Dan Savage, Bristol Palin, and How We Scrutinize Rape Allegations
Dan Savage: General misogynist, bisexual eraser, rape apologist.
(TRIGGER WARNING) Dan Savage, the sex blogger and gay rights activist whom you may recall from the It Gets Better campaign or another campaign, gave some fairly conclusive opinions yesterday about whether or not Levi Johnston raped Bristol Palin, as she’s (only kind of sort of maybe) recently said.
And for what it’s worth: I don’t believe Bristol. It’s not that I think boys like Levi are incapable of getting girls black-out drunk on wine coolers and fucking ‘em after they’ve passed out in tents, or that boys who rape drunk girls shouldn’t be arrested and prosecuted. It’s just that Bristol’s story—which comes so long after her two broken engagements to Levi—is the kind of self-exonerating bullshit that scared teenagers offer up to parents and other authority figures when it’s just their good-girl reputations and saving-myself-for-marriage self-images that are on the line. And Bristol’s got a lot more than that on the line: she’s a spokesnoodle for an abstinence organization and a rightwing darlin’ and she’s out there workin’ the sexphobe speaking circuit. (“Screw as I say, not as I screw.”) Bristol has a paycheck to worry about.
No one appreciates what Dan Savage has done for Rick Santorum’s Google problem like I do, but I can’t appreciate the central message of this post. It’s easy to call self-exonerating bullshit on public media figures, and it’s often very appropriate. What Dan Savage is writing here, though, is that Bristol Palin should not be believed because A) she’s a scared teenager B) with a mother who has questionable politics C) with the pressures of a starring (if ironic) role in abstinence-only activism. Mr. Savage harshly downgrades her claim of rape is to the silly self-involved “bullshit” of a deluded girl angry at rejection, dismissing her case. None of his reasons actually prove Bristol Palin could not have been raped. They are not actual grounds for anyone to dismiss the validity of her claim. They mean that Dan Savage (and many others, judging by the comments on this piece) don’t want to give Bristol’s claim any credence.
One of the lines of argument seems to be: why should we run the risk of unnecessarily putting Levi Johnston on the spot for her sake? There’s a distinct imbalance between the scrutiny Bristol gets in Dan Savage’s column and the scrutiny Johnston gets (which is absolutely none). We have the reasons she might be lying, what about the reasons she might be telling the truth? (Johnston’s no peach, either. There might be any number of personal and political reasons why she or her family kept the claim to themselves, not the least of them her mother’s political campaign. She wasn’t sure whether to call it rape or not. She was afraid that people wouldn’t believe her.)
Bristol Palin may well be lying. It does happen. Unlike Mr. Savage and the commenters on his page, I don’t want to delve into the wouldn’t she haves and of course it’s impossible thats of trying to decide whether or not Bristol Palin was raped. I want to point out, however, that we can’t casually toss aside the claims of rape that come from someone we don’t like, or from someone who might have a reason to lie.
A commenter on the piece brought up the point, that if this is a lie, then that damages the genuine claims of actual rape victims. This is correct, and if Ms. Palin is lying, then shame on her. But it damages the genuine claims of actual rape victims even more to allow anyone’s claims to be so callously and easily dismissed with such shoddy reasoning.
Because, when people scrutinize anyone’s rape claims, like Mr. Savage scrutinizes Ms. Palin’s, they can come up with all sorts of reasons why a claimant might be lying. Because she regrets doing it. Because she wants the attention. Because she’s angry that he’s with another woman. When people scrutinize rape allegations, they’re often looking for exactly what Mr. Savage found: a reason, any reason, to discard the allegation, no matter how small.
In which Dan Savage continues to prove he’s a miserable human being.
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