If you've been on the net in the past few days, you have probably seen republicansforrape.org. This tongue-in-cheek site satirizes the positions of the 30 senators who voted against an amendment to alter the law regarding mandatory binding arbitration.
A few friends and I posted the site to our Facebook walls, and a lively discussion has sprung up on whether the site goes offensively too far. Now, I love it when Facebook can be used as a space for the hashing out of weighty things, but it seems to me that there is a major blind spot in much of this discussion that needs to be dealt with head on.
It is wise to point out that, without context, a vote on a given bill can be spun any number of ways. Both parties do this all the time. So here is what some of the Senators said about their own votes:
Senators Corker, Chambliss and Isakson justified their 'no' votes on the grounds that the amendment would prohibit workers from using mandatory binding arbitration even if they wanted it. Senator Thune said he might have voted for it if it had been narrowed to cover rape rather than extended to cover other sexual-related abuses. Still other Senators said since DoD opposed it on the grounds of enforcement challenges, they decided to as well.
The trouble is, in context, some of these rationales are based on falsehoods, and others are out of balance with the issue at hand. In the case of Corker Chambilss and Isakson, their rationale would work, were it not explicitly spelled out in the bill that employees would still be able to elect to use arbitration; they simply wouldn't be forced into it.
Thune seems to think (contrary to civil rights law) that only instances of rape deserve a day in court. Those Senators who sided with DoD's reasoning said that because DoD may not know about these incidents, they can't be expected to enforce this law.
It is this last line of reasoning that is the most important point to hash out.
Consider that rape is only the most extreme incarnation of a host of acts of sexual discrimination against women. From cat-calling, to verbal harassment, to unwanted touching and so on.
Consider that the present moment in our history in which we can even talk about these things has been the result of a long, hard struggle towards women's equality. The origin of rape law is in property law i.e. we only care if women are raped because they are the property of men and rape damages men's property. Also consider attitudes toward sexual harassment and manipulation in our recent past (Mad Men does a decent job with this).
Today, we find ourselves in a situation in which much conversation about rape and society is supported by a fatally flawed assumption - namely that rape, and the broader spectrum of sex discrimination/violence is positive, or intentional. This is not always true. The system as it exists tolerates and reinforces such discrimination. Discrimination is the status quo.
At one extreme, one in six women in the United States will be the victim of sexual violence in her lifetime (RAINN). At the other, controlling for differing industries and employment levels, women earn $0.77 to the dollar that men earn. And this is the best it has ever been.
If you will try that on for a moment, you may begin to see a different perspective. There is a long list of supporting facts that I will forgo here, but it is critically important, particularly for the men reading this, that you take a moment and really consider the idea that we are living in a system that started with women as property and is still a long way from 'equal.'
I assert that it is only through the active disruption of that system, the calling out of its flaws and injustices, that we can move toward a more equitable one. This disruption is not only on an institutional level, but particularly for us men, on a personal one as well.
In that light, nit-picking arguments about the difficulties of implementation, false arguments on employee choice, and distinguishing rape, from other, lesser offenses badly misses the point.
Do these Senators consciously support rape? Of course not. But their actions absolutely support a status quo in which rape and sexual violence flourish.
Pointing that out to people - including the Senators in question as the site in question does - is the path to redress this issue. In part because its controversy sparks discussion like this one.
So as this conversation continues, ask yourself - What is the real cause for outrage: republicansforrape.org, or the fact that Jamie Leigh Jones was beaten, gang raped, locked in a shipping container and abused to the point where her breasts were dislodged - and can't get a day in court?
Follow Nathan Havey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nhavey