It is fascinating the way patriarchy puts extraordinary value on particular aspects of our social identities while denying or devaluing others. For example, in this day and age there is still a strong residual notion that virginity is something valuable, innocent, pure. In general parlance, virginity is something that is “taken”, not given, despite mutual consent. When it comes to rape trials, if a woman was not a virgin at the time of the “alleged” rape, then her sexuality and sexual experiences are on trial too. This is really interesting, given that a rapist’s previous convictions (a matter of public record) are not allowed to be brought up in a court case so as not to prejudice the jury, and yet, the private record of a woman’s sexual experiences are a matter to be investigated and examined by Judge, Jury and the general public.
I would argue that because our social world is defined by a distinctly patriarchal morality; often internalised as being objective and rational or “common sense”, Judges, prosecutors, legal defendants and most members of a jury will have an inherent bias towards placing the innocent until proven guilty privilege on the male defendant, rather than the applicant in court proceedings for sexual abuse.
Furthermore, if a married woman is raped by a stranger, particularly if she is pretty and “feminine” then the crime of rape is perceived as being more heinous than the rape of sexually active single woman. Why is this so? Could it be that a married woman’s sexuality belongs to her husband, while a single woman’s sexuality might belong to herself or any Tom, Dick or Harriet? In Australia, we had a case of a beautiful, newly married Irish national who was raped and murdered in 2012. The public outcry and pouring of emotion was overwhelming. Time and time again we saw CCTV footage of her tottering in her high heels as she was followed and approached by the man who raped and murdered her. Eerily, by viewing the footage it is almost as if the viewer is seeing her through the eyes of the rapist/murderer. The media and public just could not get enough of these few seconds of footage of the last known minutes of her life to satisfy their prurient interest. As a woman I found this repeated airing of the footage creepy, almost like a snuff movie with the key scene understood as off-camera action; as though we are meant to be a bit turned on by this woman’s vulnerability and beauty as we follow her last steps through the neutral eye of the CCTV camera and the patriarchal gaze of the television cameras that repeated the footage on the news.
At this time, according to the ABS 490,400 women in Australia were victims of physical violence, largely by their partners or husbands, also 47,100 woman have experienced physical and sexual violence. During the 12 months prior to the survey 7% of women experienced an incident of violence. Although small in percentage terms, this corresponds to a sizeable number of women, 490,400 (table S3.1). Women were more likely to experience physical violence than sexual violence (6% compared with 2%). However, 47,100 women had experienced physical and sexual violence on separate occasions. Women were nearly four times more likely to experience violence by a man than by a woman. 22% of women who experienced violence (109,100) reported incidents by more than one perpetrator in the previous 12 months.
And yet, it was this one case that captured the prurient imagination and moral indignation of the media and public. I suspect this had a lot to do with that creepy footage as much as the fact she was a pretty, white, middle-class married woman who worked for the national broadcasting corporation. There was also endless footage of her distraught husband’s grief that another man had raped and killed his wife as he slept. The press rarely publish stories on the actual statistics of violence against women…they prefer images from CCTV footage of individuals, and, if the woman is attractive- i.e. she has the “fuckability” factor that commercial TV executives laud for women on air then her individual story becomes sensational, in the public interest.
The man convicted of the rape and killing of Jill Meagher, Adrian Bayley, claimed to have been physically abused by his father and to have been sexually abused by a relative when only 6-years-old. Malamuth’s research found that men with the highest potential to commit rape have developmental backgrounds that blur the moral boundaries. In other words, they have problems with ethical decision-making and making appropriate choices in their social world. http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/comm/malamuth/pdf/81Jsi37.pdf
Bayley is uneducated, rough, blue-collar class and distinctly lacking in social capital. There is no doubt he is a violent misogynist. His early childhood background is no excuse for his murderous, raping proclivities, but it does go some way to explaining the blurring of his moral boundaries, his rage. Patriarchy failed him too as a little child, the symbolic nature of rape would suggest he wanted to feel powerful, dominant and enact his rage against his feelings of powerlessness in a society that values male privilege over children’s innocence.
Why am I bringing up an old news rape/murder case? Because something stinks about the elevation of patriarchal values when it comes to judging certain women and children, and, their placement in the ranking of our social hierarchy. A pretty MARRIED woman has more value than the nameless hundreds of single women, children and sex workers who are sexually assaulted and killed every day. What links these apparently different cases is the differential demarcations of patriarchal power. As we have seen in the Woody Allen case or the Catholic Church or Jimmy Saville (just to name a few) children have very little power to stop abuse and their mothers often have very little power to protect them. When they speak out they are not believed. If the alleged abuser is a man with social capital, then the argument is usually that the claims are a malicious and spiteful attempt to ruin the accused’s reputation. Yes, that’s right folks, these children and their mothers are trying to rape a man’s reputation.
Why? Because here is one value that is pre-eminent over all others in a patriarchal society and its moral framework and that is a man’s REPUTATION. You may challenge all kinds of inequities and injustices but if you challenge a man’s reputation you better make sure you can win. Back in the days when Adrian Bayley was a little child there would have been little protection or recourse to justice because children were simply not believed even if they dared to say what had occurred to them. The same is true for Dylan Farrow’s social context back when she was seven years old. Her mother asked her if what she said was true because her father had vehemently denied it. Luckily for her, her mother accepted her story and supported her and still does today. The way her case was handled by the medical and legal profession simply would not happen today, now that there is more awareness of the impact of child sexual abuse and the handling of abuse allegations. For those who struggle to accept that children very, very RARELY lie about sexual abuse, here’s a fact sheet: http://childabusesolutions.com/page_07.html
We have slowly evolved to place slightly less value on the concept of virginity in patriarchal societies but when it comes to a man’s REPUTATION it’s more precious, more innocent, more morally superior and virtuous than virtually any other social value in the dominant patriarchal moral hierarchy that governs the way we see the world. In the case of Woody Allen, embedded in the discourse constellating around the debate about the veracity of Dylan and her mother’s claims is a pro conservative marriage discourse: Step-children are not really one’s own children, legal de-facto relationships are not really a proper partnership, adopted children don’t have the same status as biological children.
This is a morally dangerous position to internalise and judge from, because it makes it even more difficult for mothers to protect their children. So what if Woody fucked his defacto step-daughter Soon-Yi? She’s not of his blood, she was of legal age and thus, by extension so what if any step-father molests his partner’s legal aged child? So what if Soon Yi lost the only mother, siblings she had? She’s got a rich, white, neurotic, privileged, ephebophiliac MAN with a A+ listed reputation and now a nomination for an award, no less. In the case of Bayley what chance would he have stood against his father, or the man who raped him? When it comes down to it, we all know who and what is valued in our society and if push comes to shove, woman and children will nearly always be the losers if a man’s REPUTATION is at stake. If he is a rich, white, privileged, man of authority his reputation will always get the benefit of the doubt in the eyes of the law and public opinion as viewed through the lens of patriarchal morality.
It’s time to question the value we put on a man’s reputation and the privilege it accords him just as we have questioned the value placed on female virginity; or there will be many more Adrian Bayleys on the streets and in gaols, and, more creepy old privileged white men getting awards and accolades on the stage and screen. If we don’t critically reflect on why a man’s reputation is like a mantle of protection we are all fucked when it comes to protecting children and women from sexual abuse and validating their experience as human beings.