Classism and Roman Polanski – How does social class influence our view of those who commit acts of sexual violence?

CW: The below piece mentions rape. Please read only if in a safe place to do so.

This piece will be cross-posted to End Victim Blaming Now tomorrow.

Like many others today, I have read Victoria Coren-Mitchell’s piece for The Observer on Roman Polanski and found it troubling to the extreme.

I am sorry he had a bad childhood. I am sorry for anyone who did, or anyone who is currently struggling through one.

But that does not legitimate him raping anyone. Because not everyone who has a bad childhood goes out and commits abusive acts against women and others with impunity.

I mean, my biological father had a drink problem, and Mum was always worried I’d turn out like him. She was very anxious when I came of age and began to drink alcohol – “It changed him”, she said. “I hope it doesn’t do the same to you.”

Mercifully it didn’t. Moreover, I am certainly not emotionally abusive like my stepfather. I would never dream of reducing somebody’s self esteem to a pulp.

What I am saying is, whatever my mother’s worries were about me and alcohol, or my stepfather’s behaviour; they do not translate into my being predestined to become an abuser too.

I loathe the idea that “bad childhood” should be used as some kind of mitigating circumstance to absolve an individual of bad, abusive, or sexually violent behaviour. What justice is that for victims of their foul crimes?

And yet it is a mitigating defence used all too frequently in courtrooms across the globe.

Even Jeremy Kyle iterates something similar to guests sometimes. “Oh I had a bad childhood. Well not everyone who had a bad childhood goes out and….” [Insert problem here].

I think you understand my point.

We do not have a choice over difficult and harrowing childhoods. We do have a choice over whether to become abusers ourselves. We do have a choice to be so repulsed by what happened to us in childhood or in later life that we raise the bar considerably higher in our own lives both for ourselves and our own emotional wellbeing, but for those around us also

There is here also, another imperative; that of class. What if he wasn’t a legendary film director and instead just Joe Bloggs from Anytown, Anywhere, The Globe? Would we receive ardent, passionate, even sincere pleas from journalists to treat Polanski with nuance?

No. So the imperative of class is important here. It is his socially constructed status as someone noteworthy that has prompted these pleas. He is part of the class of show business and one cannot help feel a different set of rules for the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is being advocated here.

The end result of this, then, is that what you end up with is several social categories of rapists and abusers all in neat quantitative boxes, with bad childhood being just one of many of those said boxes.

The net result finally is a milieu of excuses. This is very convenient for perpetrators but an unquestionable tragedy for victims. It allows obfuscation over the fact that a crime has been committed and results in erasure of victims.

What you are then left with is a slew of excuses and no justice for victims. Rape is the single most disgusting violation of a person’s body, mind and soul. It alters their sense of self, both in themselves and how they interact with the world. A chief cause of this for women is patriarchy, the idea that some men can reduce a woman to a mere body, a less than human body at that.

You see when I judge Roman Polanski’s actions towards Samantha Geimer (which sicken me by the way) I do so in the spirit of true egalitarianism.

I forget that he’s a film director, and remain indifferent to the beauty of his works. I judge the man, not the movie, and what is left? I think we all know the answer. What is left is Roman Polanski’s heinous crime of raping Samantha Geimer.

That is the nuance missing here.

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