Rape is a form of crucifixion
Todd David Whitmore
The Common Good
My last column indicated that in this installment I was going to continue the discussion of the living wage, but two events have intervened. The first is a date rape, reported in The Observer, and the ensuing discussion in the letters to the editor. The second is Good Friday, which is tomorrow.
What is the connection between the two events? A letter to the editor from one woman who was date raped provides a clue: "To me, rape is like murder. My body was not killed, but my soul was. My energetic spirit and love for life were gone. I wanted my life to be over because I could not bear the pain of losing something that I had held sacred."
One claim found in much of Christian theology is that Christ is in all people and that the task of the Christian is to develop the vision to see this fact and act accordingly. However, when a man rapes a woman — and this is the shape of the vast majority of rapes — he crucifies the Christ within her. "My body was not killed, but my soul was." Her life often becomes one long string of Good Fridays. "My energetic spirit and love for life were gone."
There are disanalogies, of course. For instance, while it may have been his calling to go to the cross, the Gospels describe Jesus as clearly having a choice in the matter. No woman is called to be raped and none genuinely choose it. Efforts might be made to imply they do: "Why did she choose to dress provocatively, to drink and to go up to his room after hours if she did not want to have sex with him?" But this logic fails miserably; it is as if to argue that anyone with an expensive car wants it stolen.
The function such an argument plays becomes clear if we grant that while in no way do women choose rape, it may be the case that it is unwise to, for instance, go up to a man's room after hours. In other words, in certain conditions it is unwise to be with Notre Dame men. Notre Dame men cannot be trusted (and it is not wise to view a particular man as an exception). In short, if we keep ourselves from collapsing, for instance, unwise decisions to drink under certain circumstances into viewing these decisions as choices to be raped, then it becomes clear that the logic that blames women for rape is really an indictment of men.
Collapsing the unwise decision to drink into the view that the woman chose or deserved to be raped allows a person to turn the indictment on its head and accuse the woman: given other things that the woman did, either she really wanted it or the man could not help himself. The view is that university or legal defense of the man (itself important) requires yet another crucifixion of the woman.
This leads to another disanalogy between Jesus' crucifixion and rape's murder of the Christ in women: While Jesus' trial was before his murder, women who are raped describe their trial as coming afterwards. Again, the letter to the editor articulates a repeatedly occurring theme in women's writings on rape. "The months that followed were excruciatingly painful ... I had a disciplinary hearing where I was forced to sit less than 10 feet away from my attacker, only to be dismissed, disregarded and having my integrity ripped apart by a University I was raised to love ... I still question whether or not I should have made that phone call at all.
Maybe in the long term, I will be proud of the courage I displayed in standing up for myself, but while I'm still in the short term, I have my regrets."
The woman's reference to the long and the short term brings up a third disanalogy: While Christ's resurrection occurred in three days and was "once and for all," a raped woman's resurrection (the resurrection of Christ within her) — if it occurs at all — is a much longer and uneven affair. A year later, thanks are to "God, who continually showers my life with blessings," but there are still any number of daily encounters "which all serve as constant reminders of that night." All indications are that the dark nights of the soul will continue. "I live faced with the reality of having to tell my future husband that sex to me is not beautiful or an expression of love, but ugly, forced and painful."
One of the exchanges of letters following the Observer report concerned whether men's silence condoned the rape. Behind this exchange is the broader question of what can individual men do beyond themselves not raping women. There are any number of things that they can do, but tomorrow provides us with one possibility. Good Friday is a day for fasting.
The practice of fasting has a variety of purposes, and three are worth mentioning here. The first is fasting as an expression of sorrow. We need to mourn the souls killed and pray for their resurrection.
The second purpose is fasting as a form of protest. We need to protest the men who rape and the attitudes that facilitate rape (for instance, the view that men under certain conditions are not expected to control themselves). We need to protest at one and the same time the assumption that Notre Dame men cannot be trusted and the practices of Notre Dame men that give credence to that assumption. We need to protest any logic that turns the violent action of men into an indictment of women.
I understand that Notre Dame students are, in general, not given to protest (it is not my first inclination either). But if Notre Dame men are incapable of protesting any suggestion that they are incapable of moral direction and self-control, then maybe those who foster such a suggestion are right.
Whether silence condones an action of another person depends in large part on whether the action is an isolated incident or part of a pattern. There have been enough reports of date rape (a notoriously under-reported crime) that the "isolated episode" explanation is suspect. It is important for men to speak.
To speak well, however, requires discernment, and this leads to the third purpose of fasting: it provides the occasion for self-examination. What kind of environment am I living in? What are the patterns of speech and action? Do I reinforce patterns that subtly or not-so-subtly contribute to an environment where date rape occurs on a regular basis? Do I laugh at certain jokes? Do I let certain comments about women slide rather than risk confrontation with one of my dormmates? I am sure that you can think of more questions for discernment yourselves.
Men of Notre Dame, I am fasting tomorrow, and I will do so not only remembering Christ on the cross 2,000 years ago, but also Christ on the cross in the women at Saint Mary's and Notre Dame who have been raped. I know that many of you are going home for the Easter triduum. Still, this is something — just a start, but something — that you, too, can do regardless of where you are. Men of Notre Dame, will you join me?
Todd David Whitmore is an assistant professor of theology. He may be reached at Whitmore.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Thursday, April 20, 2000