Foxchild over at The Unveiling of a Pagan Spirit told me about an appalling case of injustice in the US court system yesterday. It is the story of Tory Bowen, a young woman who was raped on October 30, 2004. To sum up the case, the judge denied her the right to use numerous words (rape, sexual assault, victim, sexual assault nurse, forced, etc.) when presenting her case in order to “guarantee a fair trial to the defendant.” His reasoning was that the term rape is a conclusion in and of itself which is what the jury is supposed to be deciding. But that is not what the jury is supposed to be deciding, as so succinctly a commenter on Yarn Harlot’s blog put it. The jury is supposed to be deciding whether the defendant raped the plaintiff, not whether she was raped in general. As I read her summarization of the case today, I learned that the initial jury wasn’t even told that the plaintiff (Bowen) was prohibited from using these words, rendering her account of what happened to sound as though the intercourse was just that and implying that it was consensual. The first jury was hung. The second was declared a mistrial after Bowen refused to sign a document agreeing to omit the above words and others from her testimony (doing so, she indicated, would be committing perjury) and no jury was selected because they all seemed to know about the case already. Bowen is more than likely on her way to taking this case to the federal supreme court.
As someone who has recently experienced sexual assault, reading about this absolute mockery of justice made me want to vomit. It also made me want to not be American anymore. It pissed me off righteously at the Patriarchy that is our society. That brings us to the topic for the day. Righteous indignation. That is how I would describe my reaction to not only hearing this story, but to my own assault, which led me to consider some aspects of our society that also make me want to vomit. Righteous indignation. It just kind of flies off the tongue with a leap of fire. I’d like to take a closer look at the ‘indignation’ part of that phrase. Dictionary.com defines indignation as “strong displeasure at something considered unjust, offensive, insulting, or base; righteous anger.” In its root is the word is dignity. The ‘in’ part (or ‘im’, ‘un’, etc.) serves to promote a meaning of the opposite or contrary concept of whatever word follows. So, it seems that in a base sense, indignation is all about revoking or opposing the preservation of dignity. Indignation, then, is what happens, what we feel, when our dignity is revoked, opposed, or obstructed in some way. Add the word righteous in front of it (indicating that we are morally and virtuously correct, and I’ll add divinely so of my own accord) and the phrase becomes a new kind of powerful.
Chatting with my friend foxchild last night, we rehashed my feelings of thinking I could have done something to prevent what happened from happening, and she enlightened me to a notion that had jumped above the surface of my subconscious at some point during the past few days only to dive back below it before I could get a good look: yes, I could have made different decisions, but my making the decisions that I had was NOT the cause of what happened. Yes, it opened the way for the opportunity to exist, but what the fuck is wrong with us all when we think that as soon as that opportunity is open, it will be taken? And I got a snapshot flashback of a conversation with Historical Ex. Let me paint the picture for you. Things were coming to their final close and he commented that the reason he kept being an asshole was because I kept forgiving him, kept letting him hurt me, so he knew he could and “get away with it.” Now, turn that one over in your heads for a minute before going on. My retort was that my ability to forgive him was a strength, not a weakness. He went on to address the fact that shortly after we had reunited that most recent time, we became physically intimate rather quickly – too quickly according to him (at the time, he was NOT being an ass and actually resembled a decent, caring human being, thus, I was more open to intimacy). I stared incredulously at him. Um, if I recall correctly, we were both involved in that intimate situation, we both took part, and therefore we should both take responsibility for it occurring. But no, Historical Ex (like so many men today) was under the impression that he bore no responsibility in the situation. When presented with an attractive woman, it was in his nature as a man to not be able to control himself and therefore, the woman was solely responsible for how far things got.
I realized during my conversation with fox that this notion – this idea of men being really, merely more than animals with instinctual drives that HAVE to be obeyed and cannot be controlled and therefore these creatures are not responsible for any of their actions – has been bred and procreated by patriarchal society over and over again. You’ve heard it before. You know it well. It’s the “boys will be boys” mentality. You run into it every time a man claims not being able to remember to put the toilet seat down. It smacks you in the face every time you hear the argument “well, did you see what she was wearing? She’s asking to be raped.” It’s pervasive. It has sunken deep into the pores and fabric of our society.
I am not men-bashing here at all, so please keep that in mind. But what I find most intriguing about this idea is that more men aren’t insulted by it. I don’t know if any men read my blog (I kind of doubt it), but if any men happen to be reading right now, do you realize that society has essentially reduced you to little more than a neanderthal? According to society, you possess no self-control, higher functioning, and great mental capacity. You’re barely better than Pavlovian dogs according mainstream American culture. You’re reduced to being led and manipulated by your genitals and hormones. If I were you, I’d be pretty fucking righteously undignified by that. But then again, according to society, being that I’m a woman and by definition without a penis, I am not burdened by the whims of my genitalia and instead, have the capacity to actually cognitively process complex situations without my behavior being dictated by my vagina.