I’m not interested in wading into the debate over Chrissie Hynde, but I’ll dip my toe in enough to say that the approach to rape prevention expressed by Katie Russell makes me think of the abstinence-only approach to sex ed. The absolutist approach actually results in more problems (pregnancy and STDs on one side, rape on the other) because proponents refuse to accept the reality of the situation they face (kids like sex / women are vulnerable to rape).
This reader uses an analogy:
A rape and the situation that led to it are two different things. A woman can take some responsibility for what led up to it while laying blame for the rape at the rapist’s feet.
Say you’re driving without a seat belt and someone hits you, ejecting you from the car. If you were belted, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt as bad, or maybe at all. It’s the accident your fault? No, of course not. Could you have foreseen trouble and done something to minimize it beforehand? Absolutely.
That analogy only goes so far, but I think it’s the gist of what people are saying.
Another reader rolls out more analogies:
I have the responsibility of cleaning the snow off of my sidewalk after a blizzard. I am not to blame for it snowing. I have the responsibility for locking my doors and carrying insurance. I am not to blame if I am robbed or my house burns down (unless I set it ablaze myself).
There is a difference between taking responsibility and accepting blame. All people have the responsibility to take reasonable measures to protect themselves, but they are not to blame if they are assaulted or raped. Until people recognize that difference, then there will be tragedies that could have been prevented, if only some people taken precautions.
An excellent and tragic point from this next reader:
I can assure you rape victims rarely feel free of culpability, even when they’ve checked off all the boxes of “things to do or avoid in order to prevent getting raped.” We can speak in generalities about what women should or shouldn’t do, but that by definition puts the onus on the victim versus the perpetrator, which is a difficult argument to hold together.
Sophie has a thought provoking piece on the controversy surrounding Chrissie Hynde—the lead singer of the Pretenders—and her comments regarding a sexual assault she experienced four decades ago. Sophie isolates an interesting irony among Hynde’s critics:
[T]here’s no denying that speaking publicly, as Hynde has done, about how women can be to blame for being sexually assaulted if they’re dressed provocatively is both wrongheaded and extraordinarily damaging to many victims of rape. But Hynde’s choice of words—comparing the outraged responses to her comments to a “lynch mob”—seems to demonstrate that she feels more victimized by the flood of comments and messages and thinkpieces and news hits responding to her story than she does by actually being assaulted in the first place.
Which raises the question: Is attacking Hynde for blaming herself (and yes, by association, blaming others) ultimately productive and worth the cost of revictimizing her? Or is the impulse to shame her and others like her sometimes more about self-gratification than advocacy?
Sophie continues with an incisive indictment of Twitter as a means of expression. Meanwhile, a few readers take on the highly-charged topic of rape prevention:
Chrissie Hynde is refusing to be a helpless victim. There’s a fine line between taking responsibility for what one can take responsibility for, and blaming the victim or letting bad people off the hook … but I believe she is properly walking that line. Chrissie is what a genuinely empowered woman looks like.
Shit happens, for sure. The difference between the empowered person and the victim is that the former refuses to see him/herself as a helpless object. In this instance, Chrissie is deciding to focus on herself and what part she played in the instance, and not merely saying that someone did X to helpless, innocent little her. She is a better, stronger person for her attitude.
And I’m not blaming the rape victim here. I’m applauding how she responded to her rape, by HER deciding to take back some level of control by taking some level responsibility for the obvious mistakes in judgement she made. It’s a hugely self-actualized thing to do.
At UCLA where I work, every year a dean warns young women not to get drunk out of their minds at frat parties or Spring Break, because the stats show that they raise their chances of being raped astronomically. And each year the dean (a female) gets slandered as anti-woman and a rape apologist by the kids who are angry at the fact that humans can be very ugly and that life is unfair.
Another reader has a similar stance on the dangers of college life:
In a perfect world, female students would be able to drink as heavily as they would like with no risk of sexual assault, and no amount of drinking makes them deserve to be raped. In this world, though, alcohol is the most common date rape drug. It shouldn’t be considered impossible to tell students that while a woman incapacitated by drinking is in no way to blame for her rape, she still should be aware that controlling her level of intoxication is a vital part of protecting herself.
Rapists exist and will continue to exist for some time. It’s clear to any sane person that a rapist is completely to blame for a rape. We are right to disagree with the Hyndes of the world when they seek to remove blame from the correct targets and heap it on those who suffer from their actions. But taking that to an extreme—where we ignore realities and withhold advice that could help women—isn’t positive either. We need to find a balance between the two.
All this makes me think of a quote from an article I read recently regarding a rape drug detection device in the form of nail polish that would test drinks for contamination on-the-spot:
“Whilst Undercover Color’s initiative is well meaning, on the whole,” [Katie Russell from Rape Crisis England & Wales] said, “Rape Crisis does not endorse or promote such a product or anything similar. This is for three reasons: it implies that it’s the woman’s fault and assumes responsibility on her behalf, and detracts from the real issues that arise from sexual violence.”
“For us, we work with victims to make them realise that they did nothing wrong,” she added. “Among primary cases, some do ask if they could have done anything to stop it. Products like this suggest otherwise. The emphasis must be placed 100% on the perpetrator.”
That organization isn’t suggesting the devices wouldn’t work for the intended purpose; they are literally saying that they would rather these tools did not exist because they imply even to the slightest degree that a woman might take an active role in protecting herself. They would discourage women from using them—and perhaps allow actual rapes to happen that could have been prevented—in order to protect the sanctity of this idea.
A controversial video of Catholic students clashing with American Indians appeared to tell a simple truth. A second video called that story into question. But neither shows what truly happened.
In a short, viral videoshared widely since Friday, Catholic high-school students visiting Washington, D.C., from Kentucky for the March for Life appeared to confront, and mock, American Indians who had participated in the Indigenous Peoples March, taking place the same day.
By Saturday, the video had been condensed into a single image: One of the students, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, smiles before an Omaha tribal elder, a confrontation viewers took as an act of aggression by a group of white youths against an indigenous community—and by extension, people of color more broadly. Online, reaction was swift and certain, with legislators, news outlets, and ordinary people denouncing the students and their actions as brazenly racist.
Next time there’s a viral story, I’ll wait for more facts to emerge.
Like many people who spend too much time on Twitter, I watched with indignation Saturday morning as stories began appearing about a confrontation near the Lincoln Memorial between students from Covington Catholic High School and American Indians from the Indigenous Peoples March. The story felt personal to me; I live a few miles from the high school, and my son attends a nearby all-boys Catholic high school. I texted him right away, ready with a lesson on what the students had done wrong.
“They were menacing a man much older than them,” I told him, “and chanting ‘Build the wall!’ And this smirking kid blocked his path and wouldn’t let him leave.” The short video, the subject of at least two-thirds of my Twitter feed on Saturday, made me cringe, and the smirking kid in particular got to me: His smugness, radiating from under that red MAGA hat, was everything I wanted my teenagers not to be.
Home to vibrantly colored, tiny creatures, the ecosystems floating on the ocean’s surface remain all but unknown.
Imagine you’re on a small boat in the middle of the open ocean, surrounded by what looks like a raft of plastic. Now flip the whole world upside down. You remain comfortably attached to your seat—the abyss towers above you, and all around, stretching up from the water’s surface, is an electric-blue meadow of life. What you thought was plastic is actually a living island. This meadow is made up of a diverse collection of animals. The most abundant are blue buttons and by-the-wind sailors, with bright-blue bodies that dot the sky like suns, and deep-purple snails found in patches so dense one scientist described collecting more than 1,000 in 20 minutes.
This is the neuston, a whole ecosystem living at the ocean’s surface. I once stumbled upon a raft of neuston when a storm blew it ashore in California. Many neustonic animals are vibrant highlighter colors, and the sand was saturated in bright blues and pale pinks. Together, these small creatures may function like upside-down coral reefs: an oasis of shelter and life far out to sea. As far back as the Cold War era, scientists were describing these colorful and important ecosystems, yet they still remain all but unknown. But now, as efforts to clean the ocean of plastic start up, our ignorance is putting this ecosystem at risk.
From West Virginia to Los Angeles, educators are ushering in a new era of labor activism.
In Los Angeles, more than 30,000 teachers remain on strike; it took union and city officials more than a week to eke out a tentative agreement that, they announced Tuesday morning, will likely bring them back to their classrooms this week. Last Friday, teachers from a handful of public schools in Oakland, California, staged a one-day walkout, too, and they’re planning for another demonstration this Wednesday. Meanwhile, a citywide strike is brewing a few states over in Denver, as could soon be the case in Virginia, where teachers are gearing up for a one-day rally in Richmond later this month. An educator uprising is even percolating in Chicago, where the collective-bargaining process is just getting started: “We intend to bargain hard,” the teachers’ union’s president told the Chicago Tribune last week.
Insights into the little-studied realm of last words
Mort Felix liked to say that his name, when read as two Latin words, meant “happy death.” When he was sick with the flu, he used to jokingly remind his wife, Susan, that he wanted Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” played at his deathbed. But when his life’s end arrived at the age of 77, he lay in his study in his Berkeley, California, home, his body besieged by cancer and his consciousness cradled in morphine, uninterested in music and refusing food as he dwindled away over three weeks in 2012. “Enough,” he told Susan. “Thank you, and I love you, and enough.” When she came downstairs the next morning, she found Felix dead.
During those three weeks, Felix had talked. He was a clinical psychologist who had also spent a lifetime writing poetry, and though his end-of-life speech often didn’t make sense, it seemed to draw from his attention to language. “There’s so much so in sorrow,” he said at one point. “Let me down from here,” he said at another. “I’ve lost my modality.” To the surprise of his family members, the lifelong atheist also began hallucinating angels and complaining about the crowded room—even though no one was there.
The 2020 candidate is pitching herself as the one who can actually put together a winning coalition of voters, a goal Democrats have obsessed over since their shocker loss in 2016.
Kamala Harris is a half-Jamaican, half-Indian woman from Oakland, California, the daughter of two UC Berkeley grad students. She went to high school in Montreal. She married a wealthy, white, Jewish lawyer later in life, and didn’t have kids of her own. When she’s not in Washington, she splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Her first name is Sanskrit and gets mispronounced all the time. She was being mentioned as a front-runner presidential candidate before she’d even headed over to her Senate victory party, all of two years and two months ago.
She is not, by biographical measures, representative of what most would see as the typical American experience. But Harris launched her presidential campaign Monday with a challenge to the rest of the field that—as she put it to me at the press conference she held in the afternoon in the lobby of the Interdisciplinary Research Building at her alma mater, Howard University—candidates who want to win have to speak to “the complexities of each of our lives, and pay equal attention to their needs.”
I am familiar with the ambiguities of video evidence—for example, through this piece I wrote from Israel more than 15 years ago, “Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura,” about the battle over the meaning of an inflammatory video there; or these two separate Twitter threads, first here then here, in the past few days from James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor for America magazine, about the meanings of the multiple videos from the confrontation on the National Mall this past weekend.
I now believe that the “meaning” or “truth” of this recent encounter is likely to remain as contested as anything in the al-Dura case. The more additional evidence comes in, the more clearly it is taken to “prove” one interpretation of the case, or its opposite. “You must not have seen the full videos” is meant to be a conclusory statement, either way.
The internet once made it easier to slip from one domain to another. Is there a way to preserve that vital freedom?
Has the internet afforded humans more freedom, or less?
That’s a question I’m pondering anew thanks to the University of Michigan philosophy professor Elizabeth Anderson, who provoked the thought while being interviewed by Nathan Heller for a recent profile in The New Yorker.
After Europe’s religious wars, Anderson mused, as centuries of conflicts between Catholics and Protestants gave way to a liberal, live-and-let-live order that tolerated freedom of religion, something remarkable happened:
People now have the freedom to have crosscutting identities in different domains. At church, I’m one thing. At work, I’m something else. I’m something else at home or with my friends. The ability not to have an identity that one carries from sphere to sphere but, rather, to be able to slip in and adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate while retaining one’s identities in other domains? That is what it is to be free.
Roma and The Favourite tied for the most nods in a year when a clear Best Picture front-runner never quite emerged.
Roma and The Favourite led the Oscar nominations with 10 apiece as the Academy Awards unfurled their shortlist Tuesday morning, with Best Picture recognition for A Star Is Born, BlacKkKlansman, Green Book, Black Panther, Vice, and Bohemian Rhapsody. Some surprising snubs abounded in a race that never quite settled on an obvious front-runner: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) and Peter Farrelly (Green Book) missed out on crucial Best Director nods, and stars such as Emily Blunt, Timothée Chalamet, and Ethan Hawke were overlooked in the expected acting categories. But there were multiple industry milestones, including Roma becoming the first Netflix film to get a Best Picture nomination and Black Panther becoming the first comic-book movie to do so.