Friday, 30 January 2015

God’s Monsters. 30.01.15



“Nothing worse than a monster who thinks he's right with God.” Firefly.


A few days ago, I got talking to a US acquaintance about a landmark, or possibly landmine, case in the Italian Supreme Court. The infamous case involved a previously convicted rapist – a 40+ year old driving instructor accused by his 18-year-old student – having his sentence overturned. The judge determined that it could not possibly have been a rape as the victim was wearing jeans:


Partly wanting to provide some context for the case, and partly because I could not remember some of the details, I did a bit of research. This is what I came up with:



“In Italy, the Rocco Code (promulgated in 1930) classified the crimes of rape and incest, respectively, as “crimes against public morality and decency” and “crimes against family morality”. Sexual violence, in other words, was not considered an offence against the person, but against general public morality"

So technically, if there were no witnesses (e.g., victim unconscious, in a coma, you name it), one could have tried to argue that there was no crime because nobody's moral sensibilities had been affected. (Please note I've never heard of anyone trying to use this defence, but it was a possibility. It was far easier to discredit the morality of the victim, which happened routinely.)

"The Code also contained a specific article (Article 544, which was repealed only in 1981) allowing a “shotgun wedding” whereby a man accused of rape, even of a minor, could wipe out the offence by marrying the victim." (the highlight is mine)

This article was allegedly designed to protect participants in consensual elopement or "fuitina", which was very common in the South for young kids wanting to get married against the families' wishes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuitina

Unintended consequences being the order of the day, what the article also did was protect men who kidnapped and raped women or girls from being prosecuted, provided that they consented to a "matrimonio riparatore"- "rehabilitating marriage". The rehabilitation was that of the victim, whose honour had been destroyed by having sex outside of marriage, regardless of whether it was consensual or not.

Please note the weddings were also not always consensual. Not only were the victims forced to choose between getting married or becoming social pariahs, but some were threatened with repercussions against themselves and their families. Furthermore, unlike many other European countries, Italy also didn't have much in the way of welfare provisions for unwed mothers (abortion didn't become legal until '78 and it's not precisely approved of by the Catholic Church). Add it all together, and essentially by raping somebody you could also sensibly expect to be able to force her to marry you, which could have made for a somewhat unpleasant family life - but hey, no problem, because until '56, a husband had the legal right to "educate and correct" his wife and children by beating them if necessary; until '75, there was no legal parity between husband and wife, the husband being able to make all legal decisions including those regarding property; and although divorce didn't become legal til '70 and even then could take a long time, until '81 you could state "offence against honour" to get a reduced sentence in case the little woman played you up too much and you found yourself needing to bump her off.

Here's a landmark case on the "fuitina" issue:

In 1981, the law was changed so that the "matrimonio riparatore" wouldn't protect an abductor/rapist from being charged. But it was not until '96, after two decades of debates, that the criminal code was updated to class sexual violence as a crime against the person. It also specifically included not only physical violence, but threats of violence and abuse of authority as means to a rape. The '97 jeans verdict, stating that the victim "could not have fought with all her might" because "it is common knowledge" that jeans are impossible to remove without the wearer's assistance, not only shat on the new legislation from a great height, but also goes some way towards explaining why the changes in the law took so long.


It then took until 2006 for the Supreme Court to pass a sentence that undid the damage of the '97 sentence.

The first article mentioned above includes a documentary about a rape trial in '78 (four men in their 40s against an 18-yr-old woman), unfortunately without subtitles. The woman had been asked to go to one of the men's house for a job interview, and was then gang-raped. The men first admitted the charges when they were arrested, then they retracted their statements claiming that the young lady was a prostitute and they'd refused to pay her as her services had been unsatisfactory, then offered £2million lira during the trial to "pay for damages" and end it there.

The video is just fabulous as it starts with one of the rapists' mother going off along the lines of "I wouldn't give a toss if it didn't involve my son", "it's not as if he killed her, all he did was have a little fun", how it's victim's fault because "she was aware that he is married with a child so why did she go with him", and when asked by the interviewer why that doesn't make it worse on his part "all husbands do this, even your husband, it's not as if he'd tell you". And then there is a chorus of harpies going "all the men do it, it's women these days who are disgusting".

In the actual trial, one of the lawyers comes out with "Signori miei, una violenza carnale con fellatio può essere interrotta con un morsetto. L'atto è incompatibile con l'ipotesi di una violenza." "Sirs, an act of sexual violence including fellatio can be interrupted with a little bite. The act is incompatible with the hypothesis of a violent act." Bear in mind this was in a 4 against 1 situation. The victim’s mother also had to testify, answering questions along the line of “if her daughter was not a prostitute, why did she spend time with men who hadn’t been introduced to her mother?”

. . . 

I must admit – I had forgotten. I had forgotten how much it could truly suck to be a blossoming young girl in Italy in the ‘80s, knowing that if anyone ever did anything to you, the first question on everyone’s lips was most likely to be “What were you wearing?” I am not saying that every person in Italy back then was a victim-blamer, but there was definitely an undercurrent of screwed-up beliefs in some sort of universal karmic righteousness involving sexual crimes.

It went like this: good girls don’t have sex outside of marriage; so if you act like a good girl, sex won’t come near you; so if sex happens to/at you, you must have done something that was not good to call it upon you. Were you dressed too provocatively? Were you out too late? Did you behave inappropriately? You must have behaved inappropriately, somehow, otherwise you would have been protected by the intrinsic sanctity of your goodness. If you hadn’t been somehow sexual, sex, this mythical beast, would have never noticed you.

Horseshit. Dangerous horseshit too, and not only because it protected attackers from prosecution, and truly added insult to injury to those victims who tried to prosecute their attackers. The corollary was that even predators were safe as long as you were a good and righteous girl. If you were good and righteous, they couldn’t possibly be attracted to you, right? You then ended up with utter absurdities such as my own mother, a member of the school board, stopping a paedophilic teacher from being investigated at my school: “It could ruin the man’s career!” And of course, we wouldn’t want to ruin a paedophile’s career in education, would we? I was 11 at the time. He taught my class. He forced us girls to sit on his lap while he was reviewing our homework – and I do mean “lap”, not “knee”, and there was an unnecessary degree of squirming and panting involved. But nothing bad could have happened to us, could it, because we were good girls, and good girls can’t get molested.

I’d forgotten so much. I’d forgotten how it felt to walk into a police station at 15, having just managed to fend off a catcaller-turned-stalker-turned-attacker who managed to ambush me just outside where I lived. The first police station actually turned me away, because “they didn’t deal with this sort of crime”. They told me I had to get down to another station, at the opposite end of town. They didn’t offer to take me there, or to call the relevant officers over, or get an ambulance or a doctor or my mum: they just pointed me in the general direction of the other station and left me to my own devices. When I got to the right station, they did listen, but they didn’t even attempt to conceal their puzzlement. Had he managed to do anything? No, I’d managed to remove a large proportion of his eyelids with my nails and he’d run off. So what did I want from the police, why was I there, when nothing had happened?

He hadn’t managed to do anything, hence nothing had happened: the attempt didn’t count. They were actually nice policemen, because they didn’t kick up any fuss when I screamed at the top of my lungs: “well, I’ll let him fucking rape me next time, so you can do something!” which is really not the done thing. They also listened to my concerns about future safety, how the guy had obviously been following me and now knew where I lived, how I could not move and had to keep going to school and was concerned about future, better planned attacks. I weighed about 90lbs back then. I was not precisely a prime candidate for successful self-defence against the average male. So they kindly agreed to meet me where the guy usually hung out with his little catcalling buddies to have an informal chat with him, which was all they could do. Alas, or thankfully, we never saw him again.

I have forgotten too much. I left Italy as soon as I was legally able and have lived in a WASP environment for so long that this stuff seems like an ancient and surreal dream. I have conversations with WASPs about how victim-blaming is not half as prevalent as the neo-fem screeching would led us to believe, and I agree: in this time, in this place, I don’t know a single person who would even consider blaming a victim. Apart from a defence lawyer, that is. Or the rapist’s mother. Oh, and my mum too, because I just know that she would come out with something like “the poor girl…. But what was she doing?”

My mum is an old lady, though, a relic of an unfortunate past. That sort of attitude went out with the ark, though, didn't it? You wish. One of the links that came out of my brief search was the report of a recent assault – three Italian guys against a Polish woman. They’d offered her a ride home from a club, and instead had taken her to an isolated spot and gang raped her. The report was pretty neutral, not so the bulk of the comments: “why would she had gotten in a car with three strange men if she hadn’t wanted to have sex?” to “men, why can’t you control your urges?”  The ratio of the above attitudes was 3:1; I counted.

And there’s the rub: the people who made the first lot of comments do not believe they are blaming a victim. They believe that there is no victim, because there is no crime, because it can’t be a rape if a woman willingly gets into a car with some strange men and sex happens, because why would a woman do that if she wasn’t “up for it”? And, what’s worse, they feel just as self-righteous about their position on the issue, because it’s perfectly in line with their cultural mores. Good women do not do certain things; hence, if you do that thing, you are not a good woman; hence you can’t be raped. The end.

I’d forgotten all this shit. I’d successfully managed to forget that this point of view is not only held, but held in high esteem, held as righteous and borderline holy not only in societies I’m only mildly embarrassed to classify as “backwards” (how very ethnocentric of me, but still, just look at them!), but by people with whom I would routinely bang elbows if I hadn’t gotten the hell out of Dodge as soon as I was able. People who dress like me, who have received a modern education like me, who read the papers I read, use the internet, and may travel or move abroad as I have done. People I might meet on the street tomorrow, while I’m out alone at night,” like only a prostitute would be”.

This realisation made me rethink my opinion on the “teach men not to rape” approach to rape eradication. I’ve long thought that it’s frankly bullshit: I don’t know ANY persons, male or female, who haven’t been taught by their parents what’s right or wrong, particularly regarding sex. Everyone I know, at a certain age, got The Talk. Most people, even men, do not want to be rapists any more than they’d want to be raped: we have a huge social taboo against this sort of thing. We don’t want to be That Person. As for those who aren’t affected by that, such as psychopaths and sociopaths, teaching them not to rape will not do a damn thing: they know it’s horrible and wrong, which is why they like it. So you’re either teaching people who already know, or those who know and don’t give a toss – and you can see the results in the statistics, which hardly show a decrease in rapes. Quod erat demonstrandum, ipso facto, cogito ergo sum, Amen.

Horseshit. And dangerous horseshit, too.

The fact is, though we like to forget it, that our society is hardly homogeneous. Amongst us we harbour plenty of people who share beliefs and mores that are completely unlike ours. We might class them as backwards, or “politically incorrect”, or just plain fucking despicable, but to them they are as sacrosanct as our beliefs and mores are to us.

There are plenty of people, men and women, born and raised in cultures or subcultures that support the beliefs of my countrymen on that web page. To them, a woman who behaves inappropriately cannot be raped, because if she wasn’t “up for it” she wouldn’t behave thusly. They firmly, honest-to-God believe that, believe it as a firm and unquestionable truth, just as I believe in the opposite. And the fact that their idea of “inappropriate” doesn’t tally with hers or mine is entirely beside the point. 

So, hell yeah, we need to teach – we need to teach people, not just men, what we, as a society, believe classifies as a rape. We need to make it pretty damn clear, because the concept of rape is far from universal. We need to keep teaching it, to shout it from the rooftops, because we are constantly assimilating people from cultures that hold entirely different mores. And we also need to expect it not to work at all, because it will fall largely on deaf ears.

That’s the thing with cultural mores: whoever holds them sees them as perfectly and obviously right and holy. Of course they are, because they are what DEFINES right and holy. By “teaching men not to rape”, what we are in fact doing is demanding that some people abandon their mores and replace them with ours. We are effectively carrying out an act of cultural assimilation, bordering on the cultural annihilation. Personally, I believe it to be the right thing to do – of course I do, because it supports my mores!


However, I also believe it to be unlikely to work in the short term.  We can’t just expect people to throw their beliefs out the window because ours are righter than theirs.  However, we can bang on that particular drum and enforce consequences long enough that their kids, or their kids’ kids, might come to see things our way.  In the meanwhile, though, we still have to share the planet with people whose standards of behaviour are entirely like our own.  To elect not to warn young women of that fact “because it’s not fair” or “it shouldn’t be like that!” is to send them unaware and unprotected into a dangerous world.  We need to teach men not to rape, but until everyone’s learnt the theory lesson we ought to be ready to reinforce it with a bit of practical application, such as removing a large portion of their eyelids with our nails.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Apropos of nothing. 28.01.15

The most amazing thing that ever happened to me to date was Nick Cave stopping to take my picture. I was thankfully rendered speechless by amazement, because the only words that came to mind were "You are YOU!", which, well, were better left unsaid.

Nick Cave is not one of my heroes; he's far too dark and dangerous for that. He often takes things so far that he scares me, probably because I find those extremes incredibly alluring. He's one of my favourite geniuses, though, a true artiste and, I suspect, one of the most alive people in the world. Twice, at major crossroads in my life, his music has caused me to choose utterly unwholesome intensity and joy over balance and bliss.  So far, I'm thankful to him, though time (or it running out on me, intensity often having a cost) might change that.

He didn't stop to take my picture, strictly speaking. I was working in circus, standing by the exit just before the end of the show, wearing a red-and-gold uniform which was dazzling on some people but made me look like a trained monkey, and holding a basket full of spinning lights.  I suspect it was the lights that attracted him.  Hell, I don't know if he could even see my face behind the lights in the gloom of the bigtop.  Nonetheless, he bloody stopped right in front of me, leveled his camera at my face, took a photo, and then promptly walked away.

Once I regained the power of speech, all I could say was "Nick Cave took my picture!"  on repeat. Problem was, nobody there knew who Nick Cave is. Having exhausted all possible people on the show, I ended up ringing my non-circus friends just so I could share the experience. It wasn't just fangurling, though there certainly was an element of that. The world had been turned upside down. Me taking Nick Cave's picture = normality.  Nick Cave taking my picture = you've fallen down a rabbit hole, Alice dear.

That's the thing, though: I had found that glorious rabbit hole all by myself, and bravely/stupidly went right down it. I'd put myself in that circus, in that uniform and behind that basket. I took all the steps that led me to that time and place. Had I not followed my bliss, had I not cheerfully chosen the road less travelled, not only I would have missed on a cubic fuckton of fun and not-so-epic adventure, but I wouldn't have experienced that nearly-glorious moment. Everyday magic is out there, but you've got to put yourself in its path.

So was Nick's action a sign, a reward, the universe wanting to prove to me that I'd done the right thing? I seriously doubt it. If it was anything more than a coincidence, it was a reminder of the fact that the man's a person and does what people do. It was cool, though, and sometimes that's all that matters.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Indoctrinating for tolerance? 25.01.15

"Nothing worse than a monster who thinks he's right with God."

Firefly

[Before you start yelling at me and calling me all sort of politically and/or anatomically inaccurate things, please note that theoretically I'm about as left wing as one could be without falling off the edge of the political table. I'm not attacking an enemy, rather identifying what I believe is a serious problem in my own camp.]

More often than not these days when I listen or read from self-labelled "liberal thinkers", I'm seeing a lot of attitudes along the line of "we just need to teach them the right way to think". "Them" means, of course, those who do not agree with the liberal ideas du jour. The undercurrent seem to be that if only those poor benighted idiots understood how entirely immoral and just plain WRONG their position is, they would immediately change their mind and come over to our way of thinking. 

The fact that our position feels so moral to us because it supports our cultural mores, beliefs, etc, and their feels so immoral because it goes against them seems to have been forgotten. We're obviously right and they're obviously wrong, so if we explain to them our position and they don't take it up they're either unteachable morons or deliberately evil. So we try to re-educate them first, but if that doesn't work we obviously need to control/restrict them or hit them on the head with sticks until they go away.

We seem to be forgetting two key things: that Right and Wrong are far from universal, and that by demanding that people abandon their mores and beliefs what we are trying to do is at the very least indoctrination, at its worst essentially a form of cultural annihilation. Of course, we couldn't possibly be doing that because we're uber-tolerant. It can't be cultural annihilation when WE try to impose our mores on others, can it? 

I don't know if this is in a way inevitable in a subculture that prides itself on complete tolerance - an in-built and inevitable paradoxical consequence of people wanting to reach an extreme. We can see the same problem with fully pacifist ideals. In a fully pacifist society a single violent person could wreak untold havoc, because nobody would be there to stop them. The only way we could create a fully pacifist society is if absolutely everyone agreed to be a pacifist; hence the only way to achieve that society would be to indoctrinate, lock up forever or plain destroy anyone who refuses to be a pacifist, which ain't precisely a pacifist thing to do. Internationally, any attacking enemy would prevail, because nobody would be there to fight back; so if we want to survive we have to choose between turning them to our way of thinking or annihilating them.

Ursula Le Guin wrote about the internal paradox of a fully anarchist society in "The Dispossessed" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dispossessed). For the anarchic ideal to survive, the society needs to develop internal means of repression. At the end, it seems that individuals are only free as long as the follow "the party line", even though there officially is no party. The moment they try to exercise their freedom, they find themselves punished for it.

In a society aspiring to complete tolerance, we lack the means to manage those who think so radically differently from us that they would undermine the whole system; so we've got to indoctrinate them, disappear them or destroy them for the system to survive. We've lost the middle ground of just going "dude, you're pushing it too far", because that would be intolerant of us. We can't judge, so we can't negotiate. At the same time we also can't compromise on tolerance, cos that's accepting some intolerance, and any intolerance is wrong wrong wrong... So we have to be fully intolerant of intolerance, and a kind of madness lies that way.