Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Books You Should Be Reading Number 36 Of A Bunch

Apathy Jack writes:

Girls Like You by Paul Sheehan

If you take a kilo of meat, and you don't put it in the fridge or in the pot in the kitchen but you leave it on a plate in the backyard, and then you have a fight with the neighbour because his cats eat the meat, you're crazy. Isn't this true? If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem.

These are the words of Sheik Taj Din al-Hilaly, in his argument that victims of rape should be jailed for life for tempting men into sexual assaulting them.

My faith in humanity (not a thing of Brobdingnagian proportions at the best of times) hasn’t been as low as it was reading this book since I read A Child Called ‘It’. Much like Pelzer’s autobiography, Paul Sheehan’s reportage of one of Australia’s most infamous rape trials is a simply-told narrative with little poetry, but which presents the facts in all their damning and horrible glory.

Sheehan does not for a second claim impartiality, referring to the accused several times as “morons” amongst other things, even recounting the ringleader’s attempts to get a mistrial called with the (fairly unlikely) claim that he (Sheehan) had been trying to influence the jury with his facial expressions.

The thing that stands out is the massive sense of entitlement the rapists (four brothers) felt. They made no attempt to hide their identities; simply offered a few cursory threats before ejecting the girls from their family home where the attacks took place, and in one case even giving a victim a lift to the train station. When they were brought to trial they changed their stories repeatedly, and seemed amazed every time that their word was not taken as gospel. They appeared genuinely confused that the court did not accept that the argument that the sex must have been consensual because the girls were clearly sluts.

Much is made of the fact that this sense of entitlement comes from the fact that the brothers are Pakistani Muslims, a claim that one has to be somewhat leery of given how deeply ingrained racism is in Australian culture. However, I think back to some of the boys I’ve taught. A lot of the boys from the India/Pakistan region were under no illusions as to how superior they were to, say, all women and ninety percent of the rest of society. Certainly, this is not true of all of the boys raised in that region who have passed through my class, not even the majority of them. But a lot. A worrying number.

I’ve met the parents of these boys; earnest, humourless couples, who do not accept that I have written a negative comment on their son’s report; who argue with me until they realise that I’m bigger than the dad and passive-aggressive enough not to let them bother me, before they move on to openly bully the smaller, female members of staff.

One case stands out: A student was being abused by his classmates because, well, he was acting the dick. His mother made such a fuss that the boy’s class was changed simply to get her off the backs of the office staff - he was transferred from one of my classes to the other. On the first day he strode in, pleased with having made the school bow to his whim, and proceeded to massively disrespect the students in his new class, who let him know in no uncertain terms that they weren’t having it. He complained to me about this, and I pointed out that when two separate classes have said the same things about one’s behaviour, maybe the problem isn’t with the other fifty-nine children. He would not accept this, and campaigned to change his class, change his teachers, and have students removed from class. This is the same kid who, during rehearsals for Stage Challenge, had to be pulled off stage from next to the student leaders. I explained to him that they were seniors; that they were the two best dancers in the school; they had a past history in Stage Challenge; they had choreographed the whole routine; and they had been tasked with teaching it to the rest of the students. He, on the other hand, was an uncoordinated Year 9 to whom none of that applied, so he shouldn’t be in front of the rest of the students attempting to teach them. His response to that was to whinge that it was his right to teach moves that he had not yet mastered. It was this boy’s parents who got into a literal screaming match with the Drama Teacher at Parent/Teacher night, and got angry with me when I gave them an itemised breakdown of times their son had acted in the unacceptable ways to which the Drama Teacher was referring.

Now, this kid probably isn’t going to grow up to commit sexual assault (he’s four-and-a half feet tall and cries when he gets hit) but he will marry a very obedient girl, and throughout his life will simply not understand when he is not given everything he wants.

I don’t really know where I’m headed with this one. I think I was going to say something about cultural relativism, but I’ve lost it. I guess it’s just kind of scary that I’ve seen - in whatever nascent form – the mindset that when taken to extreme can lead to this sort of crime.

The world kind of blows.

(By the by, I also highly recommend The Making of Me, by Tegan Wagner, the memoir of one of the victims, which I read immediately after Girls Like You.)

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