|Rape and derailing
||[Jun. 7th, 2009|04:30 pm]
There's been some talk about "derailing" rape conversations, and as a previous derailer, I'd like to talk about that a bit.|
Rape was always a crime that horrified me, and the thought of it brought up strong emotions within me. I don't just mean anger - anger is there, and it's part of it, but there was also a protectiveness and a fear and a whole bunch of other things. One of the biggest things was, I really, really, really wanted to say that I wasn't the kind of guy who'd rape anyone. I wanted to express my revulsion for, and separation from, the guys who'd do such a thing.
And there were times when I'd see angry, strident women attacking "men" as a class, and I'd feel it was unfair.
This was before it was common to see phrases like "rape apologist" thrown around - i.e., the kind of person who "explains" rape by suggesting it maybe has to do with clothing styles or unwise behaviors. I'm not sure how I would have handled having such a fearsome phrase thrown at me... but I do know that it's entirely possible it would have been a fair accusation, depending on what I'd just said, and so forth. (Keep in mind that it was never true as a generalization, but it's possible that I have said something stupid enough that being called a rape apologist in return would have been fair - which is different from being true. It's fair to accuse a reasonable suspect of a crime; unfairness comes about when you refuse to believe the exoneration, or stop looking at the evidence once the accusation has been made.)
Well, first off, I realized it was not my job, or my responsibility, to police conversations about rape for unfairness to men. No one said I had to do it; if I did it, it was to serve my own interests.
Now, someone might point out that some unfair, unjust, and truly nasty things are said in some of these discussions. Isn't it our duty to speak out against unfairness and injustice? Well, that depends on who is talking. Are we talking about policy makers who are writing laws, or are we talking about an online discussion group? Is this online discussion going to change our lives? Or is it maybe going to hurt some feelings?
If we're talking about a few hurt feelings, let's put this in perspective. It'd be wonderful if meaningful social change occurred without hurt feelings, but it doesn't tend to happen. And rape, and the pervasive ideas that lead to it, require meaningful social change. So, I had to ask myself, which was more important to me? Policing discussions about rape, and challenging anything that hurt my feelings, or seeing the meaningful social changes required to reduce rape? And, did I trust the overall set of human beings not to take any discussion point too seriously, if it really was way out there?
That is: if someone says something truly nasty, and I don't participate in shooting it down, do I trust that people, being people, might therefore accept it? Or did I trust that the vast majority of people are sensible enough, and even-keeled enough, that the really nasty ideas would drop by the wayside?
Remember: we're talking about discussions here. We're talking about blog posts and response threads, we're talking about LJ entries and comment threads, we're talking about Usenet threads, and so forth. I'm talking about the kinds of places where someone jumps in with "not all men are like that!" and are accused of derailing the discussion. Starting a new discussion, in an appropriate forum, is not derailing the current discussion.
Do I really think stupid ideas will survive "in the wild"? No.
But there are many times when derailing a discussion, or trying to make people feel guilty for being angry, or shouting them down for being too "strident", can rob ideas of momentum that they need in order to generate change. Oh, those ideas will get out eventually - common sense works both ways, in killing nasty ideas and eventually promoting good ones - but there's always a strong set of forces holding on to the status quo. And ideas about social change need passion, and passion is not always pretty and certainly not always precisely accurate.
As I said, I realized that it was not my job to police discussions about rape for possible unfairness to men as a class. If I did that, it was to serve my own interests. And so I had to decide which served my interests best. Jumping into a discussion to explain how I wasn't like that, or that not all men were like that, and thereby protect my own feelings about the issue? Or walking away if I couldn't bear to read it without jumping in? Or, better yet, learning not to take it personally, and learning what is actually useful, and productive, to say? (Note: learning what is productive and useful to say can include saying the wrong thing, and listening to, and thinking about, the response it generates. It's not necessarily pleasant.)
If I was going to make a mistake, which mistake did I want to make? Letting someone rant in an unfair manner, knowing that the rant won't really do anything? Or shutting down or side tracking what could have been a valuable discussion?
If I despised rape and rapists, which was most important to me? Which truly served my own interests best?
I hope it's clear I'm not writing this to condemn anyone, nor to comment on any particular thread, or any particular posting, etc., but the idea has been going around, and these are thoughts that I've thunk about the matter. I hope someone finds some value in them.
I also hope you realize that, if you read this, and are the type who might jump in to a rape thread with an "I'm not like that" or "all men are not like that," and you feel a strong, complicated mix of feelings, that's perfectly normal, and maybe not too far from what I felt. But that, going back, and re-reading those discussions, I realize that it was never quite as important, and never quite as necessary, as I'd imagined at the time. Don't get me wrong - sometimes I raised good, valid points. But they were often points that could have waited for a better time, or a better forum, for presentation.
 Keep in mind that sometimes, we all "see" things that weren't actually there. I know that sometimes I saw such a thing when I was misunderstanding the main point being made.
Edited: clarified "jumping in" line.