Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gail Kerr's Impossible Standard

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 5:30 AM

In her column, "Vanderbilt sex assault cases raise tough questions," Gail Kerr makes a point that I would hate to see become conventional wisdom for how we know if rape victims are telling the truth:

Vanderbilt spokeswoman Beth Fortune said the school had not received a copy of the complaint, but “we take the concerns of our students very seriously.” A side note: Fortune is a well-respected member of the community who is active politically and a champion of women’s rights. There is no way on this planet she would work for a university that condoned violence against women.

This is wrong. It's wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to start. It's wrong to set up a dichotomy where, on the one hand, we have women saying that they've not been treated right by Vanderbilt, and on the other hand, well, Beth Fortune wouldn't work for Vanderbilt if it was doing what those women say Vanderbilt is doing. No one's employment at an institution should be taken as an endorsement of every thing that goes on at that institution.

More than that, though, this can't be the standard to which we hold women — that we consider disbelieving women, because, if they were telling the truth, other women would sacrifice their jobs and financial security to stand in solidarity with them. It's not victim blaming, but it sets a test so high what victim could pass it? We only take you seriously if some other woman — someone I just picked at random because I know her name and who is tangentially connected to you — is willing to tank her career.

So, now, coming forward isn't enough. Coming forward and identifying yourself isn't enough. Coming forward, identifying yourself, and trying to reform a system you've had problems with isn't enough. Coming forward, identifying yourself, trying to change the things that sucked for you, and then seeking legal recourse when that doesn't work isn't enough. Now, in order to be believed, you have to do all that and some well-known and well-respected woman known for her work on women's issues has to be willing to sacrifice herself for you and then you can be taken seriously?

Who isn't this unfair to? The women who've been sexually assaulted and the women who might, at any minute, be called on to quit their jobs so that the women who've been sexually assaulted can be taken seriously.

And then, where should these human sacrifices work? Is there a list of places in town that don't, on occasion, fall down on women's issues? Is that list longer than ten employers? If women have to wait around for workplaces to get their acts together on women's issues before women can work there, lest our presence be taken as confirmation that all is well, then very few women are going to be able to work.

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