Cate YoungFeminism

Feminism: Rape Culture, Male Privilege and the Miseducation of Men OR My Rape-Fatigue Magnum Opus

Cate YoungFeminism

A friend of a friend wrote an infuriating article essentially detailing  the non-existence of rape culture and the "problem with feminists". Essentially, mansplaining for days. 

Naturally, as the "left-wing lib-rull feminazi" that I am, I was not pleased. But since my last interaction with that person on the topic ended in a particularly spectacular flounce, (on his part) I resolved to rebut, but remain civil.

It will be difficult, but I will soldier on.

My main issue with his piece is that his information is inaccurate. Many of the "facts" he states have long been disproved  He is clearly unaware of what feminism actually constitutes and the fact that it is not a monolithic group. And his blasé attitude toward the existence of rape culture is not just ignorant, but dangerous. It indicates his inability to recognize or reconcile male privilege, which becomes a problem when you make long proclamations about how to deal with rape; a problem that you are far less likely to encounter as a straight cisgender male.

But the biggest and most pressing problem is his (seeming) denial of rape culture. Without an understanding of what rape culture is and how it works, everything I say is essentially useless. So here's a nice concise definition:
"Rape culture is a concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudesnorms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape." (retrieved from Wikipedia)
What that means is that we live in a culture where it is acceptable to question a rape victim's culpability in her assault. It means that in order to avoid rape, we tell women to cover up and not to entice men, rather than tell men that they are not entitled to our bodies for any reason. It means that we teach men that women's bodies are for their consumption and enjoyment, and that women have no value outside of how they can gratify men sexually. It means that even when a rape is reported, a woman stands the chance of not being believed. And when she is believed and charges are filed and the case makes it to trial, her past sexual consensual experiences will be used as evidence to discredit her. It means that after having to relive her trauma by recounting her story in front of strangers and being called a slut for her sexual history, she will likely not be the lucky 1 in 30 whose trials lead to a conviction; which for many women means either being forced to see their attacker on a daily basis, or uprooting their lives in order to avoid him.

So I will educate this friend of a friend, and anyone else who cares to read this. I will refute the arguments made point by point. It's important that when it comes to rape we start dispelling the long held myths. These myths are the very essence of rape culture, and they make it okay for ordinarily good men to justify sexual assault to themselves and others.

Let's begin. He says:
"Rape is not always the product of sexual desire - Feminism has gone to great extents to establish the objectification of women in society as one of the greater aspects of “rape culture”. However, most cases of rape aren’t the product of the desire for sexual satisfaction. Stranger-rape cases are more often manifestations of power displays, while it is a mix of power and narcissism that lead to a large degree of non-stranger rape cases."

I say, not completely accurate. Though it has been established that stranger rape is largely a crime of dominance and power, and not one of sexual desire, this is not about an inability to control sexual urges, or moderate sexual satisfaction. This is about the fact that a man can feel sexual desire for a woman in a social situation and feel ENTITLED to act on that desire regardless of that woman's wishes. It is about knowing that they have the power both physically and societally to enact that desire, largely without fear of repercussion. And that applies to both stranger and acquaintance rapists. 
"The suggestion of avoiding walking alone, especially at night is a common suggestion to avoiding sexual assault. However, only 9% of rapes are committed by 'strangers'. Women are raped in their homes and in their work places where they are less likely to be believed and even less likely to report. This myth can control movements and restricts freedom. This can feel like women are living under a 'curfew' and that it is a woman's responsibility to be either in or out at certain times. More than 80% of rapes are committed by known men."
Stranger rapists may in fact be socially maladjusted deviants who do not know how to relate to women, and enact that frustration through sexual violence. But of the 300,000 women who are raped in the US every year, 240,000 of them were raped by men they knew (and presumably trusted). Doing things like not walking alone at night will not save you from your Nice Guy "best friend" who has decided that your invitation to come over and watch a movie was actually an invitation for sex. Stranger rape is more likely to be reported (since there will be little basis for the "she was asking for it/she led me on" argument) but Acquaintance rape is more common by a landslide. 

Moving On. He says:
"Rapists are a very small minority Indeed, some would have you believe that sexual deviancy is a massive plague affecting the male community. This is not true. Rape researchers have concluded that a large number of acquaintance-rape is committed by a small number of repeat offenders. On college campuses, for example, it is estimated that every 9 out of 10 sexual assault crimes are committed by repeat offenders." 
I say, wrong.
"Rape is called "the most underreported violent crime in America." In a large national survey of American women, only 16% of the rapes (approximately one out of every six) had ever been reported to the police. -Rape in America: A Report to the Nation, National Victim Center, 1992"
The fact that 9 of the 10 rapes on college campuses are committed by repeat offenders only means that 9 of 10 rapists were not caught the first time. It means that in many situations, neither the man or woman recognize that what happened between them was rape. It does not speak to the fact that as stated above, most rapes will go unreported, and even when they are, charges will likely not be filed. 

It also does not speak to the fact that rape constitutes much more than holding a woman down and penetrating her. Sex by coercion? Rape. Penetration while one party is asleep unless previously negotiated for? Rape. Sex while one party is intoxicated and has not given consent? Rape. Sex with a minor? Rape. That time you told your girlfriend that if she really loved you she would show it and she acquiesced? Rape. Taking all that information into account, it's actually very accurate to say that rape is a massive plague affecting the male community. It plagues the community because by and large, men do not understand that their actions are unacceptable and do in fact fall under sexual assault. That's where education concerning the boundaries of consent come into play.

He says:
"No means No…except… - As far as sex goes, the majority of modern day men know their limits. No means no. But what about when “no” doesn’t really mean no? Now at this point, any staunch feminist is ready to launch into a furious rebuttal full of accusations of male privilege and sexual objectification and blah blah blah. (Ignoring those) 

Honesty about the innate potential of signaling that is lost in translation during sexual activity is required. The range of women’s sexual attractions and fetishes is too wide to deny that “no” doesn’t always mean “no”. Now, while I myself, am not a proponent of these types of sexual interactions, nor would I feel comfortable being put in certain situations where requests are on the ambiguous side, it would be ridiculously ignorant to deny that these interactions exist. It’s not a coincidence that the childishly unrefined literature, 50 Shades of Grey, became the latest craze amongst women. The storyline features considerable instances of sexual fantasy, which is surrounded by consistent debate over what is actually happening is BDSM or rape.

So, no, the conversation is not “no means no”. The conversation should be a consideration of teaching men AND women how to better communicate their sexual desires in a society that still wishes to cast sex as a taboo discussion."
I say, this is so incredibly wrong, and this thinking so dangerous that I actually needed to take a breather the first time I read it. I have already discussed my views on the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon and why that novel is complicit in an inaccurate portrayal of BDSM relationships so I'll try not to rehash too much here. But the crux of the matter is this: BDSM within a consenting relationship is not abuse or rape. In a true dom/sub relationship, all fantasies and boundaries are discussed BEFOREHAND. Safe words are employed so that each partner knows ahead of time that in that particular consenting scenario "No" may not mean no, but "banana" or some other chosen word may mean no. All this does is change the word that signifies that it is not okay to continue. And since all this is discussed beforehand, there is little room for ambiguity. That is literally the very reason that safe words exist. BDSM is a form of consensual sexual experimentation and conflating it with abuse or rape is wrong and prejudicial.

So my opposition to 50 Shades is not a matter of whether or not "No means No." (Hint: It does) It is a matter of the fact that the relationship between the characters in that novel is an abusive one that also includes BDSM, as opposed to a relationship that is abusive because it includes BDSM. The two are two entirely separate issues.

And on the assertions that the book is popular because "No means No except..." or that "women want to be dominated", I call bullshit. Women want to be able to enjoy sex and discuss sexuality openly, honestly and without shame. That's it. It just so happens that a novel featuring a BDSM relationship is what allowed that discussion to take place. Furthermore, that assertion does not take into account the fact that many Doms are WOMEN. What exactly did you think a dominatrix was?!?!

He says:
"We should not stop teaching women to be careful - Education about safety has always proven to be effective regarding any danger. Feminists would like to cast current campaigns about safety aimed at women as attempts to blame women for their actions, or to make them solely responsible for what happens to them. This is a massive mutilation of reality. Why have the protesting caucus stopped considering that, perhaps, teaching women about precautions they can take for their own safety may have some value? Teach men not to rape? These are not ordinary men. They are certainly not all psychopaths, but the details over acquaintance-rape have been vastly understated."
“These are clearly not individuals who are simply in need of a little extra education about proper communication with the opposite sex. These are predators”- David Lisak PhD Clinical Psychology"
"Researchers have found that the degree of acquaintance is actually, “very very incidental”. The victims seldom KNOW their attackers personally. So the notion that safety campaigns are useless is purposely misconstrued."

I say, he is wrong, missing the point and has a very pessimistic view of what men are capable of. But first let's address that quotation:

"Fact: There is no typical rapist. Studies show that men who commit sexual violence come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group. 85% of rapists are men known to their victims".

Try again. Rape may be about power and dominance, but it is rooted in entitlement and male privilege. Regardless of what kind of man you are, once you've got a dick swinging between your legs, you are privileged, and have likely been told your entire life that you deserve to have the hottest girl have sex with you. The smart men recognize why this is bullshit.

by Rosea Posey

The problem isn't in telling women to be careful. Everyone needs to be careful and take responsibility for their personal safety; men AND women. The problem is in placing the onus on women to not "put themselves in dangerous positions" rather than on men to understand that they are not entitled to sex no matter what, and to not create situations that remove bodily agency from a woman. This is where male privilege comes into play. As a man, this friend of a friend does not have to worry that any strange woman he meets is a potential threat. As a man, he does not have to worry that a woman who may approach him in a club is bigger and stronger than him, and will likely demonstrate that fact. As a man, he does not have to worry that the outfit he chose to wear because it makes him feel confident will be seen as an invitation to continually harass him.
"Because women live in a state of near-constant threat awareness, they are far more cued in to the slight clues that hint at potential danger than guys are. Because the stakes are much higher for women than they are for men, women are more sensitized to these little hints, which can lead to false-positives. That guy who stares too hard and lingers around her long after he’s worn out his welcome may not actually intend to make her uncomfortable, but she has no way of knowing this; it’s far safer to allow for the wrong impression than it is to ignore the signs when someone actually does mean her harm." -Dr. NerdLove
That's the point: "near-constant threat awareness." And THAT is what rape culture is all about. The fact that rather than combat the problem we are accepting rape as an unavoidable reality, and making adjustments to suit. That would be fine ordinarily, say in the case of getting robbed of flashy jewelry (not wearing expensive pieces at night) or not getting shot (avoiding areas known to be dangerous) because those are things that affect both sexes, and those adjustments are ones that both sexes will be expected to make. But since rape is a highly gendered crime in that the perpetrators are almost always men attacking women, we have come to view rape as a "woman's problem", and assert that women need to be doing more to not get raped. That is not okay.

Because if a man has decided that he is going to rape someone (stranger-rape) or that he is going to have sex with someone whose bestowal of consent is ambiguous (acquaintance-rape) there is nothing a woman can do to prevent that. At that point, all a woman can do is survive. A woman can choose to sacrifice her individuality and follow every requirement of "decent womanhood" (dress modestly, not go out late, not drink etc.) and if she's lucky she may avoid a stranger rape. But that won't help her avoid the much more likely scenario that someone she knows and trusts will attempt to use physical force and/or intimidation or coercion to have sex. No matter what, we can't win. We are doomed to be suspicious of EVERY MAN WE EVER MEET until he proves that he is not a threat, in turn making it difficult for men to genuinely approach a woman without being seen as "creepy" or a potential threat. And that's what is so insidious about rape culture.

Lastly, it is very unfair to men to say that rape prevention campaigns won't work. The real problem is that many guys simply do not know that their behaviour constitutes sexual assault. Men by and large do not want to be rapists, or to be labelled rapists. If they knew that their behaviour was problematic they would change it. But they don't know because we haven't told them. We need to tell them. We need to detail issues of consent so that men understand that they should looking for enthusiastic consent, (Yes means Yes) and clarification of consent in ambiguous situations. We need to divorce this association of rape as only being a violent, random act that happens in back alleys. It hardly ever happens that way.

And here's the zinger: you can rape someone and not know it. You can have inappropriate sexual contact with someone, and because you don't know that it's wrong, continue to engage in it. I think we can agree that men are not mind readers. We need to TELL them what is problematic  because most of them WILL be willing to change.

In the video above, it's very clear that after the fact, the guy is very aware that what he did is wrong, and he tries desperately to stop his past self from raping his date. He doesn't want to be a rapist, and he tried to change the behavior once he recognized his error. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs when it comes to rape.

But it's not just men. One of the biggest myths about consent is that it cannot be revoked. Men AND women believe this, and it's hurting everyone. Consent must be freely given and can be revoked at any time for any reason. This applies to men AND women. It doesn't matter if you are already inside your partner; once they say stop (or banana), consent has officialy been withdrawn, and proceeding past that point for any reason is rape. When it comes to education, we need to teach men what the boundaries of sexual consent are, but we ALSO need to teach women how to enforce those boundaries in sexual situations. See? Everybody learns something!

Lastly, He says:
"How should men be included in the conversation? - On any issue, feminists do a horrible job at including men in their discourse. When men try to involve themselves in issues which clearly involve them, as men, responses are less than cold. While there is a sect of men, who are clearly still engaged in age-old rhetoric regarding strict gender roles, that engage in the practice of slut-shaming, this sect is a minority. Most men, when asked about rape, will never say “she was looking for it”. When staunch feminists seek to demonize any man with an opinion opposite to their own, they exclude an important stakeholder. There will be little progress in addressing this issue without the inclusion of men. 
The issue of rape is of considerable importance. That is undeniable. But as it stands, the discourse has been too narrow. Too many stereotypes are being perpetuated by both, men, and women. Until we broaden the discussion, the issue will never be properly addressed."
I say, IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. Part of being a member of a privileged group is feeling entitled to always be included. When rape survivors are trying to navigate life after their attack, they do not want to be lectured by men about what he thinks is best. The conversation is about helping rape survivors to cope, and educating men and women about the boundaries of sexual consent. And that is not to negate or deny the existence of male rape, because it does happen and it is just as atrocious. But male rape victims are not the ones mouthing off about not being included in the conversation.

"Women get so few chances in which to share our stories with each other, to find out that we aren’t alone in our experiences, and to have venues in which to publicly tell our stories. The fact that women are beginning to organize and bring these things to their communities is nothing short of amazing. 
If women can do this [put on a production of the Vagina Monologues] in the face of all the pressure from institutionalized sexism, then what’s stopping men from doing the same? Why is it women’s responsibility to make sure that men feel included by a presentation that, by its very name, is supposed to be about women reaching out to women?
And that’s the first expression of privilege: Privilege is feeling entitled to always be included, no matter what." -Official Shrub

But to answer the question, men fit into the conversation by making it their business to understand the boundaries of consent, to adhere to them, and to pass the message on. They fit into it by policing the behavior of their friends, and not excusing behavior that encourages or tolerates rape culture. They fit into it by listening when a woman tells them that she is uncomfortable in a particular intimate situation, and not trivializing or denying her feelings. They fit in by being an ally to feminism in deconstructing traditional gender roles and recognizing that no one, man or woman, should have to readjust their life in order to not be subjected to threats to their safety, be they verbal or physical.

In the end, this is NOT a gender war. Men and women should not be working against each other. We should be working with each to make things better for everyone. Rape Culture makes women victims, and reduces men to neanderthals who lack self control. Neither of those things is true. We need to start acting like it.

So this is my contribution. In two days and a little over 2400 words (minus citations), I've created my Rape Fatigue Magnum Opus. Hopefully I never have to discuss this again, but who am I kidding? This is the real world. At least now I have a reference sheet.