Sunday, July 26, 2009

Yes, This Is What Rape Culture Looks Like

Having just juxtaposed two different police procedurals to find a cultural commonality, I feel I could do something similar with ESPN, which finds itself oddly juxtaposed between stories about 'star' female reporter Erin Andrews being recorded while undressing (with the subsequent video being passed around the internet like so much crinkled glossy paper from a 70's copy of Penthouse), and stories about the ESPN corporate brass deliberately ordering its talent to ignore the civil suit against Ben Roethlisberger for allegedly raping a hostess at the hotel/casino in Lake Tahoe where the Steelers quarterback was a guest.

Thankfully, I don't have to, because someone much sharper has covered the latter half of this juxtaposition: Jaclyn Friedman of the Yes Means Yes blog. Friedman only briefly mentions the connection to the Andrews video affair, so let me make one observation in order to bring that juxtaposition a bit more into focus. Friedman reports thus:

Gossip blogger Perez Hilton is already suggesting she may be a lying golddigger. That's rape culture. As this woman's case proceeds, her body, her actions, her mental state, motives and her history will be put on public trial in a way that would never happen if she were accusing someone of kidnapping or attempted murder.

First, the obvious: there will always be those who find that, in a time of crisis, they can improve their own situation by loudly identifying with those in power, the better to be rewarded when the status quo reasserts itself. Hilton's counterpart in the Andrews video affair, oddly enough, happens to be another female sports reporter, USA Today's Christine Brennan, who suggested in an interview with sports talk radio that, while Andrews certainly didn't deserve to be humiliated by a video of her undressing in her hotel room circulating over the internet, is there anybody who's really surprised by it, given who she is? The money quote, by my estimation is this: "Women sports journalists need to be smart and not play to the frat house." Brennan wins here becuase, even though her comment won't at all impact the trend of sexed-up sideline reporters getting more attention and thus opportunities than their less-hot, more-competent counterparts**, it will allow Brennan's name to float to the top as a 'good soldier' when it comes time for the industry to fig-leaf itself against charges of only promoting shallow sexpots to broadcast coverage by promoting someone who hasn't been asked to appear in Maxim.

** - One of the best sports reporters out there, male or female is Suzy Kolber, who most people, if they know her at all, will remember her for an incident in which she was sloppily hit on, while on-air, by an obviously drunken Joe Namath; this incident inspired a sports blog named Kissing Suzy Kolber, which celebrates the role of teh bewbies in sports culture while also doing its best to be snarky about it.

Second, and what probably should be as obvious but apparently isn't, is that there's a class divide here that's just as powerful as the sexual divide: if Roethlisburger, instead of letting his alleged victim leave his hotel room, had taken her to his car, driven her to a desolate location (say, a reservoir), killed her, and left her body to be found days later by hikers, I'm still not convinced that Roethlisburger would be brought to justice.*** Reasonable people can disagree over whether OJ Simpson was guilty of murdering his ex-wife, or whether Kobe Bryant was guilty of his own alleged rape. But if justice were random, we'd expect some of these cases to come back as 'guilty' verdicts just by chance; instead, we consistently see the wealthy and powerful being found not guilty when accused of crimes against women.

*** - Unless, of course, the victim had not been a human female, but an animal. This is the bizarre counterexample of Michael Vick, who is far more of a pariah in NFL circles than Ben Roethlisburger will ever be.

So, go ahead and consider this article an 800-word alternative to simply linking to Friedman's original essay and saying, "Yes. That right there."

No comments: