Wednesday, March 15, 2017
pavestones to hell
words - words are just symbols and symbols are things we create to represent and words are efficient to the nth degree when compared to dragging each other around to point at stuff or act out the drama of a historical event.
Humans have a couple of unique traits, things our brains can do that other species lack. Processing symbols is one of these unique traits and it give us, among other things, this capacity for written language, words. Blessings can become curses.
I wrote about this before, I know. About how we use language and the risks of attaching emotional content to otherwise descriptive language like "victim" and the emotionally packed label victim becomes when applied to sexual violence. If you're interested, that blog is here.
Responsibility is another one. A word connected to sexual violence and misplaced assignments of blame. Rory and I wrote about that one for CRGI. I think it is becoming a bigger minefield than victim.
The word never got far from its Latin origin, respondere. It literally means to respond. Responsibility then means:
your ability to respond
Do you see fault? Blame? anywhere in the definition? Nada. Blame and fault are not fucking synonyms to responsibility; however, because we have made them such - we have created a perpetual death spiral of weakness and victimization for Targets of sexual violence.
Here is how that works. First, we started out with blaming Targets for the assaults because of what they wore, or how they walked, or where they walked, or if they had a good time at a party and had a few drinks, or dated the "wrong kind of guy". The actions that primed them for sexual violence being no different than the actions of an out-of-town businessman who gets targeted for a mugging. You know dear, you were dressed provocatively and you had a few drinks and then went to find the bathroom on your own...how was he supposed to know it wasn't an invitation?
We don't pull the businessman aside and say dude, seriously - you wore that watch and those shoes? you wanted it, didn't you? And we started to figure that out, sort of. Enter stage left the backlash. It's not her fault, it's not your fault. And it isn't. Process predators who rape for the power and control and the hard-on for violence are the perpetrators - not their Targets.
Then we forgot ourselves. We played mix and match with our words like we do with our wardrobes and blame, fault and responsibility became synonyms. You know the phrase...the road to hell is paved with good intentions?
There's a BBC comedic sketch running around the internet right now. It is clever. It is the mugged businessman being interviewed by the police the way we used to interview (well - we still do this honestly, no one really will admit it though) sexual violence Targets. The sketch makes a fantastic point of it.*
I was watching it and was all ooh, this is good! and then - damn it - and into the death spiral we go. The R word. I don't remember the exact line, something like "you know, don't you think you should take some responsibility?" Well yes, actually. He has the ability to respond to the mugging. He can choose how he interprets the violence that crashed through the looking glass into his otherwise peaceful, people-are-good, world.
He can choose to learn what made him a prime target and he can get it, that it was not his fault. He can understand he was a good pick because out-of-towners don't often return to the scene for the trial date and they tend to hang out at certain hotels and tend to have a drink at the hotel bar and tend to be less knowledgeable about the sketchy parts of town and...
Just like she can learn how process predators work and she can learn how her socialization gave her the right tools for saying no to sex when the other person also follows those rules, but zero tools for how those social rules will be used against her. She can learn how to break the rules and she can learn she is not damaged goods before those lessons become so ingrained in her mindset they govern her universe.
She has the ability to choose how she responds. This is what gives her strength and this is what gives her power to take herself OFF the prime target list instead of rising to the top for the next predator.
Because responsibility and blame are now symbolic synonyms and because we have not created an effective synonym for the real meaning of responsibility our efforts to interrupt victim blaming in sexual violence have produced a glass menagerie. Beautiful, fragile animals who are powerlessly incapable of responding. We think this is better?
At the moment, the only solution I can think of to this language fuck-up won't likely be received with warm fuzzies. Responsibility being bastardized leave me with this:
"You are not at fault for the predator's actions. The blame for his choice to target you, is on him. It could happen again because unfortunately, our society has set you up as prey. What's cool though? You aren't actually prey. You are a predator too. It is your nature. You are a wolf in sheep's clothing. Time to unzip the sheepsuit and walk around as the wolf you were born to be. Predators are reticent to attack their own kind, they know a fellow-predator has the capacity to fight back. And win. Be a predator."
Yeah. Imagine for a minute the reaction to the detectives et al. in the training program advising them to say that? Then of course, we have the tangled mess of her taking on the notion that she is just like the person who attacked her - but this post is already too long. Maybe that will be the next one.
*the sketch is from the Tracy Ulman Show. Can't find a direct link to it but it's been on FB recently.