200 lashes

This whole story out of Saudi Arabia about a rape victim who was sentenced to 200 lashes for being out in public without a male escort (the original sentence of 90 lashes was raised when she appealed, because, of course, the message that it is not okay to protest this kind of horrifying treatment must be loud and clear) is raising outrage all over the place. I have little to add to the specifics, since it’s immediately apparent to anyone with half a brain what the problem with this is.

…or is it?

I was at an activist discussion group a few months ago–I can’t remember the exact topic of focus at this one–that drifted around in such a way that led me to offhandedly toss off a reference to the (biblical times) stoning of adulteresses. A guy who was present added “Or stone the rapist”. I didn’t know this guy well, but there was a defensiveness to his tone that suggested he was a ‘men’s rights’ type of guy, so I called him on it, saying “More likely, stone the rape victim”. He challenged me and I had to argue that not only does this literally happen in these kinds of situations, we also see it locally in a social sense, in the gauntlet of victim-blaming, the scouring and public airing of one’s sexual history, the silencing attempts that often go as far as death threats leveled against survivors who wish to press charges, the consolidation of community around the accused…

So I was basically arguing that rape victims face far more socially sanctioned punishment, sometimes from actual institutions of law and government, than rapists do. Which is true. His responses to my arguments proved that he wasn’t going to listen to what I was saying about the way victims are treated, and I ended up getting pretty upset. But given the context, I realized later that I missed the boat. I accepted his framing of the situation from the outset, his creation of a terrifying false equivalence–I said they once stoned adulteresses (I used the gendered term, and many are well aware that rape victims are often miscast with this term). He added that they also stoned rapists. As if there is any reason to talk about those two concepts within the same conversation–whether it’s okay or not okay to “stone” anybody is a debate I will legitimately have, but that’s a different discussion from whether or not it’s even remotely okay to punish female sexuality in all its forms of expression, up to and including whatever act by/characteristic of a rape victim that is being targeted as the cause of her assault–which often comes down to simply existing publicly outside of male control. I’m not capable of having a debate on that topic.

I have no idea what that guy would say about this story. I feel this weight knowing that this kind of thing really does happen, and people like that guy are all over the place denying, dismissing and allowing it over and over and over again, and I feel completely powerless to even begin to get at the kind of base assumptions that drive the attitude forward.

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