Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thoughts From a Spiteful, Callous Nitpicker.

This is something I did not particularly WANT to write. It's my criticism of an article about the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, tragedy of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17 year old girl from Nova Scotia who was raped by four boys. This crime was photographed and distributed and Parsons endured an unimaginable onslaught of torment, slut-shaming and victim blaming; all of which drove her to take her own life. No human being with any semblance of a conscience could be anything but saddened and enraged by this whole sordid and devastating story.

It's awful enough as it is, which is why I was reticent to criticize an article over at written by Maya Shlayen , a self-identified feminist and journalism student at Ryerson University who was actually taking the time to point out something that often gets overlooked or glossed over in most reports pertaining to this case. That for all the talk about bullying and teen suicide, the horrible events inflicted on Parsons were very much a product of a pervasive misogyny and rape culture. In fact, she sums it up very well in this paragraph (and the last two sentences):
"Unfortunately, all of the discussions about the story so far have focused on "bullying," as if Rehtaeh's story is about playground squabbling; as if what happened to her could have happened to anyone. In reality, her story had a lot to do with being female in a patriarchal society. Rehtaeh was killed by misogyny.  "
But whoa...wait a minute. Let's backtrack for a second and have a look at this sentence again:
"[A]ll of the discussions about the story so far have focused on "bullying," as if Rehtaeh's story is about playground squabbling;"
"Playground squabbling" !?

Maybe my working definition of what this is differs from most people, but when I hear this phrase it makes me think of things like the following: an argument over who takes turns in a game, or whose turn it is to be 'it' in a game of tag, who said what to whom and why and why so-and-so is no longer friends with such person etc, why someone doesn't share their candy, or why they give more to one child than another etc. That's what playground squabbling is to me.

Bullying, on the other hand, refers acts of intimidation, domination - strong preying on the weak. This can vary in it's severity to being somewhat upsetting to acts that are deadly, criminal and can include murder; acts that can have lifelong repercussions. Playground squabbling is something most kids grow out of by junior high school. Bullying persists into high school and can be pretty fucking scary

There's an appreciable difference between the two and Shlayen does a huge disservice to the victims of bullying and its consquences by conflating these two thus minimizing the real and serious negative impacts bullying has.

But it doesn't stop there. She also demonstrates a very cavalier attitude towards male victims of rape and sexual assault. Nowhere is this more clear than when she points out:
"Even when men or boys are raped, they are usually raped by other men;"
For the moment, let's ignore the fact that what IS known about male victims of rape and sexual assault is limited, because rape is an under-reported crime. But let for the moment, let's just focus on Shlayen's assertion - that male rape victims are usually victimized at the hands of another man. My response to this is...SO FUCKING WHAT!?! Rape is a horrible, traumatic crime committed by one human being against another that can leave emotional and psychological scars for life. Does it REALLY make one iota of difference to the victim whether or not their assailant had the same genitalia or not?

She also says that male rape victims are more readily believed and the proof she offers for this assertion is the Roman Catholic Church's scandal in which sexual abuse of children
"Male victims of rape are also more likely to be believed; their injury is more likely to be perceived as a real violation of who they are and what they are worth. The ongoing sexual abuses in the Church, for example, have sparked outrage and brought many of us to act primarily because it is one of the few cases where most of the victims are boys. "
Now maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe this is a matter of conjecture and opinion. But it was my understanding that the sex abuse scandals of the RCC sparked outrage because they had been covered up for so long, the higher ups in the church and Vatican knew it was going on and went to great lengths to cover it up. And the RCC was for the longest time a revered and trusted institution in many communities and for it to have gone on for so long and kept secret...I thought it was that which caused the outrage. Her argument here is questionable at best, offensive at worst.

I know I may very well catch some flak for writing this article. And I'm prepared to deal with that. Some may say that what happened to Parsons is so terrible and that Shlayen's article was only pointing out a too often ignored reality about the girl's story and countless others like it; and that my criticism of what Shlayen wrote is nitpicking; not to mention petty as well as spiteful and callous.I don't agree and that was not my intent. I wanted to make this crystal clear from the outset. By all means we should take violence against women and girls very seriously - and point out something that needs to be. But it's never OK to throw others under the bus and minimize the suffering of other victims to do so. And it's entirely unnecessary.