On this blog, we often include short quotes from survivors and advocates who express powerful thoughts and eloquent sentiments. Sometimes, however, a short quote will not do. Sometimes, a writer or speaker deserves to be quoted at length because what he or she is saying is crucial.
So it is with Cornell University professor Kate Manne. In an insightful piece in The Guardian, Manne calls out public officials who profess to care about girls and women who are sexually victimized by commenting “Of course I care. I have a daughter/mother/wife/close female friends. . .”
Her concern was prompted by a case in Australia involving a former Australian government staffer who said she was raped in a minister’s office in parliament.
But this claim – I care because I’m close to a woman – is commonplace. We at Horowitz Law share the view that this notion is wrong-headed.
There are at least three things wrong with thinking of it in this way, Manne says.
First off, it should not take a woman in general, or someone’s wife in particular, to persuade a man to take decisive action over a problem as serious as allegations of rape in his own workplace.
That we still have to try to make people care about these devastating allegations wreaks its own kind of trauma – the trauma of dealing with hostile indifference in the wake of such reported violence. (A victim) spoke of her pain upon realising that, when it came to what happened, “the only thing that … made people care about it was where it happened and who it was connected to.”
Second, a man shouldn’t need to relate an alleged rape victim to his daughter in order to care about her. There is something doubly troubling about this framework, given that, historically speaking, a daughter has often been conceived of as her father’s property until marriage – whereupon she would then belong to her husband.
It is long past overdue to conceive of female victims as people in their own right, with human rights, rather than as some man’s somebody – his wife, mother, sister, daughter, and so on – and as mattering because of that. She is her own person, and a person is – or ought to be – inviolable by others’ acts of sexual violence. As (a victim) put it in a moving statement: “I don’t think what happened to me is remarkable. It happens all the time.” She’s right. And yet “it is devastating and soul-destroying and I think about it every day.” So do many victims.
Thirdly, and finally, there is something misbegotten about the idea of rape as a woman’s issue in this context whatsoever. True, girls and women are disproportionately likely to be rape victims, as compared with their male counterparts, and that surely matters in terms of how we address the issue as a society. But rape is also routinely committed against boys, men, and non-binary people. We should care about rape simply insofar as it harms many and various human beings. If someone lacks the requisite empathy, then their thinking “What if that were me?” ought to be enough to rouse them from their moral slumbers.
It’s worth it.