Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Who Is My Neighbor?

I have no wish to pick continual fights. Really. That's not what this is about. At the same time, I want to address something I read on Facebook yesterday (you know who you are. . .) with reference to moral/political disapproval of the Slutwalk movement. A friend made the perfectly valid criticism that the Slutwalks can be construed as an elite, white phenomenon, an effort by privileged persons to have even more privileges, at the explicit expense of others. I have heard this criticism, and it does temper any serious enthusiasm for the movement. At the same time, the specific issue addressed by using the word "slut" in the title is the on-going victimization of victims of sexual violence by implicating them in their own victimization. It is for this reason, more than any other, I support the movement, and would walk if there were one close enough.

At the same time, I find more troubling the stated preference for "solidarity" with women in Saudi Arabia and other countries with gross violations of basic standards of women's rights, or in the Sahel in Africa where female circumcision is still common practice. While these are, indeed, issues about which to express outrage and for which more work needs to be done, I find it troubling, to say the least, that one would "prefer" such solidarity, which while morally admirable entails no risk of personal involvement through the messiness of actually getting to know those subjected to such treatment, or risking one's own personal freedom by stating such solidarity from a distance. It sets up a false choice - either we support a bunch of rich white women or we support a bunch of poor, suffering women of different races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs. On its face, it should be obvious why such is false.

More to the point, involvement in the morally messy lives of persons whom we may well encounter each and every day places a far greater level of moral commitment and potential cost upon us. Regardless of the socio-economic status of the women in question, I doubt few would believe it in any way justifiable to say, as far too many in both law enforcement and the media have, that victims of sexual violence are somehow complicit in their own victimization because of how they dress or otherwise appear in public. To be blunt, slutiness is in the eye of the beholder. A woman returning from a night on the town, dressed to attract men at the club, is not in any way morally culpable for violence visited upon her for that reason. This whole movement began in Toronto for precisely this reason; a police officer was quoted as saying of a victim of sexual assault that she was dressed "slutty", in no small way implying that she should have expected some kind of unwanted advance.

It is easy to stand way far away from horrible situations and call for them to change. In particular, when doing so entails little more than the cost of internet access, we reward ourselves for our concern without any real involvement. On the other hand, a young woman down the street, a friend of a friend, perhaps even a somewhat prominent member of the community, attacked for no other reason than there are men who believe that women exist solely for satisfying their momentary lusts, should call forth a more immediate, and far more dangerous (for us) response.

Finally, just as an aside, when Jesus was asked the above question, according to the narrative in the Gospel of St. Luke, he responded with the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. Who is our neighbor? The person we encounter who is in need. It is this encounter, this involvement, this risk-taking, that lies at the heart of it all. Not just this story, but my preference for supporting something that, while certainly not perfect, nevertheless addresses head on the continuing moral infantilizing of women. In the end, it isn't about who is or is not privileged, or who is more in need of expressions of concerns. It's about who is right here, in or near my life, asking for help. I don't pass out questionnaires before doing things for people. Someone right here next to me needing my help is my neighbor. That's it, and that's all.

Virtual Tin Cup

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