I'm not going to turn this into a discussion of ethics in rape journalism (though another post in the near future will discuss some aspects of journalism). For the purpose of this article, we'll stipulate that the truth is that the fraternity boys behaved more honorably than the article made out (with "better than gang rapists" being a ridiculously low bar to clear), and that perhaps "Jackie" behaved less honorably than the innocent victim of the article.
Obviously, lying is wrong, and reporters passing on lies without checking them out is wrong. What's interesting is why they felt the need to do so.
It seems likely the truth is bad enough. It's likely something bad happened to "Jackie" at the hands of some men at the University of Virginia. Maybe not as obviously criminal as a vicious gang rape, but something that it would be have been better to prevent from happening.
But we won't tolerate that. Our victims must be purely innocent; our perpetrators must be purely evil. We want to believe that all our problems can be solved just by being a little meaner to bad people, and it's cost-free to everyone else.
Here's another less severe example of this playing out. This exchange crossed my timeline multiple times:
the internet pic.twitter.com/dZeMzPEUE8
— Christopher Mims (@mims) December 7, 2014
A perfect storm! Here we have a dude trying to "mansplain" to a woman what an article about attracting women to the tech workforce means. Only to find out he was addressing the author of the actual article! It probably never even occurred to him that the author of the article could be a woman! Hoisted on his own condescending misogynist petard!
Alas, the truth is a little more complicated:
@gretared @caseyjohnston hi, I meant "I read the article", not "go read the article". Omitted the "I" for space & didn't proof-read enough.A look through his timeline with anything approaching an open mind makes this explanation the most likely.
— Tomas Sancio (@tsancio) December 6, 2014
To be clear, I'm blaming Casey Johnston for misreading and providing a correction. Seems like a 50/50 parse. I'm more critical of the mob of commentators on Twitter who spent the day dancing on this "epic burn" that turned out to be undeserved.
Ironically, these critics were guilty of the very crime they were accusing Mr. Sancio of -- sending out a judgment without familiarizing themselves with the necessary context.
Add in that Mr. Sancio is not a native English speaker, and what was the celebration of an righteous burn of a misogynist know-it-all is something a bit darker.
Does this mean that there are no problems with how men treat women in professional technical settings? No, any more than the problems with the UVA gang rape story mean that there isn't a problem with campus rape and sexual assault.
But it might mean that the problem isn't as simple as clueless misogynist assholes running around. And the solution might be more complicated than punishing them.
This is reality. I don't think every member of the grand jury in the Michael Brown case or the Eric Garner case is a raving bigot who thinks that black lives don't matter. I'm not even sure the police officers who killed them are. But they were parts of a system that failed to deliver justice.
And that may be the scary part. Working on these systems so they can deliver something more just will be, in short, a real pain in the ass. It's not a matter of passing around videos of TV comedians completely nailing someone or something, or tweeting hashtags, or calling bigots out. It will take a lot of tedious, grinding work. It will likely make life more difficult for people who have done little or nothing wrong. It may give breaks to people who aren't entirely innocent and may not deserve it.
As a pro-lifer, these are lessons I've had to absorb. It sure would be convenient if every abortion were a frivolous and a matter of personal convenience from couples wanting to maintain a certain lifestyle. But we all know that's not the case. Many abortions come from truly desperate circumstances, and restricting abortion will impose very real costs on these people. Going around calling abortionists and those who procure their services names isn't going to accomplish much, since almost everyone will recognize it as not just unkind but untrue. Instead, we need to acknowledge the pain, but make the case the ending the killing of the unborn is worth the price.
And the same applies to other causes. Because the current results are not acceptable. We can't go on with more black men being killed by police officers. We can't have young women going to college and coming out scarred by bad sexual encounters.
And what we've been doing isn't working.