I believe that most people have a handful of stories that essentially explain their world. Here is one of mine:
Most prosecutors, a few drinks in and among friends, will admit that, when trying a rape charge, they’d prefer a jury of more men than women. That may seem counter-intuitive.
Prosecutors want to get convictions.
And you might, at first pass, think that women would be more likely than men to convict someone charged with rape. But the studies and statistics show just the opposite. A majority-woman jury is less likely (although this is changing) to convict a rapist than is an majority-male jury.
Psychologists have an explanation for this.
Admitting that we live in a world where rape is just a random possible occurrence is a pretty scary proposition for most women. It is for me. We don’t want to think that it could happen to us, could happen for no reason, could happen no matter how “good” or how “careful” we are. And, so, psychologists hypothesize, female jurors are more likely to, unconsciously, find “reasons” why that woman was forced to have sex with that man. “Reasons” that give women some comfort that it could never happen to them. That other woman was wearing sexy clothes — asking for it, was out late at night in a bad part of town, had too much to drink and missed the cues that she was giving the man and that he was giving her. She did things we wouldn’t do and that’s why that man forced sex on her. We, however, would never wear a dress like that, hang out there, be out that late, have those extra drinks, take those extra drugs, go back to that place . . . . We are safe and all that our safety costs is blaming her for what happened, or, at the least, letting him off the hook.
Men seem to know better.
They seem to understand, better than do women, that, in many cases, there was nothing that woman could have done to avoid that rape. But, then, that’s not as frightening for the men on the jury as it is for the women.
Well, that’s interesting, but how on Earth is it a defining story?
It’s a defining story because I think it lays bare the one, overweening fear that most people spend their lives trying to avoid: the universe is random.
We live in a universe in which, outside of a small set of actions (placing your hand on an open flame will hurt, dropping a piano from the second story will make a mess, acids stain you and drugs cause cramp), whatever happens will not be entirely dependent upon your own actions.
You’re not in control.
You can study as hard as you want and still not make law review. You can save all your money and lose it in a recession just before you retire. You can eat vegan, run marathons, meditate every day, and still get breast cancer at 29. You can lean in, network, shoot for the desperate balance between not being too shrill and still being assertive, and, still, not get the promotion. Yes, you, the good girl. It can happen to you.
That’s it. That’s the thing that terrorizes most of us more than anything. We’re not in control. Even if we do everything right: sometimes, shitty things will happen to good people. Sometimes, the assholes win, and the good guys lose, and that’s just the way it works.
In Dune, the way that the Bene Dessert test for whether or not a person is ready to move to the next level of evolution is by seeing if they can survive the Gom Jabur. When you put your finger into this device, you think that you are feeling pain, although you know that it is all in your mind. Yank your finger out, and you die. I think that understanding and accepting that we live in a random universe is our own Gom Jabur.
I was reminded of this defining story last night when Byron Ballard posted this article. It’s written by a young woman who reminds me of a young Hecate. She started out knowing that sexism was “a thing,” but convinced that SHE could overcome it. She would just work harder, be nicer, network more, and generally BE SO GOOD that sexism, while, yes, a thing, would not, in the end, hold her back.
And, then. And, then, life happened.
Studies show that it isn’t actually age that differentiates those women who support Secretary Clinton from those who don’t. It’s actually whether or not those women have actually experienced sexism in their own lives. And, no surprise, older women are more likely to have experienced that (as well as hives, stolen credit, bad weather, hang overs, hang nails, hanging chads, and the effect of taffy upon old fillings) than are younger women.
Now, what could we do about this?