason that are not sanctioned in the legislation that makes the act a crime, or when they believe that the law is simply incorrect as applied in this case. Classic examples of American jury nullification are frequently racial in nature: in the antebellum North, juries frequently refused to acquit under the Fugitive Slave Act, and in the post-Reconstruction South, juries would frequently acquit a white man of murdering an African-American.
In sexual assault and rape cases, frequently you see jury nullification when a jury acquits for something contrary to what the law would demand. For instance, the victim may be drunk and is raped, which is still criminal rape, but a jury might acquit, citing the alcohol usage. There is nothing in the law, which permits a jury to acquit for such a reason. Similarly, juries might acquit a rapist when the woman is in a situation in which she "should have known better" and the like.
Most sexual assault cases have fact patterns that are incredibly difficult to prove in Court, usually due to the fact that only two parties witnesses the crime: the perpetrator and the victim. Similarly, many cases also have circumstances that juries are likely to use for jury nullification: the inebriation of one or both of the participants, their past sexual histories with each other and others, and the general circumstances such as time and place.
So when it comes down to it, and we hear about a case of sexual assault in the popular media, there's a lot at play when it comes down to the legal stuff. To look at the Rothelisberger case where allegations were made by a student at Georgia College & State University, the victim, though not recanting her allegations, asked the District Attorney not to move forward with the case, citing the intrusion into her privacy. There's a lot of factors at play -- the DA then decides not to prosecute the case, stating that he did not believe he could prove the case beyond a reasonable (which is absolutely the wrong standard by which you move forward on a case at that stage, but that's a whole different issue). Now, the DA may have had a point: with a now-uncooperative victim/witness, the evidence may have been too scant to prove in front of a jury in this community.
But that doesn't mean that the sexual assault or rape didn't happen, and sadly, that's usually the take-home message when you just observe how these things are portrayed in the popular media. And that's a radically wrong message to be sending to men.
As I talked a bit about in my post on talking to men about sexual assaults, men's experience with rape is from the media, and the media frequently portrays a rape that doesn't go forward as somehow "exonerating" the perpetrator. I'll repeat as I said in that post, rape and sexual assault has no greater rate of false allegations than any other crime, and when you see allegations made against celebrities, that's a population that is not representative of the general population. For the overwhelming majority of men, a woman has nothing to gain financially and a whole lot of privacy to lose and emotional and physical trauma to go through to make an allegation of rape or sexual assault.
Sisters Make You Happier; Why Not Brothers?
As the linked article suggests, a lot of this has to do with communication: men don't communicate about emotional issues very well. So when a family has a daughter, she's able to emotionally communicate effectively with her siblings.
So I suppose it doesn't tell us anything that we don't already know, anecdotally, about men, which is that we're not very emotionally mature or communicative. This isn't particularly revelatory, and it certainly isn't particularly revelatory to women or to feminists, I imagine.
But it does have some interesting implications for talking to men about feminism. A lot of feminist issues are framed as emotional ones or have emotional aspects of them. I'd be hard-pressed to name a feminist issue for which I don't have an emotional and often visceral response to. Now the problem comes in is that when men are presented with feminist issues from a woman's perspective (as feminist issues usually are), men frequently have more difficulty understanding the issues because of the emotional content, or men are made uncomfortable talking about the issues because of the emotional content.
One of the reasons we're made uncomfortable talking about emotions is that we're pretty much taught that men have to suppress certain kinds of emotions. Sure, we can be happy and angry, but "boys don't cry," is pounded into us at a young age. We're not taught to embace any outward displays of affection, platonic or otherwise, to any people. We're not taught to give much thought to our feelings or others' feelings as it comes to things that bother us cause us concern.
I think a lot of feminism is talking about emotions, and feminist issues like identity and sexuality are intensely personal and require a certain emotional vocabulary that men don't traditionally have a lot of facility with. For male feminists, part of our strategies and tactics have to take into account overcoming this challenge. Male feminism needs to help men become more comfortable talking about feminist issues with an emotional aspect, and communicating with both men and women.
There's already been a lot of really excellent posts about the Yale DKE Chapter that marched around the Yale Women's Center shouting, "No means yes! Yes means anal!" Some of the posts have analyzed how the Chapter apologized. Salon had an interview with a DKE member. Hugo Schwyzer told the story of his legacy at DKE. Readadultsex has a great post analyzing how men are gendered to need to "win" women, absent the possibility that women could have sexual desires.
Now there's a lot to be said about this issue, and most people have said it far better than I have.
But there's definitely a certain voice that I haven't heard much, and though I am by no means connected to every blog on the Internet, I can't say I've seen anything written (outside the DKE Chapter) by other fraternities condemning this.
So, as a former frat boy, let me add my voice to those who have condemned what DKE did, and let me also say: this isn't an isolated incident. There are many, many fraternities out there that ascribe to the same ethos as the Yale DKR Chapter clearly did. That being said, there are plenty of fraternities that are somewhat more enlightened, and that would have never in a million years pulled off this stunt.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we move fraternities from the mindset of DKE to a feminist or pro-feminist mindset? Now, although others certainly disagree, I am opposed to simply abolishing the fraternities system, as many schools have done. I think that there can be benefits to these kinds of societies, from the somewhat altruistic ones, like brother/sisterhood, community service, to more practical ones such as throwing a good party.
Well, I can think of a few ways certainly: firstly, make education on sexual assault mandatory for all members. If you enforce the policy and make the program good and effective, most will go. Perhaps only few will leave taking away something substantive and positive, but that's a few more than you had before. Secondly, force each Greek organization to have membership in some sort of cross-campus violence prevention program or organization. Even making one or two members of each chapter more aware of these issues, their effects on the community, and more importantly, their effects on their house can do worlds of good. Thirdly: have serious consequences when incidents like this happen. I don't know what's happening at Yale in regards to any discipline that might be happening to this Greek Chapter, but even if nothing is happening, this Chapter clearly has some image cleaning up to do and is working to do it. So even if not a one member believes in any anti-sexual-violence messages or principles, having clear consequences for their actions will make them clean up their act and stop doing these kinds of things. Fraternities are notoriously effective at damage control, from dealing with neighbors who are pissed at parties to keeping the police off of their backs -- if you make sure there's damage when they commit pro-rape acts, they will control it, and they know that the most effective control policy is prevention.
On of the off chance that someone reads this and is in a fraternity or a sorority who knows someone who is, let me tell you what you can do: go submit an opinion piece in the student newspaper. Talk about the DKE incident and how it relates to how things are on your campus, and make it clear that it's okay. One of the most important things in this kind of work is for people to stand up and let their voices be heard. As male feminists, and as fraternity members as well, we need to stand up in our communities, on campus, off campus, in our chapters, as alum or current members, and speak out against this kind of behavior and work towards making our own communities safer for everyone.