According to Reuters, more than half of France’s population thinks that Dominique Strauss-Kahn “was the victim of a plot;” within his own political party, the number rises to 70 per cent. If they took a poll of different countries, I presume the outcome would not be significantly different.
The idea that (mostly) men who are accused of rape have been lured into this situation rather than caused it by their actions is nothing new, obviously, but strikes me as exponential lately. Most prominent and most exhausting seems to be the kind of language chosen for these acts, and how the accused are portrayed by the media. Feminist scholarship has referred to this phenomenon as an integral part of “rape culture,” which means that in our current culture, sexual assaults are being tolerated, excused and belittled, including extensive victim blaming and rape apologism by sexual objectification.
Whereas the concept of rape culture struck me as a bit extreme before, I am now (finally) convinced that there is nothing to argue about this. The most featured cases of rape and sexual assaults are clearly just the tip of the iceberg, but seem to be good examples as to how pervasive victim blaming is and how ready people are to accept that sexual assaults are somehow just part of the package of a “normal” life experience and that “boys will be boys.”
The first extensively discussed case of a widely known figure being accused of rape lately was Roman Polanski. In fact, it was 1977, when he, 43 years old, drugged and raped a 13 year old girl, and, having admitted that this was true, fled the country before any legal action could be taken against him. Notwithstanding that he never faced any sort of consequences (except for not being able to enter the United States and pick up his Academy Award – boo hoo – and now having to
do an MTV Cribs episode suffer house arrest in his Swiss chateau), a long list of Hollywood celebrities, directors and authors felt the need to express their admiration for him as a director, tied to the claim that he should be set free and not be harassed because of this “case of morals” (!) (including Natalie Portman, Wim Wenders, Fatih Akin, Yasmina Reza and Whoopie Goldberg who said this rape wasn’t “rape-rape,” thus perpetuating the ridiculous and latently racist notion that there are moral differences between raping a woman you know and the clichéd image of some guy jumping out from behind a tree to rape a strange woman).
Being a director and having suffered horror in your life time apparently excludes you from doing anything abhorrent yourself and/or the need to face consequences for that. Moreover, the girl was said to have looked mature for her age, to not have been a “virgin” anymore (don’t get me started on that concept and how it is used to make women feel guilty…) and that she and/or her mother had celebrity ambitions. No wonder, then, that he could not resist to intoxicate, drug and rape his victim. What would you have done, if not that? “Honeytrapped,” obviously…
Parallels can be easily drawn regarding the second most prominent case of rape accusation lately: Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange. Two Swedish women accused him of having sex with them a) against their will (that is: being asleep and then being awoken by Assange penetrating them) b) against their expressed condition of wearing a condom (which he did not). Again, Assange left the country before he could face consequences, and is since then in the UK, minding his own business, apparently.
Something interesting happened: All sorts of people from all sorts of points of view jumped to his defense with the most crude assumptions. His lawyers stated that the charge he was facing was the funny Swedish peculiarism of “sex by surprise” (which does not exist, btw); that “sex” with a sleeping person is obviously consensual, since s/he has consented before (and, apparently, that consent lasts until all eternity, no matter what state you are in). Alleged leftists and feminists like Naomi Wolf came to his rescue and accused the women of being fame-whores and the Swedish police of policing “dating problems.”
Moreover, the women were accused of actually being CIA spies who successfully “honeytrapped” Assange with their amazing sexuality, causing him to have a minor mishap that could eventually be exploited by the US waging a war and threatening death against the world’s most amazing dude who tells The Truth and thus damages the US’ Evil Cause. Finally, there were voices who assumed that he might have committed a crime, but one should handle that lightly, since we owe him for his initiative in political transparency (as Polanski is owed for his artistic talent).
This goes one step further than victim blaming: It is the canonisation of potential perpetrators because of their work/traits of character/family/children/basketball skills/funny looking dog. It insinuates that people cannot be judged separately on what they have done or said. Polanski and Assange have contributed valuable and/or enjoyable work to specific fields. That does not mean that they’re not guilty of crimes in others. It puzzles me why this contradiction is so hard to bear: No one is taking away from contributions Polanski and Assange have made. But it is simply not an option to take these contributions to then claim that because of them, they are innocent and/or guilty but should not be hassled. Wikileaks is a bigger idea than Assange, no matter what he and others claim. Good movies are bigger (and better…) than Polanski’s.
The third and final example is the most recent one: Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He has had a reputation for being a “ladies’ man” (which is more than often a euphemism for “molesting perv'” who crosses the line all the time and cannot take “no” for an answer) for quite some time, apparently. More importantly, he has been accused of sexual assault before. Obviously, this does not mean that he is guilty of this one.
However, here is where a curious mechanism sets in: Many media outlets automatically cry “innocent until proven guilty,” without anyone having said that he is supposed to be locked away without a trial (but one might consider not letting him run off without one – just saying…), whilst simultaneously questioning the “reputation” and sexual history of the potential victim. So, all of a sudden, it becomes very important that she is a maid (in a provocative maid’s costume whilst doing her job, I guess), that she emigrated from Africa (I don’t even want to get into all this racist bullshit here…) and, since she allegedly lives within a certain radius of a housing block that is allegedly known to be the home of people with AIDS, must be HIV-positive (no idea what that matters, especially since Strauss-Kahn did not *really* rape her, right?!). Then people, including Bernard-Henri Lévy, question why she went into a hotel room all by herself when normally suites are supposed to get cleaned by whole “brigades” of cleaning workers (no matter if that is someone’s personal opinion or experience, it is Always True!!1!). Moreover, and most importantly, what would Strauss-Kahn do with a little maid when hundreds of sex workers are just a phone call away? Finally, if he did actually assault her, it was just because she was provoking him: this time, as a honeytrapping, maid’s costume wearing pawn, that (not who, she has no personhood) just could not be resisted, in the manipulating game of France’s UMP to secure Sarkozy’s next win.
I reiterate that 70 per cent of France’s organised socialists buy into some form of the last version.
All of these cases have the idea of “honey trapping” in common, which shifts the responsibility to not rape people from the individual to a dark and sinister conspiracy in the background (that knows that “boys will be boys” and gets them in trouble accordingly). This perpetuates a most conservative and old fashioned picture of women as easily manipulable (and simultaneously manipulative) toys that have only their sexuality at their disposal to be a part of the “big boys’ game” of world politics and serve the gentlemen who decide on what’s next and who has to go down; and/or vindictive, angry women who would do anything for money and fame and decide to throw dirt on a poor guy out of pure spite.
Moreover, only few of the accounts of these cases name the crime as the crime that it is supposed to have been: Rape. We hear of “sex attack” (Mars Attacks sounds so much better!), “sex scandal,” “molestation” and even “attempted oral sex” (as if someone tried really hard but, you know, somehow it just didn’t work and they decided to cuddle instead), etc. – nearly everything is done to belittle the actual crime these people are accused of and to make the women look foolish and overly sensitive.
Ultimately, it conveys the idea that men (…particularly wealthy/powerful/famous, heterosexual, white men) are entitled to sexual attention and satisfaction, no matter what.
If this is not rape culture in its most disgusting form, then what is?