Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dave Winer's Third Rail And Rape Culture

Who would not want to live in a world without rape culture?

Judging by his post on the rape allegations against Julian Assange, Dave Winer does, or at least thinks he does. His piece is an honest attempt at something relatively non-incendiary which - to be fair - manages to avoid many of the squares on the Assange Rape Apology Bingo card, though it does hit one or two them pretty squarely. Winer also makes it clear that he is open to discussion: at the end, he writes: "I look for charged issues like this one to explore, because these are the places where the greatest growth is available."

His writing has a utopian sheen to it, as if all the battles of feminism had finally been won and true equality in all things across genders had been achieved. Underlying the text is the idea that sexism is genuinely now a symmetrical two way street - that we live in a world where women were just as capable of discriminating against men as men are against women. And most importantly, he writes as if he has never heard of the idea of rape culture.

It is hard for men to accept the existence of rape culture. As a man it has been hard for me. It's not something men like to think about. We tend to see it as an attack on ourselves and we brush it away as such. But we are wrong to do so.

Men don't like to think about the fact that around one in four women will at some point get raped, or that the overwhelming majority of rapes go unreported, or that when a woman does report a rape she is always - 100% of the time - accused of lying, and must endure the kind of close examination of every detail of her life that makes it seem as if it is her, the victim - not the attacker - who is on trial, while study after study shows that false rape accusations are actually incredibly rare, or that the vast majority of rape cases do not end in a guilty verdict, or that the vast majority of rapists get away with it without being prosecuted, or that the vast majority of convicted rapists have committed the crime of rape multiple times before they are finally found guilty by a court, or that penalties for rape are often bizarrely weak, or that a large proportion of women who are raped know their attacker very well and are often in a relationship with them, or any of the other horrible facts about rape widely available online and backed up by study after study into the astonishing - to men and not to women - prevalence of rape among human beings.

Being human, since men don't like to think about those things, we tend not to think about these things. We forget about rape culture, because it is not something that we need to think about every day when we are just popping down the shops or meeting someone for a drink. We forget about rape culture because we can.

When Winer accuses some of 'condemning men in the cause of feminism', talks of 'simply flipping the genders', and says 'it's never as simple as one gender doing it to the other', he is going one step beyond forgetting about rape culture:
he is showing either that he has not heard of it or, if he has, that he does not believe it exists.

I have outlined my views on the Assange rape allegations before - once in this cartoon, and once in this longer post on the subject. I agree that Winer is quite right that it should be kept separate from Wikileaks, and that the timing of the whole thing stinks. But he is dead wrong about the context, and - which is key - he is also dead wrong about the presumption of innocence.

The presumption of innocence is incredibly important and should be maintained in rape cases just as with any other. But if there is to be a presumption of innocence for the accused, how much the more so should there be a presumption of innocence for the accuser.

In rape cases, the accuser is always presumed to be guilty of lying until proven otherwise. That's what makes them so difficult. That's also the reason that most rapists get away with it. Any woman accusing anyone of rape is always and immediately counter-accused of making a false claim. This idea is so deeply embedded in English speaking world that there is even a phrase for it: 'crying rape' - the assumption is - always - that the claim is false. In order to prove her case, the victim has to prove that she is innocent of 'crying rape'. This is why many rape victims never bother reporting the crimes against them in the first place.

This lack of presumption of innocence - for the victim - is the central plank of rape culture.

And this is why people are getting so exercised over the Assange affair. As with every other rape case ever in history, people - mainly men - are lining up to say that the women involved are liars and waving their bullshit detectors around proudly. That's exactly the problem.

In the case of rape, it really is as simple as "one gender doing it to the other". If there is one good thing that comes out of the Assange affair, it is that it has caused many people - including myself - who have previously either dismissed, ignored, or not been aware of rape culture - to really sit down and think about it a bit. Or even a lot.

If Dave Winer really is looking for the place where "the greatest growth is available", here it is. To eradicate rape culture, or at least start, is something that goes way beyond feminism. It is something which is only connected to feminism in the sense that it was feminists who first raised it and it is largely women who write about it; these women still find themselves not being listened to or dismissed - bizarrely and ridiculously - as 'sexist' themselves. But if we ever are to eradicate rape and rape culture, it will require men first to become aware of it and to work in some small way towards stopping it.

Then we'll finally have the world without rape culture that Winer believes he already lives in.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

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