Monday, April 28, 2008

Just another misogynistic Monday.

Two items today that I know are bound to rekindle certain emotions among those who have now and then accused me of being "sexist." But see, in my view, that's part of the problem: that anything that runs counter to women's interests nowadays is perceived as sexism (if not outright misogyny). And the best way to make my case is simply to talk about what I'm going to talk about.

1. Penn State footballer Austin Scott is a former high school standout from my region who was once projected to be an NFL sure thing. Scott never quite lived up to his promise at State, but things really fell apart when a woman—whom the media have never identified—accused him of rape. Scott insisted the sex was consensual, and the case was about to go to trial when the defense received belated permission to introduce evidence about a stunningly similar set of allegations the same woman had made against another college student a few years earlier. That student was acquitted. The chronology of the Scott case is convoluted and time-consuming, and even fundamental facts remain in dispute, so interested parties can catch up on their own by following the links. For me, the takeaway is the basic inequity of the "gentleman's agreements" (and in some states, actual laws) that bar newspapers and other media from identifying the accuser...while an all-out public spectacle is made of the accused. Though charges against Scott have now been dropped, there's no question that his once-lustrous image is tarnished, that his value to the NFL has been further diminished, and that a certain stigma will follow him forever. ("OK, he beat the rap...but...ya think he did it?") I therefore ask: Why identify the accused but not the accuser? Clearly once an arrest is made, there's no way to shield the accused rapist from publicity, but don't today's one-sided anonymity privileges muddy the presumption of innocence by automatically putting the woman in a sympathetic light? And if women knew that they'd be subjected to public scrutiny the moment they made such serious allegations, wouldn't they be far less likely to fabricate stories? (Remember the Duke lacrosse case?) I'm just asking.

2. Comes an AP item by Mark Rubinkam in this morning's paper about the ongoing (albeit seldom-mentioned) controversy over paternity fraud. Full-disclosure requires me to note that my family and I were victims of paternity fraud: Once again, it's a complex and wrenching saga that I've already written about twice (for The New York Times Magazine and Good Housekeeping); further, because it ended tragically last May in the suicide of the emotionally scattered young woman who victimized us, my feelings on the whole thing are quite conflicted. (Suffice it to say the episode has placed an ache in my gut that will never quite go away.) Widening the lens, however: Across America, thousands of men continue to be hostages to a system that forces them to pay years of child support for children that everyone agrees they didn't father. How does this happen? For one thing, in many jurisdictions, any child born during a marriage is assumed, de jure,* to be the husband's legal offspring, regardless of any contextual circumstances that come to light. Even jurisdictions that allow for paternity challenges within a marriage often give husbands an absurdly narrow window in which to make that challenge: as short as 30 days.

And here's the thing: The same women's groups who have put their full institutional weight behind such rallying cries as "equal pay for equal work!" and "equality under the law!" suddenly reverse their field in this case: They seek special protections and oppose any attempts to implement criminal or even civil sanctions against women who deceive men about paternity, then collect support monies on the basis of that deception. The women's groups defend their stance in lofty sound-bites about "preserving the integrity of marriage" and the "best interests of the children." The integrity of marriage? Tell me how that applies in a case where a wife slept with another man, conceived as a result, then went on to lie to her husband about the whole thing? Even if she doesn't know for sure whose baby it is, doesn't she at least have a moral obligation to tell her husband there was another swimmer in the race, so to speak? As for the "best interests of the child," I have a novel idea: How 'bout we go after the real father with the same persistence and singleness of purpose that courts now go after the poor schmuck who got duped!

In the most nightmarish and Kafkaesque of these scenarios, the woman leaves the husband, starts a brand-new life with the guy who actually fathered her baby...and keeps collecting support from the duped dad till the child in question reaches 18.

Somebody—anybody, male or female or indeterminate—tell me how that's fair in a society that says it stands for "gender equality." Go ahead, I want to hear your rationale.

* which has nothing to do with soup. I offer that as a morsel of comic relief in the midst of an otherwise bleak post.


Cosmic Connie said...

"Somebody—anybody, male or female or indeterminate—tell me how that's fair in a society that says it stands for 'gender equality.' Go ahead, I want to hear your rationale."

Let's face it. Women, men... everyone... we want to have our cake and eat it too. I think people in general (and corporations, and countries) will try to get away with as much as they can get away with.

How's that for a simplistic response? :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Yes, but you know what, Connie? (And btw, it's nice to see your cheery blue visage back on the blog.) In giving what you no doubt viewed as a somewhat glib response, I think you also gave the most pertinent one. I just wish that more people would own up to it!

Citizen Deux said...

Connie is - simply - right. The cake, icing and candles argument is compelling.

It is my opinion that we live in a continually demasculinized society. Where every vestige of masculine behavior is derided and discouraged (aggression, competitiveness, stoicism, etc.).

This plays out in the courts where a period of clearly unfair gender bias existed is now being righted. As usual, we have laws which were meant to address the 5% of wrongs but end up affecting the 95% of the innocent.

I am not for any return to "women as chattel" or segregation of genders. I do not favor ridiculous "male bonding" exercises to recover our lost instincts. I am in favor of an almost brutally fair approach to standards.

In short, set the bar. If you meet the criteria - you are awarded the "rewards". If DNA disproves a man's role in fathering a child - then he's off the hook. If not, then he has a chance for equal particiaption in the child's upbringing.

I believe all victims of crime are entitled to some privacy - for simple protection and consideration. However, if the claims prove goundless, then equal prosecution should follow for that person.

There is no true "equality". As a member of the military, many folks would like to serve, but due to physical, mental or other issues - can not. The standard is set and those individuals may not meet it.

On a side note, we have already seen that women can fly combat aircraft and fight as well as men in most instances. However, the comingling of genders creates a hormonal soup which is not conducive to high stress, combat environments.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you and Connie. It's called "rationalization." Since we are on this subject, why is it that if we agree with a man or (heaven forbid) vote for a man, we are no longer considered "sisters"? Why must I agree with illogical and unfair behavior, because I possess a uterus? How come "feminists" only are for "uniting" women when that said "woman" agrees with their agenda? Wasn't the whole idea about getting the right to vote about freedom?

A Woman said...

You also did not bring up single women who use sperm donors to have children. How is that fair to the child? Now "sperm donors" are being contacted by their children. Sperm banks all over the country are being contacted from this children and their single mothers. The sperm donors do not have to respond. I guess no one was thinking about this when sperm banks started. I guess they were taking a note out of Troll's book and "thinking in the now."

I know the arguement is a woman has a right to reproduce, but shouldn't she have the ethics to think about the child? Children want to know where they came from and deserve to know. Just because you can do something or want to do something, does not mean you should.

Don't get me started on "elected" c-sections either.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of how good fathers cannot have custody of their children. I thought it was appalling in the Britney Spears and K-Fed case that he had to prove he was the better parent. He should not have had to fight that hard for custody of his children when the mother was obviously not capable of taking care of them. That case was not unique. I know decent and excellent fathers who do not have custody of their children due to courts "favoring" the mothers. Of course, no groups are fighting for them.

The Crack Emcee said...

I wasn't going to write anything but a woman mentioned ethics, which was what I was thinking of as I read your post:

Is it really so hard to keep it in your pants, people? Connie's answer may be true (Hi, Connie) but the behavior she describes wouldn't be able to happen (with all those lives confounded) if more people had character and a sense of propriety.

For quite a while, I've been working on a tune that features the lyric, "There's a time and place for everything but this ain't either one". I haven't been able to finish the song because I had no solid context for that line but, now, I think I can.

Thanks, Steve.

A Woman said...

Oh, but CMC I am not a "woman." My "sisters" say I hate being a woman and am "brainwashed" by a patriarchal society, since I don't agree with them. My uterus does not help me if I differ from their views.

Cal said...

I can't argue with Steve's points in the post, but I was wondering: Where is the post about the Smiley Cyrus controversy?

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, it's a fair question. I generally try to avoid the sensational pop-culture stories, at least while they're still being covered wall-to-wall in network etc. What I try to do is lay back a bit, then provide some perspective that was missed in the mainstream coverage. Or--ideally--point out ways in which the media got the story precisely backwards. I know that sounds arrogant, but if I do say so myself, I think I've often succeeded at "connecting the dots" to larger cultural phenomena where others haven't. (For example, I'm less interested in Britney Spears' crotch, per se, than what it says, if you will, about life in these United States, circa 2008.)

Anyway, I may have something on Smiley eventually. Now...did I hear someone say she's dating Roger Clemens? ;)

Lucian said...

cosmic connie is right.
citizen deux - please explain how stoicism is masculine?

Life would be less annoying without this constant, very 19th century stuff about what women and men are like by nature. Both feminist and anti-feminist use it, with equally irritating results.

Anonymous said...

Though I'm a big fan of your book and agree with most of what you post here, I have to say your comments on laws and agreements that protect the anonymity of rape victims are astoundingly short sighted. Yes, there are rare instances in which a woman falsely accuses a man of rape. While revealing the names of those accusing someone of rape might cut down on these few false accusations, it would do so at the expense of genuine rape victims who far outnumber the kind of innocent men you are concerned about.

Rape is a horrific violation of the most intimate kind that often still goes unreported because it is so traumatic. If women knew that reporting their accuser would force them to publicly reveal what had happened to them, rape reports would plummet. Keep in mind Kobe Bryant's accuser – when her name was leaked, her home address was published on the internet, the details of her underwear cleanliness were openly discussed, and she was subject to death threats. Tell me, if revealing the names of alleged victims was common practice, how many women suffering the trauma of actual rape (particularly if it involved some kind of celebrity) would dare to subject themselves to that kind of risk? Don't forget, there are still many, many people in this society who think that rape victims were just "asking for it." Subjecting alleged victims to the same kind of "trial by media" that alleged perpetrators currently face is not a solution.

Yes, your idea of naming accusers as well as alleged perpetrators might lower the incidents of false accusations. But it would do so by giving real rapists a free pass and setting civilized society back at least a century.

Anonymous said...

This Monday was not misogynistic at all, Steve (saying it as a self-designated SHAMblog feminist (LOL)).

I happen to agree with the majority of commenters here. Citizen Deux summed it up for me with the below:
"If DNA disproves a man's role in fathering a child - then he's off the hook. If not, then he has a chance for equal participation in the child's upbringing. (...) all victims of crime are entitled to some privacy - for simple protection and consideration. However, if the claims prove groundless, then equal prosecution should follow for that person."

Indeed. It's justice (and common sense).

And CMC's proposal ("keep it in your pants, people") ain't bad either.

Anonymous said...

"...but don't today's one-sided anonymity privileges muddy the presumption of innocence by automatically putting the woman in a sympathetic light? And if women knew that they'd be subjected to public scrutiny the moment they made such serious allegations, wouldn't they be far less likely to fabricate stories?

Steve - what you seem to have forgotten here is the reality, degradation and horror of a legitimate rape charge. In which case, the woman involved deserves much more than our sympathy. She deserves the law to act on her behalf and bring the accused to trial, and possibly incarcerate him. None of this should involve her being on public display, simply because she was the victim.

In the case of a woman who "makes up" a rape charge, if that's true, she has bigger problems than whether or not her identity is revealed.

Why a woman who has been attacked and injured by a rapist should have to give up her anonimity because of another woman's twisted need for money / revenge / attention is beyond me.

Steve Salerno said...

To my two (last) anonymous critics, who wrote similar comments:

My basic point is that I'm not sure journalists--real, honest journalists--should be in the business of social remediation. They should simply report what happens. So if a woman accuses a man of raping her, report both names, or report neither. I don't think it makes sense to take sides, and to withhold names "in the interest of the woman." Because the man has similar interests in having his reputation and feelings protected; let us not forget the presumption of innocence. That's all I'm saying.

Steve Salerno said...

I think I also want to say to Crack that--while "keep it in your pants" may be the ultimate solution here--I'm not sure it's a relevant notion for the real world. It's a little bit like saying that we can cut traffic fatalities to zero by simply...not driving anymore.

Short of the idyllic, we have to have a program for dealing with situations where people are accused of horrendous sex crimes (and sex crimes, of course, are always the most sensitive and sensational ones). And please, people, I'm not siding with rapists! My God! I have a wife, two sisters, a daughter and three granddaughters! That doesn't change the fact that what's fair is fair. And while I understand the original rationale behind "protecting" the victim, I think the pendulum may have swung too far in that direction.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I think the only fair solution is to implement measures whereby both the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator's identities are withheld from public scrutiny until such time as a resolution of the case is reached. Even then, if the alleged perpetrator is found not guilty, his/her identity should not be made public. The mere *allegation* that someone committed rape or assault is sufficient to ruin one's life.

I realize there would be a loud outcry from the "right to know" adherents, but I would imagine their outcry would be stilled if *they* were the ones being wrongly accused.

Steve Salerno said...

Rev, of course I agree with you in principle, but let's face it, there's no way that a rape arrest (especially of a celebrity or other known public figure) is ever going to get hushed up; it's a major news event, and all legal precedent in various interpretations of the First Amendment gives media outlets the absolute right to report arrests (except in cases of overriding national security; rape cases seldom qualify for that exemption). So realistically, we know that the perp is going to be identified, which means we're simply left with the question of what to do about his accuser. That's the only real option left to us: to identify her or not.

Donna said...

Hi Steve - Great blog on this ignored phenomenon - men getting duped by baby-obsessed women and then having to pay through the nose. (And my sincerest condolences on the related tragedy that your son and your family had to go through.) Men get the short end of the stick in so many ways in relation to children. Divorce and family courts are heavily biased against men, which I find inexcusable in this so-called age of equality. I'm tired of women in this society who are so obsessesed with Having A Baby that they will lie, cheat, and do anything to fulfill their selfish dream. I believe that most of these women treat a baby as some kind of fashion accessory or pet. It's obvious that they don't really care about the child's welfare, only their own selfish "fulfillment".

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Donna. I have to say I'm amazed at the number of women who've risen to the occasion here, taking what I consider to be the high road. But the fact that I'm surprised...well, that could just be my own gender paranoia talking.

In any case, it's good to see that there are still people left who don't make all of their decisions based on "bloc thinking."

Anonymous said...

Having worked in the child support system for more than 4 years (1st & last government-related job, thank you very much!), I would add the suggestion that child support enforcement directors, attorneys, policy makers, politicians, public employee unions, and many more nanny-state socialist-leaning wanna-be Marxist "Stakeholders" have a HUGE, tremendous investment in keeping their lucrative gigs going. There are over 10k state and local child support personnel... in the state of California ALONE. These folks use the money removed from your paycheck to self-congratulate (often at taxpayer-funded conferences at posh resort hotels around the country) that they're working hard "for the children," but the actions tell you they're less concerned about human rights and freedom: Exhibit A being the nonbiological fathers forced to pay 18 years of child support.

That said, it is also true that some people who procreate (intentionally or otherwise) are but emotionally stunted children themselves, and their ugly behavior hurts our whole society - their own children most of all.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon (most immediately above) makes a very good, albeit sad and infuriating, point. That there are many institutional forces (aside from organized women's groups) that have a sizable personal investment in perpetuating the system as it stands. And that system can be extremely callous: I recall seeing an interview with then-L.A. district attorney Gil Garcetti wherein Garcetti basically said he didn't care if the dads he was chasing had been duped or not; all that mattered was that he took satisfaction in collecting money "for the kids." What he really meant to say was that he took satisfaction in boosting his poll numbers among one of his primary constituencies: single moms.

But I must say again, though the numbers we're working with on this blog are very small (and perhaps not representative), I'm gratified to see so many women speak out against a practice that's horribly unfair and quite possibly corrupt.