Margaret Cho’s call for women to kill their rapists was treated with the general adulation that Gregg Shapiro showed for the Korean-American performer in his interview (Baltimore OUTloud, March 4, 2016). But Cho’s widely publicized celebration of vigilante killing of men and boys accused of sexual misconduct should not pass without condemnation and consideration of history.
For a century, the U.S. saw thousands of lynchings, overwhelmingly of black males, most often occasioned by sexual accusations involving white females. In 1955, for instance, 14-year-old Emmet Till was killed while visiting Mississippi from his native Chicago, after allegedly wolf-whistling at a white woman on the street. He was beaten and shot to death, the boy’s face so mutilated his corpse was unrecognizable.
Emmet Till should have haunted Cho and Shapiro as they discussed Cho’s song “Kill Your Rapist.” Or the dozens of contemporary echoes of such killings: such as the murders by neo-Nazis of Gretchen Parker and her husband Charles in 2014 because in July, 2013, because Charles was listed on the sex-offender registry. Or the case of William Elliot, 24, who was shot to death on his doorstep by a vigilante in Corinth, Maine, in April 2006. Four year earlier, Elliot had been convicted of consensual sex with his girlfried, because she was a few days shy of her 16th birthday.
Cho’s sloganeering is especially dangerous because on the question of rape, history has come full circle. Rape traditionally meant forced penetration of female, with all the consequences that entails: her loss of reproductive control, the risk of an unwanted and fatherless child. But today, just as in the lynching South, “rape” is a category ballooningly flexible. “Rape” as mooted today in courtrooms or on Oprah can refer to sexual approaches involving merely touch. Or sex acts without an explicit prior verbal agreement. Or sex agreed to at night but regretted the next morning. Or sex while participants’ judgments were clouded by drink. Or merely statutory violations where the sex was consensual but ages crossed a legal borderline.
Cho exemplifies “rape” as a catchall for bad or retrospectively unwanted acts motivated by desire. She claims hyperbolically that she was raped “continuously” while a teenager by age-mates. She says a family friend raped her from the time she was five to the time she was 12.
Really? Even in that most problematic of cases, was it repeated forced vaginal penetration, the sense of rape that powers the word’s gut-punch? Or was it touching she didn’t like? Don’t the distinctions matter?
No one condones getting sex – or a grope – by violence, threat, coercion, or simply without consent. The laws today could not be tougher on this issue. But neither do we need to gild the lily and pretend that an act of unwanted touching or a nude video can ever be worse than murder, where the guilty face no lifetime scarlet letters and often lesser punishments. Victims of such violations – and violations they are – in no way earn the overheated moniker “survivor.”
Feminism’s conceit is that sexuality is the domain where violence achieves its most pernicious form. That conceit has been eagerly taken up by Western states, who are now essentially feminism’s global sponsor. You can be sure the U.S. gets something in return when it wins emergency powers to combat pretend problems such as “sex trafficking” at Rentboy.com. What it gets, in part, is a pass and cover for the boundless killing America has unleashed in nation after nation that made the mistake of choosing its own course – consider Syria, Libya, Nicaragua, or Yemen.
Unwanted sex that Cho says she suffered can win her instant publicity in retelling after retelling. Alleged priestly fondles from decades back – intrinsically unprovable – have unleashed billions of dollars of lucre to lawyers and claimants evincing varying levels of truth-telling and avariciousness.
But who bothers exploring the clear connections leading from Hilary Clinton’s support of the overthrow of leftist Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 to the murder this past March 2nd of activist Berta Cáceres, who was fighting destruction of her people’s land by corporate interests pushing a hydro-power dam? (Bit.ly/1LYEmqV) Or who revisits the hundreds of thousands of Central American peasants killed by U.S.-sponsored death squads over the last decades to their authors in Washington? It’s a pattern as old as imperial conquest: The British warmed public opinion to the killing of more than 100,000 Indians during the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857 by stories of natives sexually violating wives and daughters of colonists.
Cho claims her call for killing rapists is just metaphorical, that she condones violence against no one. But her words betray her. If skeptics of mob violence campaigned for Cho’s assassination, she’d take little comfort if they added sotto voce that it was all tongue-in-cheek.
The rule of law places on us difficult demands: to cede right of retribution to the state, to disavow vendetta, to presume innocence of the accused, to demand proof beyond reasonable doubt, to show mercy. The feminist and LGBT movements have triumphed in the fight for equality in significant part by working via the law. In the hubris of victory, some who were deemed sex criminals just a generation ago see the rules of civilization as a ladder now to be simply kicked away, like the scaffold at a hanging. In her righteousness and blood-lust for retribution on today’s sexual miscreants and outlaws, Margaret Cho exemplifies how many LGBTers have gone over to the side of the jeering, blood-thirsty mob at an execution. The history of queer resistance to injustice demands better of us than that.
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