On One Hand

December 8, 2014

Why we need basic understanding of feminism to talk about sexual assault

Filed under: culture,media,policy,social justice — ononehand @ 4:55 pm

I’m seeing a lot of conversations stir up around victim advocacy and feminism in policy and reporting regarding the recent Rolling Stone story about campus sexual assault. A lot of it is the appropriate review of journalistic standards after a story that, at this point, has definitely not gone well for anyone. Some of it is veering into a critique on whether sensitivity to victims should play a role in reporting at all, or responding to a situation in which such sensitivity was misapplied to launch a campaign against victims.

For anyone who’s still confused or anxious about the need for feminist perspectives, allow me to put it this way.

One of society’s challenges addressing sexual assault is that dealing with a real story will almost automatically entail some cognitive dissonance. When you are speaking to and about victims who talk about sexual assault, your presumption (based on overwhelming statistical likelihood) should be that they are being truthful and potentially traumatized — yet when you are speaking to and about offenders, all who are implicated in a crime are presumed innocent until found guilty. Both of these are in some ways “liberal” principles and both are necessary to prevent irreparable harm to people. Yet they are cognitively dissonant. It can be confusing to understand how you can empathize totally with victims and at the same time remain fair on matters of due process.

This is why society needs a mindful and sophisticated system for dealing with sexual assault. That includes victims advocates (who are in a separate role from judge and jury, incorporating some elements of the role of a mental health professional and some elements of the role of a personal attorney) and why the public and media should strive for a similarly mindful and sophisticated attitude towards it.

What else should be part of that sophisticated system? Part of it addresses the bullshit, shaming and contradictory expectations we pile on women regarding their sexuality.

Rape is wrong because it violates a person’s bodily integrity, privacy, and trust in others — it does so in principle, but also with likelihood to do psychological damage. (You’ll notice that this is completely neutral towards a victim’s gender.) In the eyes of traditional society, however, rape is wrong because it tarnishes a woman’s sexual purity and innocence (which is a gendered interpretation). Therefore, society tends to asses harm done to women by sexual assault by evaluating a victim’s state of purity and innocence prior to being sexually assaulted, and continues to question their purity and innocence afterward by evaluating whether they display too much or too little trauma to be trustworthy. Society also tends to be distrustful and patronizing toward women’s memories and interpretations — this can include police, investigators and prosecutors, who are usually men. That’s utterly immoral and damaging to put a victim through.

Identifying these gender-based double standards, and shifting towards gender equity, is feminism. I don’t think society’s approach to sexual assault can be considered sophisticated, or even competent, without universal understanding of feminist perspectives.

Campaigns to change attitudes towards sexual assault are often challenged by skeptics speaking as if there are “two sides” to the issue. Granted, on any topic, every individual has her or his own experience and so there is an unlimited number of “sides.” But I think it’s very ironic when one cause, seeking to improve general understanding of what sexual assault is and the harm it does to victims so that the incidents don’t happen in the first place, are asked to consider the other “side” — the experience of the accused. Mind you, the main goal of anti-rape activists, who are painfully aware that many offenders are said to “seem like nice guys” who for whatever reason fail to register the humanity of a person they victimize, is to change the culture to prevent there from being victims or offenders in the first place.

We are universally educated about due process — yes even feminists are — so we don’t need to lecture women, feminists or victims advocates about due process. They all know what it is. But feminist perspectives, though diverse, still face misunderstanding and resistance. So, yes, you need to learn about feminism to speak competently about sexual assault, because in the absence of that knowledge there is bias. There’s room for different viewpoints when you get there, but you have to have that basic groundwork of knowledge to play a positive role.

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May 15, 2010

Six Steps to Improve Urban Education

Filed under: policy,social justice — ononehand @ 1:11 pm

We’ve heard from teachers and policy advocates about what doesn’t fix the achievement gap in public schools. Programs designed to fire teachers who have low-scoring students is an example of a wrong approach to education. I’m sure you’ve heard teachers unions saying it’s because teachers are already doing all the work they can, which – whether or not that is the case – is probably not the politically effective argument. The real reason I think these policies are counter-productive is that they create animosity between teachers and low-performing students who drag scores down, and discourages teachers from working in the very schools that are hardest to recruit in. In other words, it stigmatizes troubled schools and, in particularly, troubled students. (more…)

March 23, 2010

Healthcare Reform: Post-Mortem

Filed under: culture,elections,policy — ononehand @ 1:05 am
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Two comments; first: Yeah! We did it! Change!

And then: what the hell happened?

We had a popular new Democratic president with outstanding rhetorical skills, elected with the biggest percentage of voters in 20 years – largely on plans to reform healthcare – allied by the biggest Democratic majority in congress since 1976 – and in spite of that it took a year-long, caustic and fierce battle to the brink of political suicide to enact a bill that is so moderate and incremental that a liberal Republican could have thought of it. Indeed it has key elements John McCain supported in 2008 and looks somewhat like what Mitt Romney enacted in Massachusetts.

I’ll say it again: “Obamacare” is moderate and incremental. It doesn’t go as far to cover everyone as we will need to go in the future, and some will say it doesn’t even go far enough for now. Yet we’ve come out with a country more divided, with a more fearful status-quo, than we have seen since the Civil Rights era.

Lets create a scale of government involvement in a healthcare system for perspective. A totally government-run and non-optional healthcare system where all doctors and healthcare workers are government employees – say Cuba’s system – is ranked as 100 in government involvement. A totally unregulated “Ayn Rand’s Dream” free-market system where you only get what you can personally pay for even if you’re dying, and providers can set whatever price they want, will be a 0 in government involvement.

That would mean “Obamacare” moved us from about a 25 to a 35. Most of the developed world is between 50 and 90.

The National Health Service in the U.K., in which the government employs all doctors but a small minority of citizens still choose private plans and there are small fees for most services, would be a 95. Canada’s government-insured system where the government pays for care but you get it from private doctor’s offices and hospitals, would be about a 60 with some government and some market. A private insurance system that contains one “public option” letting people buy insurance from the government if they want – a true balance letting individuals opt for a government or private system – would be about a 45. Switzerland’s system with compulsory health insurance from nonprofit private companies (banned by law from earning a profit on their services) would be about a 40. America’s pre-2010 system, which guarantees care in worst-case scenarios where you are broke but dragged to the hospital bleeding, and provides mostly-free care to seniors, some poor people and veterans – but is mostly market-run and leaves many uninsured – would be about a 25. The new system, when fully initiated after 2014, will ensure that anyone can some level of routine care if they want it and enforces penalties to encourage everyone to do so, but from private companies that earn lots of profit for providing care. It’s a 35.

The changes will make a big difference for many uninsured and under-insured Americans, but the post-“Obamacare” American healthcare system is still one of the most right-leaning and market-oriented systems in the developed world. And the right-leaning half of the country is treating it like the plague.

So, what the hell happened!?

One word: politics. (more…)

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