My posts this week on the Brock Turner rape case are being read and shared more widely than usual, probably for the same reason I'm writing about the case with more depth than I normally give most topics: It's hitting a major nerve.
The case is sad and fascinating for what it says about so many complex social issues: namely systemic inequities of race, class, gender, and socioeconomic status in the American criminal justice system. A system which, in theory, is constitutionally bound by equality, but which in practice feels rigged to those who never seem to benefit from it.
The case is also uplifting because it has prominent narratives of brave people too--most essentially the victim herself, and the two Swedish grad students on bikes who came to her aid; just human beings who did all they could to get what can generously be characterized as "elusive" justice for a sex crime.
That's why it's all the more depressing to read "rapeology" letters and hear justifications for rape from other women.
I'm talking specifically about the letter from Leslie Rasmussen, one of Brock Turner's childhood friends, which manages to squeeze into a single page nearly every debunked stereotyped justification for rape imaginable: alcohol negates rape; non-consensual sex is a "misunderstanding"; punishing rapists is "unfair" and "political correctness"; "real" rapists are always strangers with guns; rape is the victim's fault, either partly or completely.
But sadder than these assumptions themselves is the internalized misogyny that underlies them.
As I wrote yesterday, it's a bizarre form of Stockholm Syndrome in my view when a woman publicly defends a convicted rapist, even if that rapist is or was her friend. And although it's always fun to mock stupidity and ignorance, Leslie's letter was more than just stupid and ignorant, and its author deserves more sympathy than scorn.
Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which victims and hostages express empathy and sympathy for their captors. And that is what "rapeologies" from women, at bottom, are really all about. They reflect a lifetime of ugly, internalized misogyny, expressed in the form of allegiance to the patriarchy that created it.
I don't pretend to be a women's studies scholar, but I am a woman. And because I am a woman, I know from personal experience that the minute a girl becomes conscious of her gender, she knows instinctively that her body is, first and foremost, a sex object. Even before puberty, she is acutely aware of the fact (yes, it's a fact) that her body is a commodity to be maintained, covered-up, or exposed in a certain way and according to certain standards and ideals, ultimately so that it can be trafficked by men.
A woman's body is at the forefront of her mind on a dark stairway, in a college dorm room alone with a boy, and on a first date. It's front and center when she is catcalled on the street, even, repugnantly, in the presence of her own father. It's there when she first "blossoms" and when she starts to "wither" after babies and with old age. Even the language we use to define these stages of a woman's life--a human being's life--cast women as a floral centerpiece useful only for its aesthetic appeal, and then appealing only for so long.
So is it surprising when a woman publicly defends rape? No, of course it isn't. It's sad.
Sad, because women who apologize for rape and defend convicted rapists are captive to these ideas and constructs. Of course I'm not saying Brock Turner is literally imprisoning his female defenders. But the fact that one (and judging from the internet many) of his defenders is female is even more tragic, because it shows the world one more woman--a young woman--who has bought into the fallacy that a woman is asking for rape, and a man is entitled to give it to her.
Therefore, she is prepared to blame a woman for what is objectively a man's crime, and give the perpetrator a pass. The entire house of cards depends on women like Leslie who are willing--consciously or not--to cannibalize other women in this way, in public, for the whole world to see and nod along.
Because when even women are going around saying "rape isn't really rape"--even a rape where the victim is unconscious behind a dumpster and the perpetrator is interrupted mid-attack, chased down, and physically restrained--certainly men can say the same thing.
Maybe it's too late for Leslie, but I'm the mother of a daughter and a son. And all I can do is hope that neither one of them ends up on the giving or receiving end of a letter like Leslie's.
Leslie Rasmussen, Right; Photo: Steven King