Dark at the Top of the Stairs

October 2, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

It happens once every couple of years. In a period when I’m not teaching, I happen to walk past a classroom where the professor is someone I know. The door is open. I stop to listen. And the person teaching the class sounds nothing like the person I know. The political science guy that I’ve had many calm discussions with is now bombastic. A friendly colleague sounds almost hostile towards the class. An unassuming friend comes across as pretentious.

The point of yesterday’s post about Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford was that we often make the mistake of thinking that people are consistent across a variety of settings. But they are not. We can easily picture how they will behave in settings like the ones where we know them. But it’s a mistake to extend that picture to parts of their life that we are not privy to. We are in the dark. And often, the area where we have the least knowledge of the other person is sex. It’s like that room at the top of the stairs, and everyone else at the party downstairs has no idea of what’s happening behind the locked door.

So while Kavanaugh may be the upstanding, friendly, helpful, honorable man of character that his supporters know, he could also have been capable of doing what Ford says he did at that party.

The latest episode of The Annex Sociology podcast has in interview with Nicole Bedera, who has done research about rape among students. Her personal story is especially relevant here.

In her senior year her college in Salt Lake City, she did a campus survey to estimate the prevalence of rape. Here’s an excerpt from the podcast.

Here’s an edited transcript

For my senior thesis I did a prevalence survey . . . on my campus . . . I presented [the results] anywhere I could . . . because I wanted people to know that sexual violence was a serious problem on my campus. And in giving all those presentations, a lot of survivors came up to me and told me their stories. And many of them named names. And in this process I identified three serial rapists on my campus. And two of them were close friends of mine.

I tell this story because it’s so uncomfortable.

Often the men that can get away with sexual violence are really charismatic, they’re often very powerful, they’re people who are likeable. . . That’s why when we hear whispers about what they’ve done, we say, “That can’t possibly be true. He’s such a nice guy.”

So a lot of us are very close to people who have done unspeakable, horrific things to women in their past.

The entire interview is well worth listening to. You can find it here (don’t let the title and picture fool you). As Joe Cohen, one of the Annex hosts, says of each episode, you won’t want to miss it.

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