The Silence of Our Friends

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Virgins, Whores, and the Sliding Scale of Our Humanity

Do you all remember what State Senator Bill Napoli had to say about exceptions to the abortion ban in South Dakota?
A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

It seems to me that this attitude is very similar to that of Judge Teresa Carr Deni, who threw out rape charges because the victim is a prostitute and instead called it "theft of services".

This whole attitude about women and our sexuality is so damned repressive in the US. The idea behind the thinking is that there is some sort of sliding scale of justice and empathy for women dependent on whether they EVER consent to have sex. Only the pure virgin deserves real justice or empathy, and at the other end are the sluts and whores. If you have consented to sex in the past, or heaven forbid, are a sex worker, you simply can't be raped. And if you find yourself pregnant, well that's punishment for being slutty and a whore.

Just think about Napoli's words, the one exception he could come up with is the never consenting virgin who is attacked in multiple ways with the most extreme brutality imaginable. If any of these factors isn't present, a woman who had consented at one time who is brutally raped doesn't fit his profile for exception, and definitely not one who actually enjoys sex, even with her husband. Only the virgin is given the choice to abort, is given control of her own body. Carrying a pregnancy to term is seen as a punishment for the fallen woman, they don't give a shit about babies, all they care about is their moralizing.

That is what Judge Deni does here also. I'm sure she would also agree that a woman can not be raped by her husband, after all she had consented in the past. She obviously doesn't think that consent can be withdrawn, and once a woman consents to one sexual act, then she is consenting to everything. How else can her decision in the case be construed? No one including the judge thinks that the prostitute wanted a gun pointed to her head, or that she wanted to have sex with four men. But it's not rape according to Deni, even though what happened was not what the prostitute agreed to, even though she had a gun to her head, nope, still not rape.

I hate this society and culture that teaches us that sex is dirty, that women should not control their own bodies or destiny. God forbid we actually like having sex or ever consent, then we deserve every punishment imaginable.

I hope the people of Philadelphia are so outraged by this injustice that they vote Deni out of office today.

12 comment(s):

The sliding scale is nothing more than a convenient illusion that protects acceptable rapists. The so-called innocent victim standard excludes most virgins. Too many virgins look too sexy or consented to some sexualized contact or consumed alcohol or weren't raped by a stranger holding a knife or a gun.

Then of course there is the attack that says virgins who claim rape by someone they know should be viewed as liars attempting to protect their virginal reputations.

By Blogger Marcella Chester, at 11/07/2007 1:23 PM  

You're right. Even in the quote, she has to be "religious", before it counts. The definition is so strict that hardly anyone will fit the exception, and even when that one girl steps forward who fits the description, then all the other things you mention will come into play, what was she wearing? Why was she out alone? Did she do something to entice the "poor boy"? etc.

By Blogger Donna, at 11/07/2007 4:45 PM  

It's never felt to me like it's the "you are too openly sexual and we are threatened by that!" line of reasoning, or the whole "oo, bad girls!" thing. And I say this as someone who still and always will identify as whore, not sex worker or erotic artiste or whatever the fuck else. Whore.

To me it's something about vulnerability...it's that, self-and-other-proclaimed whores become the receptacles for the way people want to express maximum capacity misogyny and racism (in the cases of women of color who get deemed whores).

Most people *know* it will generate a (however insincere) public outcry for saying things like "rape is defensible/unimportant-when-it-happens/actually-kind-of-lovely-when-it-happens-to-any-woman-who-fails-the-purity-test, which is to say, any woman. Really. Rape is okay, women being raped is in fact acceptable.

But my saying that as an indictment is different than someone saying that with conviction. No matter how clear it is that many many people do have that conviction. There's a let's-not-say-it-to-their-faces aspect.

So you can't say that out loud...but...even though men clearly want prostitutes to exist and even though Disney can make a movie that says a prostitute can be America's sweetheart...somehow...whores are still everybody's public enemy number one. And I'm supposed to believe it's about the sex they're having? From where I sit, it's about the most-vulnerable-woman-ness that they are having/living/whatever.

And so it is acceptable to say to and about whores what people would not ever say to or about supposed non-whores, even if they really feel the same thing about all women in general.

Example - a guy thought he would have an appreciative audience in me, many years ago, in telling a story about how he "beat the shit out of a crack whore." And he thought this because he took it as a given that most people are personally offended by crack whores, most people think crack whores are hate-able, especially when they are also black. I mean really, if you can't bash a black crack whore out in the open, who the fuck can you bash anymore?

This was before I got in and out of the sex industry. And he just could not fathom why I expressed hatred for him instead of for her. Because she had mouthed off to him, in front of other people, and this was him regaining some self-respect. While they were in the crack house, smoking crack together. Cuz he was only a crack head, not a crack whore.

So. It may sound backwards but I don't identify with the woman in Philly *on the basis of shared whoredom*, as regards this rape, but actually from a whole different angle. I identify with her on the basis of the shared whoredom as regards our actual shared whoredom-ness. But as regards the rape, what I think of when I see her in my mind is:

I got raped by someone I was originally planning to have sex with, too. I had sex with another guy after the rape before I ever told anyone about the rape, too.

I know she must have felt that same surprise, before anything else, that - hey I thought we were cool, why are you raping me now instead of just-not-raping-me? I picture her hoping like I did that all that happens is that you get fucked, because that's something you've done before and dying isn't, so please let's stick to the stuff that is so not-scary by comparison. And I know what it's like afterwards to just have it not compute at all, to the point that you float in and out of disbelief about it for many days afterwards, let alone during the time immediately after when you have to go back to work.

I think about how mock-able it generally is to talk about "hurt feelings," and yet how that - aside from any, uh, lingering terror responses - is the most staggering part of it. How fucking much it just hurts your fucking feelings, makes you ashamed that you had that many feelings to hurt, when someone just goes ahead and rapes you.

I think about all those things, and this young sister, and I think: I would give anything for her to actually be not-fully-human. To feel any smaller volume of what she's feeling right now. I wish her whore-ish-ness *could* truly exempt her from what's happening.

By Anonymous Joan Kelly, at 11/07/2007 7:27 PM  

It always surprises me - and it shouldn't - when part of modern civilization peels back and reveals someone saying "rape is okay..." with qualifications, always, not that they really matter.

It's like everyone spends so much time giving lip service to the idea that rape is bad, but when it comes time to do something, how many step up? And even then, the lip service can be seriously messed up - I used to know a guy who said with a straight face that he'd "rather the women in his life be murdered than raped" because of course rape ruins a woman.

And there's something that bfp pointed out, that protecting women from rape is not enough. I mentioned in that thread how I've been around guys who - after they hear a woman's been raped - start constructing elaborate revenge fantasies that they'll never follow through on, and they never talk about rape otherwise. It's like it doesn't exist until it happens and then goes away again.

By Anonymous Lisa Harney, at 11/08/2007 7:11 PM  

I just wanted a ride home, no plans to have sex with anyone. He was a friend of a friend who I'd seen around campus and seemed like a nice boy, so I had no fear when he offered me a ride home.

I still had the same reactions you did, when he has his forearm across your throat and you're blacking out, yeah, getting fucked doesn't seem so bad compared to dying. And afterwards the sense of disbelief and unreality, I still feel it now. I mostly feel like it's a bad nightmare that I've woken from, otherwise I don't think I could function. I think the worst for me is that I wondered, why me? What did I do? So yeah, I blamed myself, and because of that I didn't report him. I dropped out of school instead so that I wouldn't have to see him.

By Blogger Donna, at 11/08/2007 7:40 PM  

The only frame of reference I have, the only concept, is how violated I felt after being robbed - just a loss of a sense of safety (which was an illusion, I admit), a sense of unreality, like if I could try hard enough, I could rewind what happened...and I never saw who did it, and I was never touched.

I've never been raped, although I know it can happen at any moment. I've been out after dark in the wrong neighborhoods a few times, I've had a police officer stop me for walking while female or some nonsense in a red light district, but he let me go because he decided I wasn't a prostitute - but if he'd decided I was, well, the cops there extorted fellatio in exchange for not getting booked.

I've had friends tell me they were raped so many times I can't even imagine what that's like.

So all I have is a relatively minor sense of violation and the knowledge that I've been lucky so far.

By Anonymous Lisa Harney, at 11/08/2007 9:41 PM  

I can't believe I hit post before finishing that post:

Mainly, I don't feel like I'm anything but lucky, that my experience means anything but I'm one lonely walk away from being a victim.

By Anonymous Lisa Harney, at 11/08/2007 11:33 PM  

Donna,

Meant to say this days ago - thanks for what you said here after my comment. I'm not glad that it happened to you or anyone, it's only that there is something about feeling not-alone that is comforting to me. I don't know how to articulate it. I just appreciate that you would post that, is all, even though I'm not mad at anyone who doesn't, you know. xo

By Anonymous Joan Kelly, at 11/11/2007 4:11 PM  

Joan, I wasn't avoiding you so much as this comments thread. It's a bit of an upsetting subject, as you know, and I just didn't want to revisit it.

There is one weird thing I do that I don't exactly do consciously, although I am aware of it now; when I discuss this which has happened only about a half dozen times, I can't bring myself to use the word "rape". It's like typing or speaking the word makes it more real and if I avoid it, then it keeps the reality at bay.

I know what you mean about not wishing something this terrible on anyone, but when you find that person, you still feel a sense of relief that you aren't the only one and all alone in the experience anyway. That's actually why I have talked about this a total of two occasions on the internet, and both times were prompted by someone else telling their experience. I just can't leave them hanging out there alone, because I know I would hate that feeling of bearing that pain alone. I also don't begrudge anyone else not speaking of it, I couldn't for years afterwards, and you have to be ready for yourself, some women may never be ready to talk about it.

By Blogger Donna, at 11/19/2007 7:23 AM  

Lisa, definitely a club you do not want to join! Unfortunately it's also random, and that's the scary part, we don't want to believe that it's random. It's why women are prone to playing the blame game, if you blame the victim for being where she shouldn't be, wearing the wrong clothes, drinking, etc. Then maybe if you're a "good girl" it won't happen to you. It's reprehensible, and understandable at the same time. They just don't want to believe that all it takes is being in the company of a man who acts on the violent misogynistic messages our culture sends.

By Blogger Donna, at 11/19/2007 7:34 AM  

Thanks for the response - my post felt random and wrong somehow, maybe self-indulgent, or that I came across as taking it too lightly. It's just a hard subject to address, and I have a lot of anxiety around it.

The random aspect is the scary part, as you say, and people would rather believe that there's some way to control or prevent it. Unfortunately, that's no good for anyone who's already been subjected to it.

BTW, I finally added you to my blogroll. I thought I already had, but somehow it didn't happen. I blame gremlins.

By Blogger Lisa Harney, at 11/23/2007 8:38 PM  

Donna said:

"I just can't leave them hanging out there alone, because I know I would hate that feeling of bearing that pain alone."

Just wanted to say I am touched by that, Donna, and also I feel like I wish I had been able to tell you before hand that a) by virtue of who you are and what you write, you would not have been leaving me hanging anyway, even if you hadn't taken the risk of sharing about your own experience here and b) I guess I feel protective of you in the sense of not wanting you to ever be an extra amount of vulnerable when it could be avoided, especially around this topic. I know, you're fully grown, you wrote it cuz that's what you wanted to do, I'm just responding about my gut feelings towards the "not leaving anyone hanging" part, that's all.

By Anonymous Joan Kelly, at 11/28/2007 12:48 PM  

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