Split post: great day with grandparents and friends; Downton Abbey and sexual assault

Today we had a pretty relaxed day for most of it. We went for a walk in the neighborhood with my mom, spending some time at the playground of my old elementary school. The school’s been closed, which makes me sad, and the playground equipment is gone. But a chain-link fence, a grassy area under a tree, and some old dry autumn leaves were all the kids needed to play with. The wind came up and they tossed leaves into it, which scattered them across the ground quite a distance, dancing and scraping their way to the opposite fence.

We met up with more friends for dinner. It turns out we’ve not seen them since before I had the twins. I felt temporal whip-lash when I realized that. Nonetheless, even though their youngest kid is three years older than Hazel, the two of them hit it off wildly, giggling, chasing each other, and generally carrying on. Hazel didn’t want to leave, and asked if we could have a play date with them again soon. This is where the geography of our country makes me sad. I wish we could see all of our friends more often, those who live in the USA and those who live in other countries. Nonetheless, I cherish the times we are able to reconnect.

When we got back Hazel got out the two toddler potties my parents have here for various visiting grandchildren. The twins are the last ones who’ll use them. She brought them downstairs, and Emily and Joanna promptly started scooting around in them like they were little bumper potties. At some point they’ll find out what they’re really for, and then we won’t be able to allow the scooting, but it was rather hilarious to watch this time.

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Last night Ted and I watched two episodes of the fourth season of “Downton Abbey”. (Trigger warning for sexual assault, and SPOILER ALERT – If you are even further behind with this series than we are, or if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t read the following.) The third episode contains an attack and rape of Anna, a favorite character of ours. It is quite unexpected in the narrative, and we were deeply shocked. In the conversation that followed Ted noted how isolating such an event is for people who are victims of sexual assault. Anna feels that she can’t allow her husband to find out, because he would kill the man who attacked her, and would, as a second-time felon, receive no mercy from the court. She cannot allow anyone other than the one women to whom she goes for help know of the attack. She is virtually alone in her pain and despair.

I noted that if it is true that her husband would react in the way she fears, (and it is quite likely that he would, given his character and past history) the heavy irony is that by doing so he would be privileging his feelings over her well-being, and therefore contributing to her isolation. I think this is a huge problem. To this day, rape victims are often not believed, not supported, are denigrated and sometimes crucified in the media, are isolated, are ignored or mistreated by the justice system, and are often left to face the consequences of a life-altering event alone. Part of this mix is the idea that men have to protect women from other men, because men are, ultimately, unable to control themselves if they are drunk or in the proximity of a woman they want (and the implication, of course, when women and girls are closely interrogated and judged for what they’re wearing, how they behave, and whether or not they have had a drop of alcohol or ever kissed a guy, is that men shouldn’t be expected to be able to control themselves, it’s in their “nature”.)

Our rape prevention program in this country should not consist of fathers, brothers, and husbands threatening to rough other men up if they mess with their women. It should, however, include as part of its foundation men and boys being taught to respect the human and civil rights of girls and women, and of the necessity for obtaining informed consent before proceeding with any action involving the personhood of another human being, regardless of the gender, sexual orientation, race, socio-economic status, or any other aspect of that person.

Why do people hurt other people? Part of the answer is always, because they can. Rape is severely under-reported and under-prosecuted, and is very often consequence-free for the rapist, who has been taught from early on how easy it is to groom his victims, and how little credibility they will have if they speak up.

We must require better of ourselves. We need to repudiate the idea that men and boys cannot control themselves, and instead, expect them to. We must teach every person the core concept of informed consent. We must value the well-being of victims of sexual assault more than we value the prospects, prestige, or accomplishments of rapists. We must evolve.

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