“Not that I’m blaming the victim, but…”

26 Nov

I’m listening to “Fraternities Under Fire” (http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201411260900) on KQED’s Forum right now, about the ongoing issue of sexual assaults at and related to college fraternities. An e-mailer who described women who get drunk at fraternity parties as “moronic,” just qualified her comment by noting that of course she isn’t blaming the victims (for being morons). And when host Michael Krasny noted that we have to acknowledge women’s “poor judgment” for going to fraternity parties in the first place, he also clarified that he of course isn’t blaming the victims (for their poor judgment).

And I just want to say that just because you say you don’t mean to do something doesn’t mean you’re not capable of or actually doing it. It’s the difference between intention and impact.

Quite simply, you are blaming the victims by singling out their judgment and their behavior in a rape scenario. I’m not arguing that there’s no poor or moronic judgment involved in fraternity parties. I’m saying: if raping someone isn’t “a demonstration of “poor judgment” (and arguably “moronic,” which is defined as lacking good judgment) then I don’t know what is. Yet Krasny and the e-mailer assigned these assessments specifically and only to the victims of rape. And then they shield their victim-blaming by proactively naming it, as if awareness is the same thing as action. As if claimed intention defines the impact we have.

In my mind, it’s like the joke about being able to say whatever nasty thing you have to say about someone, as long as you include the phrase “bless their heart.” In my work, it’s the equivalent of being able to perpetuate inequity and exclusion as long as you say, “of course, we value diversity.”

I just wonder, if we start with the impact we intend to have, maybe we don’t have to do so much prefacing of what we’re about to say or do. Because we can let our words and actions speak for themselves.

* For more on sexual assaults related to college fraternity culture, check out “The Dark Power of Fraternities” by Atlantic journalist Caitlin Flanagan, who was on the Forum panel this morning: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/02/the-dark-power-of-fraternities/357580/). And check out the Forum article, too. Flanagan makes an insightful, well-framed argument about the “moronic” women who go to frat parties.

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