Sunday, December 04, 2005

More Brilliant Breakfasts

Just a plug for one of my favorite blogs, Brilliant at Breakfast, which not only keeps up a truly breathtaking pace of thorough, detailed, and truly important posts (and this is one-woman show, folks), but which occasionally outdoes itself with entries like two from yesterday.

The first details the LBGT-friendly commitments of the Wells Fargo bank—an enterprise I already like because of its historical ties to Wells College, where I once taught. The second, unbelievably brave not just in its candor but in its subtle, careful stance on an inflammatory topic, connects a recent and appallingly misogynist travesty of justice to a bleak moment in the blogger's own past. B@B manages to emphasize the ongoing scale and scandal of rape, sexual violence, and sexual assault in the world and also to explain the reasons why it might not always be helpful for all unwanted sexual encounters to be defined as rapes or assaults—especially in cases where outsiders insist on a definition that the person who lived the experience doesn't agree with or assent to. This same point, difficult but important, is thoughtfully ventured by Wendy Brown and Janet Halley in their anthology Left Legalism/Left Critique (Duke UP, 2002), one of many areas pinpointed by their book where current trends in law, especially rights-based and identitarian discourses, may actually work against the people whom these laws mean to empower or protect. A good read.

When I started work this fall, my college provided all of its incoming faculty with a statistical report that suggested that sexual assaults on this campus numbered in the low single digits last year, and in many years previous. I have no idea who devised this figure or what kind of research contributed to it, but it's hard not to be flummoxed, even incensed, by this kind of accounting. 2,000 college students living, partying, drinking, etc., in a cloistered campus for nine months, and sexual assault happens less than ten times? Um, no. In terms of how many are reported, much less prosecuted, I might buy that figure, but I'm not sure whom it helps to keep equating officially recorded cases with actual incidence. The cultural conversation about rape and sexual assault must be maintained, and judicial monstrosities like what's happening to the teenaged girl in Oregon need to be broadcast and protested. But as B&B reminds me and the rest of her readers, it's also important to leave room for everyone to assign their own names and terms to their own sexual experiences and identities, even the ones that are most tempting to name on someone else's behalf, even with the soundest of intentions. Thanks, B@B, for giving such fresh, rigorous, and honest airspace to these invaluable ideas!



Blogger Jill said...

You're welcome!

And you wouldn't BELIEVE the amount of crap I'm taking in Blogtopia for my remarks. If they only knew what I DIDN'T say.

It's odd that the same people who are outraged that a judge decided the Oregon girl was lying because her demeanor and behavior wasn't what he deemed "appropriate" for a rape victim are upset because of women who have had relatively low-level coercive sex not calling themselves "survivors" or "victims."

I had no problem either then or now regarding one evening out of what is now a 50-year-old life as a mistake -- one which I did learn from, because my days of sleeping around ended the day after I slugged the guy in front of his friends. I rarely if ever even think about it anymore.

Rape is a horrendous crime. I do know people who have had rape experiences, and I do not for one minute take their pain lightly, nor do I think their responses are inappropriate.

I do see the legitimacy of the argument that every time someone like me doesn't press charges, it leaves the guy out there ready to do it again to someone else who may not be as sanguine as I was. Well, them's the breaks, folks. I tend to deal with the world as it is, not with some utopian dream.

But while we're talking about utopian dreams, I'd like to see a world in which people can be aware of what they want sexually, so that they can say "Yes" or "No" without feeling that some kind of mixed signal makes them more virtuous. The requirement that women be "swept away" contributes to a lot of acquaintance rape, IMHO.

As for whether I'm a traitor to the cause, well, as far as I'm concerned, to equate being coerced by a guy I probably would have given in to anyway with the kinds of horrific rape accounts we've heard in the aftermath of this story just cheapens their experiences.

11:37 AM, December 06, 2005  

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