A peculiar kind of writer’s block

I have a miserable, horrible incomplete in my Introduction to Journalism class. It’s nasty and it’s the noose on the gallows of my holiday. Nothing good can or has come of it. I’m facing it down, trying to liberate it from this mortal coil.

I’m writing a piece on statistics and rape. I’m approaching it incorrectly, because I have a thesis, which isn’t wrong but is too forceful for something that is, ultimately, a report of some findings, rather than a piece of persuasive rhetoric. What I have (essentially) assumed (yet cannot find a means to disprove, nonetheless) is that the statistics we use to illustrate rape as a social problem and use to give us an idea of how big or prevalent or whatever the problem is… Aren’t very good.

But I can’t figure out how to write this thing. I keep reading, hoping that more information will make the writing easier (often, I cannot write until I feel like I know the information inside out and backwards, until I can recount the argument and the facts in my sleep, because they have become so familiar to me. I can’t write the small thing, until I have surveyed the entire problem) … But I’m worried, twofold.

The first worry is the one I’ve already mentioned: I’m writing this the wrong way. I’m writing this like an essay and not like a report of facts/events. This is an argument, not a survey. And that worries me because I need to learn to be impartial. (Ask anyone, I have more opinions on more topics than seems reasonable or possible. I have opinions on issues that don’t exist yet (humanoid robots) and issues that I don’t fully understand (pick any political topic).) I need to be better than the fuckers on Fox News who talk out of their asses, with feeling, maybe, but with cherry-picked facts and figures, who have re-constructed the world until it looks the way they want it to. I can’t do that. (In that vein I went and reloaded this article on the Aspiring Economist, that made me so angry the first time I read it that I closed it and vowed never to return. He calls into question the methods of surveying people to get statistics on rape, often asking questions that don’t fit the bill of “Were you raped?” but ask about situations the surveyed individuals may have found themselves in (“Have you ever slept with someone while you were drunk?”), only to classified them as having been raped after the fact. A technique that those looking to locate grey-rape in a twisted, victim-blaming culture can too easily understand.)

Then there is the fact that I know I’m not impartial: I’m writing on a topic that is close to my heart, as a woman, as a friend, as a confidant. This is something that I want to talk about because I think it’s important, because I need this particular professor to understand (whether or not someone had been drinking should not and cannot affect your response to them being coerced, physically or emotionally, into sex, or otherwise violated, I’ve come to believe that that is only basic human decency). But my impartiality. and my thesis, seem to be supported by my findings. The most commonly quoted statistics of “1 in 4” (one in four women has been sexually assaulted) comes from a survey that was conducted by the Department of Justice in the ’90s. That means the data is old. It’s old, which doesn’t mean it’s no longer relevant, exactly. That is: I don’t believe women are being assaulted less. But if the data is current, we have no idea if things have gotten better or worse. And furthermore, from an position of trying to argue anything on the subject: having old statistics opens the argument up to critique as being “irrelevant” because the data is old.

What I’m trying to get at, and phrasing terribly is, we can’t begin to talk about the problem until we’ve understood it in it’s current and most detailed state. The other thing is: I want data that examines whether the method of generating statistics on rape is sound. Do we go through the records of reports of rape, or convictions of the crime? (They say it’s the most underreported crime, and most rapists aren’t convicted, anyway.) Do we include instances of prison rape in our surveys? (I’m not even sure how that data is gathered, much less how it would affect the numbers. I know only that it would bump up the numbers for men who have been raped. I also know that out of all sexual assaults, prison rape is probably most readily acknowledged as violence.)

This is what I know: the best way to fix my partiality to one side or another is to write the damn article and then go over it until it reads with balance. (Rant first, edit into a balanced perspective.)

This is another thing I know: my best bet at finding that analysis of statistics, is in the academic world. I need to dive into those resources provided by the library and get me a journal article or two. (Nothing like quoting a college professor of some kind to add weight to your argument… It’s all about having Thinktanks or expert opinions these days.)

I’m not very good at this game, like any of the others I’m meant to play. I’ve learned the hard way that I care and that I hope to change the world. And those are dangerous feelings. They lead you down all kinds of nasty paths, where you have to fight, and strife takes its toll on all of us. Writing, journalism in particular, requires the skill to woo the audience into listening to you in the first place, and then the further skill of keeping their attention, and then finally of being both truthful and persuasive. The thing is, I don’t believe anyone becomes a journalist because it might be “fun,” or (here’s a laugh) profitable (unless you’re looking to be some kind of radical pundit, again, think Fox News). You do it because you need to bring a truth to the people, because you believe the people deserve to be told the truth, always at the root of it is the people and the truth. Which means you are always trying to convince them of something. Even if that something is just that they should care. And that’s dangerous. Because that means that none of us are impartial. If we want people to believe something, or know something, or any of those persuasive things…. We are invested in the outcome.


ETA: Then we encounter yet another conundrum: Can you have been raped and not consider yourself a rape survivor? (And please, we are moving away from the word “victim” because it’s demeaning, something which I will probably have to explain.) This is the question at the root of the fascinating and chilling documentary Flirting with Danger by Prof Lynn Phillips of UMass Amherst. Which, incidentally, both sparked and will form part of the basis for this article. You get these miserable descriptions of behavior and actions performed against young women, followed by “I wouldn’t call it rape/abuse” because, as one girl put it, “It’s better to say ‘yes’ than to say ‘no’ and have it be ignored.” The problem with talking about rape, as with any kind of, and here I revert back to that most terrible of words, victimization: we can re-write our pasts, and we do, so often. Because so much time it seems like taking responsibility for what happened is both part of the violence, and part of the coping mechanism.
No one ever wants to have been hurt by someone else.


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