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Misogyny and the Law: Confronting America’s Rape Culture
Rather than admiring from afar the protesters in India, and congratulating the national leaders who have begun to address sexual violence in the U.S. military, we need to confront the broader problem of misogyny in American legal culture.
By Priya Dieterich (guest blogger)
Eariler this month in New Delhi, the trial began for the six men accused of beating and gang-raping a young woman who later died from the injuries she sustained. Immediately following this grotesque crime in December, Indians took to the streets in droves to express their outrage and insist that the men be charged and prosecuted for their crimes. The American press reported the story as India’s failure to protect women, asking whether the Indian justice system is up to the task of prosecuting the men for their crimes.
It was an attack on “them,” but as author and video blogger John Green says, “there is no ‘them,’ there are only facets of ‘us.’” Rape is not solely or uniquely an Indian problem or a problem of the “third world.” It is a global scourge to which the United States is hardly immune. The U.S. purports to have a higher functioning legal system and lower levels of police corruption, but it is failing just as miserably to prevent and punish rape as its Indian counterpart.
A recent documentary film, the Oscar-nominated “The Invisible War,” tells the catastrophic story of sexual assault in the American military. A.O. Scott of The New York Times summarizes what the film uncovered:
The Defense Department estimates that 22,800 violent sex crimes were committed in the military last year alone, and the filmmakers calculate that 1 in 5 women in military service has been the victim of sexual assault. “The Invisible War” presents other numbers, mostly from the military’s own records, that make the picture of pervasive abuse even more alarming. Many crimes are never reported — this is true of rape in civilian life as well as in the military — but among those that are, only a tiny fraction are dealt with in any meaningful way. A culture of impunity has flourished, and the film suggests that the military has mostly responded with pathetic attempts at prevention (through posters and public service announcements) and bureaucratic rituals of self-protection.
The producers of “The Invisible War” are open about their film's political agenda: they seek not only to shed light on the sexual assault culture in the U.S. military but to effect fundamental change. As Alyssa Rosenberg reports at the Daily Beast, there are signs they may be meeting their target:
[S]ince The Invisible War’s release, federal action on sexual assaults in the military has instead accelerated. On January 23, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings on the investigation into Lackland Air Force Base, the site of the Air Force’s basic training: a staff sergeant stationed there was convicted of rape and sexual assault last summer, and 32 instructors are alleged to have sexually coerced or formed relationships with their students that violate military regulations. The New York Times wrote “that they are doing so is in large part a tribute to” The Invisible War, though Dick said he was frustrated that so many congressmen left the hearing to attend a vote, skipping the part of the program where assault survivors testified about their experiences.
As national leaders begin to come to terms with the military rape scandal, they risk mistaking sexual assault as primarily a military problem. It isn’t. We are not only talking about a deficit in military justice. The civilian legal system that is supposed to protect women is permeated with rape-apologists and rape-denialists. Though sexual assaults have fallen since the mid-1990s, a rape occurs every two minutes in the United States. Rape is still a scandalously under-reported crime, with over half of assaults never reported to the authorities. The criminal justice system does not prescribe consistent consequences for aggressors: only 3 of every 100 rapists spends even a day in prison.
This data finds horrific illustration in a recent case in Steubenville, Ohio. A girl was gang raped and dragged, unconscious, from party to party by a group of high school boys and the authorities largely covered up the story because it was ugly and uncomfortable to talk about. It came to light, even warranting a New York Times article, only because of one blogger, Alexandria Goddard, who refused to let the incident be brushed under the rug. Goddard wrote about the crime for months before mainstream media picked up the story (and it is worth noting that she was then sued by a Steubenville football player for doing so).
While the victim thankfully survived this attack, the atrocity of these crimes is on par with the rape in New Delhi. Its brutality is exacerbated by the fact that throughout the night the boys tweeted about the rape and posted videos, including one uncovered by the hacker group Anonymous, that is a painfully disgusting 12 minutes of one of the accused boys laughing about “how dead” and “how raped” they thought the girl was. Why, with this story developing almost simultaneously to the New Delhi story, are we not having a national discussion about the American culture of rape and how to address it?
The institutionalized rape culture in the United States goes well beyond Steubenville. In an even more blatant display of our legal system’s failings, a judge in Nebraska in 2008 prohibited a woman from using the words “rape” or “sexual assault” or describing herself as a “victim” or the defendant as an “assailant,” in her testimony against her alleged rapist. The judge, who is not the only one to have issued orders of this manner, explained his decision by citing the defendant’s right to a presumption of innocence. This reasoning is absurd, of course: a judge would never prohibit a witness from using the word “thief” in the case of an alleged theft. But the judge’s order speaks volumes about our society’s tendency to excuse rape, belittle rape accusations, blame the victim and protect the criminal. When men observe a legal system that refuses to take rape charges seriously, coupled with a fetishizing of aggression, rape is encouraged, not deterred. The institutionalization of misogyny in the courts, as well as slut-shaming attitudes in society, result in the shockingly low percentage of reported rapes, despite the fact that 1 in 5 women in the U.S. say they have been sexually assaulted.
Our failure to provide justice to women who are victims of gender-based violence is not confined to situations involving rape. A strikingly parallel situation can be seen in the way our society tries battered women in courts of law. In a 1984 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, expert testimony on battered woman’s syndrome was found to be relevant to the case of a woman who killed her husband during a fight after enduring seven years of abuse. Statements by the prosecution in that case were condescending to the defendant and blatantly misogynistic, but the ruling could have given one hope that this type of injustice would no longer be tolerated. Apparently that hope would be naïve and ungrounded: battered women are still mistreated by the judicial system and unfairly prosecuted. In a murder trial that began in 2005, Nancy Seaman was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison. When a U.S. District judge ruled for a retrial on the grounds that the defense should be able to construct a self-defense claim based on battered woman’s syndrome, a federal appeals court overturned his decision, explaining that battered woman’s syndrome is not a defense under Michigan law. The Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project conducted a study of homicide convictions in Oakland County from 1986 to 1988, concluding that “Overall, a white female defendant with no criminal history who was convicted by a jury of killing a white person could expect an average sentence of 10 to 30 years. However, if the woman was a victim of domestic violence, her predicted sentence increased to life.” That’s blaming the victim with a vengeance.
What’s going on in these courtrooms? Why are battered women treated with hostility and discrimination in our courts of law? Why are rape victims frequently ignored and disparaged? Institutional attitudes toward spousal abuse and rape are both rooted in a patriarchal, misogynist culture. In each case society makes similar, inaccurate, unfair judgments of the women in question, and the legal system accepts rather than corrects them. The assumption that battered women are masochistic is directly paralleled by the accusation that a rape victim was “asking for it.” The two issues have sparked different levels of mainstream media coverage — there is an active feminist movement speaking out about rape culture that gets some attention, while battered women’s cases receive little — but they are inextricably linked to each other and to entrenched and institutionalized misogyny.
We must acknowledge that violence against women is a product of our society and everyone is conditioned by it. In modern American culture, the problematic gender relations and gender norms that foster violence against women are the very same influences that condition jurors, judges, lawmakers and observers to perceive this violence against women as normal. James R. Mahalik, who studies gender norms in society, has developed an index of 11 Masculine Norms, among them Violence, Dominance, Emotional Control, and Power over Women. Society defines and elevates these characteristics in men, fostering intimate partner violence (usually of a man against a woman), and cultivating a culture of rape. Consider any situation wherein one person attacks another: as soon as the assailant is identified as male and the victim as female, we are conditioned to normalize the masculine aggression (even as we frown upon it) and identify faults of the woman’s character that may have led her to this fate.
Addressing the issue of gender-differentiated treatment by the law is complicated. We must strike a balance between our obligation to litigate within our far-from-perfect reality and our obligation to foster social progress. When we give priority to the latter, under the pretense that our judicial system can handle these cases in a gender-neutral way, we fail to uphold either of these obligations. We are kidding ourselves if we assume that the average American is capable of fairly assessing a battered woman or a rape victim, or if we are confident that our legal system is capable of objectively adjudicating cases involving these women.
Mahalik’s research on masculine norms contains few surprises; we see gender norms enacted and reinforced every day. Despite the pervasiveness of these norms, we consistently fail to understand the situations in which they do our society a disservice: when they prevent victims of gender-based violence from attaining justice. Refusing to address these issues in public conversation and in courtrooms prevents us from correcting these injustices. There is no hope of progressing away from this reality as long as we systematically deny it. We cannot continue to operate under a pretense of gender equality and an assumption of a well functioning judicial system. Instead, we should be looking inwards just as critically as we have been looking outwards to New Delhi.
Rather than admiring from afar the protesters in India, and congratulating the national leaders who have begun to address sexual violence in the U.S. military, we need to echo these efforts in opposition to the broader problem of misogyny in the American legal culture.
Priya Dieterich is pursuing an Associate of Arts degree at Bard High School Early College-Manhattan.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century, but where's the science behind it?
At the age of 16, when Tony Kofi was an apprentice builder living in Nottingham, he fell from the third story of a building. Time seemed to slow down massively, and he saw a complex series of images flash before his eyes.
As he described it, “In my mind's eye I saw many, many things: children that I hadn't even had yet, friends that I had never seen but are now my friends. The thing that really stuck in my mind was playing an instrument". Then Tony landed on his head and lost consciousness.
When he came to at the hospital, he felt like a different person and didn't want to return to his previous life. Over the following weeks, the images kept flashing back into his mind. He felt that he was “being shown something" and that the images represented his future.
Later, Tony saw a picture of a saxophone and recognized it as the instrument he'd seen himself playing. He used his compensation money from the accident to buy one. Now, Tony Kofi is one of the UK's most successful jazz musicians, having won the BBC Jazz awards twice, in 2005 and 2008.
Though Tony's belief that he saw into his future is uncommon, it's by no means uncommon for people to report witnessing multiple scenes from their past during split-second emergency situations. After all, this is where the phrase “my life flashed before my eyes" comes from.
But what explains this phenomenon? Psychologists have proposed a number of explanations, but I'd argue the key to understanding Tony's experience lies in a different interpretation of time itself.
When life flashes before our eyes
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century. In 1892, a Swiss geologist named Albert Heim fell from a precipice while mountain climbing. In his account of the fall, he wrote is was “as if on a distant stage, my whole past life [was] playing itself out in numerous scenes".
More recently, in July 2005, a young woman called Gill Hicks was sitting near one of the bombs that exploded on the London Underground. In the minutes after the accident, she hovered on the brink of death where, as she describes it: “my life was flashing before my eyes, flickering through every scene, every happy and sad moment, everything I have ever done, said, experienced".
In some cases, people don't see a review of their whole lives, but a series of past experiences and events that have special significance to them.
Explaining life reviews
Perhaps surprisingly, given how common it is, the “life review experience" has been studied very little. A handful of theories have been put forward, but they're understandably tentative and rather vague.
For example, a group of Israeli researchers suggested in 2017 that our life events may exist as a continuum in our minds, and may come to the forefront in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.
Another theory is that, when we're close to death, our memories suddenly “unload" themselves, like the contents of a skip being dumped. This could be related to “cortical disinhibition" – a breaking down of the normal regulatory processes of the brain – in highly stressful or dangerous situations, causing a “cascade" of mental impressions.
But the life review is usually reported as a serene and ordered experience, completely unlike the kind of chaotic cascade of experiences associated with cortical disinhibition. And none of these theories explain how it's possible for such a vast amount of information – in many cases, all the events of a person's life – to manifest themselves in a period of a few seconds, and often far less.
Thinking in 'spatial' time
An alternative explanation is to think of time in a “spatial" sense. Our commonsense view of time is as an arrow that moves from the past through the present towards the future, in which we only have direct access to the present. But modern physics has cast doubt on this simple linear view of time.
Indeed, since Einstein's theory of relativity, some physicists have adopted a “spatial" view of time. They argue we live in a static “block universe" in which time is spread out in a kind of panorama where the past, the present and the future co-exist simultaneously.
The modern physicist Carlo Rovelli – author of the best-selling The Order of Time – also holds the view that linear time doesn't exist as a universal fact. This idea reflects the view of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that time is not an objectively real phenomenon, but a construct of the human mind.
This could explain why some people are able to review the events of their whole lives in an instant. A good deal of previous research – including my own – has suggested that our normal perception of time is simply a product of our normal state of consciousness.
In many altered states of consciousness, time slows down so dramatically that seconds seem to stretch out into minutes. This is a common feature of emergency situations, as well as states of deep meditation, experiences on psychedelic drugs and when athletes are “in the zone".
The limits of understanding
But what about Tony Kofi's apparent visions of his future? Did he really glimpse scenes from his future life? Did he see himself playing the saxophone because somehow his future as a musician was already established?
There are obviously some mundane interpretations of Tony's experience. Perhaps, for instance, he became a saxophone player simply because he saw himself playing it in his vision. But I don't think it's impossible that Tony did glimpse future events.
If time really does exist in a spatial sense – and if it's true that time is a construct of the human mind – then perhaps in some way future events may already be present, just as past events are still present.
Admittedly, this is very difficult to make sense of. But why should everything make sense to us? As I have suggested in a recent book, there must be some aspects of reality that are beyond our comprehension. After all, we're just animals, with a limited awareness of reality. And perhaps more than any other phenomenon, this is especially true of time.
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love.
- Many writers have commented on the addictive qualities of love. Science agrees.
- The reward system of the brain reacts similarly to both love and drugs
- Someday, it might be possible to treat "love addiction."
Since people started writing, they've written about love. The oldest love poem known dates back to the 21st century BCE. For most of that time, writers also apparently have been of two (or more) minds about it, announcing that love can be painful, impossible to quit, or even addictive — while also mentioning how nice it is.
The idea of love as an addiction is one that is both familiar and unsettling. Surely it can't be the case that our mutual love with our partner — a thing that can produce euphoria, consumes a great deal of our time, and which we fear losing — can be compared to a drug habit? But indeed, many scientists have turned their attention to the idea of "love addiction" and how your brain on drugs might resemble your brain in love.
Love and other drugs
In a 2017 article published in the journal Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, a team of neuroethicists considered the idea that love is addicting and held the idea up to science for scrutiny.
They point out that the leading model of addiction rests on the notion of a drug causing the brain to release an unnatural level of reward chemicals, such as dopamine, effectively hijacking the brain's reward system. This phenomenon isn't strictly limited to drugs, though they are more effective at this process than other things. Rats can get a similar rush from sugar as from cocaine, and they can have terrible withdrawal symptoms when the sugar crash kicks in.
On the structural level, there is a fair amount of overlap between the parts of the brain that handle love and pair-bonding and the parts that deal with addiction and reward processing. When inside an MRI machine and asked to think about the person they love romantically, the reward centers of people's brains light up like Broadway.
Love as an addiction
These facts lead the authors to consider two ideas, dubbed the "narrow" and "broad" views of love as an addiction.
The narrow view holds that addiction is the result of abnormal brain processes that simply don't exist in non-addicts. Under this paradigm, "food-seeking or love-seeking behaviors are not truly the result of addiction, no matter how addiction-like they may outwardly appear." It could be that abnormal processes cause the brain's reward system to misfire when exposed to love and to react to it excessively.
If this model is accurate, love addiction would be a rare thing — one study puts it around five to ten percent of the population — but could be considered a disorder similar to others and caused by faulty wiring in the brain. As with other addictions, this malfunction of the reward system could lead to an inability to fully live a typical life, difficulty having healthy relationships, and a number of other negative consequences.
The broad view looks at addiction differently, perhaps even radically.
It begins with the idea that addiction exists on a spectrum of motivations. All of our appetites, including those for food and water, exist on this spectrum and activate similar parts of the brain when satisfied. We can have appetites for anything that taps into our reward system, including food, gambling, sex, drugs, and love. For most people most of the time, our appetites are fairly temperate, if recurring. I might be slightly "addicted" to food — I do need some a few times per day — but that "addiction" doesn't have any negative effects on my health.
An appetite for cocaine, however, is rarely temperate and usually dangerous. Likewise, a person's appetite for love could reach addiction levels, and a person could be considered "hooked" on relationships (or on a particular person). This would put love addiction at the extreme end of the spectrum.
None of this is to say that the authors think that love is bad for you just because it can resemble an addiction. Love addiction is not the same as cocaine addiction at the neurological level: important differences, like how long it takes for the desire for another "hit" to occur, do exist. Rather, the authors see this as an opportunity to reconsider our approach to addiction in general and to think about how we can help the heartsick when they just can't seem to get over their last relationship.
Is "love addiction" a treatable disorder?
Hypothetically, a neurological basis for an addiction to love could point toward interventions that "correct" for it. If the narrow view of addiction is accurate, perhaps some people will be able to seek treatment for love addiction in the same way that others seek help to quit smoking. If the broad view of addiction is correct, the treatment of love addiction would be unlikely as it may be difficult to properly identify where the cutoff of acceptability on a spectrum should be.
Either way, since love is generally held in high regard by all cultures and doesn't quite seem to be in the same category as a bad cocaine habit in terms of social undesirability, the authors doubt we'll be treating anyone for "love addiction" anytime soon.
A brief passage from a recent UN report describes what could be the first-known case of an autonomous weapon, powered by artificial intelligence, killing in the battlefield.