Tellingly, the first person to send me the story about Lara Logan’s sexual assault and beating did so in an email whose subject line read “this story is horrible, but I think the comments are even worse.”
And so they were. The internet, it appeared, was largely in agreement: what happened to Logan was terrible, but hardly surprising – what else could possibly be the result when a girl with “model good looks” is “sent” to a public place full of unrestrained Muslims?
Never mind that the risks to foreign reporters covering the Egyptian revolution were well known. This, after all, was the story that brought us Jack Shenker reporting from the back of a police van, Anderson Cooper being punched repeatedly, NY Times reporters being arrested by the Mukhabarat, and Al Jazeera English correspondents crouching behind walls to shield themselves from gunfire as they reported from Tahrir square. No, this story was different – hadn’t we seen that there was a youthful blonde in it now?
Excuse me while I roar with frustration. Not just at the extreme cases, well covered elsewhere, like Nir Rosen’s astonishingly bad-taste tweets, or Debbie Schlussel’s unhinged racism. No, what really has me ticked off are people like my twitter follower @brainofmatter, who lamented other people’s “outrageously sexist” comments, before launching into a tweeted mini-tirade about how “idealistic and dumb” it was for CBS to “send” Logan to report on the story, because she was “chosen largely for her model good looks,” and that “made her more of a target.”
I am attempting to be nice, because I’m sure that @brainofmatter doesn’t think that he’s being sexist. No, he’s just telling it like it is – that pretty women are irresistible to rapists, so it’s irresponsible for them to go places where rapists might find them. If that means that they can’t be permitted – sorry, “sent” – to do jobs like report from the scene of revolutions, well, that’s too bad. Obviously, we must all do anything within our power to prevent women from being raped, even if we must undermine their autonomy, livelihoods, and professional integrity (“model good looks” my ass) to do it.
But you know what? I don’t think I’m going to succeed in being nice, because that’s just fucking ridiculous. First of all, to say that Lara Logan was in Tahrir Square largely because of her “model good looks” is pretty much just textbook misogyny. Her looks do not cancel out any, much less all, of the myriad other relevant facts. Such as her four years of reporting from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq; her job title, which, last time I checked, was “Chief Foreign Correspondent for CBS News;” or that she had bravely returned to report on the story despite being arrested earlier in the month, and expelled from the country. To discard all of her hard work, and deny her accomplishments, merely because she is an attractive woman, is damn sexist.
And second of all, guess what? If women never went anywhere where we risked being sexually assaulted, we’d never go anywhere, period. We certainly couldn’t go to work on foreign aid projects. Or to U.S. military academies. Not to college. Not on dates. Not to parties. Not to bars. Or on cruises. Not to work as models. Or security contractors. Except that even if we never went any of those places, we’d still be screwed (pun intended) because of course a high percentage of rapes happen in the home, committed by perpetrators whom the victims know. Putting the responsibility on women to prevent sexual assault by restricting their own behavior – or on their employers to limit it for them – won’t actually solve the problem, it will just reinforce gendered norms about what “good” women “should” do.
And, finally, the idea that Lara Logan was “more at risk” of sexual assault because she was attractive is laughable. I’d be interested to know what fuckability threshold women should stay below in order to be safe from rape. Could Logan have just added some thick glasses? What if she had spinach in her teeth? How about if she gained 20 pounds – then would she be safe from the mob of 200 people who apparently decided to subject her to a prolonged beating and repeated sexual assaults because her delicate beauty stirred their romantic longings? Give me a break. Rape is about power, not how cute the victim is.
So seriously, internets, pull yourselves together. Lara Logan is a professional who suffered a horrific attack in the course of doing a dangerous job. Women all over the world take similar risks every day. We do so because we don’t see “vulnerability to rape” as our most salient characteristic. It’s about time everyone else picked up on that too.