Rolling Stone don’t believe in women
Poor Rolling Stone. You do your best, you try to shine a light on the Abhorrent Crime of Rape™, you listen to an alleged rape victim, you show all this patience and sensitivity and awareness and what does she go and do? She gives you an account which, according to a statement released by her alleged attackers, some of the details can’t be true! Therefore the WHOLE THING must have been a lie, right? Because it’s not as though men rape women and then deny having done it. It’s not as though rape victims can be telling the truth about rape while getting other details wrong. And, most importantly, it’s not as though a woman’s truth can sit alongside that of man, without either of them being awarded the great We Know What Really Happened badge of achievement. The default truth is male. The alternative to this cannot even be ambiguity or doubt; women must offer up, repeatedly and consistently, the perfect narrative or they may as well not speak at all.
To accuse someone of rape is not just courageous on a personal level; it is an enormous statement to make in a society in which women’s bodies simply aren’t considered their own. No wonder people react to rape accusations with such hostility and disbelief, and no wonder so many victims stay silent. As Rolling Stone’s response to the Phi Kappa Psi statement shows, women are allowed no room for error. Human beings make mistakes; women aren’t really human beings. We’re either passive victims or lying harpies. There’s never anything in between.
Following the publication of “A Rape on Campus”, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana could have made the decision to publish or link to the Phi Kappa Psi response without comment. For some reason he felt entitled to appoint himself great arbiter of The Truth:
In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.
Never trust a woman, huh? And, once again, one woman telling an imperfect rape story has made it harder for all the Real Victims™, right? Just goes to show where all this “trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after sexual assault” gets you. It’s a good job Dana now sees the error of his magazine’s ways.
It’s strange how all the men who rape – and all the men who think it’s okay to rape – never make us “regret” listening to men who may be falsely accused. To be falsely accused is considered an outrage; to be raped and then not to be believed? Well, that’s life. The pain women carry for the rest of their lives is considered a price worth paying for the illusion of neutrality that comes with male dominance. We pretend we are doing our best in a flawed world where rape “just happens” and can’t always be proven. What we’re actually doing is accepting that women are lesser people than men and that their bodies and their narratives are always subject to male approval. As the philosopher Jane Clare Jones writes, with rape “our culture still places women in the default position of consent”. We are the things men penetrate with impunity unless we can come up with a bright, shining, unassailable narrative that will persuade other men to turn on their own.
Most women I know have been the victim of some form of sexual assault. Few have ever secured a conviction against their assailant. When I was assaulted I knew it would never result in a trial. I was drunk, it was dark, he was a stranger and frankly, I was too scared to be memorising cars, number plates and physical features. I was not thinking “will I be credible?” but “will he hurt me more?” I didn’t make an active decision to call the police; the person on whose door I knocked, screaming, did so. I felt guilty that my story was so flawed. I may even have tried, in an effort to please, to fill in gaps that I couldn’t fill. I drew a sketch of my attacker’s car that probably looked nothing like it. At the police station I scanned through several books of mug shots; for all I know I saw his face again and didn’t realise (How could I not recognise him? Who knows, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember his face at all). Looking back, I may have made things worse for the next woman he attacked, for how could my attack be linked to hers if the details were contradictory? But “inaccuracies” aren’t lies. They’re the inevitable by-product of living in a world where reality is male. If, as a woman, you don’t produce a story – a good story, a watertight story, one that is powerful enough not just to sit alongside, but to override the dominant male Truth – then nothing you said or felt was ever real enough. The truth that is female experience isn’t ever enough; it’s just not plausible on its own.
A court of law cannot convict without sufficient evidence. I’m not bitter that someone I’d never have been able to identify “got away with it” (I’m bitter that he grew up in a society that made him think it was okay to do what he did in the first place). But Rolling Stone is not a court of law. It is a magazine. That as a magazine it could not even allow two conflicting narratives to co-exist – that it deemed it necessary to wade in and declare one person, the woman, a possible rape victim, untrustworthy – is an utter disgrace.Download this post as PDF? Click here