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.
Firstly, it's been a while since I posted. I can't say I really have a good reason, other than that I've been busy with all the usual work and life.
Secondly…well, a lot of ink has already been spilled about Julian Assange and the allegations of sexual assault. People have far better than I made the point that one can separate his wikileaks project and whatever stance one takes on them from the allegations of sexual assault.
What I'd like to briefly talk about is how the so-called majority man view this.
This case is not unlike some of the other sexual assault cases that the media has highlighted over the years. As I've written about in the past, one of the problems with discussing sexual assault with men is that the only major media depictions of sexual assault are when (let's use the term very generally) "celebrities" are accused of it. This leads to a lot of problems when discussing the issue with men. Bring up Kobe Bryant in that context, and a man will ask, "Doesn't that woman have something to gain by accusing him of sexual assault?"
It's a difficult question to deal with. On the one hand, our automatic (and quite correct) response is to give credence to any allegations made by a victim of sexual assault. However, at times, that instinct leads us to deny the possibility that a false allegation could ever be made. This leads to problems building credibility with men. Statistics show that false allegations for rape/sexual assault are not made with any greater frequency than for other crimes. There's a host of reasons why a woman would not make a false claim, from the lack of rape shield laws in many states, permitting attorneys in Court to probe their sexual past to the publicity (either on a local or national scale) and the difficulties that publicity brings.
When you have someone like a Kobe or a Roethlisberger, people with power or money, from a purely objective and rational perspective, one would think that the likelihood of a false allegation would be higher with them, because the women could stand to gain money. When you do this kind of education, I think you have to admit that: "Sure, the gains could be higher," but on the other hand, you also have to tell men, "But the costs are higher too," due to the increased publicity and scrutiny. (Of course, one cannot discuss either of those men without noting that the allegations seems to have been borne out, with Kobe Bryant pretty much admitting to facts that are rape, and with Roethlisberger's behavior being pretty much following the textbook Lisak-Miller definitions of the behavior of a serial rapist.)
You have to discuss these issues in all their nuances with men, or lose credibility.
As the media depicted Kobe Bryant or Ben Roethlisberger, we have now a man in the spotlight for sexual assault who is someone with power or money. Unfortunately, we see a lot of people on the left unable to separate the two issues: the fact that Assange has a certain power and there are people opposed to it, and the allegations that he committed sexual assault. And just like any other of these celebrities, perhaps these women have something more to gain by making an accusation against Assange than they would against a regular Joe, but also the costs are far higher. The facts alleged sound like sexual assault within my humble and not-expert reading of the relevant law, and it's unfortunate that many on the left have chosen to distort those facts in order to defend Assange based on his political activities.
But enough about Assange. What this incident unfortunately teaches men, is that sexual assault cases are like Assange's, or like Bryant's or Roethlisberger. These types of cases are, after all, the only ones we see on TV and in the media. However, it's simply not true. Their cases are so far removed from the norm that to say that 99.9% of cases are not like theirs would be understating the fact. Sexual assault cases do not involve grand politics on the world stage; they do not involve celebrities; they do not involve professional athletes. The overwhelming majority of sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by "normal" people, without all these confounding issues of politics or money that seem to frequently confuse both the less-educated majority man who we would like to bring in to the movement, as well as much better educated progressive pundits who we would otherwise think we would be our allies on sexual assault.
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.
In popular media, violence against women is something you see a lot. It might be in the news, but it's also in feminist discussions. But you don't see it covered from a feminist perspective in the news, and when feminists discuss it, it's usually not from the non-perpetrator male perspective.
Not that I have a lot of experience as an activist, but I was at a conference once in Boston called EngageMen about getting men involved in movements to reduce violence against women. There was a great speaker there who talked about using the common experiences of men to talk about violence against women. When he talked about getting men involved in violence against women, he said not to use the common experiences of victims (women in this context), but to use the experiences of non-perpetrator men to talk about it:
Have you ever walked down a street at night, and seen a woman walking towards on your side of the street? Before she reaches you, however, she crosses the street, to get on the other side? Why does she do that? What does she think and assume about you? How does that make you feel?
These are questions men don't get asked a lot, but it's something most men can relate to. Yes, we've been in that situation. The woman crosses because she fears us. She fears that she might be attacked by us.
How does that make you feel is usually the interesting question for a group of men. Confused? Sad? All these things, but I frequently hear is angry. At whom? The woman? Society? Rapists who make her fear?
This is an example of what you might call recasting a traditional feminist issue from a masculine perspective. There's a lot written about rape and sexual assault in the media and feminism generally, but a lot of it is from a woman's perspective. It might talk about women fearing walking alone at night, or what the woman wore, or where she went, or how much she drank. These are experiences that don't resonate as well with a man because it's not experiences men share from our position of privilege. Men aren't afraid to walk at night. That's our privilege. Generally, we don't have to worry about drinking too much, at least not in terms of becoming victims of sexual assault.
But we have been in that position, where we see that woman crossing the street because she fears us. That's an experience we share, that's a commonality between men and it's something that can be used as a starting point into a discussion on sexual assault.