You’re not helping


There is a lot of debate to be had about the best way to help a cause (don’t get me started on PETA). Sometimes people’s attempts to ostensibly help are near-inexplicable. This week’s news offered a few head-scratchers.

This week in you’re not helping: 

RAINN isn’t helping sexual assault survivors by dismissing rape culture. One of the best known organizations taking on sexual assault, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) inexplicably decided to throw feminists under the bus by lamenting an “unfortunate trend” of blaming rape culture in recommendations to the White House on sexual assault. RAINN implies that talking about rape culture detracts from individual accountability for rapists, an idea that does not line up with the sentiments of anyone I’ve ever seen discussing rape culture.

It’s hard to imagine how RAINN thought that pointing this out would help the cause. What it did was undermine major progress that’s been made in recognizing these trends, and provide cover for people like Caroline Kitchens of the American Enterprise Institute to make specious arguments about rape culture “hysteria.”

I won’t bother linking to Kitchens’ piece, but will rather point you to Zerlina Maxwell’s powerful response. Her story of the litany of questions she faced after her own sexual assault alone should convince you, but there are many more harrowing examples in her piece. If you don’t notice rape culture, you’re not paying attention, and RAINN isn’t making convicting rapists any more likely by stirring up controversy.

President Obama isn’t helping Ukrainians by defending the Iraq war. It’s inevitable that charges of hypocrisy are going to arise for years to come when the US criticizes other nations’ aggression; it’s one of many prices to pay for America’s belligerent foreign policy. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, we’ve mostly rolled our eyes at US officials non-ironically making statements like “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests.”

President Obama took it up a notch when he decided to take this criticism head on by mounting a weak defense of the war in Iraq.

“But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.”

How would he (and his speechwriters) possibly think that trying to put a sheen on an incredibly unpopular war at home and abroad would advance the cause of reining in Russian aggression? He’s selling something nobody is buying. I don’t even think he’s buying it, though as Joshua Keating points out, he’s starting to echo these sentiments when talking about situations like Syria. If he were able to make this argument credibly, it would be reinforcing a horrible precedent, but in the end it’s just laughable.

Law schools aren’t helping female lawyers by policing how they dress. Amanda Hess covered a memo to female students at Loyola Law School that told them “I really don’t need to mention that cleavage and stiletto heels are not appropriate office wear (outside of ridiculous lawyer TV shows), do I?” Hess chronicles how it fits into a long history of telling female lawyers what they can and can not wear. As with much confusing advice women receive, you’ll hear conservative pants suits from one person and silk V-neck L.A. Law blouse from another. Women being made to feel more self-conscious about their clothing, rather than making choices based on what makes them comfortable, isn’t likely to help them succeed in court.

It also invites  pieces like this one by a federal judge, appropriately titled “On being a dirty old man and how young women lawyers dress.” His discussion of admiring a lawyer’s “ample chest” is 100 times grosser by virtue of starting the story about making his own daughter wear a sweater from the church’s lost and found to cover up her cleavage at a wedding. Let’s not give the creepy uncles types an excuse to tell women what they should wear in the courtroom.


Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

2 thoughts on “You’re not helping”

  1. RAINN’s endorsement of Kitchen’s opinion is particularly dissappointing as it contradicts proven fact. Social scientists, like Philip Zimbardo have shown for decades that it is the institutions that create and perpetuate abuse. This is not subject to debate.


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