The way that we codify and react to rape in the U.S. is utterly bizarre.
I do a classroom activity in my Intro to Women’s Studies classes where students read different crime scenarios and then debate who is to blame, who is innocent, if the blame is shared and by how much, etc. Invariably, in the rape and sexual assault scenarios, a majority of students partially or fully blame the victim, especially if said victim is female.
In contrast, in the scenario in which a man has something stolen from his car after leaving the doors unlocked, students more often place all or most of the blame on the thief. Sometimes I hear comments to the effect “It shouldn’t matter the doors were unlocked. It’s a matter of trust.” Why do I rarely hear comments of this ilk with rape scenarios? Why not “It doesn’t matter that she flirted/kissed him/was drunk/ etc…It’s a matter of trust”?
Another interesting factor is that in relation to the car story there is a tendency to espouse the idea that you should not steal or destroy someone elses “property” regardless of whether the opportunity arises. Yet, in contrast, a woman apparently does not own and control her own body (as so cogently made clear in the battle against reproductive choice)—rather, her body is up for grabs. She, according to the parameters of patriarchy, “belongs” to men (and all the more so if she is young, a person of color, a sex worker, etc – as rape cases repeatedly show, blaming the victim goes on hyper-drive the further a woman is from the “ideal” white, hetero, middle to upper class ‘good’ woman).
This cultural context of framing women as booty (and some as property for all while some as private property) is why, of course, the term “cock blocker” is so well know and so often used, with hetero males framed as if in virtual cock fights over who will “tap that.”
Now, the Polanski rape referred to in the title occurred before the term cock blocker was part of the cultural lexicon, but it too revolves around the premise that men have some sort of right to women’s bodies, and moreover, if they are talented, artistic men, we need to overlook their “faults,” even when those faults involve raping a child.
In reading around a bit, I have come across numerous comments to the effect “but he makes wonderful films” or “he is just a tortured artist, we need to cut him some slack.” Or, in a different vein, “it was a different time; we can’t judge him by today’s standards.” Oh yes we can, and indeed we are. We are judging him by the rape apologist ideology, the rape myths, and the blame the victim strategies that are our standards – or, more aptly, that reflect our lack of standards when it comes to preventing, punishing, and eradicating crimes of sexual violence.
Tellingly the 13 year old Polanski raped, a woman now in her 40s, is derisively framed as having had aspirations to be a model, as if wanting to be famous or successful is the equivalent of “asking for it.”
Now, imagine if Catherine Hardwicke had drugged and then sexually assaulted 15-year-old Taylor Lautner. The reaction would be much different, no? As the infamous Lorena Bobbitt case so forcefully clarified, we react far differently to female violence, and particularly when it is perpetuated against men.
To consider another contrast, let’s take the Kanye West microphone stealing incident. In the September 25 issue of Entertainment Weekly, 93% of people polled said they do not forgive Kanye. And yet, people are falling all over themselves to excuse Polanski. So, insult a fellow artist and block her acceptance speech and you are beyond reproach, but drug a 13-year-old, rape her, and then abscond from the country for decades to avoid punishment and that’s just fine. Cuz, come on, he’s an ARTIST and that Piano film was just super. (Plus, unlike Kanye West, he’s a white dude and we tend to forgive white dudes far more readily…) I’m not saying what Kanye did was alright, but it was a FAR cry from drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. How sad that we seem more able to forgive a rapist than rapper…