Glenn Beck's family history of rape and abuse is tragic. It's also irrelevant.
The provocateur's personal history doesn't excuse him for helping to perpetuate offensive, dangerous stereotypes about sexual assault
A minor firestorm recently erupted over a sketch produced by Glenn Beck's colleagues at The Blaze, which was designed to mock a White House initiative to reduce sexual violence on college campuses. In the sketch, one man convinces a fellow male staffer, dressed as a giggling, hair-twirling blonde woman, to have sex with him by saying things like, "You should have sex with me, I will always love you" and "You should have sex with me or I'll tell everyone you have sex with me." At that point, commentator Stu Burguiere jumps in with a giant red arrow that says "RAPE," in an attempt to ridicule the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey's study on rape and sexual coercion:
The video isn't just glib and sexist; it's riddled with disingenuous, misleading statements and outright errors, and The Blaze was rightly drubbed for it. (Slate's Amanda Marcotte did a particularly terrific job dismantling the video's insanely misleading argument, and I won't retread her good work here.) In short: The Blaze ignores the fact that the NISVS is also designed to document sexual coercion, which renders the sketch's entire argument irrelevant.
But instead of apologizing, Beck took personal offense to the wave of writers and experts who criticized the sketch's disturbingly blasé take on sexual assault. Today, Beck responded to his critics by recounting his own harrowing tale, in which he revealed that his father had been raped by several men, and eventually became physically abusive toward his own grandchildren:
I admire the bravery it takes to reveal such a painful family secret, and I hope Beck and his family are able to heal from it. But I draw the line at the video's fiery apex, in which Beck attempts to absolve himself from criticism on the basis of his personal experience. "Don't you ever preach to me about what I can say and cannot say about rape," says Beck in the video. "Don't you ever try to be an authority to me on the effects of rape."
Glenn Beck is conflating being a victim of rape with being an authority on rape, and that's no justification for the sketch that The Blaze aired yesterday. If anything, it make the video more baffling. Why would someone who was so clearly affected by a horrifying experience with rape broadcast a sketch that trivializes victims of sexual assault?
Glenn Beck has an enviable platform, reaching millions of loyal viewers, listeners, and readers every month. We're in the midst of a long-overdue cultural conversation about misogyny, which manifests itself as sexual violence with disturbing frequency. Beck could have invited any number of experts to have an honest conversation about sexual assault — or he could have used his own story as the impetus for a truly brave conversation about the lifelong, multigenerational impact that rape can have.
Instead, he allowed the conversation to begin with a few of his fratty staffers falling back on the hoariest and most repulsive of sexist cliches. As we were all reminded less than a week ago, these are the kinds of stereotypes that perpetuate a misogynistic rape culture, and they represent a genuine danger.
By his own account, Beck knows better. "You still feel the effects of what happened," says Beck, tearfully describing his own experience. But he never stopped to consider the effect that The Blaze's sketch might have on any number of assault victims, who were subjected to yet another group of powerful men mocking their experience. Nor did he think twice about airing dangerous myths that blur the line of consent in ways that have led to the campus rape epidemic in the first place.
So yes, Glenn Beck, I'm truly sorry for your personal experience — but it doesn't mean you're above criticism. And as long as you continue to spread dangerous falsehoods and grotesque stereotypes about sexual assault, you need to be preached to about it.