Tuesday, November 5, 2013

He Said, She Said; Who-Whom; Rape, Race, and Rashōmon

All Hell has broken loose ever since "students Annie Robertson and Garvey-Malik Ashhurst-Watson met after a campus dance on a night they both had been drinking with friends" — Sarah Lawrence roiled by sex-assault claims.

The alleged victim "is white, from Morganton, N.C., and a lesbian," and the alleged perp "is black, and lives in Scarsdale, and his mother, the former president of Def Jam Recordings, works in the college’s advancement office." AllHipHop.com is also covering the story, from his angle, unsurprisingly — Son Of Former Def Jam President Accused Of Rape At New York College.

Race trumps gender, and "the case is not being criminally prosecuted." What if the races were reversed? [Duke lacrosse case, anyone? These posts ponder that question any intellectually honest person should be prepared to answer — "Imagine if the Races Were Reversed" and What If the Races Were Reversed?]

The alleged victim sealed her own fate (as an oppressor) in the court of public opinion when she published this online:
    How can you tell a woman she is safe when her body no longer belongs to her? When you are finally able to burn me at the stake, frame my ashes for your school’s distinction… Until then, I will be tying nooses with the strong cords of my voice. I will be hanging your boys up and invoking my no until the spirit takes them and their legs stop twitching.
He's black, remember. The alleged perp won his freedom in the court of public opinion with this:
    I suppose that when a young woman of her background accuses a young man from mine, in the area of this country where she is from that should be enough to take the freedom of the young man for a long time… Of course, we all know that a young white woman unjustly accusing a young black man of inappropriate sexual misconduct has happened in the past (a history of which we were all recently reminded in a poem written and publicly posted by my accuser). It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.
She's Southron, remember. Still, he's right that black men were hanged for consensual relationships with white women eager to protect their reputations.

The comments on the first article are inciting, but also insightful in that family members of both parties have opined. The mother of the alleged victim reminds us that "what the article fails to mention is that this young woman was a 21-year-old VIRGIN, because she never had nor wanted a man near her." That, I admit, gets to me. The alleged perp's mother posts her son's open letter and a co-racialist harps in, "What courage and steadfastness you and Garvey are demonstrating." That, I admit, kind of disgusts me. A white guy says, "This girl is lying." That, I admit, confuses me.

My gut reaction is to side with the alleged victim, but for reasons she, a nose-ringed liberal lesbian, herself would likely denounce as "tribal" and "patriarchal;" she could be my kid sister.

Reading on, though, things get murky: "Only when he turned her around and began sodomizing her did she tell him to stop, repeatedly, she said," reads the first article. "She admits that she never told Ashhurst-Watson to stop until after they both were naked and he began performing anal sex," reads the second.

Whatever foreplay they may or may not have engaged in, there is always a right at any point to withdraw consent from sodomy, or, for that matter, normal coitus. (I apologize to those who might be offended by the heteronormativity of that last statement, but I assert my right to state it as a member of a religious minority.)

But then, she has to say, "Consent is asking someone a question and getting a ‘yes.’ That didn’t happen." She is correct, of course, but her ready Feminist Theory sloganeering plants suspicions that this all may have been a honeytrap promotion of the "consent-o-gram" propaganda on university campuses.

We'll never know what happened in that room, and in earlier times we never would have. Even a master film-maker like Akira Kurosawa, whose Rashomon (1950), itself about differing accounts of a rape (and murder), gave us the Rashomon effect, used to "refer to contradictory interpretations of the same events by different persons, a problem that arises in the process of uncovering truth," can only take us so far.

I said that "[w]e'll never know what happened in that room, and in earlier times we never would have." Were we better off for not knowing? More women would not have come forward as victims, but more men would not have been falsely victimized, perhaps. As stoics, and men, we should be glad that more women are receiving justice.

The most important lesson of "[w]e'll never know what happened in that room, and in earlier times we never would have" may be that in the past, when we had a culture with norms of decency and respect, such incidents were far less likely to have occurred, and fewer women would have been so victimized. A young woman would have known better than to invite an unknown man into her home. A young man would have faced ostracization (and possibly far worse) at having taken advantage of a young woman.

Stories like the above are natural when a society discards two-thousand years of civilizing tutelage as "oppressive." We have willingly reverted to barbarism, to cavemen dragging women by the hair to their caves, in the name of "if-it-feels-good-do-it," and we act surprised when we see it all play out.

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