Quick hit: Laurie Penny on confronting structural violence

Laurie Penny has a cracker of a piece in the New Statesman today, in which she takes apart the notion that prosecuting high profile rapists is somehow “persecution” of men who simply didn’t know what they were doing is wrong. She’s writing mostly about Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall in the UK, but the lesson applies anywhere:

For many, many generations, women and children were told: don’t let yourself get raped, and if you do, for god’s sake don’t whinge about it. Don’t act like a slut. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t ever assume for a second that you have the same right as a man to exist in public or private space without fear of assault and humiliation. That message is slowly, finally, starting to change, so that instead, we’re telling men and boys: do not rape. Do not grope, assault, bully or hurt women, children or anyone over whom you have temporary power. Doing so will no longer increase your social status. If you do it anyway, you will find yourself publicly shamed and possibly up on criminal charges. This is the age of the internet, and nobody forgets.

Confronting structural violence is intensely painful. It’s like squeezing out an enormous splinter you hadn’t realised was there. The pain comes, in large part, from the understanding that you yourself might be implicated by virtue of easy ignorance; that you yourself might have stood by while evil went on; that people you know and trust and respect might very well have done terrible things simply because they thought they were allowed to. Questioning the morality of slave-owning was, until comparatively recently in human history, a minority position. It would be crass and simplistic to equate rape culture with slavery even if there weren’t complex historical links between the two. There is one important similarity, however, and that’s in the reaction when dominant, oppressive cultures finally wake up to the idea that evil on an immense scale has been taking place right in front of them.

Sometimes that reaction is shocked disbelief, frantic apology, self-blame; more often it is angry, even violent. There is no rage, after all, quite like the desperate rage of those who refuse to acknowledge their own bigotry.

This is going to hurt, I’m afraid. An enormous, panic-inducing cultural change is underway, and before it is over, more men and boys will be accused of and prosecuted for rape and assault. We will see more beloved cultural icons contaminated by revelations past transgressions, more young men who thought it was alright to taking advantage of their female friends slapped with convictions that will follow them around forever.

You should read the whole thing.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Is it possible to oppose rape culture and ignorance without hating ignorant people raised by rape culture?

    Reconstruction wasn’t about hating former slavers, was it?

    • Posted May 10, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      So which are the ignorant actions, as opposed to the ones that society to some degree tacitly taught them they were entitled to and could get away with? What is the line between hating what someone did, and hating them… and who gets to decide which is appropriate? (I frankly would find it pretty offensive for… well, pretty much anyone to a rape survivor that they were obligated not to hate their rapist. That is their call and only their call to make, and for someone else to try to usurp that authority is just icky.)

      As it happens, I think there are social errors of consent that really do come out of ignorance – but I think we’re only barely developing the language to talk about them, now. The crimes we’re talking about? Don’t strike me as crimes of ignorance. Well, okay, I’ll grant that ignorance was probably part of the mix – but you could take all the ignorance out, and you’d still have a crime at the end, I think.

  2. Posted May 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    And don’t forget to read the Feministing Five interview we did with her! http://feministing.com/2012/10/06/the-feministing-five-laurie-penny/

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