She Wore a Slinky Red Thing
Publish Date: 2006-04-10
This op-ed was pitched as being a weekly take on medicine in pop culture. I figured it would give me a chance to rant, rave, and giggle about some of my favorite subjects: House, Grey’s Anatomy, the Law and Order franchises, whatever came to mind and seemed interesting.
It was an opportunity for me to gain experience producing a weekly column before leaving the University for other pastures.
It still is.
But this week I’m going to deviate just a bit from my course, and I’m going to talk about the news rather than popular culture, and I’m going to talk about something other than medicine.
I’m going to talk about sexual assault.
If you haven’t been hiding under a rock (or buried in your textbooks), you’ve heard about the Duke University lacrosse team and the accusations of rape.
For those of you under that proverbial rock, Google is your friend. In a nutshell, the lacrosse team hired two black strippers to entertain them and their guests at a party.
The accounts of what happened next vary. One stripper claims she was dragged into a bathroom, held down by three white men and brutally raped, sodomized and strangled for 30 minutes. The team denies it.
Durham police are investigating this as a case of rape, kidnapping and a hate crime, searching the house and demanding DNA from the white players.
Protestors and the media have latched on to the hate-crime aspect of the case, focusing on the deep racial and class divide that exists between Duke and its surrounding community.
And in all the noise, the fact that someone was raped is being lost, and I don’t think this is unintentional.
We don’t like to have rape be personal. We want the victims to be hidden behind blue dots. If anyone talks about it to a paper, this one included, they opt for pseudonyms.
Is this any surprise, when we live in a society where politicians talk about “simple rape”?
I don’t control the media, and I certainly don’t control what others do. But I do control the timing of what I write, and that this is published at the start of the University of Washington’s Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Awareness (SARVA) week is not a coincidence.
Go talk to the folks running this event, and while you’re there don’t think about numbers. Don’t think about 1 in 3, 1 in 4, 1 in 5.
Numbers are anonymous and impersonal. They don’t have faces or feelings.
Think instead about your favorite singers, professors, your sister or brother or mother, your best friend.
Think about someone you care about, and whether you want them being accused of deserving it because they dared to wear that slinky red thing.
Because they’ve had sex before; because if they’re not a Madonna, they must be a whore.
Stigma, the classic book by Erving Goffman, talks about how the stigmatized convey themselves with those who are not, have not, been stigmatized. How the stigmatized are shunned, shut out, made anonymous and encouraged to adopt what he calls an “air of good adjustment.”
“The unfairness and pain of having to carry a stigma will never be presented to” those who are not stigmatized themselves; and they “will not have to admit to themselves how limited their tactfulness and tolerance is.”
Those who view themselves as “normal,” Goffman argues, “can remain relatively uncontaminated by intimate contact with the stigmatized.”
And in writing this article, I have perpetuated the very thing that I rant against. I have kept anonymous, because I know that by admitting I was raped as a teenager means that every single person I know will look at me a little differently from now on.
But over the years, as I’ve seen cases come up again and again, I’ve begun to realize that the veil of anonymity society offers rape victims is not a shelter; it’s not a protection. It’s a way of removing the violence we don’t want to see, we don’t want to admit to.
The anonymity reinforces the stigma, and the only way that’s going to stop is if we remove the faceless numbers. If we stand up and say, “It was me.”
It was me.