The Problem Is Not With #IBelieveHer: In Defence Of Radical Belief

The Enliven Project - The Saddest Graph You'll See All Day
The Enliven Project – The Saddest Graph You’ll See All Day

In the past few days, there have been some articles which question how valid and valuable the response of #IBelieveHer is when victims of rape and abuse speak up: and whilst we must think seriously and reflectively about our approach to the all too common problem of rape and abuse, there is a difference between reflective analysis and reflexive reaction.

In Sarah Ditum’s article in New Statesman the reflexive reaction focussed on issues around a recent Rolling Stone article, and the actor Shia LaBeouf, who recently disclosed about the attack he suffered during a performance piece in Los Angeles earlier this year.

I don’t entirely disagree with Sarah Ditum in Sabrina Rubin Erdley’s article: the poor standard of journalism in this case does not negate the validity of a victim’s disclosure; we know well enough that the shock and trauma to both the mind a body of someone who has been raped or abused mean that tropes about the ‘perfect victim’ are myths which are damaging and dangerous.

And yet having illustrated this, Sarah Ditum then resorts to using these very tropes to dismiss LaBeouf’s own disclosure (TW):

“..it is very hard to know what LaBeouf is asking us to believe. Rape, generally understood as forcible penetration with a penis or other object (not least under English law), could not have taken place in this instance, and LaBeouf does not specify what did happen[emphasis mine]

When we say on the one hand that the myths and tropes about how a victim reacts to rape are wrong, that there is not ‘perfect’ victim, and when we know that makes it harder for victims to come forward (never mind be believed), we cannot then shift the goal posts and say those tropes are suddenly acceptable simply because a victim does not fit our understanding of who the victim is. Here is the weakness of white western feminist theory to rape: Ditum see’s power imbalance strictly in terms of gender binary, and fails to grasp the nuance in this entirely individual situation, where LaBeouf’s power as a man is temporarily surrendered because he had voluntarily renounced it for the sake of the performance he was committed to.

That very lack of nuance in Ditum’s analysis is the reason why black and coloured women, cis and transgender, find it even harder to be believed, despite being more likely to be the victims of rape than white cis-gendered women.

Power is not binary: such general understandings of rape do not help us to dismantle the very power structures against with Ditum rails. What she refers to as ‘excessive belief’ is in fact radical belief: rape culture is supported by patriarchy, but patriarchy is not just a blanket subordination of women as a class, however easy it is to generalise is that way.

Racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, trans-misogyny, along side misogyny and sexism – all contribute towards ways in which humans group together and oppress other groups, and all these things act to support the rape culture.  Radical, victim-centred belief should not be the end of the that discussion, but #IBelieveHer is better understood at the start of that conversation when we don’t misunderstand the need for it. Labelling it as ‘excessive’ simply allows those who are least likely to believed to remain least likely to believed, to dismiss those already struggling to survive. Labelling it as ‘excessive’ means only ever partially dismantling rape culture for the sake of a tiny, white, cis gender minority.

I will continue to believe anyone at all who has the courage to stand up and say ‘I was raped’ because I want to see an end to rape culture. Radical belief is not the problem.

Patriarchy is.

 

 

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To Hear is to Acknowledge, To Listen is to Love

I remember very clearly the day my sister – my Pineapple Head  – admit to me that she knew she was an addict. It had been at least 10 years since I had known and realised that the morphine she had been prescribed had gone beyond it’s remit to relieve pain and had become an all consuming obsession; 10 years of walking that razor sharp line between hopefully-not-enabling and wanting-to-take-all-the-pain-away. I remember that I hugged her, and told that it was brave of her to recognise it and say it aloud.

And then she looked at me, her eyes filling up with anger, and a kind of shocking, gaping grief. She told me that she had tried to tell our Mum, and it had gone badly. “How can I tell anything else now?”

I really didn’t know what to say, because I knew what she meant by ‘anything else.’ Her secret identity , which she would never admit to anyone else. Pineapple Head longed to be listened to. She ached for it, she desired it almost as much as she desired the drugs – and she could talk the hind legs off a donkey. But though she could talk endlessly, she would avoid saying what she longed to say, because she was terrified that ‘it’ would happen again.

For Pineapple Head, the experience of others hearing her and then shutting down and turning against her, or re-writing what she had said, or ignoring what had been said was a far too common experience. Mostly she wasn’t heard. And if she was heard, she rarely experienced anyone truly listening. People spoke about her – or at least, the person they needed to construct in their minds in order to ‘cope’ with her. Each time it happened, I watched a little bit more of my sister become erased, a little bit more of who she was subsumed into other peoples expectations, another piece of her exchanged for someone else’s idea of who they thought she ought to be. And fear became a more constant, clingy and needful companion.

All through that, and in the years that followed I learnt this – it is not enough to be heard; and I began to understand something else – it is damaging to speak about that of which you know nothing and choose to know less.

A little while ago I was at a 3 day assessment thing (kind of an extended interview for vocational training with the Church Army) with several other people, and one of them particularly made an impression on me, because of the way he listened.  It was active listening in a way that was physical as much as it was spiritual and emotional – he seemed to listen with his whole body. It was remarkable. It wasn’t creepy at all, in fact he was incredibly respectful – it was just that when you spoke to him, he beheld you with his ears as much as with his mind.

It did not surprise me to learn that he was a highly respected pastoral worker in his community and a very effective evangelist: he did not just acknowledge people, acknowledge where they were in their lives – he genuinely respected people enough to listen to them, to their stories. It was a powerful demonstration of beholding through listening, and of his Christian faith.

The importance, the power, the respect and the love carried in the act of listening was evidenced on my twitter time line again today. Mid way through the afternoon Dianna Anderson – who blogs over at Faith and Feminism – tweeted out a ‘donotlink’ to an article in Christianity Today (CT):

 

@dianneanderson: So did CT/Ms. Becker here actually speak to any trans* people in researching this article or…?