Friday, December 7, 2012

Is It Sexual Assault?

This train of thought came upon me when watching one of those famous TYT Supreme Court moments that I've blogged about before. This video involves the so-called "Alabama Teabagger", and while from that title I thought I was going to get a few laughs at the Tea Party's expense, what I actually saw was just kind of gross.

As usual, the person that I disagree with the most in this case is Jayar, whom as usual is the one that, in my opinion, has the most unreasonable perspective. I could rant on and on about how much I hate the argument that he makes, the close cousin to the "well I was beat up at school and turned out alright, therefore I think that bullying should not be addressed because it builds character!" argument. However this is not about that. This is about a question that I immediately asked myself even before Ana brought it up: if it was a woman, would I have a different opinion as to how harshly he should be punished?

I appreciate the point that Cenk makes, that context matters and that it would be different if it was sexual in nature. If the guy did it to get off it's blatant sexual assault, whether he's doing it to a woman or a man. However I think it is pretty clear in the video that the act was intended as a prank, one which would humiliate the victim. However, even so, even if there was the exact same stupid-college-prank intent behind it, a part of me still feels like it's worse if the victim is a woman. Why is that? Is this another possible deep core of sexism hidden within me?

I realized that my feelings stemmed from the reaction that I imagined the victim, upon seeing that video, would have. When you see a burly college guy passed out at a football game getting pranked, you imagine that when he wakes up and discovers what happened he would be enormously pissed, and either beat up the prankster or devise an extremely elaborate and equally humiliating counter-prank. When you see the same thing happening to a woman, you imagine her being extremely humiliated, possibly depressed, possibly not having the guts to face her classmates for some time afterwards. Some of this is unfair stereotyping, some of it is from the cultural double-standard we have regarding men and women and embarrassing sexual-related things happening to them, but most of it is the imbalance of power. When you humiliate your peer it's a prank, when you humiliate someone who is weaker than you it is bullying. The fact that imagining the same thing happening to a young man that was weaker and picked on by the football team gave me the same gut reaction that imagining it happening to a woman did confirmed that this was the source of my double standard. 

Therefore the question becomes: is it fair to assume that a woman has less power? Is it fair to automatically jump to the conclusion that she would not be able to take it the same way and defend herself in the same way that another man could?

I think the answer is yes and no.

I know for a fact that there are women out there who would immediately try to devise the most complicated and terrifyingly humiliating counterprank imaginable. I know that there are women that would not be afraid to find that guy and kick the crap out of him in front of his friends, accomplishing both tasks. However, I do think that the football, frat-like and overall college culture would not be expecting that reaction, and I think that is the point.

Except for very special circumstances in which some girls may have been accepted into certain groups as "one of the guys", I think that the reaction that the "prankster" would expect from the woman would be the first that I described. All of a sudden, the prank moves away from being humiliating-but-harmless-fun into the realm of actively trying to make that person miserable. I think that a man who would do that would be trying to provoke that reaction from a woman, even if he does wind up getting a good kick in the balls for his troubles. That's where I think that the intent would be significantly different, and where it would not necessarily apply solely to women. 

It's not that women necessarily have less power than men in this circumstance, it's that more likely than not the man would be doing this because he expects her to have less power and not be able to defend herself.

This is why there are trials for this sort of thing, and why it shouldn't be a one-size-fits-all sentence. I think that, regardless of the victim being a man or a woman, if the person doing it has the intent that I last described, I could accept two years. If, on the other hand it was meant as simply a very stupid prank towards a peer, it's way way over the top.

In this case I have no idea where the victim stood in this regard. For all I know the prank could have been payback for something the passed-out person did previously. Because of this, I reserve judgement on the severity of the sentence in the absence of all the facts.

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