I’ve been meaning to write a short piece about this for the longest time because it bugs me to no end. And now’s as good a time as any.
Please consider the following:
Now, this might be a waste of time because the folks who seem to use words like “rape culture” are pretty passionate about it, and my friends who tend to be skeptical of this consider it generally unworthy of response. But I’m going to go for it anyway.
As far as I can tell, the logic goes something like this: if you tell a woman not to get drunk at a frat party or wear very sexy attire while walking down a dark alley at night because she might get raped, you’re apologizing for rape culture. If you suggest that a woman might do anything that could leave her vulnerable, you are essentially blaming her for the rape. Because a woman has the right to get fall-down drunk wherever she wants and to wear whatever clothes she likes including none at all and none of this gives anyone permission to rape her.
Which, you know: OK. Who’s going to argue with that?
But let’s try the basic logic for some other crimes. There’s been lots of news recently about iPhone thefts where folks basically walk up to you on the street, bunch you in the face, grab your iPhone, and run away. Part of the response has been to urge people not to have their iPhones in their hands or other visible locations, but to keep them in their pockets. So… is this apologizing for “theft culture”? Are we secretly saying that everyone who got punched in the face and had their iPhone stolen deserved it? Are we implying that iPhone thieves are just helpless to their base instincts? They can’t resist the sight of a deliciously tempting iPhone, and so we can’t fault them for grabbing it and running?
No. We’re saying that: “Hey, if you don’t want your iPhone stolen, you should probably be careful. Not that this excuses theft but, you know, thieves exist and you should watch out.”
I just don’t get the point of a poster like this. Can you imagine a poster with lines like:
- USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM!
If you are unable to stop yourself from robbing banks, ask a friend to stay with you when you go to deposit your paycheck.
- Don’t forget, it’s not borrowing from someone who isn’t home when you come by and take away their TV, it’s THEFT!
- Carry a handgun! If you are worried you might mug someone by ‘accident’, you can hand it to the person you would have mugged, so they can shoot you in the face instead.
Are these useful?
I realize that part of what has people so worked up is that most rapes aren’t by strangers. They are by acquaintances. Does that really matter?
In my life, virtually none of the women that I know and love have escaped being sexually assaulted at some point, and sometimes I knew the attacker, but when I was told in confidence I was begged not to tell. Those were “minor” incidents of groping by “friends”, and I didn’t know what I could do, so I agreed. I also knew of several rapes, including one by a serial rapist who raped at least two girls I was friends with. In that case cops were called, but (from my second-hand knowledge), none of the other victims agreed to testify and no formal charges were ever filed. None of these attacks were by strangers. They all happened on date. So I am not blind to either the extent of sexual crime, nor to the differences between it and ordinary crime. I just don’t see how this helps.
No matter how many girls are assaulted by a “friend” (or, worse still, a relative) as opposed to a stranger, it doesn’t really change the nature of the crime to me. Most murders are also by acquaintances. Does that mean posters will help?
I have a little girl now. She is 6. She’s beautiful, she’s brilliant, and if her mother is any indication she’s going to be fiercely independent, stubborn, and willful even without me trying to make sure she has the confidence to follow her aspirations. But yeah: I’m going to tell her how to be safe, too. And it won’t be apologizing for rape culture that leads me to do so. I have a son, too, and I’m going to be teaching him the importance of respect, restraint, and courtesy.
What strikes me as really tragic about this kind of poster is that it seems to be saying we basically give up on everything except trying to shame rapists into better behavior. “Naughty date rapist! Shame on you! Here, have a demeaning poster. Now how do you feel about yourself?”
Really? That’s the best we’ve got?
Call my crazy, but at least Victorian etiquette made it a lot harder to get a woman alone to assault in the first place. I’m not saying we should go back, but I am saying this doesn’t exactly look like progress to me.
13 thoughts on “So, About Rape Culture…”
Actually the idea is that we spend all our time telling our girls to do this or that when there isn’t as big of an effort in telling potential rapists what they should and shouldn’t do.
Also lets face it, lots of guys don’t understand the concept of “drunk doesn’t mean consent” which is sad but the reality. The point of this is to tell people this IS rape, so don’t do it.
This campaign has worked to some degree. http://www.savedmonton.com/about-our-campaigns.html Only thing is it is only aimed at men.
Also the fact that we spend so much time telling girls to restrict their behavior leads to this thinking that if she doesn’t, somehow she is at fault. This can be illustrated by any number of rape cases where they mention how she’s wearing a short skirt or was alone, etc.
I don’t think there’s anything WRONG with telling people to be careful, it’s just that we need to balance that out and also drive the point that if they aren’t careful they are still not at fault. The latter is the difficult part.
The two main points I was trying to make, apaprently with limited success, are these:
I think this is ridiculous. If you leave your car door unlocked and someone steals your radio, do we blame the person who got robbed? Even if we say “Yeah, you should always lock your doors” that’s absolutely not excusing, condoning, or adovating for theft. How is this different from saying “You shouldn’t walk alone at night”? Nothing about that statement in even the smallest way blames a woman who gets raped or absolves a rapist. But the thought that it does means that we can’t have common-sense issues about safety. As far as I’m concerned, this is an example of putting politics ahead of welfare, and women suffer because of it.
We used to spend a lot of time telling potential rpaists what they should and shouldn’t do. We used to have a view that “drunk doesn’t mean consent”. We used to spend a lot of time telling women *and* men how to restrict their behavior. The basic theory went something like this: because women are physically weaker, they are physically vulnerable, and therefore men have a duty to protect women. We also invented an idea of “honor” and said that a woman’s honor (often: virginity) needs protecting. The result was a social regime that made casual acquaintance rape difficult. These days, however, virginity is not considered to be particularly special so women have no honor to protect, and you’re likely to get yelled at and/or fired for saying “women are physically weaker than men”. (We won’t even lower the rims in the WNBA.)
I’m not saying we should go back to the 1950s or to the Victorian Age. There were huge problems, including confusing physical strength with individual worth and treating honor as a possession a woman could be robbed of as opposed to a choice that she made. My point is that the current gender politics are literally *causing* a lot of the problem with rape, and no amount of “come on, guys, stop raping girls” is going to have any impact without re-evaluating some of these assumptions.
I think we need to be willing to have honst conversations about the differences between men and women, differences that are not reducible to mere social constructs. The resistance to have the conversation leads to absurdly pointless posters like this, and prevents us from making real progress in keeping women safe and secure. I don’t know what the ideal society for women looks like, and that’s fine. There are lot of ways we could make the world significantly better than it is today, and all of them involve putting reality head of politics instead of the other way around.
OK, I’m not an expert on rape, so I’ll just put out my basic theory of rape (in the United States), and someone who knows more than me can tell me where I’m wrong.
1. Most rapes are not by strangers. They are by acquaintances or family.
2. In those cases, rape happens primarily because men really like having sex. It’s not primarily about power, or dominance, or anger (although those can all be involved), it’s about wanting something and thinking you can have it.
3. Because rape and sexual assault are very difficult to prove, the hook-up culture is a significant enabler of rapists. As long as a man can avoid leaving physical evidence of coercion, the hookup explanation offers blanket plausible deniability that makes him basically immune from criminal or social repercussions.
As long as men want to have sex all the time (which is biological and not going to change), and as long as they have an easy and convenient immunity to getting caught, it is unlikely that rape culture will change. I’m all for trying to explain to men that rape is bad and wrong, but I really don’t understand how this is supposed to have a significant impact. Do you really think this is about men not knowing? Those men don’t know because it is convenient for them not to know.
Two things that can meaningfully protect women are undermining the hookup culture to deprive men of their cheap excuses and advising women to be careful and cautious. What I see from posters like this is a refusal to do either, and I don’t see how that is supposed to help.
1) Difference is we don’t let theives off by saying “The victim should have known not to leave their car unlocked. Since this was the case you are not guilty” while many rape cases end with the guy not being charged due to negligence on the woman’s part.
2) Which is why we need to reeducate people to teach them no means no and drunk is not consent.
And yes. I really think men and women don’t know because people have shown to again and again think it is ok to sleep with a drunk girl. Or think that if consent has been given it can’t be taken away at any time. Or that if a man is really horny and she doesn’t resist too much it means it is ok.
That ad campaign I linked has been shown to be effective in the towns they were run in. Sure not 100% but we need more of that along with telling people to take precautions.
Also the idea that men simply can’t control themselves is rather unsettling.
I think you might be confusing different issues. I know there are cases where a man is let off becuase there is not evidence and specifically because there isn’t evidence of a physical struggle. The thought being that if the sex wasn’t consensual, the woman would have physically resisted, and there would be evidence of that. This is a very bad thing, because it misunderstands how human beings react to trauma. One natural reaction is to basically freeze, and so the lack of bruises, scratches, etc. shouldn’t be taken as evidence that sex was consensual.
This is ignorant and wrong and unfair, but it’s not about excusing a rapist because the woman asked for it. It’s about not believing there was a rape at all, which is totally different. I don’t believe there is an example in modern US history of a trial where everyone agreed that a woman was actually raped, but then they decided to let the rapist go because it was the woman’s fault for wearing a short skirt, or for being out of doors alone, or something like that. If there is such a case, please let me know.
When people say “Oh, I didn’t know that was wrong…” do you always believe them? If pretending to be stupid is actually going to get a man off a rape charge, then obviously he’s going to pretend to be stupid. This is the kind of person who raped or sexually assaulted a woman, do you really think he’s going to suddenly grow a conscience about telling the truth?
I think it’s incredibly foolish to believe that rapists sincerely just didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong. Of course they knew. They just did it anyway.
As for the ad campaign: I don’t think it taught anyone anything, but if it served to warn men that one of their convenient excuses had been removed then that’s fine by me. I just think it’s stilly to pretend they didn’t already know.
I hear that a lot, but nothing in what I’ve written has in any way said that men can’t control themselves. I said men always want sex because, with only slight exageration, this is true. It’s one thing that–in general–makes men different from women, and I think it’s important for women to know. Pretending that men and women view sex in the same way does little except to provide even more opportunities for men to abuse and get away with it.
Look, men want sex more constantly than women do, but people wanting things they could take but should not take is not unique to men. It’s part of the human experience. We all have opportunities every day to do something wrong that would be enjoyable on some level and get away with it. Decent people control themselves, and men absolutely can do that. And should.
I saw the flyer as kind of a humorous way to send a message. They take tips that are usually aimed at helping women avoid bad situations and aim them at the perp instead. The message I get from this is, “Don’t forget whose fault it really is– not the rape victim’s.” I don’t think the message is, “Don’t ever bother trying to avoid being raped because you shouldn’t have to.” Because even though rape and theft and murder are undoubtedly the perp’s fault, we still take measures to avoid being robbed (don’t leave your windows open) or killed (avoid the Tenderloin), so it makes sense to avoid being raped.
The issue diverges from theft or murder, though, when you see how often women just..completely blame themselves. It happens way more often than it would in theft or attempted murder cases– this is a HUGE problem. And forgive me if this has been covered in the comments, but the disagreement as to what constitutes rape among rapists/rape victims is also incredibly variable in comparison to theft and attempted murder. The poster clarifies these things to some extent. And again, I don’t think that means that it’s saying you shouldn’t take measures to be safe. Rather I think it’s saying that if you don’t, the rape is still NOT your fault and if men do rape, they have no room to act ignorant about what constitutes rape.
That’s a reasonable interpretation. The reason I didn’t read it that way is that the folks I know that have posted this frequently do say that anyone who talks about taking precautions to be save is supporting rape culture.
As if fighting rape culture and protecting yourself are mutually exclusive -_- please.
It makes sense, at least to me that those saying ‘anyone who talks about taking precautions to be safe is supporting rape culture’ is being willfully ignorant of reality.
I would ask them if they lock their car doors, their house doors and windows, do they leave their money lying around for everyone to see? If not then they are taking precautions and there for support theft culture. To me if you take precautions against something, or even talk about taking precautions you definitely NOT supporting that subculture.
Another possibility is do you talk about drunk driving being bad and causing harm to others? Do you avoid driving drunk? Then you support the culture of drunk driving…..That is just sheer idiocy to me and I hope it sounds that way to them as well.
You talk about precautions because they may one day save your life. From carrying keys in your hand in such a way as to use them as a weapon if you are attacked to remembering to lock the doors when you leave the car anywhere. We address the ones that we can, as Nathaniel has mentioned by teaching our boys to respect women and never take advantage of them. But again that’s only half the battle and it’s not something we can ensure of every other boy out there, so we are forced to teach women who are perhaps innocent of certain aspects of cruelty in life how to be careful.
I’ve been thinking about this comment, and I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about it. I’m guessing that this refers mostly to acquaintance rape where the coercion is based on drugs or implication as opposed to the case where a guy breaks into your house with a gun. I can’t imagine that–in the latter scenario–self-blame would be a problem. Is that right?
So, in the case of date-rape type scenarios, I think the self-blame is kind of understandable even though it’s not at all correct. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of people don’t realize that a natural response to trauma is to freeze, have a kind of out-of-body experience, or something similar. This isn’t a failure to be brave or a sign of weakness. It’s just human nature. But, since the only only group of people I know of that seem to really understand this other than experts are combat veterans, it’s understandable that rape victims might blame themselves for not acting differently out of a lack of understanding for how common and human their behavior is.
I think there’s also a sense of shame from being betrayed by people you trusted or putting yourself in a vulnerable position unwisely, and I think this is also understandable even though it’s not correct either. If I went somewhere thinking that I was safe and secure and so didn’t take precautions to guard against being mugged, robbed, or assaulted and I did get mugged, robbed, or assaulted while my guard was completely down, I would feel like a fool. But trusing that your date isn’t going to rape you isn’t the kind of thing that a woman should have to feel ashamed of. All she’s doing is expecting humane behavior out of her friends and family. She should be able to have that expectation.
So that’s my attempt at understanding this idea that rape victims blame themselves. Do you think I’m getting it more or less right?
As for what to do about it, I really think that one thing that can be done is to really question the social conventions that leave women so unprepared and vulnerable. And we have to be able to do that in an apolitical fashion. From where I’m standing, the socially liberal, feminist, sex-positive, anti-rape culture crowd refuses to allow common-sense discussion of harsh realities like the fact that men are bigger and stronger than women, or that men tend to want sex more than women, or that women tend to want relationships more than men do. I do not believe that turning back the clock will solve these problems, but I do believe that politicizing them has made them worse. Treating men and women as identical (e.g. claiming that gender is just a social construct) has not created equality. It’s created a warped social system that victimizes women and coddles men to the detriment of both.
Weird. The comments weren’t showing up for me for awhile.
Anyways, to address your points, I suppose these are cases where rape couldn’t be “proved” but judges have been known to add on little things like “wear less short skirts” or “drink less” in their statements which perpetuates, even if not specifically saying “it’s your fault” that it was the victims fault.
Rape culture is the idea that we automatically think “why was she at this party? why did she drink so much? why was she wearing that?” when a girl gets raped.
The part where I said they don’t know any better are just from reading comments and hearing people’s responses to situations. Not necessarily people who have actually perpetrated these acts. It seems silly they don’t know because you and I know, but not everyone. There are people who honestly believe if a girl is passed out or if she’s a little drunk. Or even, if she is your gf or wife then you can’t rape her. That last bit is probably one of the biggest things I see people believing. Or even worse the “she’s only pretending she doesn’t want it to play hard to get.”
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