Undead Sexist Cliches: We need to be more nuanced about rape

That’s the view of Victoria Mitchell, writing in the Guardian about the Roman Polanski rape case and how it demonstrates “our terrible dread of nuance.”
For those who don’t know, Polanski is a film director (Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, The Pianist) who in the early seventies raped and sodomized Samantha Geimer, a thirteen-year-old model/actress. The rape took place after giving her wine, and a sleeping pill. Polanski now lives overseas because if he comes back to the US, his conviction kicks in and he goes to prison.
Mitchell warns us that we must not simplify it, but how much simpler can it get? Polanski got Geimer drunk, drugged and had sex with her, including anal sex. He was 43, she was 13, it was rape. QED.
According to Mitchell I am indeed simplifying it. Because Geimer has written a book about her story, and she says she was stupid to pose topless for Polanski alone, then accept the wine. And since she’s a smart, articulate woman, it would be patronizing for us to say she’s wrong about the situation. So there, nuance!
Plus Polanski is a brilliant artist (which he is), and a Holocaust survivor, and lost his wife to Charles Manson’s family (again, true, Sharon Tate was one of Manson’s victims)! And Mitchell is moved by his work, and she feels sympathy for his suffering, so that proves how complex the whole thing is. We don’t get it because “People have become desperate to reduce everything, including each other, to mindless categories of good and bad.”
Her point here is not totally worthless. People, myself included, do like to simplify an individual’s life into one homogenous mass: if he’s good, he’s a saint, if she’s bad she’s the devil incarnate. The fact that Polanski is a rapist doesn’t make his previous tragedies any less horrible.
The rape does, however, make them irrelevant. Thinking about the rape doesn’t require weighing Polanski’s entire life in the balance, all it requires is knowing that he committed rape. Geimer apparently feels she was foolish in not seeing the danger (a common reaction in rape victims) but that’s also irrelevant. She’s not saying she wanted it, or that it wasn’t rape. Whether she had poor judgment is irrelevant, even if it’s accurate: lots of 13-year-olds have poor judgment. That is not an excuse for anyone to commit rape.
Mitchell’s column shows, if anything, that we’re too nuanced about rape. Nothing she’s saying is new. That when you look at the girl’s behavior, well you can’t blame the man. That the man is a good guy, a respected member of the community, do you want to destroy his career and his life over something perfectly natural? It’s not like some “chaste woman” got raped. Those are the nuances rape victims have to deal with.
And here we have another example of nuance, a WaPo column using the case of a 49-year-old Montana teacher who slept with a 14-year-old student to argue that teacher/student sex shouldn’t be criminalized. After all, underage students sometimes flirt with their teachers, would you want to criminalize that? (As noted at the link, nobody is trying to) The teacher’s 30-day sentence was too harsh!
Of course, the judge in the case offered even more nuance: the girl was really older than 14, emotionally! And she was in control of the situation! He’s already suffered from all the publicity!
Again, this is not that nuanced. Forty-three-year-olds should not be having sex with 14 year olds. Particularly when they have the authority a teacher can have over their grades, detention, life. As Dahlia Lithwick puts it at the link, the fantasy of the young temptress seducing the helpless older man has been around a long time but “there aren’t supposed to be balancing tests in statutory rape cases.” For good reasons.
Nuance my ass.

4 Comments

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

4 responses to “Undead Sexist Cliches: We need to be more nuanced about rape

  1. Also, in the Polanski case, the victim–despite being thirteen, and drugged–said no. Repeatedly.

    Agreed. I’m not a fan of the more extreme applications of statutory rape laws–I shtupped a nineteen-year-old boyfriend when I was seventeen, which was illegal in the state I was in at the time–but in these cases? Pretty cut and dried.

    • frasersherman

      I agree, when you’ve got 17/19 (or whatever) and everyone’s consenting, that’s another story.
      The same respect-their-agency article has been made for Catholic priestly abuse—a bunch of naive, sheltered priests seduced by horny youngsters desperate for a loving father figure. Should have mentioned that bullshit in the main post.

  2. Pingback: New And column out– | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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