There's been a bevy of people with opinions on Lara Logan's unfortunate trauma in Egypt. In case you've missed it, the chief foreign correspondent for CBS, was sexually assaulted in Cairo while reporting on the uprisings there.
A lot of the response I've seen has been pretty mindless. There's Nir Rosen, of course, and his dumbfoundingly stupid tweets (and bizarrely self-aggrandizing apology therefor). There's the chorus of believers that good-looking women should expect to be raped, especially when they're anywhere near... Muslims. I'm not going to link to that crap; if you haven't already seen it, it's just a Google away.
There's also an incredible amount of confusion -- of rape with sexual desire, of piety with invincibility, of work hazards with the having of a vagina. One commenter on a blog I frequent said that Logan "accepted that risk" of working in chaos. "If we want to jump the fence to get closer to the lion in the zoo, we accept risk. If we drive too fast on icy roads we accept risk." Hmmmm.... if only there were a way to measure and quantify that insight... "Good morning, this is your Drive at Five. The chance of rape today is 35 percent, so put on your head-scarves and be careful on that morning commute!"
On second thought, maybe rape isn't like slipping in wintery weather.
All of that blabber is about one thing: the confusion of rape with irresponsibility. If you hadn't worn those tight jeans. If you had just covered up your legs/hair/pretty pretty face. If you hadn't been so dumb as to think you could do your work and be pretty at the same time. For the love of God, if only you hadn't jumped that fence!
Here's what else bothers me about this: How many Egyptian women were also harassed, groped or worse? To whom would they report the behavior, when security forces are beating on men and women with access to global television airwaves? What else are we missing while we declare that getting raped is like slipping on ice in a New England winter, or ponder how much being a natural blonde ratchets up your risk?
Since there are about 12,000 people putting their two cents into this debate every hour, I won't add any more. But I do want to highlight three things you should read if you think that this issue itself, and not how attractive Lara Logan is or how active her love life is (I'm looking at you, NYPost, and not with come-hither eyes), is imporant:
Judith Matloff, an experienced conflict journalist, wrote a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review four years ago on sexual assault and foreign correspondence. Among the many other interesting points she makes is that sexaul assault is far more prevalent than we think, but women don't report it, largely because they don't want it to undermine their careers in a macho industry where staying tough to get the story is the only way to survive professionally (whatever it does to you personally).
Kim Barker, a former Chicago Tribune bureau chief in South Asia and past Edward R. Murrow Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, wonders if the fallout of all this coverage is that editors -- who are mostly men -- decide, even unconsciously, not to send women to war zones. That would be the wrong choice, she says, because women can do the work, as so many courageous women have shown us in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and so many other places before that.
It would also be wrong for another reason. Barker writes, "More important, they also do a pretty good job of covering what it’s like to live in a war, not just die in one. Without female correspondents in war zones, the experiences of women there may be only a rumor."
And Amanda Taub at Wronging Rights helpfully points out that the word "risk" in this conversation is loaded almost to the point of disutility:
If women never went anywhere where we risked being sexually assaulted, we'd never go anywhere, period. We certainly couldn't go to work on foreign aid projects. Or to U.S. military academies. Not to college. Not on dates. Not to parties. Not to bars. Or on cruises. Not to work as models. Or security contractors. Except that even if we never went any of those places, we'd still be screwed (pun intended) because of course a high percentage of rapes happen in the home, committed by perpetrators whom the victims know. Putting the responsibility on women to prevent sexual assault by restricting their own behavior - or on their employers to limit it for them - won't actually solve the problem, it will just reinforce gendered norms about what "good" women "should" do.