Former pro-baseball player Lenny Dykstra (left) was recently accused by a woman, his former housekeeper, of repeated sexual assault. According to the woman’s claim, Dykstra forced her to perform oral sex on him every Saturday. Earlier this week, prosecutors declined to file charges, apparently citing a lack of evidence that the sexual contact was forced.
No story that I could find on the topic provided many more details than that. Indeed, providing a stark insight into their priorities, more than half of the LA Times article (the longest article available) consists of information not about the rape charges, but about Dykstra’s recent financial problems. Nevertheless, with the information available, I cannot form an opinion on whether prosecutors made an ethical decision, though I do find it interesting that they seemingly accept that the sexual contact took place, and only dispute whether a housekeeper giving oral sex to her boss every week like clockwork was non-consensual. I also, of course, do not know whether or not Lenny Dykstra is guilty of the allegations made against him.
So while all of these things certainly matter, they’re not what I wish to discuss today. What I’m interested in is Dykstra’s comment to the LA Times denying the charges, and how exactly he chose to frame that denial:
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Dykstra denied the allegations, saying the woman was trying to extort him to buy drugs.
“If she was assaulted on Saturdays, then I’m a … ballerina dancer on Sundays,” Dykstra said. “This is a maid. That’s not even worth commenting on, are you kidding me?”
This is a maid. That’s not even worth commenting on. The allegations are not worth commenting on, apparently, because she’s a maid.
I probably don’t have to tell you that we live in a world where rape allegations are very rarely taken seriously. Rapes are glossed over, covered up, shushed. Victims are blamed, accused of petty ulterior motives, called liars or worse. Police dismiss complaints, hospitals refuse to do rape kits, and prosecutors decline to file charges — even when there’s video evidence or eye witnesses. If rape accusers aren’t working for the CIA (see: Julian Assange allegations), then they’re jealous or regretful, and always vengeful.
Rape allegations are very rarely taken seriously, but the fact is that some allegations are taken more seriously than others, some accusers defended more vigorously, and some attacked more vitriolically or dismissed more easily. Some accusers are seen as having credibility while others do not, and it is not a mistake that these accusers more often than not fall into camps according to relative marginalization and privilege. Some accusers are seen as being rapeable, are seen as having violence against them matter, and some are not. And it is still no mistake which victims tend to already be relatively valued by society. When Dykstra dismisses the allegations against him with nothing more than “This is a maid,” with an affirmation that she and her claims are not worth his breath, we see the heart of this matter.
It takes for granted a set of shared and oppressive cultural assumptions to say the words “This is a maid. That’s not even worth commenting on, are you kidding me?” You must be kidding Dykstra. Who would take anything a maid says seriously?
The word “maid” is intended here as a blatant insult. (Indeed, the more correct term is “housekeeper.”) And what, exactly, do we know about maids?
Firstly, we know that the word maid is specifically gendered. Maids are women. Unlike culturally gendered terms, such as “nurse,” most people don’t just (wrongly) assume the term to refer to a woman; they know it. “Nurse” is the term for both men and women who work in the profession. But men and women housekeepers are not both called “maid.”
We also know that maids are both economically and socially devalued. According to the 2009 wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for maids and housekeepers is a mere $19,250 — hardly a reasonable living wage. So, maids tend to be poor. But regardless of actual wages, housekeeping is still decidedly perceived as a “low status” occupation, not only because there is usually little pay and upward mobility available in the profession, but also because the work itself is not valued. Cleaning, scrubbing, picking up after people — these are all seen by most middle and upper class folks as submissive, degrading activities. Which is, of course, part of why they hire other people to do them. (It’s also no mistake that they are activities usually associated with women, or even called “women’s work.”)
We also know, or think we know, that maids are disproportionately women of color. I was unable to find statistics verifying whether or not this perception is accurate (if you’ve got them, toss them my way). But whether accurate or not, the fact remains that in the U.S., maids are understood to be more likely to be black, Asian, and especially Latina than the general female population. Maids are also commonly assumed to be immigrants, whether documented or undocumented.
Now, with the identify of Dykstra’s accuser rightly concealed, we obviously do not know her race, her immigration status, or even her wage. We do, however, know that even if she is white and U.S.-born and was paid handsomely, Dykstra was unequivocally playing into all of these assumptions about maids when he made his misogynistic, classist, racist comment and openly declared that their word does not matter, that violence against them does not matter, and that neither should be considered worth anyone’s time.
Saying “This is a maid. That’s not even worth commenting on, are you kidding me?” in a country where the term “maid” rightly or wrongly conjures up an image of a poor, migrant, Latina woman in a large number of minds is hardly a neutral act. Especially when poor, migrant, and non-white women are always more likely to have sexual violence against them be disbelieved or ignored. Abhorrently, in a culture that still links sexual assault to sexual attraction (and sexual attraction to social value), his words also suggest, “Who would want to rape a woman like that?”
I also can’t help but notice his syntax. It’s true that when speaking, especially when upset, few of us speak with perfect grammar. I don’t even write with perfect grammar. But in light of the rank misogyny, classism, and racism of his words, I find that it stands out. She is not a maid; this is. The dehumanizing sentiment is furthered by “That’s not even worth commenting on.” Presumably, Dykstra is using “that” to refer to the allegations, but coming right on the heels of “This is a maid,” it is jarring phrasing. If the spite of a dismissal framed as “This is a maid” did not transform the accuser into a thing quite starkly enough, “That’s not even worth commenting on” certainly does.
She is a thing. A thing to be raped? Perhaps. Certainly not a thing to care about, to protect, to value, to believe.
This has an impact on rape victims. Attitudes like this determine whether or not victims report, whether or not their friends and communities and judicial systems believe them, whether or not they blame themselves, whether or not rapists find themselves free to rape again and again. And attitudes like this do not harm equally, but discriminate against those already most disadvantaged on the social ladder.
I don’t know whether or not Lenny Dykstra committed the rapes of which he was accused. But I do know that his words, his defense, make life easier for rapists, and much, much harder for rape victims. Especially those marginalized rape victims who already are among the least likely to be acknowledged in our heteropatriarchal, racist, all-around kyriarchal system, who already have it much more than hard enough.