Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rape Culture

The phrase 'rape culture' has been really taking off recently and I'd like to think it's brought some awareness to an important topic. That said, like most movements or memes, there comes a time when things go just a bit too far and something important is lost. A core concept has been twisted or an important bit of logic has been overlooked.

For your consideration, I give you these two quotes which I was exposed to by friends on Facebook:

And this:
Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.” - Gavin De Becker

I have big problems with both of these statements and I'm going to explain why I think you should too.  But first, let's get this out in the open right away: Rape is wrong. Rapists have no excuses. Victims are never to blame.  We clear?  We SUPER clear?  (Feel free to re-read those last few sentences as many times as you need to until we're all on the same page.)

So, let's jump in here. Both of the above statements seem reasonable on their surface. They appeal to what many of us would call 'common sense'. And in terms of 'rape culture' internet chatter, they're easy to get behind and say 'Yeah! Think about that for second!'

The problem with both of these statements though is that they completely and totally dis-empower women. And until women are made to be seen as equals in our society, we'll still have problems.

The first story relates the idea that when confronted with an unwanted homosexual advance, a male should realize that that is what women deal with their entire life - a fear of an unwanted advances made by someone who is physically more powerful than you.

Let's make two simple assumptions that I hope most of you can agree with. 1) Not all women are stupid. 2) Not all men are rapists. Now that we have these two basic assumptions to go on, let's plug them back into the scenario presented in the first quote. A man makes an advance on a woman. According to the quote, the woman is afraid. We don't know whether or not the man is a rapist though. There are two possible outcomes. The woman does not respond to the man because she doesn't know whether or not he's a rapist. This is the smart move since no one wants to be raped and why take chances, right? The second outcome is that she permits the male advancement. This may or may not lead to a rape.

Based on this, we must now assume that all women in relationships are stupid. Yes, when your partner first made advances on you, you ignored your fear which was alerting you to potential danger and you let a potential rapist get to first base. Bad move, ladies.

Now, I'm going to, as they say in the old westerns, 'head you off at the pass'. "You're taking it too literally, she didn't mean every time a man makes an advance at a woman, she meant when they're unwanted." I imagine a simple argument for the quote and against my reasoning would go something like that.

My response would be, 'how is a man to know when a pass is unwanted, until it's made?' What I wish the woman had said when she'd spoken to the young boy about his fear of being hit on by a man was that no one should be offended or scared when someone of either sex flirts or hits on you. We need to be creating a world where anyone should feel comfortable saying to anyone 'I find you attractive' and not have the recipient feel threatened. Instead, she confirmed his homophobia as a basis for opposite gender fear as well.

I firmly believe that the direction we should be heading in, if we want to reduce rape in our society, is not one of putting up more walls, but breaking them down. When she told that boy that women feel terrified from fourteen on, she may well have created a rapist. How? Well if I were that kid, I'd now be on eggshells around girls. I wouldn't want to talk to them. I'd second guess everything I did and said. Most people don't get off on making others afraid. And a gulf created initially by hormones and genitalia would now be a gulf made massive by misunderstanding and fear.

As a boy, everything, and I mean everything, I said to a girl was a flirt. Every time one looked at me in a hallway I was secretly hoping it was because she thought I was cute. I didn't have a girlfriend till I was 19 and I was painfully awkward around women. No one passed on to me the equivalent of that first quote. But had someone told me that, I'd probably still be a virgin today. I'm not a very confrontational guy and knowing that someone was terrified at my advances would've kept me away - permanently. Yeah, nothing creepy or rapey about a 40 year old virgin..nothing at all.

Dropping gender for just a second, people don't have the right to not be offended, scared, pissed off or whatever. That's something that needs to be surgically removed from any conversation about rape. Everyone has a right to BE safe. No one has a right to FEEL safe. If you want to argue that with me, go right ahead. You know who'll be on your side? The extreme religious right. They FEEL like homosexuals are pushing an agenda on them and that the government is taking their god away from them and that their marriages are threatened by Bob and Steve's.

But if we're all equal and all of our feelings are valid rights, we all lose. That's madness. Feelings are our own personal responsibility. A man has every right to make an advance at a woman (and vice versa) and she has every right to respond in any manner she chooses. And part of that choice is her option to be afraid. But that is not in anyway connected to the man. A 250lb man covered in tattoos and piercings and wearing leather has every right to flirt with the 98lb woman in her church dress. If she's afraid, it's not his fault.

Which brings me to the second quote. This makes me angry, I'll be honest. First off, going back to our previous assumption of 'not all women are stupid', how many women out there have gone on a blind date where they actually thought there was a chance they were going to be killed? I'm going to make the reasonable assumption of 'zero' outside of folks who are suicidal. So, right off the bat, I feel like we're dealing with hyperbole that makes women look dumb. "Most women fear rape and death," from a "romantic prospect"? Why are you women not raging against that quote? It's incredibly insulting.

More importantly though, it makes a horribly sexist assumption. I think most folks will agree that rape isn't about sex, it's about power and violence. I think most people can also agree that the terms 'rape', 'sexual assault' and 'assault' don't make a big difference to the victim and shouldn't to anyone else either. There's large venn diagram there in which all of those fall into the circle of 'my personal sanctity has been violated and damaged.'

With that in mind, let me admit that I've never been harmed on a blind date. I've also never been date raped or sexually assaulted. But using the logic of the quote above, I should be terrified to walk out my front door. Why? Well, I'm not a very big guy. Most of my life, I've weighed between 130 and 160lbs (I was 113 when I went into the Navy if you can believe that). I've been assaulted seven times in my life. I've had bloody noses, black eyes, bruised ribs, chipped teeth, I even had my forehead slammed into a steel pole. All by males who were larger and heavier than me. Seven assaults.

Now, I'm sure some of you are saying something like 'those cases are just boys fighting, that doesn't count.' I've never instigated a fight. I've never thrown a first punch. The only 'fights' I've been in are ones where it's been me against a harasser (I refuse to use word 'bully'. No such thing. You're harassing someone or you aren't.) or in a few cases where I stepped in to defend a woman. So, if we're all equal regardless of gender and my opponent outweighs me significantly and I did nothing but defend myself, I don't think lumping it into anything other than assault is fair.

I'm not equivocating my getting punched in the nose with a rape anymore than a woman who had her ass pinched would equate her experience with a man having his jaw broken. What I am saying is that either *people* are scared of dying on blind date or they aren't. I don't think they are, as a general statement. So instead of being elucidating, this quote is inflammatory. It aggravates the 'us vs. them' scenario. 'It's women against men and now men are gonna pay!'

We have to start judging people based on their actions, not their genders and not preconceived ideas about their roles. Both of the above statements make horrible, inaccurate, broad statements about men that only serve to push the genders further apart culturally. The first statement fosters the idea that a person larger than you who finds you attractive, is inherently dangerous. The second implies that either men can't be afraid or that women have no ability to make reasonable calls about their own safety. I reject both quotes and their foundations, wholeheartedly.

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