Donald Trump is keeping his campaign promise to build a border wall between the US and Mexico, even shutting down the government. Imagine if the Democrats were as aggressive.
Christine Blasey Ford accuses Brett Kavanaugh of trying to rape her during a party while they were in prep school. The political stakes are high: if Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote fails in the Senate and Democrats win the body back in November, conservatives will watch their dream of a solidly reliable 5-4 majority go up in smoke.
What makes the research psychologist’s charge culturally interesting — why people can’t talk about much else this week — are its many layers of debatability.
Is it right to derail a man’s career, or anyone’s anything, over a charge that can’t be verified? Is “innocent until proven guilty” still a thing?
Assuming Ford is truthful (and no new victims of Kavanaugh’s alleged piggery step forward), is a single disgraceful act by a 17-year-old (she was 15) a dealbreaker? 17-year-olds are more aggressive and impulsive than adults. It’s not their fault. It’s their brains’. Out-of-control teens don’t necessarily become crazy adults. That’s why we have a separate justice system for children. On the other hand, most of the people I knew as kids haven’t changed that much.
If Kavanaugh’s school buddy hadn’t busted up the scene, would he have raped Ford? Maybe, maybe not. But what she alleges, pinning her down and covering her mouth, would be unlawful restraint — a serious criminal offense.
I don’t know what happened. If this were a jury instructed to convict beyond a reasonable doubt, I’d have to let Kavanaugh walk.
My gut tells me Ford is telling the truth. She told her own shrink in 2012. She passed a polygraph. Her account describes an encounter that, though terrifying, could have gone worse. If she wanted to destroy Kavanaugh’s bid for the high court, she could claim that he’d raped her. Kavanaugh was a prep boy. He’s still a douche. Ford’s description sounds like vintage late-1970s/early-1980s douchbaggery. Douches gonna douche.
Again, I don’t know.
But here’s the thing: we can’t know. He said-she said is a cliché for a reason. This took place, or didn’t, in an age before smartphones and security cameras. People had privacy. Which they sometimes abused.
Republicans want the he and the she to testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 24th. Anita Hill 2.0! Ford’s lawyer says that’s too soon because her client wouldn’t have enough time to prepare. For what it’s worth, Ford’s lawyer is right; Kavanaugh had months to prepare for his cakewalk; she deserves the same before getting grilled.
If and when America gets its spectacle — Monday, Monday, Monday! Ford vs. Kavanaugh! Visit the concession stand! — we will know nothing more than we do today. She says it happened. He says it didn’t. She can’t prove it did. He can’t prove it didn’t.
What’s really on trial here is #MeToo.
Some dude, a pompous, angry “white knight,” tweeted the semi-official motto of #MeToo the other day: “BELIEVE ALL WOMEN! DISCUSSION OVER.” Nice try, but fascism isn’t the law yet. Discussion continues. Discussion will continue for the foreseeable future.
Because this discussion is inherently unresolveable.
It will not be resolved. But it will end.
#MeToo will end with a whimper. Give us a few more Aziz Ansaris and we’ll be too exhausted to continue. Yet #MeToo will have accomplished a lot. Its “Believe All Women” battle cry will be dismissed as the ridiculous attempted overcorrection it obviously is. No one deserves to be believed, not at face value, not without evidence, just because they’re a woman (or a man).
What people need and deserve, accuser and accused alike, is to be respected, taken seriously, and listened to. Pre-#MeToo, too many female accusers were dismissed out of hand, even mocked, frequently disrespected and revictimized. Too many male offenders were believed simply for belonging to the half of the population privileged under patriarchy.
Society needs to arrive at a place where people of underprivileged status are heard as much and as intelligently as those with wealth and power. Well, society really needs to eliminate differences in social and economic status. But until then, equal respect and dignity will have to suffice. #MeToo will help us get there.
In the meantime, we’ll have Ford vs. Kavanaugh.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
From Clarence Thomas to Jerry Sandusky to Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, those who doubt their accusers always ask something similar to what Roy Moore said about those who accused him of sexual harassment and assault: “To think grown women would wait 40 years before a general election to bring charges is unbelievable.”
What takes so long? Why don’t alleged victims head straight to the police?
There are 17 good reasons in this great article.
Let me add two more that we don’t talk about enough: shame and fear of disbelief.
I’m not referring to the well-documented victims’ fear that they somehow brought the attack on themselves (for example, a woman who worries that she somehow sent mixed signals to a suitor who then raped her), but to something one rarely sees discussed in the media or talked about in typical conversations about victimhood.
Society doesn’t like victims. Victims make us uncomfortable. It’s probably a vestige of our Darwinian instinct for survival: the monkey clan prospers when its members are healthy and lucky, but finds life perilous around those who are sick and unfortunate. We turn away from the unlucky: the homeless man, the woman whose face bears burn scars, the black guy getting choked to death by cops. Not our business, not our problem, these are troubles to be avoided. I do it too.
This instinct goes double for those who refuse to soft-pedal their victimhood. Not even the most active social justice warriors have Rose McGowan’s back in her Twitter crusade against Harvey Weinstein — she’s a bit too angry for comfort. (Her recent drug arrest doesn’t help.)
I am not judging humanity here. I am trying to answer Roy Moore et al’s question. One of the answers is shame — the shame simply of being a victim in a shallow capitalist society that loves winners, hates losers and despises victims. Fake it to make it has a corollary: never let ’em see you sweat.
My friend Cole Smithey the critic told me a bit of film theory, after a character in a movie gets maimed (loses a hand, gets shot and acts shot, getting weaker and visibly bleeding, whatever), the audience stops liking and identifying with him or her. There are exceptions. Typically, however, a screenwriter will have a maimed character die, vanish or completely recover. Because no one likes a victim.
Getting fired and libeled by the LA Times reminded me of that anthropological truism. Immediately following my firing, I hardly heard from my fellow cartoonists. (That’s rare.) Friends resurfaced after I presented exculpatory evidence. A pair of taints (Loser and Liar) had been erased.
Then I sued the Times for defamation, and things tipped back. Some of my friends stayed true but others dumped me because they were scared that if they sided with me the Times and Tronc might deny them work, also because I’d gone Rose McGowan-y crusade-y. It’s true that the LAPD bought Tronc and the Times fired me for the LAPD, but it’s weird and anyway, no one likes a victim. Especially not an angry one.
Fear of not being believed is another underdiscussed yet potent inhibitor to victims considering whether to step forward, whether by filing a police report or going to the press.
I grew up poor with my single mom and we were short of money. To bring in some cash, my mom hooked me up with a job helping the janitor wash the blackboards after school at my junior high school. Looking back now, it was a situation perfect for an abuser: no one but an older male custodian and a 13-year-old boy in the otherwise empty building.
One afternoon the dude snuck behind me while I was working in a classroom and grabbed me, pinning my arms to my side. “Do you trust me?” he whispered in my ear. I remember his exact voice, the smell of his breath (alcohol, bourbon maybe). I felt his penis harden against my back.
I did not trust him.
But I told him I did, several times, and he believed me and let me go and I bounded exactly three steps toward the door, turned the knob and launched myself down the hall and flung myself down the stairs and hurled out the emergency exit, and I ran and ran and ran and it was so damn beautiful outside and I could hear the fire alarm ringing.
When my mom came home, I lied. I told her the job was over, the custodian no longer needed me.
Later a kid I didn’t know approached me at school. He might have been a year older. He asked me if I had worked for the dirty old janitor and whether he’d gone after me because the same thing had happened to him. I didn’t ask if he’d gone to the principal or told his parents and he didn’t ask me. It would have been the stupidest question in the world because no one would have believed us.
No one ever believed kids back then. About anything. The school administration wouldn’t have believed us about the English teacher who kept pot in his desk or the algebra teacher who seduced my friend or the driver’s ed instructor who grabbed my classmate’s breasts right in front of me and my best friend.
We Gen X kids understood the world as it was: survival was up to us. Adults didn’t care; adults wouldn’t help. Decades later, when I told my mom that story, she admitted I was right. “I assumed you were lazy,” she said about my quitting the job.
If you’ve never been a victim of some kind, you may find this strange, but there is something worse than knowing (or suspecting) that you may not be believed, and that is coming forward and letting cops and courts and human resource officers decide for themselves, based on the evidence and their biases, whether they believe you or not.
As long as you keep your victimhood to yourself, you know your experience was real.
(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) next book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Post-Harvey Weinstein, the pitchforks are out — and with good reason. Women and girls have been diminished, objectified, exploited, terrorized, discriminated against, sexually harassed forever. Only fools thought sexism and misogyny at the hands of male oppression had been eliminated, but many people had reason to assume things had improved post-Gloria Steinem in the 1970s, when “male chauvinist pig” became a sit-com meme. Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly et al. demonstrate that, at the apex of the power structure, nothing really changed.
And that’s the point of this column, which I was reluctant to write for fear of being accused of minimizing the righteous anger of the women stepping forward to say enough, no more. Rape culture — the insidious vapor that women wade through every day, whether it’s inappropriate sexist or sexual remarks, gauging whether it’s safe to take their boss up on an offer for drinks that could lead to a promotion, and/or an unwanted sexual advance, or hesitating to tell a wolf-whistling construction worker where he can stick it because he could break her face without breaking a sweat — does not afflict men to any significant extent. Men feel fear walking down a city street at 1 a.m. in a bad neighborhood; women feel it all the time in every neighborhood.
Rape culture only afflicts women. But rape cuts across gender. One out of ten rape victims in the United States is male, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).
This echoes what I was told as a member of a committee when I was a student. Barnard College, where I lived in a dorm, had recently established a rape crisis center with about 10 counselors. Someone brought up a surprising statistic. The campus security office reported that 10% of rape victims at Columbia University were male. (They didn’t say the sex of the attackers.) When I suggested that the crisis center might want to consider hiring one counselor with expertise with male victims, however, the other committee members laughed — all of them except the other guy.
To the extent that society discusses this hidden 10 percent — or, if you believe the 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 38 percent! — the cliché is males raping males. Yet the BJS found that 46 percent of victims reported being raped by a woman.
No one can credibly minimize the devastating impact of sexual assault and harassment on the vast majority of victims, who are women. But, as inadequate as it is, there is awareness, and infrastructure, and sympathy for female rape victims. Can you imagine, as a man, trying to file a report with the police that you’d been sexually assaulted by a woman?
Given male anatomy that requires an erection for penetration, how can a woman rape a man? Well, she can. Really. As with female rape victims, physical arousal in men can be stimulated involuntarily. Don’t forget the effects of drugs, alcohol and psychological manipulation.
What about men’s superior upper body strength? Men are stronger on average. But many individual women are stronger, and some individual men are weaker, than the average. Sometimes there are multiple attackers. It happened to me.
To most guys even, getting jumped by two women sounds like a “Dear Mr. Guccione, I never thought I’d be writing this letter” scenario. But not every dude wants it all the time, no guy wants it from every woman, and sometimes you’re just not feeling it with a woman whom you might find appealing under different circumstances. Every “unwanted sexual advance” is unwanted until and unless it gets accepted; the trouble starts when the advancer refuses to take no for an answer, as happened in my situation, and it escalates when they get angry or vengeful. Like most men, I was socially programmed, Robocop Directive 4-style, never to lay a hand on a woman. I was lucky; I barely managed to escape my attackers, pants dragging on the floor, without hitting anyone.
It was easy to imagine another outcome: succumbing to rape or, worse, being charged with assault for defending myself. This happens to women too, of course — but it’s harder for male victims to mount a credible legal defense.
Similarly, men also fall prey to harassment in the workplace. I have been fired from two jobs, each after I had refused my female boss’ sexual advances. They cited other pretexts, but I’m sure that I would have lasted longer had I put out.
Many of Harvey Weinstein’s victims tell stories of turning up for a meeting hopeful that a connection with a high-powered producer could score them a great role in a cool movie, only to find that the only thing he wanted was sex. For those who got out of his hotel room without him touching them, the experience was degrading and a waste of time.
I get it. One night in the 1980s, the car service that took me home late from my job at a New York bank asked if I’d share a vehicle because heavy rain had made taxi scarce. I was in my early 20s. My taxi companion, a woman in her 40s, informed me that she was a top bank official looking to hire a new officer and invited me to lunch to discuss my career. At lunch, however, she made an indecent proposal: she’d put me on salary to a job I’d never have to show up to as long as I became her live-in boy toy. She didn’t threaten or grab my bits. But she wasted my time and my self-esteem. Was my body all this high-powered executive saw of worth in me?
When I confide this story, reactions range from incredulity — you should have gone for it! — to derision. Sounds hot! Dismissal, men who have been there will tell you, is typical. Former professional bicyclist Joe Papp told me he was “sexually harassed and then assaulted (groped, kissed against my will) by [an] inebriated female colleague. One other female colleague present. Reported it to ownership next day — they laughed.”
Pundits point to Weinstein and Hollywood’s male-dominated executive suites as central to the propagation of rape culture. “To solve the problem, Hollywood needs new executives and decision-makers: women,” Adam Epstein writes at Qwartz. “Nothing of substance will get done until there are more women bosses in every department, and at every level, of the film business.” Gender equality is great — but it won’t eliminate sexual harassment and assault. According to one study, one-third of American men report being sexually harassed in their workplace during the last year.
As Roxane Gay wrote in The New York Times, “Sexual violence is about power. There is a sexual component, yes, but mostly it’s about someone exerting his or her will over another and deriving pleasure and satisfaction from that exertion.”
You could transform America into a matriarchy. It might be great. But it wouldn’t free us from rape or sexual harassment.
Only a revolution against inequality could do that.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Freshman orientation, Columbia University, New York City, Fall 1981: Now as then, there were speeches. A blur of upperclassmen, professors and deans welcomed us, explained campus resources and laid out dos and donts. At one point, the topic of the campus drug policy came up. “You can do whatever you want in your dorm room,” we were told, “just make sure it’s OK with your roommate.” A ripple of surprise swept the audience. Several students asked for elaboration of this don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on illegal narcotics, and were told that they’d heard correctly.
One of my friends, who grew pot plants in his window, proved the wisdom of that advice. My pal’s Born Again Christian roomie, not consulted about his grow house scheme, attacked him in what became a legendary fistfight out of a Western.
No one was arrested, though there was a stern talking-to courtesy of the R.A.
(Columbia has since changed this policy.)
The weird alternative universe of law on campus is in the headlines again due to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ announcement that the Trump Administration plans to rewrite Obama-era Title IX rules to give male students accused of rape on college campuses more rights to defend themselves.
Under a 2011 directive university administrators were advised that their institutions could lose federal education funding unless they reduce the evidentiary standard for finding a defendant student guilty of sexual misconduct from “beyond a reasonable doubt” (the same as in criminal courts, in which jurors are asked to be roughly 90% or more certain of guilt to convict) to the lower “based on the preponderance of the evidence” standard used in civil courts (50% or more).
Victims rights advocates say campus rape is an epidemic problem, that local police can’t be trusted to take rape charges seriously or prosecute them aggressively, and that the relatively friendly campus tribunals of administrators operating under the lower standard of proof mandated by Title IX are necessary to encourage victims to step forward.
Men counter that those accused of rape shouldn’t lose their rights when they step on a college campus, and that innocent defendants have been railroaded by kangaroo courts in which they’re not allowed to have a lawyer or, in some cases, to present their full defense.
DeVos referred to the bizarre case of a USC football player expelled for abusing his girlfriend even though she insists there was no abuse. This followed the news that the rape defendant in the notorious 2015 “mattress case” in which his alleged victim carried her mattress around campus and to her commencement ceremony had earned a measure of vindication earlier this year when the university paid him to settle his lawsuit and issued a statement declaring that, after years of being publicly rape-shamed in international media, he had done nothing wrong after all.
Like students at colleges and universities across the United States, I was stunned to learn that college campuses are sort of like Native American reservations: zones where the law applies theoretically but in practice is systematically ignored or enforced at significant variance to the way things go in the outside world.
The shooting of a motorist on a city street off campus by a University of Cincinnati police officer highlighted the fact that two out of three colleges have armed police forces — and that some of these campus cops are told they have the right to arrest, and even shoot, non-students in surrounding neighborhoods.
At least today’s colleges aren’t brazenly stealing land from public parks, as Columbia did in 1968 when it began construction on a gym in Manhattan’s Morningside Park. (The land grab sparked a riot and iconic student takeover of campus.)
The debunking of that big Rolling Stone piece about a supposed rape at UVA aside, it doesn’t take a statistician to grok that college campuses, with their witches’ brew of young people out on their own for the first time, minimal adult supervision and free-flowing booze set the stage for date rape as well as sexual encounters where consent appears ambiguous. The question is: should college administrators substitute for cops and district attorneys in the search for justice? Emily Yoffe’s Atlantic series on DeVos’ proposal strongly suggests no.
Yoffe portrays a system that encourages males to feel victimized by being considered guilty until proven innocent. “To ensure the safety of alleged victims of sexual assault,” she writes, “the federal government requires ‘interim measures’ —accommodations that administrators must offer the complainant before any finding of responsibility, including steps to ensure that she never has to encounter the accused… Common interim measures include moving the accused from his dormitory, limiting the places he can go on campus, forcing him to change classes, and barring him from activities. On small campuses, this can mean his life is completely circumscribed. Sometimes he is banned from campus altogether while awaiting the results of an investigation.” This is an injustice, and saying it’s necessary in order to protect victims doesn’t change that.
The New York Times recently published an op-ed that embodied the glib view of defendants’ rights au courant on college campuses. “Of course, being accused of sexual assault hurts,” wrote Nicole Bedera and Miriam Gleckman-Krut. “And there are things that we can and should do to help accused students — namely, providing them with psychological counsel.” Seriously? Men accused of rape face expulsion, felony charges (schools can refer cases to the police) and blackballing from other colleges if they apply. They need more than therapy.
It’s easy to see why colleges, and many parents of students, want to maintain their personal on-campus legal systems outside the bounds of adult law and order. 18-year-olds are legally adults but psychologically still kids, the thinking goes. Sending even serious matters like rape charges to the police can seem like a second brutalization of victims, and perhaps even unnecessarily harsh to the accused who, if innocent, may be able to assuage doubts with a simple explanation of their actions to friendly university staff members.
Though largely well-intentioned, and despite the fact that it is opposed by the despicable Donald Trump, this Title IX-based paternalism has no place in a society that purports to respect the concept of equal justice under the law. If there’s an alleged crime on a campus, students should call the cops.
The answer to nonresponsive police who disrespect victims isn’t to truncate defendants’ rights under a parallel facsimile of jurisprudence. The solution is to reform the police and the courts so that victims aren’t traumatized all over again. Let law enforcement do its job, and let educators do theirs.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
A long-time Guantanamo Bay detainee and victim of torture has credibly described torture even more extensive and brutal than the horrrors described in the Senate report on torture a few months ago. What is wrong with us, that this isn’t even news, much less actionable as a scandal?
Identity politics, a writer friend reminds me, is where liberalism goes to die.
The oceans are boiling, freelance journalists’ heads are getting lopped off, and there’s not the slightest sign of resistance to income inequality so out of control it would worry Cornelius Vanderbilt. Yet the Internet’s politically-correct “social justice warriors” are dedicating their formidable energies into attacking pissant trivialities.
Anyone who doubts that online slacktivists have their heads so far up their collective asses that they can’t see daylight need only read up on the controversy over Undercover Colors, which is a nail polish that allows women (or men, but they’re not the target audience) to discreetly discover whether their drink has been spiked by one of several common “date rape” drugs.
(My advice to women: if you’re at a party or with a guy so sketchy that you think you may have been slipped a mickey, don’t bother with the fancy polish. Just scoot. You don’t want to be there anyway.)
Better safe than sorry, right?
“Anything that puts the onus on women to ‘discreetly’ keep from being raped misses the point,” writes Jessica Valenti, a once-influential feminist blogger whose hammer-to-the-skull-obvious post-motherhood columns for The Guardian add to the case for automatically censoring any piece of writing by a parent about their children. “We should be trying to stop rape, not just individually avoid it.”
Valenti is serious about this: “So long as it isn’t me isn’t an effective strategy to end rape. ‘Undercover Colors’ polish and products like it only offer the veneer of equality and safety. And that’s simply not good enough.”
Which is true. And stupid.
Like: wearing shoes isn’t an effective strategy to stop assholes from breaking glass bottles on streets. Since assholes do leave shards of glass all over the place, however, walking barefoot isn’t smart.
Installing a car alarm or using an anti-theft device like The Club is an example of “individual avoidance.” One wishes that it were possible to leave one’s automobile unattended free of fear that someone might steal it. But reality dictates that, if you park in a high-crime neighborhood, you take measures to deter thieves. True, it’s a “so long as it isn’t me” strategy. But what else can you do? We’re not likely to see an effective strategy to eliminate car theft any sooner than “an effective strategy to end rape,” a crime endemic in every culture throughout history.
How removed from the real world are writers like Tara Culp-Resser of Think Progress, who also criticized the entrepreneurs who invented the anti-date-rape polish? “It would likely be more effective to focus on larger efforts to tackle the cultural assumptions at the root of the campus sexual assault crisis,” she wrote. “Like the idea that it’s okay to take advantage of people when they’re drunk.”
To my horror, I have known men who bragged about having raped inebriated women. (Since their accounts were devoid of details, it would have been pointless to report them to the police.) They didn’t violate women because of “cultural assumptions.” They did it for the same reason that CEO pigs issue themselves huge raises the same day they fire thousands of employees: because they can.
This reminds me of the complaint against liberals who claim to support public education, yet send their kids to private school. If your local public schools are decrepit or dangerous, it’s unconscionable to subject your children to them if you can afford not to. Obviously, we should fight to ban private schools, and for that matter the capitalist system that separates American kids into pre-poor and pre-rich educational systems — but until the revolution is achieved, it’s every man and woman for himself and herself.
Feminist propaganda can’t stop rape. No marches, no poster campaign, no hashtag bullshit. Men will stop raping women when they no longer can.
Neither I, nor the social justice types, know how to achieve that better society. Until someone comes up with that Big Idea, anything women can do to protect themselves — self-defense classes, carrying pepper spray, even a nail polish — is just common sense.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out this week. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
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