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June 28, 2005

Mukthar Mai paradox

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has re-opened the case of Mukthar Mai, the woman who brought criminal charges against the men who gang-raped her on the orders of her village council.

When Mai was invited to New York to address human rights activists, General Pervez Musharraf issued a travel ban and placed her under house arrest.

Musharraf told journalists in Auckland that he personally imposed the travel ban in order to preserve Pakistan's public image.

"I don't want to project the bad image of Pakistan," he told the journalists' club.

"I am a realist. Public relations is the most important thing in the world," he said, adding that media misperceptions would discourage tourists from traveling to Pakistan.

"Pakistan is the victim of poor perceptions. The reality is very different," Musharraf said.

He defended his regime's treatment of women, saying it was working for their emancipation. Rape was not "a rampant malaise Pakistan suffers from every day," he said.

Musharraf's reaction baffled observers. Many commentators wondered if the General had gone nuts. After all, Musharraf desperately wants to "sell" Pakistan to the West as a free and enlightened society. Mukthar Mai's legal triumph would appear to be a propaganda coup. After all, the nation of Pakistan upheld her rights in court after she was brutalized by tribal authorities. She became living proof that a Pakistani woman can have her day in court. (The travel ban has been revoked, but reports suggest that the authorities continue to restrict Mai's freedom, allegedly for her own safety.)

Ejaz Haider attempts to make sense of Musharraf's reaction in an editorial called Mukhtar Mai and bounded rationality. He sees Musharraf's apparently crazy decision as an example of irrational behavior within the bounded rationality of a military leader:

Musharraf is an army officer. He shares the worldview of his organisation through army’s acculturation process. He suspects everyone and everything outside of the exclusive club, believes the army is tasked with securing Pakistan’s interest and that it knows how best to go about it.

One can do a broader structural analysis of the factors that could have led to this decision but space does not allow that. However, a larger point that emerges from this episode, given the implications of decision-making at the national level, relates to the issue of military’s political role in Pakistan. If bureaucratic organisations depict bounded rationality as well as systematic stupidity, it is not only dangerous to entrust them completely with nuclear weapons sans civilian control (as Sagan tries to show) but it is even more hazardous to have them in the driver’s seat politically and take decisions that impinge on national life.

I would take Haider's analysis one step further. Male privilege can be its own form of bounded rationality. Most of the misguided reactions to rape seem "rational" if you accept the fundamental precepts of male privilege.

Rape stigma is a direct result of male privilege. As long as women are assumed to be the property of men, a woman's rape is a defeat to whoever "owns" her. According to this warped worldview, a rape victim who speaks out about her ordeal shames not only herself, but everyone who was supposed to have been controlling her (her husband, her male relatives, her community, and even her nation).
Male privilege isn't unconditional--you don't get to be a "real man" unless you can control "your" women. So, every acknowledged rape unmans the victim's rightful owners. As Echidne notes, Mai's rape sentence was the ultimate extension of that twisted logic: punishing a man's sexual misconduct by raping his sister.

Male privilege literally can literally create bounded rationality about rape, despite a conscious repudiation of the practice and a desire to curtail it. If you presuppose male hegemony, it makes sense to address rape by silencing victims and to protecting future victims by restricting their freedom, especially their access to other men. The framework itself is often invisible to those who operate within it, making it impossible for them to realize the presuppositions that circumscribe reactions to the problem of sexual assault.

The bounded logic of male privilege pervades attitudes towards rape in every society, including our own. It asserts itself every time a guy is incapable of condemning rape without admonishing women for doing "stupid things."

Gen. Musharraf can't see Mai as source of good PR, even though her accomplishments objectively support the image is is trying to promote. Maybe, as Haider contends, this is a product of his military mindset. I would argue that his blindness can also be explained in terms of an even more widely-shared ideology of male privilege.

Update: Looks like The Heretik and I made it into Bidisha Banerjee's Slate blog roundup. Scroll down.

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Comments

It would seem that the single most effective way to combat male privilege and prevent rape is to work to remove the stigma of rape from the victim. Presently, the stigma of rape is a scene-stealer from the actual crime that was committed. I feel that what is preventing removal of this stigma, at least as much as anything else is preventing it, is an understandable conflation of being unashamed at having been raped and being unoutraged by it.

The bounded logic of male privilege pervades attitudes towards rape in every society, including our own. It asserts itself every time a guy is incapable of condemning rape without admonishing women for doing "stupid things."

That seems like kind of a strawman to me. Obviously it would be unacceptable if a male were unable to condemn rape without admonishing women for doing "stupid things." I'm not sure, though, how common such a sweeping inability would really be. Besides that, I'm not sure that mentioning the unwise nature of some of the behavior is the wrong to be addressed. What seems most common is men who bring unwise behavior up in acquaintence rape as a somehow morally mitigating factor - which is an illogical position and very much worthy of condemnation.

It also, though, doesn't seem like a very wise preventive strategy to make it taboo to suggest that one's behavior can increase or decrease the likelihood of being raped - the same way it can increase or decrease the likelihood of being mugged or non-sexually assaulted. Obviously the likelihood can't be reduced to zero, and it may often be reasonable to reject some practices that would increase safety because they reduce overall quality of life. And the fact that a person made an unwise decision that compromised their safety in no way mitigates the severe moral wrong of raping that person. But there can be very legitimate reasons to discuss the extremely unwise behavior that often increases the likelihood of being victimized.

Although it's quite likely that I am creating my own strawman for the purposes of that point, which I'll concede. It's just been my experience that people seem to often fall into either bringing up the risk-increasing behavior and assuming it is mitigating for the attacker, or condemning people who bring up the behavior and are willing to point out that it may have been a bad decision to partake in it. Neither position seems strong to me.

I think it is a brilliant insight to see Musharraf's dilemma as a tacit male privilege conspiracy in a tribal culture. I lose you when you try to apply this same logic to attitudes toward rape in our society which is anything but tribal. Here, you seem to be saying that male privilege is a kind of autonomous force, the way Evangelicals view evil (and to carry the analogy one step further, maleness is original sin). When you chastise men who are incapable of condemning rape without admonishing women for doing "stupid things", I am not sure if you are referring to the notion that women become so provocative that men lose control, or to the notion that men "misread the signals" or worse, that women give out the wrong signals. No matter, I think there is universal lack of sympathy for such excuses, and I don't know why rape isn't viewed simply as a matter of individual choice. It is kind of interesting, though, that when small tribal groups form, whether it is the US Senate, or an inner city gang, they are invariably misogynistic. I don't know how to understand this.

I'm objectively anti-stupidity. I'm not saying that everyone who discusses risk-reduction is perpetuating male privilege. Far from it.

However, I do notice a moralistic undercurrent in a lot of conversations about sexual assault. If you ask the question in moral terms, most people will emphatically deny that a victim's bad judgment mitigates the crime.

If a male teen is a victim of violence (sexual or not), the unfortunate incident is much less likely to generate well-meaning lectures on themes such as "What was he thinking?" and "Don't parents teach their sons not to go to dive bars?" "Don't young men realize how stupid it is to wear [sports sports insignias/gang colors/expensive jewelry]?" "Why aren't college boys better supervised?"

There's a certain cultural checklist for public discussions of rapes: what was she wearing, who was she with, whether she was drinking, whether she was the victim of overwhelming force... This information just isn't picked up as often in discussions of male-on-male violence.

The problem with the "friendly advice" paradigm is that it makes every rape victim feel as if she is being second-guessed by all her advisors. If you make an accusation of rape in the current climate, you'll be subject to a barrage of Monday morning quarterbacking about whether you were smart or responsible or virtuous. If you don't meet these criteria, you risk becoming an object lesson.

The advisors always counter that they're just offering common sense. A lot of the advice is just that. But there you have another form of male privilege--people who feel it's necessary and appropriate to repeat basic common sense for the benefit of the females in the audience who must be too stupid or too impulsive to get the point.

MrMe, I'm not sure I made this think as clear as I should have in the original post. I think male privilege suggests is form of bounded rationalit. It's a frame for thinking about sex and rape that suggests a relatively restricted range of reactions to the problem. If you think of rape as being about "protecting the goods," you're likely to see rape prevention in those terms as well.

Everyone agrees that rape is far more stigmatized in our society than other comparably violent crimes. In some societies, that stigma extends to literal moral condemnation. Reactions to rape are still tribal/familial in nature. That's why race plays such an important role in the public reactions to rape. Think about how the media react to the alleged rapes of white women by black men and tell me there isn't some tribal/racial angle here.

I should emphasize that our society has made amazing progress on the issue of rape. Nowadays, most people reject the moral claim that female risk-taking mitigates the guilt of the rapist. However, the condescending attitude persists in many otherwise progressive people.

The stigma towards rape victims now takes more of an attitude of resentment than straightforward blame. For example, it's as if American girls in Aruba are public property and CNN and middle America get vicariously annoyed when "our" girls do "stupid things."

There's no "girls will be girls" or "teens will be teens" attitude towards women and rape. Let me give you a parallel. Every so often we hear about teenagers who are killed in horrific automobile accidents. Often, it is a matter of fact that the teens' own irresponsible behavior contributed to the accident. Yet, it would be considered crass, insensitive, and otiose for a commenter to castigate those dead kids. Nobody gets on CNN and demands to know what kind of idiot rides with a drinking driver, or proclaims that anyone who didn't wear a seat belt is just asking to become a vegetable.

Obviously, there's a time and a place to talk about speed limits, drinking and driving, and other road safety--but it's just not considered appropriate in the wake of an individual's tragic death or bodily harm. Rape is different. When a woman is raped, there's no comparable reticence. It's considered perfectly appropriate, and indeed public-spirited to start immediately and publicly speaking ill of the grievously injured and/or the dead.

I agree that the ideal time to bring up risk-reducing behavior isn't after someone has been raped. And I think it's indefensible to take that as an opportunity to bring that up to the victim. But I'm sympathetic to the proposition that windows of public attention are very small, and bringing up risk reduction while the public's attention is on the issue of rape generally might be justified. I don't have a problem saying that the good of doing so could outweigh the very undesirable effects it'd have on the victim of that single crime, who would be unfairly made into an object lesson for a greater public benefit. I'm not sure that it would outweigh the broader damage caused by maybe implicitly sending the signal that all rape victims should feel ashamed or stupid or that it is in any way mitigating. That's maybe too conjectural a question for me to wrap my head around from my vantage point so far away from the relevant audience.

I'm kind of surprised that you think there isn't similar public reaction to the drinking and driving/riding with a drunk driver context. There seems to be a good deal of public scrutiny when young people make those decisions and people get hurt. It's an empirical question, certainly, and I'm probably not too likely to research it at the moment. But your impression is different from mine.

I agree with Lindsay. I disagree with Eli, I think.

When I hear a man talk about rape like "What was she wearing?" I immediatly start to hate the man who is talking. This line of reasoning has always sounded to me like "Was she respecting the rapists inability to control himself?" I cannot stand it. I empathize with women in these situations, because there is a tendency for males to sexualize women (reduce them to a primary characteristic, a sex object) and then dismiss the contributions they make outside this bias. This is the same thing people with an aversion to gay guys do. Questions like "What was she wearing?" only make sense to ask if your mindset is that women are primarily defined by their sexuality.

Where is compassion in the male response to rape? I have female friends who have been the victim of abuse, and hearing advice or questions about their conduct feels to them like the exact sort of pattern that led to the abusive relationship in the first place. Why can't we be there for each other without wanting to control the situation? I don't understand. If a female friend told me she was raped, I would try to be supportive but let her determine what type of support she wants from me, and I'd be hyper-aware of her vunerability and sensitivity to it.

Lindsey, you should consider making a post about the correct response to a rape victim. Maybe some men feel like women only approach them about issues like rape when they want the man to take care of it, and the man feels like they take care of it by finding out information and trying to reduce the odds. I would guess that there are a lot of points of connection between helping a rape victim without further hurting the victims sense of self and helping a suicidal person. In the case of suicide, I know most peoples first reaction is to try and take charge of the situation, whereas the most effective response is to get the person talking and helping them feel their pain so they can let go of it. In the case of a rape victim, I would think that the proper response would be to be there with them as they grieve, and do whatever you can to be nonjudgementally present and aware so the person can begin the process of getting over it. This means not offering any advice, it means not asking questions from your limited point of view, but just hearing what the person has to say and helping them to get it out. I would guess there are two types of men who have the "What was she wearing?" response to rape. One type has so many issues with women that they will not consider any other response, and the second type would consider another response, deeply feels that rape is a problem, but has no idea what the proper response is. So, they offer "What was she wearing?" out of ignorance of better ways to be supportive and compassionate for the victim. I'd wonder what your advice to the second group of men would be. Put yourself in the mindset of a man who thinks rape is really bad, but mistakenly feels trying to figure out the circumstances of the rape has something to do with helping the victim get over her pain.

Eli - Nothing about questions like "what was she wearing" is preventitive. It has no effect on women (except causing a great deal of guilt, shame, and psychological trauma). It does, however, have quite an effect on men. It suggests to them that things like "what is she wearing?" matter in rape, and thus makes it more likely that they would commit rapes in certain situations. Lingering thoughts like "But look at the way is dressed" will creep up in the minds of men who are familier with this sort of response. I have no doubt you mean well, man, but I really think you have your head up your ass on this one. Instead of arguing here about it, why don't you take the time to read some of the stories of rape survivors, and try and understand their mindset so you could better approximate how hearing something like "what were you wearing" from an asshole man would play.

Well, I don't think I ever made any statement on the "what were you wearing?" question, so I don't really know how to respond to a critique of my position on it. And I don't think you're in a position to know how much I have read or interacted with rape survivors, so I'm not going to respond to that, either, other than to ask that you not make assumptions like that about me.

But, to the extent that the world is full of potential rapists, and no heroic display of my deep sensitivity will change that, encouraging preventive behavior seems like a worthwhile goal. And while a lot of preventive behavior may seem like common sense, the reality is that people are often not common sense decisionmakers. And learning to make wise decisions when alcohol is involved is not particularly easy for many, many people - and alcohol is often a factor here. I'm not advocating going into Rape Crisis centers and lecturing the victims. I'm talking about having an open, public discourse about the ways you can reduce your chances of being put into a terrible position by a terrible person.

I just thought of another reason why the "what were you wearing" reaction smacks of male privilege. Critics often assume that "common sense" is synonymous with "maximal self-preservation at all times."

In most contexts, we accept that people differ in their tolerance for risk. When it comes to rape, there's no acknowledgment of the fact that everyone is constantly making tradeoffs between freedom and personal safety. Usually, we accept that different people may, quite reasonably, have different priorities. In our society, adult women just aren't free to say "I'm going to live on the edge and take my chances." Anyone who openly admitted to that kind of gambling would be shamed. Anyone whose behavior suggests sexual risk-taking will be castigated for being stupid, naive, or irrational.

Our society's attitude towards women and sexual risk maps onto its attitude towards stewardship of other people's property. Basically, the public scolds act as if all women had some fiduciary duty to manage society's scarce pussy resources prudently. That's male privilege.

I mentioned in my first comment that it's reasonable not to be maximally preventive because doing so could harm quality of life in a disproportionate way. It makes sense that the degree of that harm would be contingent on personal preferences about risk and the amount of pleasure you derive from the risky behavior.

But we talk about people's decisions in a way that questions their risk calculus all the time. We do it with smoking. We do it with eating unhealthy foods. We do it with not knowing self-defense, or walking home alone in a neighborhood with a lot of robberies. The goal isn't to make people not free to make their decisions - it's to encourage people to calculate risk in a way that's actually reflective of the probability of a bad outcome and the degree to which they would be genuinely pained by engaging in specific preventive behaviors.

Acting like women have a duty to manage their genitalia as if they were a publicly owned resource is of course male privilege. That's just tautological. And it's not justified to ask a rape victim what she was wearing. But to claim that this is somehow the only situation where someone might encourage public discussion about preventive behavior is just not true factually.

I don't think personal safety awareness major obstacle to rape prevention. Women have sexual self-preservation drilled into us from birth. We're constantly lectured about what's prudent, what's decent, and what's appropriate for "nice girls."

It's exasperating to be lectured on the intimate details my personal life by strangers who have no expertise beyond the conventional wisdom. Now, if a cop, a social scientist, or a rape crisis worker wants to tell me something I might not know about being safe, I'm happy to listen. I think there's probably value in raising awareness about alcohol and acquaintance rape on campus, but even there, it's a delicate situation that's better handled by peer advocacy than by sermonizing in the media.

Likewise, if an insurance adjuster wants to tell me how I can reduce my risk of a B&E, I'm all ears--but I don't want to hear some stranger drone on about how I never should have moved to New York in the first place.

You seem to be making the same points as Amanda Marcotte made in discussing the Aruba situation. My reaction has been almost entirely that you both make a tremendous amount of sense, and I can't understand what Eli (and assorted clueless people in the Pandagon threads) are missing.

Of course, the situation does not entirely benefit men. Though it is a trivial inconvenience, not in any way comparable to how the issue affects women, I very much dislike being considered untrustworthy. I thus am annoyed by cultural viewpoints which assert I can't control myself because I have a penis.

Eli - Maybe I was projecting a bit on what I'd heard other guys say onto you, and responding more to them then to you. I used "It also, though, doesn't seem like a very wise preventive strategy to make it taboo to suggest that one's behavior can increase or decrease the likelihood of being raped - the same way it can increase or decrease the likelihood of being mugged or non-sexually assaulted." as my point of departure. Like I said, I'm sure your heart is in the right place. Sorry.

This remains. Talking about "what was she wearing, what could she of done different" etc, is not preventitive. It harms women who have been raped. Also, it encourages rapists. A drunk guy who hears "what was she wearing" in response to every news report about rape is going to think that what a person wears matters in the decision to rape them. So, this drunk guy will have an excuse to rape in the back of his mind when he runs into a woman with revealing clothes on who says no to him.

For dialogue like "What was she wearing" to be helpful, it would have to prevent more rapes then it caused. If such dialogue contributes to a way of thinking that encourages rape, it's going to cause rapes (in men who use this kind of thinking to justify their behavior) as well as prevent them (in women who stay at home in bed with a can of mace under their pillow.) So, the question is, does this dialogue, on balance, 1.) prevent rapes, and 2.) contribute to the overall well being of populations it is designed to reach. That is an emperical question, but I think the answer is 'no' on both counts. For preventing rapes, Women already know a lot about preventing rape. They can't walk down the street alone without thinking about it. But, some men might not think about it until they are drunk and a scantily clad woman tells them no. In cases like this (which I think are a big number of rapes), the dialogue is actually harmful to women. In regard to the overall well-being, it's obvious that hearing "what was she wearing" is going to be very harmful for the population that has already been victimized by sexual abuse, it's not going to help women, who already know they are at danger of rape, and it's going to hurt women who are affected by the paternalistic connotations of that line of thought. I don't see how some asshat like Bill O'Reily showing pictures of dark skinned males and white women who have disappeared and saying "She was wearing a really short skirt" contributes to anything but future victimization of women. Obviously this isn't what you are advocating for, either, Eli. But, I wonder what other form a dialogue on rape prevention could take in the time frame after a high profile rape.

I find it entirely pointless to argue the benefits of "instructional chatter" in the wake of a sexual assault, high profile or no. While not a woman, I find it hard to believe that any survivor of assault would not replay in their mind without any help from others all the details of the episode. Second guessing is second nature. What was I doing? how could I have been so stupid? I knew I should have trusted my instincts. These kinds of misgivings about one's behavior are a) pounded further into the unconscious by well-meaning souls wishing to "educate" women, making additional chatter even less necessary, b) probably directly responsible for the level of shame a woman feels, and c) inversely proportional to her likelihood of informing the authorities.

In extreme cases, such high levels of shame and self-hatred could even lead some women to unconsciously seek out unhealthy and dangerous situations because they have been conditioned to feel, merely by dint of having attractive breasts, legs, hips, etc. that they always already deserve whatever they get. Teen prostitutes who had been abused as children come to mind.

I'm somewhat disappointed that my original point about the removal of shame from the equation (heavy lifting that we all need to throw our legs into) being the key to reclaiming power for women was never picked up on, and a fruitless (and played-out might I add) discussion on the agency of "advice" ensued. To my mind, shame is the residue of violence that must, by the woman involved and with the help of her support structure, be courageously sloughed off if one is go from a post-traumatic, self-referential, and ultimately blaming inward gaze to an outward and active prosecution of the one and only perpetrator of the crime. However well-intended the advice, it is merely a step backwards in this process.

In terms of "how to help" women or anyone who has been subjected to trauma, there is a metaphor that I think is especially helpful. It involves the method for bringing a skidding car under control. It's a principle I think you touched on in your comment, TomK. Everyone who's taken driver's ed knows that the way to handle a skid is to steer "into the skid" rather than to stubbornly point the wheels where you wanted to go in the first place. To me, this describes how important it is to be with someone in their moment of anguish and, for a short while at least, ride with them as they lose control, without judgment, valuing that part of the journey as absolutely essential to eventually regaining control. Of course, shame and judgment and self-doubt are kryptonite to this process. It is extremely difficult to be adequately accepting of one's own loss of control if one feels partly to blame for it.

Lindsay, this is possibly the best post I've ever read on this subject. Thanks for writing it.

I like this comment, Tom.

Talking about "what was she wearing, what could she of done different" etc, is not preventitive. It harms women who have been raped. Also, it encourages rapists. A drunk guy who hears "what was she wearing" in response to every news report about rape is going to think that what a person wears matters in the decision to rape them. So, this drunk guy will have an excuse to rape in the back of his mind when he runs into a woman with revealing clothes on who says no to him.

This is very, very true. And people who instruct women to curtail our freedom in response to rape don't understand that what they are doing in fact is assisting rapists in the job of making women fear leaving our homes. I really think that increasing women's freedom is the only long-term way to reduce rape because it chips away at the sexism that rapists draw on to justify their actions to themselves.

Lindsay: excellent work here, especially in comments. For a comparison: When someone is in a car accident in which the other party is at fault, do we hear people tut-tutting about whether they really needed to be driving that day? Surely there were safer commuting options, and even if those would have taken longer and as such curtailed their freedom, wouldn't it have been prudent to consider them...

Amanda -

I like your blog a lot. I've been following your posts on this issue, but I'm too lazy to sign up for comments. Maybe you could be the one to make a post telling the stupid men what an appropiate response to a friend who has been raped would look like. Another idea would be to write about what you think an appropiate institutional (i.e. media) response to rape would look like. I think these would provoke insightful discussion and be quite helpful to the "what was she wearing? Say it again in a sexy voice on fox news" crowd to see what a good response would look like.

Well, I did try to open up a thread for men to discuss how they could take up the cause and do productive things, and I think that worked out really well. But I don't know if I could write a post on how to respond to rape except as a list of Thou Shalt Nots. Don't blame the victim--it seems so obvious to me.

"What was she wearing?" is complicated by the fact that the very people most likely to ask it are the ones most likely to expect woman to dress to look good. It's exactly the same underlying dynamic.

On a different note Lindsay wrote (06:11 PM) "Yet, it would be considered crass, insensitive, and otiose for a commenter to castigate those dead kids." - In front of their parents, certainly. But if they are responsible for their own deaths I have no problem placing blame where it belongs. Rape is fundamentally different - there is a second actor, and all the blame lies on the person who uses force against the will of the victim. We had a case here in MD where some kids behaving irresponsibly in a car got themselves and some innocent bystanders (in another vehicle) killed. The community response was to look absolutely everywhere for responsibility *except* the driver of the car (who was speeding), the kids who were distracting him, and the parents who failed to ensure that he was a responsible driver. Sometimes the victim really is to blame. The closest analog to a rape victim (survivor?) in this case is the people in the other vehicle, who were behaving perfectly responsibly and had no chance to respond when the kids crossed the centerline at high speed, striking them head-on.

Amanda,

Let me riff slightly off the basic "Don't blame the victim" line. I'd argue that if what Lindsay is saying about the existence of male privilege is true, then the victim is already blamed. So the question becomes how to UN-blame the victim rather than whether or not to blame in the first place.

It's difficult to give any general advice to friends of rape survivors. I think the best initial response is probably just to listen to the victim and ask her whether there's anything you can do to help.

In an immediate crisis situation you might offer to drive her to the hospital or go with her to the police station to file a complaint. Don't try lecture her about what she should be doing. Don't press the issue if she's not coping the way you think she should be, but don't hesitate to ask non-intrusive practical questions like: Do you feel safe where you are? or Do you need to see a doctor?

Whether it's an acute crisis, or a past incident, don't rush to ask about the details--but do make it clear that you're willing to listen to whatever she has to say about what happened to her and how she feels about it.

Acknowledge the magnitude of what has happened. Don't try and convince her to look on the bright side. Tell her you're so glad she's safe, but not that she's just lucky that she wasn't killed. Don't question her judgment that she was raped--that's a legitimate question for the justice system, but not an appropriate question for a friend to ask.

Be prepared for ambiguity. Most rapes aren't your stereotypical violent stranger assaults. Your friend may tell you about a situation where you would have acted differently, or one that you wouldn't necessarily interpret as rape if it happened to you. Don't assume that these ambiguous cases are less traumatic for the victim. Don't be surprised if your friend expresses seemingly incompatible emotions. Victims of violence sometimes have profound ambivalence about what happened and/or the person responsible.

I think the bottom line is to take your cues from the victim herself (or himself, as the case may be). Don't withdraw because you're afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Your friend is approaching you because she trusts you. Give her the chance to tell you what she needs.

But there can be very legitimate reasons to discuss the extremely unwise behavior that often increases the likelihood of being victimized.

Yep.

But let's for a second step back and discuss something different: the dynamics of this discussion that has played out over the last oh, I dunno, decades, with a recent outbreak on our local constellation of blogs.

The issue of discussing safety measures in advance has been hashed out. What's interesting to me is the implication of male privilege carried in the discussion. I wasn't exactly keeping track, but it seemed, over the course of the last couple weeks, like the people who defended the validity of talking about defensive measures ran about 9 to 1 male. A lot of this discussion was relatively compassionate, people saying "of course I wouldn't say this after the fact" and "women should be able to go wherever they want" and such. But the defensive measures got brought up in the discussion, as certain as rain in Portland, and the weaseling about appropriateness served mainly to distinguish the Neanderthals from the somewhat more evolved Cro-Magnons among us males. The pro-feminist men were willing to abstract their urge to hector just a bit. (Apologies for the bad anthropology there.)

And it struck me that this whole discussion is very much like the periodic discussion by white people - mainly men - about issues relating to African-Americans. Some white person gains access to a podium somewhere and says something compassionate, with an air of decisiveness, about the breakdown of the African-American family and how it contributes to the enduring poverty in the black community. And maybe everything he says is correct, and maybe he says it compassionately.

And the people he's addressing roll their eyes, ask themselves if the next thing he's going to tell them is that the sky is blue.

It still amazes me, the earnestness with which supportive, well-intentioned men leap up to tell women what are appropriate things to discuss when rape is concerned. To bad they don't realize how lucky they are not to know what thoughts women go through on this topic.

This interesting set of comments and the resulting dialogue is, as somebody wrote above, a very good post. But Lindsay's initial premise, the paradox of Musharraf blowing an extremely good international PR opportunity by not helping, but hindering Mukthar Mai (because he is somehow unknowingly or uncontrollably trapped in the world of male privilege) has swamped any knowledgeable dialogue about the evolving mission of Mukthar Mai.

During my decade plus of work in public safety, I had many discussions with female police officers and correctional officers about the hassles rape victims endure. Most of the topics discussed above came up.

But Mukthar Mai's response to her degradation is far more important than what has been discussed in this post. I think we should be writing about ways to get her out of Pakistan and into some situations which can help her in her efforts to destroy the educational paradigm in her community.

Can someone explain to me what the hell male privilege is? Judging by how I see it used in this thread, iit looks like a fancier term for misogyny.

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