Rape Rhetoric : The NRO on Military-Sexual-Trauma Syndrome (MST)
You may wish to read the short blog on NRO before reading my analysis.
As we have come to learn, conservative men and women simply cannot keep their fucking mouths shut when it comes to rape, assault, and sexual harassment. They will do whatever they can to shame victims who publicly suffer their abuse and seek help. For conservatives, an innocent victim is one who silently bears their abuse and associated trauma; one who can cope while remaining a productive employee and without retribution, rehabilitation, or reparation. To speak out and to seek aid is to illustrate guilt and the trauma becomes the result of poor decision making skills that can be blamed on feminism and prurient and permissive culture.
Heather MacDonald, in her recent blog for National Review Online’s blog, The Corner, attempts to explain what occurrences of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) actually signify: that many women who are raped are feminist sluts who are nothing more than the victims of their own poor decisions.
First, MacDonald bemoans the recognition of yet another syndrome.
So now there’s a name and, inevitably, an acronym for it: military-sexual-trauma syndrome or MST. Military-sexual-trauma syndrome is that debilitating condition that befalls female service members who have allegedly been the victim of sexual assault by their fellow service members. According to the New York Times, female veterans are becoming homeless and involved in street life because of the post-traumatic stress that results from having been victimized in a military “that failed to protect them.”
Right? UGH. The medical profession in cahoots with the government is always coming up with another illness and acronym for that illness. How droll. What is it with conservative rhetoric that insists one must introduce any and all social and political arguments with a tone of disgust and ennui? Worse, MacDonald blows her progressive-mischief dog-whistle by attributing the reasons for the new syndrome to the New York Times, when it’s actually the result of work with the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, baselessly attacking veterans and their support services is difficult; it’s much easier to shit on the New York Times and its imagined readers.
McDonald, having focused her readers’ attentions squarely on liberal filth, excuse politics, and the lazy, social-welfare-loving collectivists who read the New York Times, provides us an example of one veteran who suffers from MST:
Tiffany Jackson is the Times’ lead example. She says that she was savagely raped in the ladies room of a bar in South Korea by a fellow serviceman. She held a job “fleetingly” after leaving the military, but
Two years later, she had descended into anger and alcohol and left her job. She started hanging out with people who were using cocaine and became an addict herself, huddling against the wind on Skid Row here… . She grew up in a tough section of Compton, Calif., and served as a heavy equipment operator in the Army, exhilarated by her sense of mastery in a male-dominated environment. But after the rape — which she kept to herself, not even telling her family — her behavior changed. She assaulted a sergeant, resulting in disciplinary actions. Back home, she lost her job in sales after she passed out, drunk, during a business phone call. “It looked like I really had my stuff together,” she said. “But I was dying inside.”
She served three years in prison for drug dealing and finally confided in a prison psychiatrist, who helped her see that many of her bad decisions had been rooted in the sexual trauma.
Ms. Jackson now is on full disability compensation for her MST, though she was at first denied benefits.
The framing of Tiffany Jackson’s story is clear. MacDonald is going to explain how social welfare rewards laziness and poor decisions.
Now here is a tentative alternative hypothesis: Some of these women come from environments that made their descent into street life overdetermined, whether or not they experienced alleged sexual assault in the military. To blame alleged sexual assault for their fate rather than their own bad decision-making is ideologically satisfying, but mystifying. Having children out of wedlock, as a huge proportion of them do, also does not help in avoiding poverty and homelessness:
Monica Figueroa, 22, a former Army parachutist, lived in a family member’s auto body shop in the Los Angeles area, bathing her baby, Alexander, in a sink used for oil and solvents until, with help, they found temporary housing.
Michelle Mathis, 30, a single mother of three, has bounced among seven temporary places since returning home in 2005 with atraumatic brain injury. Ms. Mathis, who served as a chemical specialist in Iraq, relies on a GPS device to help her remember the way to the grocery store and her children’s school.
Don’t overlook the persuasive other-ing in the passage: “Having children out of wedlock, as a huge portion of them do, also does not help…”. MacDonald implements two kinds of composition in her blog. First she composes (invokes) a traditionally-ideal woman : a responsibly employed and/or married mother who is middle class and owns property. It’s easy for readers to miss this composition of an ideal American woman and the heteronormative demands such pleas make for the disgusting tone and claims of MacDonald’s argument. Explicitly, she composes victims of sexual assault and harassment who suffer MST and single mothers. Implicitly, she’s rewarding readers who identify with her.
More egregious, though, is an insensitive and silly error in reasoning. MacDonald insists, “To blame alleged sexual assault for their fate rather than their own bad decision-making is ideologically satisfying, but mystifying.” Suffering post-traumatic stress is not a fate. This stress is the result of a traumatic event that, by definition, is unnecessary. It’s no wonder MacDonald doesn’t understand MST as a result of assault and/or harassment; she believes veterans suffering MST earned their trauma as a just reward for their behavior prior to being harassed and/or raped. In other words, having a child out of wedlock earns poverty and sexist abuse.
MacDonald even projects her grotesque sense of social determinism onto veterans who suffer MST. She writes, “Some of these women come from environments that made their descent into street life overdetermined, whether or not they experienced alleged sexual assault in the military.” It doesn’t matter whether or not these veterans were, in fact, raped. MacDonald has overdetermined her position to the extent that coming from non-traditional environments is enough to earn or expect a future of victim-hood. It’s as if it’s only a matter of time for these women. MacDonald clearly doesn’t understand she creates two categories for women: women who will be assaulted and deserve it, and women who shouldn’t be assaulted.
And this is a rather gobsmacking problem with MacDonald’s argument, isn’t it? Not only does she not seem to understand what a disorder that results from persistent trauma is, she doesn’t seem to understand that she’s applying her admittedly conservative and demanding sense of propriety onto others who may or may not see the world the way she does. She really doesn’t seem to understand that a syndrome is not a made-up narrative that individuals can use to garner unearned rewards. The MST syndrome is a verifiable state of affairs that must be treated for the patients to be well. It’s clear MacDonald has never witnessed PTSD nor experienced anything traumatic in her life.
Following her alternative hypothesis that such trauma doesn’t exist but only “bad decisions” do, MacDonald flexes her con-muscles by criticizing college-campus feminists and her “tough as nails” approach to them. Basically, she knows a woman who was raped three times who doesn’t suffer trauma. So, feminism is wrong.
Feminists claim (speciously) that a whopping one-quarter of college co-eds are sexually assaulted by their fellow students in college; I am not aware of comparable claims that huge numbers of female college graduates are as a result ending up on the street. (The difference between the outcomes for college graduates and vets does not lie in the relative availability of services: College rape crisis centers and hotlines are barely used.) I am not even aware of claims that victims of stranger rape are more likely to end up dealing drugs and homeless, but that evidence may in fact be out there. (I recently wrote about a tough-as-nails, pro-police building superintendent in the Bronx who was raped three times, including by her mother’s boyfriend as a child; she is only one case, obviously, but she was not on disability benefits or on the streets.)
I’m just going to leave that paragraph alone because MacDonald saves her worst work for last. I’m so frustrated by it that I decided to write this post just so I could get to this last bit. Everything up to this point is boilerplate conservative, anti-feminist hate. Pure contempt and smug sanctimony. You’ve all likely heard it before. But her last paragraph is simply nuts.
But let’s say that for these homeless female vets, it really was their sexual experiences in the military that caused their downward spiral into, as the Times puts it, “alcohol and substance abuse, depression and domestic violence.” Why then have those same feminists who are now lamenting the life-destroying effects of “MST” insisted on putting women into combat units? Arguably, coming under enemy fire or falling into enemy hands is as traumatic as the behavior one may experience while binge-drinking with one’s fellow soldiers or as scarring as being “bullied and ostracized” by a female superior. Are women on average going to be more able to emotionally handle the former than the latter? Isn’t there a contradiction in expecting the military to “protect” you while it also sends you out to face mortal risk? And do the feminists believe that there will be fewer of these alleged rapes in combat training and duty? Perhaps they think that with enough multi-million-dollar gender-equity training contracts showered on the gender-industrial complex, the problem will go away. Or perhaps they think that keeping before us proof that the patriarchy is alive and well is more important than protecting women from “MST,” especially if that image can serve as grounds for remaking the military.
Apparently, there’s no editors for The Corner. First, MacDonald thinks so poorly of certain kinds of women, the them she’s referring to throughout the blog, that rape and assault is sex for them. MacDonald sexualizes harassment and assault as a characteristic of sexuality for certain kinds of women: namely, women who don’t abide by patriarchal traditional family values. It’s not often a conservative would conflate having sex—even of the loose variety that social conservatives are always whining about—with being raped, but MacDonald pretty much does in the first sentence of her closing argument. Is it so hard to imagine that a woman who is raped also has positive sexual experiences? Isn’t it a problem to define an victim of assault by the assault and the oppressive associations that have been improperly attached to it? Not for MacDonald. It’s another horrible association and assumption based in prejudice and misrepresentation that receives prominence in rhetoric over cool-consideration of facts, events, medicine, and evidence.
The rest is just hyperbole. I have no clue what female service members fighting in combat has to do with women being assaulted while on active duty. Nor was I aware of the “gender-industrial complex”. What the fuck is that? In conclusion, MacDonald’s reference about patriarchy is instructive. Nobody having anything to do with treating MST is talking about The Patriarchy, but conservative pundits like MacDonald will always bring it up because it is a sine qua non for conservative ethos.