Thursday, April 27, 2006

Language Is A Feminist Issue

In reading a recent feature article in the Washington Post on a Catholic priest who was himself the victim of sexual abuse by another Catholic priest, I found myself feeling both sympathetic to the story at hand and on some level unsettled by the article. It took me a while to figure out why, but eventually, the feminist light went on.

The sub-title of the article is "Catholic Priest Who Was Victim of Sex Abuse Draws Fire After Speaking Out." Not "alleged victim." Not "accuser." That is, the writer believes the priest's story, and the language she uses draws the reader towards belief of his story. She speaks mostly in declaratives, not in the carefully couched maybes and "allegeds" that writers on sexual assault stories usually take on, and the story focuses on the victim's ordeal, and his loneliness, and also his suffering. The story ends with the priest, defrocked and miserable, sitting in the back of someone else's mass.

There's one other difference between this and other narratives about rape, of course: in this case, the victim is a man.

Let's compare the language in this case with the language in the Duke rape case currently grabbing headlines. In the same newspaper, news articles about the case consistently call the victim an "accuser."

Eugene Robinson's opinion piece, which focuses on the racial tensions in the case, calls the assault an "alleged rape" and cautions "It will be some time before we know what really happened that night ...and it's quite possible we'll never have a truly satisfactory answer." He also asserts that "It's not blaming the victim to ask if she couldn't have made better choices."

And Dahlia Lithwick's procedural piece on the evidence of the case stops, in the middle of a paragraph criticizing the word choices of conservative pundits*, to call the victim "this nameless accuser," as if the poor woman is responsible, on top of all her other sins**, for the press's longstanding policy of not naming rape victims.

I wonder when the Post plans to do its credulous, admiring story of a woman who has bravely fought back against classism and misogyny to put her rapists behind bars. Oh, right, never. I suppose it's much more newsworthy when a Catholic priest comes forward as a rape victim -- the Post can legitimately argue this is the case. After all, women are raped -- and disbelieved -- all the time. Nothing to see there, folks. Move along.

*read: bebowtied nitwits and pill-popping bigots
**e.g., being poor, being black, getting drugged, getting raped, choosing the lucrative sex trade instead of a McJob to pay for college, and offending Mr. Robinson with her "poor choices"


Blogger Teenytoona said...

Wow, I hadn't heard of that article, but really really good observation. It's goddamned ridiculous all the "alleged" victim shit, and then Mr Priest gets to be a "real" accepted victim. Grrrr...

3:22 PM  
Blogger skylanda said...

"It's not blaming the victim to ask if she couldn't have made better choices."

Oh yes, yes it is. That's exactly what it is. "Made better choices"? How's about the dudes who raped her making better choices, such as the choice not to commit physical violence against a woman? I'd like ot see an analysis of thier choices.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Sofiya said...

That was a brilliant post, Nyarly. I do hope you will write a letter to the newspaper saying the same thing.

I always assumed that "alleged victim" and "accuser" were used for legal reasons, because you couldn't out-and-out call someone a "victim" when the case hadn't been tried. But if they're going to call an abused priest a "victim", that puts a whole different perspective on it.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Qusan said...

"It's not blaming the victim to ask if she couldn't have made better choices."

Then why are we still hearing about Natalie Holloway who could have made a better choice by not going off with 3 strange boys in a foreign country?

1:39 PM  

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