On Listing, Naming and Shaming

So I’m a female, and I’ll be at Barnard College at Columbia University in a few months.  These reasons are why this issue concerns me quite a bit.  Guess I’m dropping my History cram session to write this, because hello future.

A friend and future classmate of mine shared an article this morning via Facebook about “naming and shaming” alleged sexual offenders in the woman’s bathroom at Columbia University.  Some background: fairly recently, the media has released a photograph that contained the names of alleged rapists on Columbia’s campus.  These names, while (I think are) appropriately censored, are said to be written by the same person in different handwritings each time the graffiti is found and erased.  Furthermore, these lists are found in the woman’s bathroom; by that logic, the person who wrote it is most likely female, unless a man sneaked in for some reason that I don’t really want to imagine at this moment.

There have been discussions going on about whether or not this scheme of “revealing” these names of students is the right course of action, even if it means something that is supposedly empowering for women.  Sure, if a woman wants to protect herself from rapists at her own initiative, I’m all for it and I’m not stopping you.  That being said, we really have to draw a line, don’t we?

While I’m not clear as to whether or not the “graffiti artist” intended for the list to go public via the media, especially on what we would consider pretty significant and prevalent sources like New York Times and Time.  The fact that the writer not only rewrote it more than three times, but also went as far as to print out the list and hang it in the bathroom (refer to one of the links below) makes me a tad sceptical regarding her pertaining her true intentions.  That being said, writing the full names of who you allege to sex offenders is kinda like defamation, isn’t it?  I mean, I usually believe that one is innocent until proven guilty.  Here, we’re just repetitively saying that Bob is guilty, Bob is guilty, and Bob is guilty, aren’t we?

That’s being said, we’re talking about a situation that’s actually difficult to prove.  Of course, it’s fair to say that it’s worrying how women are perhaps traumatised insofar as they have to resort to a bathroom wall as a wailing wall, so to speak.  Perhaps we can argue that it’s a case of women being silenced to have to go from words out of our mouths to words out of a pen (I’m not very poetic).  Based on my understanding, women are judged harshly based on what they do, particularly on the sexual level.  When I was a kid, there was this “saying” my friend told me in which he said, “A boy who manages to kiss many girls is a legend; a girl who manages to kiss many guys is a slut.”  This also takes me back to Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire (which I had to write a 8-page essay on for my exam last week), in which she said a man called her “morally unfit for her job.”  Thus, when it comes to rape, saying it out loud would elicit more criticisms than sympathy, such as “you probably provoked him” or anything of the sort.  When we say they’re guilty, we can probably only do it anonymously to avoid this stigma…right?

I’m aware that there’s an issue pertaining to the criticisms of universities not taking appropriate or sufficient courses of action, but I don’t have enough knowledge on that to actually formulate an opinion.  Even then, I still have to continue hitting the books.

To quickly summarise before I go back to my History notes:  while I’m not completely keen on using a public naming and shaming scheme as catharsis of some sort, I do commend those who have decided to take a stand to this issue.  It’s one that is very prevalent, especially in college from what I’m hearing about other universities like Brown, so I guess it’s one of those things I’d have to deal with if I’m not careful.  Even if I am super cautious (and make myself look like a slob as much as possible to avoid any guy ever having an attraction to me since apparently it’s now all about the looks), I’d still have the play the role of the bystander at some point of my college career if this were to happen to one of my Barnard sisters.  Sometimes, it’s good to stand up for what you believe in…but as long as the culprit has been proven guilty, that’s when it really pays off.

Further reading via Columbia’s publications:

Thanks for stopping by, and don’t be a stranger


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