October 18, 2011 by Katie.
Is it too late – too far removed from the “event” for our microsecond attention spans – to talk about what an asshat Dominique Stauss-Kahn is? It’s not? Good.
For all of you who are a little confused, Stauss-Kahn is the former Director of the IMF who stepped down after his arrest on allegations that he sexually assaulted a New York hotel maid during his stay. After his arrest, multiple women came forward also claiming that they were assaulted by SK, worsening an already pretty damning situation. As things progressed, however, the prosecution’s case began to “unravel,” penultimately arriving at this NYT article, just days before the charges against SK were dropped.
Did you read it? Okay, let’s continue.
My concern is not so much that the charges were dropped (though, I agree with the National Organization for Women, the fact that SK is “walking away scot-free is appalling”) but with the tone with which this case is ending. One could easily present arguments about why the prosecution is “shoving this under the rug” surrounding issues such as race (immigrant=nobody cares), White-Male Hegemony (rich-white-guy-pulled-strings), or Politics (rich-white-guy-who-happens-to-run-an-important-international-economic-fund-that-gives-loans-to-the-countries-immigrants-immigrate-from-wow-that’s-awkward). And, maybe it’s a combination of all of those.
But I am more appalled that there is no mention in the NYT article or in the prosecutor’s brief that SK might be lying as well, or even – equality? – that they’re both fuckers and it’s really just too complicated to tell. Nope, not there. It’s only about her. All of the accusation falls on Diallo. Instead of simply dropping the case citing lack of evidence, the prosecution went to seemingly great lengths to entirely discredit Diallo. Not only to discredit her claim that she was raped, which is a concern in and of itself, but to discredit her, as a person. And it worked. Like a charm. Meanwhile, SK still has enough credibility that he’s still considered a front-runner for the Socialist candidate nomination for President in France.
Why is it so easy to discredit a woman??
Kelly Oliver’s interdisciplinary work, The Colonization of Psychic Space: A Psychoanalytic Social Theory of Oppression has been one of my favorite things for going on a year and a half now, and I think she applies beautifully to the above question. In her book, Oliver dissects the structure of socially oppressive narratives then discusses the resulting individual psychological affects of social oppression. She brings it back to the group level by examining the underlying ability of pathological labels, such as Depression, to sustain dominant power structures.
But what does this have to do with women…and more particularly with the SK case?
“Hysteria,” writes Oliver, “produced and reproduced stereotypes or ideals of white bourgeois femininity as passive, emotional, irrational, and incapable of serious thought or work. In the 20th century, hysteria has been replaced by depression…In various ways, lack of activity, passivity, silence, moodiness, irritability, excessive crying, lack of sexual appetite, and nervousness…have been part of our ideas and even ideals of femininity for centuries.” (p. 101) The very ideals of femininity, however, also read as the Western definition of a weak and unvalued character. As Oliver points out, these boundaries preclude women from any positive definition. Women are automatically born into a society in which they are already inherently defined as inferior, with or without their input.
So, of course it was easy for the prosecutors to pin this “misunderstanding” on Diallo because there is already a cultural belief that women are irrational, prone to make mistakes, and overly sensitive. But, why take it to such extremes? Why besmirch her reputation so completely? The prosecutors did not just proclaim that Diallo was guilty of mis-accusation or misrepresentation. They shamed her through a complete destruction of her character; it was not her story, her facts that were unreliable. She became unreliable.
Oliver makes this important distinction between guilt and shame. If you are guilty, you committed an act, for which you can then apologize. But shame refers to a state of being which cannot be undone. Which is why the “guilty” SK can still run for President of a country while Diallo, I will venture to guess, will find it hard to get any job that requires a modicum of character credibility.
But this begs the question again, why? Why reduce Diallo to the basest of levels? Here Oliver is very clear (and I will jump from her launchpad): SILENCE. Dominant power structures rely on the silence of exclusion. Moreover, on the silence of what Oliver calls “double alienation.” Not only are persons excluded from positive definition, they are forbidden the social space to discuss any affect caused by oppression. Diallo spoke out. Which not only violates all of those characteristics I mentioned earlier but also it violates our deepest codes: we live in a democracy where there “is no” sexism or racism and deeper still, inferior does not challenge superior – women do not challenge men.
Don’t rock the goddamn boat!
Sound familiar? It is. Silence is the Golden Rule. And whether or not we want to admit it, this happens every. single. day. I’m not trying to claim there is some sort of conspiracy theory. But I am saying that this behavior is a real thing. It exists. And it happens to women all the time. Feminisms and rebellions are drowned against its tides. Statement: “Don’t say that to me.” Answer: “You’re oversensitive, it was just a joke.” Statement: “Don’t treat me that way.” Answer: “I wasn’t, you’re being irrational.” Statement: “That makes me upset.” Answer: “You’re just emotional.”
What can I say to that. It is circular back into itself; if I defend myself I am only reinforcing your belief; there is no room for argument. So, there is silence. Ultimately, that is why SK (and that NYT article because they’re buying right into it) bothered me: it’s so obviously putting a blame-the-woman-hood over everything! But, if Kelly Oliver taught me one thing, it’s that knowing the “system” is empowering.
So, here’s to breaking the Silence.