Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sexism Shown To Have A Real Practical Impact

As someone who was placed with the top group in my grade for math beginning in the 8th grade based on testing, and who saw the percentage of girls and women in my math classes drop as I progressed from class to class, I'm not surprised by this ABC news story about the correlation between a country's sexism and girls' math performance.

In college especially I noticed how sexism impacted which students stuck with math and who decided that they just didn't have what it took or who weren't given the same level of help when needed because of assumptions about gender. This happened in individual classes, but it happened as much in broader ways such as the supported career choices.

If I had been only twice as good in my math classes as some of the men who were encouraged to study more, I would have been encouraged to shift my expectations and my plans. This impact of sexism was real, but it wasn't well researched.

For decades, researchers and educators have debated why boys tend to perform better than girls in math. Are men naturally more logical creatures and thus better at scientific endeavors? Are girls not encouraged by their families, their friends or society at large to pursue scientific careers?

Researchers believe they may have found at least one answer: where girls live. Girls living in countries where there is more gender equality perform better in math, sometimes outpacing boys, than girls who live in countries with more male-dominated societies.

This study looked at math, but the same sexism which impacts math performances impacts criminal investigations and crime itself. The Washington Post has a story by Mary Jordon about the fact that in Britain rape cases seldom result in convictions largely because of the way rape cases are handled -- or more often mishandled.

A 15 year old girl gets raped by a 28 year old neighbor and the girl's mother has to threaten to sue to get anyone to investigate her daughter's rape. The police who do eventually investigate lose important evidence. Then the jury is informed by the judge that the defendant is "in a way a man of good character" because that man's conviction history for a variety of offenses which didn't include violence.

Like the differences in math achievement, these results might at first seem like isolated incidences of investigative and judicial incompetence, but these results are not isolated. These unjust results are pervasive. Competent and effective investigations of rape allegations combined with judicial competence in rape cases are what are isolated.

In order to have this current problem related to low conviction rates for rape cases there needs to be a widespread willingness in Britain to tolerate governmental incompetence -- to the direct benefit of rapists.

Stories are written about this problem but the groundswell of demand from all citizens for those problems to be fixed isn't there. For many people it is a SEP: Somebody Else's Problem. Unfortunately, for other people this is their desired outcome.

Think about the number of times someone will write "Women lie about rape" to justify automatically rejecting the testimony of girls and women who report being raped and to dismiss the reality of wrongful acquittals of rapists. This rejection is based on gender alone.

In the cases they refer to where the alleged victim is female and the alleged rapist is male they want the allegation to be assumed to be false -- often in the name of innocent until proven guilty. They want most rape investigations to stop before there is any meaningful investigation unless there is also a non-sexual physical assault, one which leaves injuries that are undeniable in the eyes of those who make these sexist claims.

When these people get what they want and most rape cases are stillborn then the backlash over this injustice gets spun into a backlash against men who are not treated as "innocent until proven guilty." Rapists are undeniably getting away with rape yet everyone is supposed to act like it has been proven that there was no rape whenever there is no conviction.

When a rape is undeniable in these people's opinion for whatever reason many times these sexist people will talk about women bringing rape upon themselves which turns their rapists into men who overstepped no moral or morally enforceable legal boundary. Rape gets transformed from a crime which should be punished into a form of punishment which most girls and women deserve. The response to a rape which cannot be denied is often: "What did she expect?"

Yet I have yet to hear any of these sexists make the same claim about boys and men who become crime victims while intoxicated. Muggers are muggers whether their victims are drunk or sober. Claims by muggers that the drunk men were walking the streets with hundred dollar bills sticking out of their pockets to explain that grabbing the men's wallets was consensual would be laughed off as the mythology it is.

Most of those who oppose criminal charges for marital rape say a variation of, "Women lie to gain leverage over their husbands or ex-husbands." This again is a generic and unfounded allegation. Something the sexists claim to oppose.

Many times they will claim that when the police go into an investigation assuming that the report is accurate that the police are discriminating against men, but this is incorrect. The assumption that a police report is accurate is the standard assumption for non-sex crimes. This assumption is there to ensure that the relevant evidence is collected.

In this sexist worldview the subset of men accused of rape are classified as more honest than the subset of women who report rape. Crime statistics strongly contradict this sexist view of honesty, but that doesn't stop the sexists. They explain away statistics which disprove their sexist claims by referring to a feminist conspiracy or a "rape industry." To defend sexism, they evoke sexism with men as the true victims.

When their evidence breaks down, they bemoan the "ever expanding definition of rape" (meaning "I should be able to rape my girlfriend with the law's full approval") but I doubt that they are bemoaning criminal statute changes which have recognized that boys and men can be raped.

This general attitude of hostility toward girls and women who report rape is an injustice which directly benefits rapists and which increases the number of rapes and the number of boys and men who are allowed to become serial rapists. These attitudes also feed the rationalizations of boys and men considering rape.

Those boys and men who are among the small percentage who are genuinely innocent of rape allegations against them will have their claims of innocence drowned out by all the rapists who claim that they too were falsely accused yet who are the prime benefactors of widespread injustice.

Those injustices aren't good results unless you are a rapist who got away with rape or your first priority is protecting most rapists from those pesky rape victims who dare to speak the truth.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 3:39 PM   1 comments links to this post


At May 31, 2008 10:27 PM, Anonymous Jen said...

Thanks for this thought-provoking post!


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