Friday, September 19, 2014

Deciphering the Sexual Violence Views of Rush Limbaugh

Today's mood:  Grumpy

If my blog writing was based on paper sources, I would now be invisible behind skyscraper-tall piles of paper and books.  That's because so many huge and important issues are happening at the same time and each and every one demands real research, real thinking and gives me such migraines that I end up hiding under the covers.  For instance, my internal judge demands that I write on intimate partner violence, on the ethical codes of American football, on women and the Islamic State, on police power and its relation to race and sex of the people the police lords over.

So what's stopping me?  Not that this interests anyone else but it's my blog, after all, and the question interests me.  Partly what stops me is the speed with which What We Argue About changes.  By the time I've done the research and enter the room to give my speech everybody else has moved on to the bar a couple of streets away.  The work is somewhat pointless.  But the alternative (of blurting stuff out quickly) doesn't seem very pointy, either.

The other reason it seems pointless is that very wide public debates on issues such as intimate partner violence tend not to lead to sharper conclusions or agreements.  The same arguments fly past each other.  Indeed, confusion often increases, and I have a natural allergy (scales itching and falling off) to circular debates of no real intention to clarify anything.

So that's why you are getting an analysis of Rush Limbaugh's views on rape and intimate partner violence.  It's not because our Rush matters very much anymore and it's not because he is like the puppet sitting in the lap of some manipulator, made to blurt out the most extreme arguments so that other arguments look less extreme or so that his audience can feel that wonderful elation hearing their own thoughts firmly stated.

It's because what Rush says does show us one extreme stand in the debates about sexual violence, and that is concentrated in two of his utterances.


The first (from late July) is about Ray Rice, a famous football player,  punching his then girlfriend Janay Palmer:

 Rush: Maybe Rice's Wife Thought NFL Money And Fame "May Be Worth A Hit To The Jaw"

I heard the same argument in other contexts, and it boils down to Janay Palmer exchanging money and a famous husband for occasionally getting decked.  In that sense it's just the meanest version of the "why did she stay?" debates, maybe an attempt to share the blame between the perpetrator and the victim, linked to the old saw that the police hates domestic violence calls because the victims refuse to prosecute and so on, even linked to the older saw on the inadvisability of washing family dirty linen in public.

What's fascinating about those victim blaming conversations is that their depth is rarely matched with a perpetrator blaming conversation.  The perpetrator's motives are not analyzed, dissected, put under a microscope.

Sure, a few articles talk about the possibility that people inherit the violent solution to stress and anger from their families of birth, but in general the reasons why someone decides to deck his (or less often her) intimate partner are just assumed to be known or unimportant.  To simplify:  "Why did Ray Rice hit Janay Palmer?" is not as interesting a question as "Why did Janay Palmer not leave Ray Rice?"  And no, the fact that she spat in his face is not an acceptable explanation for the incredible escalation of violence shown in that video.

The distinction I make is a subtle one.  It doesn't mean that the violence wouldn't be condemned by most in the mainstream media, for instance, and it doesn't mean that there is no punishment for the violence.  But the causes of that violence itself are seen as an amorphous natural force, something that lurks under the surface, ready to come out, something that can only be reduced by not having potential victims around the perpetrator.  And that's how the victims become partly to blame.  But ask yourself this question:  If Ray Rice had married someone else, would he have behaved any differently?

I don't know the answer to that question.  But asking it is worthwhile, because the device of having victims leave the perpetrators only works to reduce overall intimate partner violence if the perpetrator is somehow clearly marked as one.  Otherwise he (or she) can just hunt for more victims elsewhere, behave well for a bit longer and then resume the same abusive activities.

The second immortal Limbaugh comment on sexual violence is a more recent one. 

Limbaugh: "How Many Of You Guys ... Have Learned That No Means Yes If You Know How To Spot It?"

This is Limbaugh's criticism of one college's sexual consent policy.  He believes that being expected to get consent every step of the way takes out all romance and kills seduction.  He then goes on to state that bolded bit above and ends by complaining how all the good advice once given to boys about, I guess, how to spot the real "yes" in the "no" is now wasted and how the society is trying to reprogram boys and young men.

So it's in the eye of the beholder, whether a "no" really means a "yes?"  Sadly, "if you know how to spot it" is an argument rapists have eagerly employed.   Our Rush would probably have fewer interpretative problems if the "no" consisted of a sharp toe kick in his groin.

What he may be talking about is something from the past:  The idea that "good women" don't say yes to extramarital sex, even if they desire it, because by saying yes they would no longer be "good women."  I don't think that's very common anymore.  But even if it is, what would a "guy" lose by just accepting the verbal no?  A chance to get laid?  While not knowing if the partner was really willing?

The evil in that Limbaugh statement is obvious.  It offers an out to rapists.  "She really wanted it!"  "You know you want it!"  "I can tell you really want it."