The Fickle Nature of Values

The reliability and reproducibility of science are under scrutiny. However, a major cause of this lack of repeatability is not being considered: the wide sample-to-sample variability in the P value. We explain why P is fickle to discourage the ill-informed practice of interpreting analyses based predominantly on this statistic.

–Lewis G. Halsey, et. al., “The fickle value generates irreproducible results,” Nature Methods 12 (2015): 179-85

Consider the Rapist: Everyone Gets Raped

It’s time to interrupt our regularly scheduled lineup of illness rants, writing news, and wacky Shakespeare happenings to bring you yet another infuriating installment of how rape culture is still alive and well in our supposedly civilized world. Three days ago, Rolling Stone published the findings of an investigation conducted by the Columbia School of Journalism on what went wrong in the exposé “A Rape on Campus,” in which a UVA student describes being gang-raped in a fraternity house. Once the account was discovered to have major inconsistencies (although it’s important to remember that the article’s subject, Jackie, gave an initial description of her assault–that she was forced to perform oral sex on several men in a frat house–that is still, by any legal definition, rape), the collective media response was to get swept up in whether or not Jackie’s experience as reported in Rolling Stone was true. What’s been lost as a result of this free-for-all of faultfinding and finger-pointing (and Rolling Stone’s decision to scrub the original article from its web site) is the fact that many, many rapes and attempted rapes have happened at UVA.

In fact, as anyone with an internet connection and the ability to type “rape” into a search engine could tell you, rape and sexual assault happen everywhere, all over the world.

You know what else you can find out if you look hard enough? Everyone gets raped.

And at the moment, by “everyone,” I mean men.

One thing that struck me after reading the Jezebel article ” ‘Law and Justice Aren’t the Same': Interview with a UVA Rape Survivor” (see the first “many” in the above sentence for the link) is the fact that the reporter and the rape survivor, both young women, seem to have an incredibly low threshold for what counts as rape. Here’s one exchange between the two that raised my middle-aged, somewhat prudish eyebrows:

Let me ask you another question, which I want to preface by saying I understand, personally and well, that there’s a massive difference between drunk or even blackout sex and rape. But, some people really fear the potential gray area—they fear that some girls will think “regrettable” and cry assault.

I find that idea very out of step with reality, but it’s worth asking: how did you know the difference? How did you know when you woke up that you hadn’t consented? That it wasn’t just, you got drunk and had sex?

Because I couldn’t take a breath without hearing those guys joke about fucking my dead body. I knew very deep down that something horrific had happened. I knew I had not had the chance to make the choice. I did not want to fuck that guy. I did not in any way want to give him access to my body.

I know, when I’ve had drunk sex—vague memories, unclear situations—that I was an active participant. People would tell me the morning after, “You said this, you did this,” and I’d be like, “Sure, that sounds like me.”

There is a difference between having drunk sex and having someone penetrate you when you are lying there, basically unconscious.

Now, I could go into some extended analysis about the sexual mores of these two women and self-protection and all that. But I’m not going to–one, because it’s not my place to judge their mores, and two, because we’re Considering the Rapist here, and their comments give me a wee bit of insight into what college campus rapists might particularly be getting off on: bodies that are warm and limp and completely defenseless. In the Jezebel article, the interviewee said when she woke up and discovered where she was the morning after the rape, a man outside the room marveled that the man who’d raped her “is a necrophiliac, he likes to fuck dead girls.”

Hopefully, I don’t have to explain to any readers of this blog how vaginas and other female body cavities are always in use and not open to the sexual pleasure of others whether the body’s owner is awake, asleep, or incapacitated. I also don’t think I need to explain how the fantasy of a woman drunk or passed out in the vicinity of a male virgin/nerd/guy who’s hit a dry spell in his sex life is considered funny or even a dream come true in popular culture. (Just think back to the movie “Sixteen Candles” if you want a taste of how the fantasy works.) What I would suggest, however, is that men who like to fuck “dead” bodies may not stop with female ones.

So many men who patrol the comment boards of various media outlets are quick to pounce on articles that don’t consider how men who are falsely accused of rape have their lives turned upside down for no reason. I’m certainly not saying this doesn’t happen, but what I am saying is that this rhetorical stance (while being patently offensive to rape victims) seems to buy into the idea that a man can have sex with a semi- or fully unconscious woman “accidentally” or because he’s fulfilling his dream of getting laid for the first time, or getting laid with a beautiful body, or getting laid with a particular beautiful body he’s been worshiping from afar. The commenter implicitly sympathizes with the man accused: this is the dream, the commenter says, and I could just as easily be caught up in it as the next man.

What the commenter doesn’t tend to see is that people who are into raping others will rape anyone if the opportunity arises. In 2009, male prisoners-of-war in Uganda were gang-raped repeatedly by their captors over the course of days or weeks. In 2012, the National Crime Victimization Survey studied 40,000 households in the U.S. and revealed that 38% of the rapes reported had male victims. Further, over 46 percent of those rapes with male victims involved female attackers. Yes, that’s right: men can get raped by women. And according to a recent article on Cracked, the experience isn’t funny or a dream come true.

So if people who rape will rape anyone, and rapes are happening on college campuses–particularly in frat houses–what makes the men who are so skeptical of female survivors and so eager to exonerate potential rapists think that they’d be safe in a frat house after a stint of binge drinking? What makes them think that some passing fraternity brother (or group of brothers) wouldn’t find a vulnerable first-year or nerd an easy target for a reaming with an empty bottle? Or worse? Sure, guys in frats don’t want to be seen as gay, but rape isn’t about sexual orientation. It’s about power. And if a guy or an assortment of guys thinks it would be fun to fuck up your genitalia while you’re sleeping, they’re going to. Count on it.

How much money do you want to bet that there are men out there who have been sexually assaulted on college campuses, men keeping their trauma a secret because they don’t want to face the backlash if they speak up? Or because they know they’ll have to explain why they were underage and lied their way into a boozefest and got so drunk they couldn’t defend themselves? Or because they’ve rationalized the whole thing as just a harmless prank, and they were probably asking for it anyway?

We do everyone a disservice when we ignore the fact that everyone gets raped by rapists. We should find the men who get raped on college campuses and encourage them to tell their stories, just as we encourage women to do so. It shouldn’t be the case that we have to include men in an issue to get society to listen to women. But as a civilized society, we also have to face the fact that everyone gets raped and stop laughing (or, even worse, cheering) at the idea that men get raped and make a greater effort to include everyone in the healing process.

Found Poem #3: The Great Moon Hoax in a Blender

Yup, I’d definitely say I’m on a roll now. Just finished two more of the PoMoSco assignments. The first is going to take some technical finagling to put online. The second is all online, which allows me to keep my butt firmly planted on my couch.

So here are the fruits of my efforts: a poem based on the first few paragraphs of what became the Great Moon Hoax of 1835. This is a little known yet highly entertaining journalistic prank in which the New York Sun published a series of articles claiming that a famous British astronomer had discovered life on the moon. Frankly, I have yet to delve into this piece successfully–the prose is old-timey and academic and as such is thick as cement. Which is probably why it was so much fun putting these passages through the Lazarus Corporations’ Text-Mixing Desk, a lovely internet deelie that rearranges the words of any chunk of prose you can paste into its text window. The excerpt I used from the Sun didn’t change much in terms of readability (at least for me), but the exercise itself did show how pompous diction sort of becomes an end in itself. You start following these enormous periodic sentences because your brain thinks there’s going to be some sort of gigantic, meaningful payoff at the end when really you’re chasing wave after wave of vague big-picture concepts. A familiar experience if you’ve ever spent any time binge-reading nineteenth-century novels (or criticism of those novels, in which case you’re probably even more traumatized).

Here’s hoping my humble poem makes a teensy bit of sense. I wanted it to reflect the original text on a thematic level, especially since the mixing process left big chunks of original wording which I promptly ripped off. (But I sourced the whole thing at the end, so that makes it okay! Right?) Anyway, enjoy!

News News News! New Name and Found Poetry Online

Hey, Fickle Readers! Believe it or not, I got sick again this week, hence the lack of posts. I’ve been trying to save up all my news to post in one big info dump. Usually this is easier to do when mental energy is low and words and ideas get caught in my brain like wads of hair in a bathtub. Anyway, without further ado:

My blog has a brand-spanking-new title: Miss Fickle Reader’s Backwater Domain! I feel this new moniker has a bit more bite, and it has a pun in it, too. (Domain, you know. Domain = kingdom, and also web site stuff. Get it?) Mighty Tiny Bill would be proud.

“Thou’rt as monumental as buzzard urine.”

Second thing to report: This month, I’m officially a Poetry Month Scout in Found Poetry Review‘s National Poetry Month project. (Say that three times fast!) I have to say, I was a little trepidatious about doing this–I haven’t been working at poetry very much recently, and it’s always nerve-wracking to post spur-of-the-moment pieces. Kinda like leaving photocopies of your naked butt at random intersections in your hometown. But so far, it’s been pretty engaging. The FPR people have links to a lot of cool internet tools to get your creative mind spinning. My fave so far is this random username generator, which you can set to Shakespeare as well as emotions, body parts, and (my preference) just plain random.

In the interest of really hanging my nude ass out the window, I’ll be posting the links to my found poems here all this month. Here are the first two:

Narcissism x3. This was generated using three haiku (or maybe they were technically senryu–I’m not up on my Japanese terminology) by Shiki and put through the Haiku Discombobulator.  I think I may have boffed this one up a bit. Other scouts got lovely results, whereas mine were mostly mixtures of prepositions and conjunctions. Ah, well.

Vulgar Ballads. I was much happier with how this one turned out. The assignment was to take a phrase from the random username generator (or make up your own), plug it into Google, collect words from the descriptions that Google spits out, and write a poem from that. I quickly dumped “zip death” (too clinical and depressing) and “liquid thunder” (apparently a form of explosive diarrhea) and eventually went with “bawdy weeping.” Surprisingly enough, there’s a lot of overlap between “bawdy” and “weeping.” Much of that overlap is even old-school literary or–gasp!–Shakespearean. So I had a lot of fun with this exercise. Also, it may have loosened me up for writing sex stuff. Enjoy!

My Life on Lupus: I Want a Better Disease

I haven’t been posting much these days, in part because it’s winter again. Winter always rips through my body. Why is that? Winter should just be cold weather and snow and ice, right? Not for me. I guess it makes sense when you think about it: my body gets cold, I walk around hunched over and tense, my muscles lock up, then they ache and keep me from sleeping well, then I walk around for days at a time fuzzy brained AND achy AND hunched over AND tense AND cold. Sounds logical, right?

Except for the fact that sick minds aren’t logical. Whenever I get a weird symptom, the first thought I go to is: oh God, I’m dying. I now have MS or a tumor or early onset Parkinson’s. Now I’m really, really screwed.

Of course, that’s never what it is. It’s always the damned lupus. Every once in a while, though, I want something different–not one of those dying diseases, you understand, but the straightforward ones. The ones where the doctor looks into your eyes and nods and says, “I’m writing you a prescription. This stuff is hard on the [insert sensitive organ here–bowels, knees, mouth, etc.], but once it gets in your system, you’ll feel much better.”

See? I’m a reasonable person. I can take a long, painful convalescence. I just want to know that after a period of time that I know will suck, I’ll feel like myself again. I want a disease that will go away.

Recently, I’ve been bothered by pain in the arches of my feet. For maybe a week now, I’ve been waking up to painful arches. What the hell kind of symptom is that? I know I should probably talk to my doctor about it, but a trip to the doctor always seems to involve a full-blown plan of attack: which doctor should I call? What should I ask that will make the doctor respond? What time should I haul my ass to his office? What symptoms should I remember to talk to him about? So many, many steps, and I have energy for none of them. Plus, it’s likely that if I do get in touch with someone, it’ll mean five more doctors’ appointments with different specialists to rule out what my symptoms might be pointing to. Then, maybe some more appointments to deal with treatment. The last time I told my GP I had sore hips, I found myself juggling appointments with four different doctors (including two new ones, which are always fun to manage; one I had to drive 45 minutes away to see), AND I got slapped with two ultrasound-guided cortisone shots in two different places AND a six-week, twice weekly stint in physical therapy. The good news is my hips no longer hurt. The bad news is if they start hurting again, I’d rather invent myself some robot legs that run through all those hoops a second time. At least I could do most of the research while lying on my couch.

Anyway, we’ll see if I get anything done this week about my feet. Most likely, I won’t be feeling any better anytime soon. But that’s the life of someone with a chronic illness. You can never sit back and say, Smooth sailing from now on.

Paule Marshall: The Center of Life

I managed to find that other passage I typed out and taped to my wall in college. I’ll include a bit more of the book for context, and because I might have quoted more had I known more about life back then. From Brown Girl, Brownstones:

Faces hung like portraits in her mind as she walked down Fulton Street: Suggie and her violated body, Miss Mary living posthumously amid her soiled sheets, Miss Thompson bearing the life-sore and enduring, Clive and his benign despair, her father beguiled by dreams even as he drowned in them, the mother hacking a way through life like a man lost in the bush.

Those faces, those voices, those lives touching hers had ruined her, yet, she sensed–letting her gown trail on the sidewalk–they had bequeathed her a small strength. She had only this to sustain her all the years. And it did not seem enough. It might be quickly spent and she might fall, broken before her time and still far from the center of life. For that was the quest. And a question flickered in her mind like a reflection of the lights flickering along the street: What was at the center?–the neon drake over the White Drake Bar floated, glittered, and went out–Peace, perhaps, as fleeting as that was, and the things that shaped it: love, a clearer vision, a place…

–Paule Marshall