Man's Best Friend

Last Thursday, CNN sports anchor Larry Smith appeared with Nancy Grace to comment on NFL quarterback Michael Vick's arrest for running a dogfighting ring:

SMITH: Yes, well, that’s — he’s been in a lot of trouble lately, when you think about all the other incidents, and this is just the worst one of all. Keep in mind, too, that while Kobe Bryant is a situation we can sort of compare this to, this really is much worse. Not only can you argue that the crimes are much worse in terms of, you know, killing dogs and that kind of thing, but as an NFL starting quarterback, you are the most visible face in that city. I’ve said all along, in fact, you know, if you go through and, you know, very quickly name 10 mayors of major cities in the country…

GRACE: Larry Smith, did I just hear you say…

SMITH: … you could have a harder time doing that…

GRACE: … mistreatment of…

SMITH: … than naming 10 NFL starting quarterbacks.

GRACE: Did I just hear Larry Smith, CNN sports correspondent and anchor, state that crimes on a dog are much worse than crimes on a woman? Did I hear that?
Technically, I believe what we heard was Larry Smith suggest that crimes against women and dogs are comparable. Presumably, Smith would think killing a woman was as bad as killing a dog, but killing is worse than rape, so submitting dogs to a dogfight where they could be killed is worse than raping humans women.

And, you know, there are a lot of people who will agree with him.

In fact, there are none too few assenters in the comments section at the ThinkProgress link above, which is rather ugly, and I really don't recommend reading it, though it does give some insight into how detached some men truly are from the experience of womanhood and the seriousness of rape. Take, for example, commenter Pitman, responding to a commenter with the moniker Rape Survivor who notes that dog fighting does not compare with the rape of a woman: "Who in the hell are you trying to kid rape victim? I’ll take my chances with getting raped with follow-up counseling and psychiatric help and eventually staying alive. Have you ever watched a video of a 5 hour dog fight as these poor creatures are enslaved and forced to rip themselves slowly apart in absolute torture and SLOWLY DYING. Get the hell out of here rape victim." Pitman, it seems, can more readily and fully empathize with dogs than with human women who have been raped.

(The question never asked of him by the commenters who proceed to engage him in a flame war is why he has watched a video of a five-hour dogfight in the first place, nor is it ever pointed out to him—or anyone else—that the experience of being raped itself is often not so very different from the experience of a dogfight by the losing dog.)

Meanwhile, commenter Pops notes that it's simply a matter of "the capacity to return to normalcy after such a traumatic experience. I would take an educated guess (and cite no evidence for the lack of it) that more rape victims are able to return to normalcy (not disputing absolute normalcy, but a comparable degree) than dogs partaking in these fights. Further, I would estimate the survival rate to be higher among rape victims. Considering it from this standpoint, it is thus not ludicrous to arrive at the idea that such crime to a dog is more heinous to the rape of a human being." When Pops' assertion is summarily disputed, he then retorts: "With all due respect, I’m considering this from an objective standpoint. I addressed your last concern specifically in my post, where I stated 'a comparable degree of normalcy,' which in effect would mean regaining a degree of trust in other human beings, etc." Not only is he's talking about women and dogs as if they have the same intellectual and emotional capacity, and thusly as though women are zoo animals—"Oh, look! She's begun to trust the other humans again!"—but he continually insists on maintaining a ridiculous level of so-called "objectivity" to assert that crimes against women and dogs are equal because all life is equal, though, unless he were a sociopath, he would clearly not consider some random dog's life equal to his own daughter's.

And that's really the problem with the whole discussion, from the very starting point of Larry Smith's statement. A lot of men (and women) look at the conflation of dogfights and raping women and think of their sweet-faced, loyal little pooch who's as much a member of the family as any other—and, between poochy's being hurt or killed and "some woman somewhere being raped," blithely determining the former is worse is terribly easy. Because rape, you see, is always a crime that happens to someone else. No one considers the comparison by invoking their own wife, daughter, mother, sister*—in which case, most people would very unhappily but understandably choose to save the woman they love from being raped than save the dog from a dogfight.

(And those that wouldn't are probably the kind of people who would explain it as a choice between their dog getting killed or their wife/daughter/mother/sister "having sex with" some guy.)

It's just always so convenient to talk about rape as this thing that happens somewhere else, mostly to women, who probably deserved it or are lying, anyway, and to talk about it in some abstract way, as this unreal and intangible thing that is experienced by people You don't know and therefore isn't something You have to think about, except as a theoretical, a hypothetical, just another issue about which You can speak with the cool detachment of someone unaffected as You weigh the evidence about whether it's worse than dogfighting. And, maybe, if pushed into a corner where it's Your Woman we're talking about, instead of "women"—so vague, so big, so useful in maintaining that uninvested aloofness You call objectivity that it's even easy to forget Your Woman is one of the "women"—You'll admit that, yeah, Your Wife Your Daughter Your Mother Your Sister being raped would be worse than even Your Dog being subjected to a dogfight, even as You note quite firmly that both are bad as if rape survivors don't know, as if they can't empathize with the dogs as well as any humans on the planet, and aren't You a great humanitarian for Your Wise Words about how crimes against women and crimes against dogs are both pretty bad.

The "women" thank You for Your Magnanimity.

What's most distressing about this whole scenario is that rape and dogfighting are regarded by men like the ones referenced above (including Smith) as outside human experience, which is why he compared them so flippantly—and without any backlash—in the first place. Such extreme Othering is attributable to the constant depersonalization of women's issues** that inevitably results from treating male experience as the default human experience—and that, in turn, allows a discussion of "which is worse" wherein some men will identify more with another species than other humans who simply have different genitals than they do. We might as well be another species for all they can relate to us. Or regard us as equals.

All of us, I mean. Not just Their Women.


* I left out "self" here, because sacrificing oneself to save another is decidedly different.

** Rape is still regarded by men like Smith as strictly a women's issue, aside from the occasional prison rape joke. It's important to note that, although rape apologists talk about "rape victims" without specifying sex, they always, eventually, reveal that they are speaking uniquely of women.

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