Response to Father Fitzgerald Interview
This editorial is not an indictment against Father Fitzgerald or this institution. Instead, it strives to refer to patriarchal hegemonic discourses concerning the sexual assault implied in his interview that are also reproduced and perpetuated across the media and dominant narratives. Foremost, I want to emphasize the importance of narratives and framework, which have a perplexing way of constructing our reality. They set the guiding standards of what is possible within it or not, and are able to generate relevant opinions, beliefs, facts and prejudices, especially when they are shaped by a person in the position of power. Therefore, when they get repeated over and over, these discourses materialize to become normalized. However, such standardization does not in any way imply to be a criterion of truth. On the contrary, it can successfully distort the reality and marginalize people who reject the dictatorial narrative. Thus, I would like to challenge several arguments made in Fitzgerald’s interview, as I’ve noticed his tendency to base his opinion on the popular misconceptions about the sexual assault, which have been normalized and accepted at a face value.
First of all, I would like to set the record straight right away that sexual violence is more likely to happen if you are a woman period, with the education level being an irrelevant denominator. Thus, rather than making the overt division between who is more likely to experience it or not, we are choosing to look at the wrong trajectory of the whole entire issue that is relevant to all women. Therefore, this piece aims to present the way women, as gendered actors, experience and maneuver their way through the gendered relationships and live in a highly gendered world.
Furthermore, in his interview, Father Fitzgerald implied that sexual assault is primarily embodied in the act of rape, which is one of the most common misconceptions about this topic. I don’t think it is fair to reduce the phenomenon born out of gender-constructed roles and expectations that embraces all realms primarily to a tragic and inhuman event such as the act of rape. By setting the bar so high to identify a sexual assault, we risk to ignore and delegitimize its other forms, including cat calling, cyber assaults, slut shaming and so on. These do, in fact, constitute as sexual assaults because they target based on the gender and gender only. The patriarchal hegemony is deeply embedded in the structure and culture of our society; therefore it produces a narrative whereby gender hierarchy persists, as we are the ones who reproduce it through our actions and thoughts. Therefore, sexual assault is gender-based on the power dynamic that it assigns, with males being in the position of superiority and women of inferiority. It is important to mention that the sexual assault also varies throughout the “women” group, since there are socially emphasized differences that make our experiences drastically distinct. For instance, it is well known that women of color are targeted more not only because they are women, but also because they constitute as minorities in this society. The exotification along with the racism have lead to tragic consequences, and it manifests in a fact that Black women are raped at much higher rates than white women, 2.8 and 2.2, respectively per 1,000 females ages 12 and older between 2005-2010. Such an intersectional approach can point out that “awful lot of drinking and use of other drugs” are not really the only causes of rape. Therefore, framing the issue being exclusive and contained within the spheres of alcohol and drugs is erroneous as the sexual abuse is the legacy of the socially scripted gendered relationships and roles that strive to establish the aforementioned power dynamic between gender, and races, and classes, and so on.
Second, just like in Emily Yoffe’s article in “Slate”, “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,” this interview has severe tones of victim blaming, an outrageously inhuman and immoral stance that also shows degrees of ignorance. By juxtaposing non-college attending and college attending young women, the binary dichotomy of the language allows the intuitive assignment of both thesis and antithesis. College attending women are described as “smart, organized, and have a sense of themselves,” therefore non-college attending women would be prescribed the opposite qualities of being not smart, not organized, and not having a sense of themselves. Not only is it the most inaccurate theorizing of the “portrait” of the sexual assault victim, but also it continues the trend women across the world and even this University tried to reject and combat. The trend of putting the responsibility on a victim or the “she was asking for it” paradigm dictates that women are to blame for self-imposing these acts on themselves. Such severe stigmatization results in the severe under-reporting, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that college attending women were more likely to not report the crimes to the police than non-college attending women.
In New York Times article, “Blame Rape’s Enablers, Not the Victims,” Alexandra Brodsky presents it perfectly by saying that, “victim blaming persists because deep-seated power imbalances of gender, race and class are tolerated, encouraging sexual violence.” Thus, longer dresses and “female prohibition” won’t make us less vulnerable nor would education. This is our reality; this is what sexual assault feels like when you are a woman. It essentially becomes an inevitable fact about life, so normalized and accepted throughout the countries and societies. Unless we address the structural causes and focus on what beliefs or attitude allow perpetrators to commit such atrocities, we won’t really achieve any progress.
Finally, we have to focus less on reproducing and believing in the popular hegemonic narratives and open our minds to reconsider what is normal and what is not. Why has it become normal for women to always be worried about walking alone at night? Why should we always be worried about the possibility of getting raped when we go out? Why has rape as a punch line became normalized? And why should we live the terror and fear?
In addition, we ought to address how social injustices such as gender-based violence affect women, especially those on the margin. Inclusion of intersectionality will aid us to not homogenize the experiences, allowing us to revise and expand our knowledge as well as definition of sexual violence. We, as a community, have to strive to be more open-minded and inclusive.