The degree to which news media luxuriate in the perpetuation of rape culture has long chapped the spinster hide, so it was with pleasure this morning that I read this ThinkProgress piece by Annie-Rose Strasser and Tara Culp-Ressler (to whom for the sake of brevity I will henceforth refer as ‘the authors’): “How Not To Publish Columns Justifying Rape: A Step-By-Step Guide For Editors.”
The authors note therein a few recent examples wherein national columnists “cater to rape culture and gloss over the gruesome reality of sexual assault.” Their prime culprit, “Miley Cyrus, Steubenville, and teen culture run amok” by WaPo’s Richard Cohen, masquerades as a wholesome, avuncular chappie’s views on the poor taste exhibited by today’s youth, but is in fact a boorish screed by an old white dude that essentially and nonsensically blames Miley Cyrus for the phenomenon of teen rape.
OK, come on. In your experience, how many old white dudes who bloviate on rape in mainstream media have the slightest idea what they’re talking about? Not Richard Cohen, that’s for sure. He seems to think it is of dire, material importance that the Steubenville attack did not involve “intercourse” (Well duh. No rape involves intercourse. Intercourse, unlike rape, is not an act of violence. What the astonishingly clueless Cohen appears so eager to convey is that the rapists used something other than their penises for penetration, which I guess makes them … what? Less guilty? Like, it wasn’t rape if they didn’t get off? Seriously?). He implies that this meaningless distinction, coupled with the notion that there were “only” two convictions, should soften the rabid reader’s view of the general severity of the case. And that’s just the beginning. Read the whole thing if you haven’t already; you’ll howl.
The authors go on to speculate — not entirely unfacetiously — that editors of such articles might not entirely grasp the antifeminist gist contained in this species of crapola. As a remedy they suggest four rules of thumb for determining whether an opinion piece (which, say, uses the Steubenville rape case to wag a gnarled claw at Miley-Cyrus-and-these-kids-today) is in fact part of the problem. Which — let’s face it — if it’s written by an old white dude so decent and proprietous and blissfully ignorant of popular culture that he can claim he had to Google “twerk”, it probably is.
Anyway, the seasoned patriarchy blamer will recognize all four items on Strasser and Culp-Ressler’s rape-apologist checklist, for they are ancient — as ancient as half-assed journalism itself.
Does [the piece] defend or sympathize with rapists?
Does it fault the victims, instead of those who committed a crime?
Does it downplay illegal actvity by using more casual terminology for rape?
Does it use rape as a hook in a ‘trend piece’ meant to draw sweeping conclusions about society’s moral depravity?
Like so many before it, Cohen’s column is 4 for 4! And for bonus jacknut points, he even asserts that it’s Miley Cyrus who is responsible for the modern woman’s debased status, rather than the incontinent, porn-sick audiences who fetishize femininity compliance and demand hypersexualized performances from women entertainers. And then, as his parting shot, he calls Cyrus “a twerk.” Oh snap!
And it’s not just the columnists. You cannot swing a cat video anywhere on the Internet without hitting an example of crappy rape reporting. That’s because a) rape is epidemic, b) police reporters tend to merely regurgitate the rape-apologist language often used in original police reports, and c) editors shy away from truly accurate representation because they deem it too graphic for the fine sensibilities of their gentle readers.
Here’s a compare-and-contrast:
The final paragraph of the Think Progress piece quotes Poynter on the subject of sugar-coating rape with watered-down, inaccurate, and blame-shifting terminology:
“[Journalists] say, for instance, that a young girl ‘performed an oral sex act,’ rather than, ‘He forced his genitals into her mouth.’”
Just this morning, immediately after reading the aforementioned Think Progress piece, I ran across a textbook case. It was an AP report documenting the September 10 arrest of a Dallas neighborhood watch volunteer who, sickeningly, turned out to be the Fair Park rapist:
“[A]ccording to Dallas police documents, he grabbed four women late at night and forced them to perform oral sex.” [cite]
Even though it employs the verb “forced” in connection with the rapist himself, the non-passive phraseology in Fair Park story still manages to turn the victims into guileful, complicit actors, contriving an inaccurate narrative that erases their experience by characterizing as a “performance” of “oral sex” what was actually a violent assault by a gun-wielding criminal.
In criminal jurisprudence, this victim-blaming standard applies only to rape. As Dahlia Lithwick suggested back in 2007, the victim of a mugging would never in a million years be described as merely giving his attacker a loan. Sex is a synonym for rape in our culture only because we maintain an official sex class — women — to provide receptacles for male hatred to penetrate.
In conclusion: Richard Cohen, if twerking bums you out, don’t blame the twerkers. Blame the patriarchy. If DudeNation didn’t clamor for it, buy it, reward it, celebrate it, and write about it incessantly, twerking would cease to exist overnight.