The Fem Spot

Why blame the victim?

Posted in Feminist Theory, Personal Essays by femspotter on May 21, 2011

May 21, 2011

Ahh…Saturday! No work. No church. It’s a day reserved for thinking about ourselves, our daughter and our dogs. Just because the world is ending today, doesn’t mean we have to pout. (There really is a need for a sarcasm font.)

I had an epiphany about blaming rape victims for their rapes today…at the dog park of all places. Let’s see…

We decided to take our dogs to the nice dog park in the nice town, and then swing by the nice grocery store on our way home. It should have been a pleasant family outing. And it was…until a 50-lb dog attacked and bit our 14-lb Tootie.

Our Charlotte (60-lb pit bull mix) and Tootie (Boston terrier) love the park. They’re leash-less there, and they frolic. They bark at but don’t aggress other dogs, except for the occasional stare-down between Charlotte and an alpha female. We don’t tolerate that at all and remove Charlotte immediately from quarrelsome groups. Tootie has never had a problem getting along with other dogs of any size.

Sometimes, dog parks are divided: a pen for “small” dogs apart from the larger area for “big” dogs. But – as Tootie and Charlotte are generally inseparable elsewhere – at the park, they want to play together. Tootie doesn’t know what to make of small dogs and doesn’t play with them. In fact, I’ve never thought of her as a “small” dog…like chihauhaus or Yorkshire terriers or toy poodles. She cavorts with Charlotte and her equals regularly. In fact, Boston terriers can often be found with big dogs because they have “big dog” attitude.

I observed a woman with an aggressive 100-lb dog telling other dog owners to “watch out” for her dog as he has a tendency “to harm other dogs when he plays.” WTF? Why bring him here? I thought as I eyed Charlotte to make sure she kept a wide berth. And there was also an anxious man with a leashed “boxer” (red flag there: leashed dog in a fenced in area – why?) bragging about how his dog was a rescued animal and how he’d spent thousands of dollars on vet bills to get the dog in tip-top shape. Periodically, he would turn to the dog and say, “Oh no, you can’t come off the leash yet. You’re too excited.”

When he did finally release his dog, it made a beeline for Tootie, 30 yards away. As she always does, she turned and faced the dog and told it what to do with that aggressive stance…but she was soon overpowered and it grabbed her by the throat and swung her around as if she were a squirrel or a rabbit. She screamed. I screamed. Ellie, my 9 month-old, screamed. I will never forget the sound of Tootie scared and screaming. As tough as she is, there was no way she could have saved herself.

My husband restrained Charlotte in anticipation of her intent to rescue her best friend, and several dogs ran into the fray responding to the frightened cry of a lesser creature, as instinct would dictate. After seconds that seemed like minutes, the attack dog’s owner nervously commanded his dog to cease. He reached for his dog as J*** reached for the Toot and the squabble was over just as abruptly as it had begun. When I lifted Tootie, she was shaken and nursing a large gash above her left shoulder.

What do you do in this situation: a dog bites yours at the park? Do you call police? Animal control? Do you just swear at the other dog’s owner until you’re blue in the face? When you’re shaken and angry, door number three seems like the best option. So, I shouted, “Why the fuck is your dog in here?! Get that dog out of here! Your dog just bit my dog! Why did you bring that animal to a public dog park?!”

The man didn’t look at me. He didn’t speak. He leashed his dog again and wandered back to his former perch, a bench under a shady oak.

Meanwhile, a crowd of people with rubber necks had gathered beside me. Several people asked me kindly about Tootie’s condition. But the woman with the aggressive-as-advertised dog muzzled her dog and then shamed me for bringing my “small” dog into the big dog side of the park because “there are several herding dogs present who will attack small animals.” “She told me that her dog is mean to other dogs,” a girl with three pit bulls reassured me. “I don’t know who brings a mean dog to the park!”

But meanie’s owner wasn’t the only one shaking her head at me. What a sight I must have been: furious, crying, holding my daughter in one arm and my Boston terrier, bleeding, in another; with a swarm of finger-waggers circling me. “We all knew this would happen.” “There’s a small dog side for a reason.” “You really brought this on yourself.”

My mind raced and my eyes found their way to a 20-lb French bulldog on our side of the fence. Is there really a difference between that dog and my dog, who usually plays with big dogs too?  

Meanie and its owner left. She was probably afraid that we were going to call the proper authority and, knowing that she was in violation of the signs that read “No Aggressive Dogs Allowed,” removed herself from controversy before it could stretch to include her. And with no understanding of what else to do, J*** and I took Tootie to the animal hospital…but not before the attacker’s owner snuck through the fence beside me and threw a snotty “sorry” over his shoulder at me. There was no way to punish him for his failure to restrain his dog and no way to force him to pay our impending $165 vet bill. There wasn’t even any way to learn who he is or where he lives. He vanished, leaving the victim to be responsible for the violence.

Okay, we’re talking dog violence here, not human violence. I understand the difference. For one thing, Tootie will bear a physical scar forever; but she forgot about the attack moments after it occurred. She’s not emotionally scarred the way a human would be after, say, a tiger attack. There were things I could have – should have – done differently today. I should not have brought my “small” dog into the big dog park, even though we’d never had a problem with a vicious dog before. There are signs posted. I put Tootie in the position of being the woman with the shortest skirt at a frat party, didn’t I? For whether men rape instinctively (as dogs attack) or after mental calculation; they often make the argument that the rape is justifiable because the victim “showed too much skin” or “flirted with me at the bar” or “dressed older than her age,” etc. “She was asking for it!” And that’s just what they told me at the park!

I’ve often written that I plan to encourage my daughter to make the safest choices she can in life; but this is problematic when it comes to rape because there really is no way to prevent rape if you’re a victim of it. Night joggers, for instance, should wear reflectors. A car driver who can’t see a jogger in the dark can cause an accident by striking the jogger. The key word there is: A.C.C.I.D.E.N.T.  That accident could have been prevented by reflectors, perhaps. But it’s not really an accident if the driver of the car is drunk, is it? Even if you didn’t have complete control of your faculties when you decided to drive, you did when you decided to drink. You therefore inflicted violence on another person by extension of your choice, and the fault of the tragedy is yours, whether the jogger was doing the “safe thing” and wearing reflectors or not.

Rape works like that. Whether a rape victim wore a short skirt or ski pants, she becomes a victim when a perpetrator makes a choice to rape her, to perform sexual violence upon her. And whether or not I put Tootie in a dog park or walk her up the block wearing a leash, a violent dog owned by a negligent, ignorant or irresponsible owner might be at liberty to attack her when its owner makes a negligent, ignorant or irresponsible choice. A victim never has a choice about becoming a victim, even if they’re doing “safe” things. Anyone can become a victim of violence at any time. (This stance doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon my intent to advise Ellie to reduce her risk.)

Why do we blame victims for crimes done to them, without their consent and often without their knowledge? I think there are two reasons. For one thing, we like to bend the rules out of our inherent sense of entitlement, believing that we’re special and therefore above them. So, if we own moderately aggressive dogs, or suspect that our un-vetted dog might be vicious…we might visit the dog park a little here or there, increasing the length of our stays or the frequency of our visits over time as we observe no consequences for our breach of edict. But when something goes wrong – as it did today – and somebody gets hurt, we don’t want to believe that we could have been to blame, so we instead blame the victim; even though the perp could have been a perp under any other different set of circumstances. Isn’t it easier to blame someone else than to examine our own culpability?

For another thing, if it’s possible to identify with the victim, we don’t want to believe that such violence could ever happen to us…so we convince ourselves that our own risk reduction will keep us safe from harm. It’s more comfortable to believe that Tootie would have been safe if she had been in the “safe” park for small dogs, than it is to believe that she could just as easily have been bitten by a vicious dog on that side of the fence too. And fences can be breached just like rules, no?

The United States collective stance on war embodies these two human tendencies. We glorify the violence of soldiers because we’re convinced of our own entitlement to enforcing global democracy, or freedom from terror, etc. But what we’re really fighting for is a need for crude oil masquerading as a “global concern.” And when we think of the the victims of the wars we wage, including the innocent who cannot defend themselves from our weapons of destruction, we sleep better knowing that they were “asking for it” by virtue of their geography. “It could never happen to us,” we say. “We’re the good guys.”  

At the end of the day, it’s a violent perpetrator who is unsafe; not a dark alley or a bar or a dog park. Those are spaces. We choose how to fill them.

While some of the dog park visitors might be sitting around their Chippendale-inspired dining tables tonight, congratulating themselves on being “above” dog park violence, I’m trying to learn a lesson from this very unpleasant situation. Lesson learned (and compounded by our veterinarian): dog parks are risky environments because dog “play” is often unpredictable. But the biggest lesson to be learned on this and every other day is the lesson we all hate the most, because, let’s face it: it applies to all of us. Life’s not fair. Today, it wasn’t fair to Tootie and me and Ellie and Charlotte and J***, who just wanted to have a pleasant afternoon at the park. And it certainly wasn’t fair (according to the National Organization for Women) to the 600 or so women who were raped, today – or any given day – in the U.S.

Can you fit 600 women wearing short skirts into the small dog side of the park?

The case of the glued penis…huh?

Posted in Feminist Theory, Marriage, Sexuality by femspotter on September 11, 2009

September 11, 2009

I’m probably not supposed to laugh about this, but upon doing my usual news perusal this morning, I came across something that set me to giggling:

Women face trial for staged motel tryst ending with glued penis

How can you avoid investigating that headline further?

At first, I was expecting some ridiculous scandal involving a bachelorette party and a “pin the penis on the naked man” game. Perhaps things got a little out of control and the girls ended up streaking the motel parking lot with paper penises glued to their foreheads, thought I. It could – and probably has – happen(ed).

Well, sadly, this is not a case of girls gone wild for fun. This is girls gone wild for revenge. This is the kind of story that would make for a great, albeit dark, comedy movie like Heathers, Jawbreaker or Death Becomes Her. In the case of each of those films, women – young and old – do deadly deeds in pursuit of something it seems most women covet: the right to call oneself “most beautiful” or “most popular.” In the case of the glued penis – that kind of sounds like a good book: Nancy Drew and the Case of the Glued Penis – four women pursued the right to call one of them “most likely to grow old with the world’s biggest loser husband.” How’s that for a superlative?

It seems that they don’t get much reality television in Wisconsin. Four apparently bored women including the wife of the “victim” concocted a scheme to trap a man who was sleeping with three of them indiscreetly. No, this is not the pilot episode plot summary for The Real Housewives of Calumet County.

Therese Ziemann claims that she met the man on Craigslist – I knew it was good for something – and fell in love with him. She allegedly payed for their hotel rooms and lent him $3,000.

Ziemann claims to have been contacted on the day before the assault by the man’s wife who confirmed that she was married to the man and was mother to his children; and that it was subsequent to that conversation that Ziemann, the wife, another girlfriend of the cheating husband, and Ziemann’s sister agreed to ambush the man at a Stockbridge motel and make him confess his treachery.

The man told police that he met with Ziemann for a sexual encounter at the motel, and she suggested that she tie him up and rub him down. She used bed sheets to restrain him and blindfolded him with a pillowcase. Then, according to the “victim,” she cut off his underwear with scissors and texted her accomplices telling them that he was tied up.

The four women asked the man questions about where his true affections lie. Then Ziemann slapped him and used Krazy Glue to attach his penis to his stomach, according to her testimony. The women took his wallet, car and cell phone and left him at the motel tied up. He then chewed through his restraints and called police.

My favorite line of the CNN article is: “CNN does not name victims of alleged sexual assault and will not name the alleged victim’s wife since they use the same last name.”

Why do I love this line? Because CNN is taking this man’s status as a victim very seriously – his identity is known. I put the word “victim” in quotation marks: this man made a series of deliberate choices (some illegal) that resulted in his uncomfortable apprehension. He’s not a victim like, say, children who find their genitals cut off in sadistic “circumcision” rituals in Africa et al. He’s not a victim like the Micheal Vick pit bulls who were riled up and used for sport. Nor, is he like the small rabbits and kittens that are used to bait such fighting dogs. And he certainly isn’t a victim like the millions of women and children who are beaten by abusive men in the United States and other countries around the world. No. Additionally, he did not find himself shot dead by George Sodini in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania or Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech. He did not find himself lying dead at the base of the fallen World Trade Center towers eight years ago today.

Can men be victims? Sure. And women have been known to beat their husbands and their children too. But, this man is not the poster child for penile rights! According to the article, this man “has a criminal record in Wisconsin dating back to 1998, (and) is in custody on unrelated charges of child abuse, theft and harassment.”

While CNN references its policy about not revealing the names of “victims” of “sexual assault,” I wonder at what point does this “victim” become the villain? At what point do his wife and his two unsuspecting girlfriends become “victims” of his treachery? At what point do his children become victims of his child abuse, the robbed victims of his theft, and the harassed victims of his harassment? As far as I can tell, this man is not a “victim” at all: he just got a little taste of his own medicine.

Now don’t go thinking that I am trivializing what must have been agonizing sexual assault for this man… No, you’re right, I am. Sexual assault in the form a Krazy Glued penis neither alarms nor horrifies me. Had they cut it off, then we’d have a serious crime on our hands.

The Witches of Stockbridge?

The Witches of Stockbridge?

Which brings us to the victims…eh perpetrators…of this incident: the women. At left is the image that CNN posted with its article. I assume these are the mug shots of Michelle Belliveau, Wendy Sewell and Ziemann (from left to right). That would make the woman on the right the man’s lover, loan shark and penis gluer. She doesn’t look too remorseful. Neither does her sister – who wasn’t sleeping with the man – on the far left. In fact, Belliveau looks rather pleased with herself. And the third cheated woman (Sewell in the center) just looks pissed off.

On the one hand, I want to say, “Good for them! They found a sisterhood and stood up for love and trust between sexual partners.” But on the other hand, I wonder what’s more pathetic: the fact that these women fell in love with and were duped by such a loser or the fact that they will stand trial and may go to prison for it?

Either way, I want to wear a t-shirt that reads “Release the Witches of Stockbridge.” For, even though they may have been tricked, they tricked back. In my book, “witch,” which is a term that has been applied to many women over the years including our esteemed – and often loathed – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is a great thing to be: it means you’re smart, angry and perhaps a bit tricky! (I’m sure I would have been hanged from a scaffold in Salem, 1692.) At what point do women cease to be victims?  When they rise up alone or together and fight back.

This really isn’t a case of men versus women where one or the other are bad guys or good guys simply because of their sex. This is a case of a group of people getting angry at a person for lying to them, stealing from them, neglecting them, etc. And this is a case of that group making a united stance saying, “We are not going to take it anymore!” For all intents and purposes, it’s the same thing when men and women of employment unions stand together and fight the good fight for better pay and working conditions. In this case, a group of people has also stood up for better treatment from “the man.”

I wouldn’t be singing their praises if they had really hurt this man. He didn’t physically damage any one of them irrevocably. But if people learn of this story, as with the case of the cut off Bobbitt penis, there might be a few men here or there who think twice before lying, cheating and stealing. And that’s a step forward for the happiness of heterosexual women, right?

If women heed the same warning, isn’t that a step forward for humanity as a collective?

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