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Thoughts on Men and Rape

A week or two back, I mentioned wanting to write about sexual assault awareness month. Something strange happened with that post. Almost immediately, a handful of comments trickled in saying, in essence, "You're a good man for doing this, Jim."

My ego enjoys a compliment as much as anyone else's, and I'm not trying to critize the people who offered them. But ... I didn't actually do anything. I posted a phone number and mentioned I'd be writing something. Eventually.

The more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. How pathetic is it that, in our culture, the only thing you have to do to be a good guy is say, "Hey, one of these days I'll write something about rape." Even that sort of vague, empty comment about rape is enough to make you stand out. Because that's already more than most guys seem willing to say or do.

I noticed the same thing when I worked with Take Back the Night years ago. Practically all I had to do was show up, and I was some sort of freaking hero.

Because rape is a women's issue. A woman's odds of being raped are around 1 in 3 or 1 in 4, if you compile the various studies and statistics. A man's odds are significantly less. Maybe 1 in 7? 1 in 10? Even so, we don't talk about that (except to joke about dropping the soap in prison). So let the women worry about it. Not our problem.

No, wait. That's not entirely accurate. Now that I think about it, nearly every time I went to talk to a group of men about rape issues, whether it was a fraternity or a dormatory gathering, the men were worried about rape. Not about their girlfriends or sisters or mothers or friends being raped, of course. No, they wanted to know what they should do if a girl lied about a rape in order to punish them. Because every one of them knew a friend of a friend whose cousin's buddy had been falsely accused of rape, so that's what we really needed to worry about.

In my role as an advocate and educator, I had to behave professionally and deal with those questions. Here on my blog? I'm just going to come out and offer those folks a big ol' cup of STFU.

Don't misunderstand me. False accusations of rape do happen. I watched one play out in the local paper here years ago. And believe me, the justice system went after that accuser for daring to commit such a heinous crime against a man.

I don't personally know anyone who's been falsely accused of rape. The people I know personally who've been raped? I've lost count. Mostly women, but I'm friends with some male survivors as well. People I care about. People I love.

And you know what the funny thing is? In almost every single case, the one who raped them was a guy. Not 100%, but up there in the ninety-plus percent.

But of course, that's not our problem. So long as none of those girls try to punish us by playing the rape card, we've got nothing to worry about. Besides, I'm no rapist, so what more do you want? Teach the girls not to get drunk or walk alone or lead guys on, and they'll be fine.

I love that logic. I never raped anyone, so it's not my problem, and I don't have to worry about it. But have you ever wondered why such an overwhelming majority of rapists are men? Ever wonder where guys get the idea they're allowed to do that to another human being? I'll give you a hint. Step one in learning to rape? Learn to see your victim as a thing, rather than a person.

But like I said, none of this is our problem as guys. None of us have ever contributed to the idea that women are objects, things to be ogled and grabbed and used. None of us have ever laughed along with the demeaning jokes, or watched one of our buddies work to get a girl drunk in order to get her into bed. None of us have made excuses for a man who grabs a woman's breast without permission. Oh, no. None of us have done a damn thing.

Forgive me if I sound a little bitter. Let's just say that after you sit there in a closed room with one of your best friends who's screaming because she just bumped into her rapist a few minutes ago, it becomes harder to worry about the guys feeling picked on because I was so rude as to suggest maybe this is our problem too.


Two closing thoughts that didn't really fit into my post, but are important to mention anyway.

1. Ever notice how often we talk about how someone was raped? When was the last time you heard it phrased, "Someone raped her." Because of course, the latter construction puts the responsibility on the rapist. It isn't something that just happens. It's something a person chose to do.

2. Rapists choose to rape. Nothing you do -- nothing you wear, nothing you drink, nothing you say -- nothing makes that choice for them. If someone raped you, it wasn't your fault. End of story.



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Apr. 21st, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
Wow. Where to start? First, I concur that you do deserve a slap on the back. whether you want one or not. Since men are almost the rapists, it most certainly is a mens' issue, just as much as a women's issue. Every man like you is one less rapist in the world.

So why are men more often the rapist? Strength. Testosterone. The right equipment (and I'm not being funny about that). More natural aggression (speaking in very broad strokes) that manifests physically. Women seem more likely to attack verbally. Well, that may be changing, given what I've seen on the news lately. *shudder* But verbal can still cause one hell of a lot of damage.

A phrase I really have come to hate is "rape victim". I like what you had to say about that. I recently had contact with a young girl who had just been raped. She was still in shock. She was overcome with shame. She didn't want her parents to know. To me, that seems to add up to at least a subconscious idea that she could have somehow prevented it if she'd really tried harder. She was tiny, and probably weighed in at 100 pounds soaking wet. When a woman is raped, it's an assault. She's been attacked. She is a valid human being who was treated abominably. The word "victim" seems so disempowering to me.

On two personal notes:

I've raised two sons. Everything in their upbringing, both by verbal teaching and by the example their dad and I set, has given them a respect for all people, and certainly for women, whom they view as equals. I'm no expert, but in the rape cases I've followed, many rapists come from violent, broken, abusive, or just plain ignorant environments. There's a place to do some serious work. It would be interesting to know the percentages of rapists' backgrounds. Anyone know that? The less rapists that are created, the less rapes there will be. Waiting until after it's too late is too damn late.

I've had three near missses in my life, two as a kid and one in college. Each was terrifying in its own way. I was lucky. I have a damn good flight reflex and a strong gut sense for when something is not right, even though one happened when I was quite young. I was raised by strong women and good men, but I still had a weird little twinge of shame each time. I didn't internalize it as my fault, really, just that I'd somehow "failed". Does that make any sense? Weird.

Anyway, I agree with your outrage at the slant of things, but still am grateful for every single man on the planet who feels as you do.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
I've seen a lot of work to use the word "survivor" instead of "victim," going on the theory that since rape is a crime that strips away power, a more empowering word would be a better one to use. As opposed to reinforcing the powerlessness of the "victim," as you say.

You're absolutely right that she was attacked, and the blame for that goes squarely on the person who attacked her. But there's so much pressure ... and the fear of being blamed is a realistic one. I've seen parents, boyfriends, and friends attack the person who was raped, taking out their own anger or fear or whatever on her for not somehow preventing this. It's ... infuriating, to say the least.

One thing I've heard a lot is that women are taught to ignore that gut sense you talk about. Because it's not polite, or because they've been taught not to trust their instincts.

Sigh. I'm starting to ramble. I'll make one more point, then stop.

You didn't fail. Neither did the girl you talked to. Which I'm sure you already know ... but it's one of those things I think is worth repeating.
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Apr. 21st, 2008 08:15 pm (UTC)
I suspect this isn't the entry you originally intended to write about rape--but I think it's a good one. Because rape isn't just a women's issue--or a men's issue--it's a human issue.

I actually have known people who were "falsely" accused of rape. I put that in quotation marks because in all of the cases I've seen (not that many--certainly not nearly as many as you!), it's far more complicated than X raped Z, or Z lied about X raping her. In relationships where you're already sexually involved with a person (full on intercourse or not), if both partners aren't clear on what the signal is for stopping (whether it's "no" or a safeword), it is *much* harder to decide where the blame lies. It can completely break the person accused of raping the woman he loves to have her honestly believe he would intentionally harm her when she wasn't clear on where to stop.

I'm sure that type of case is in the minority, and that most women who have had someone rape them know from moment one that a line has been crossed. But for the sake of those cases where it isn't clear cut--well, it's harder to define than just X wrongly accused Z.
Apr. 29th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. Sometimes it feels like there's no recognition of muddy areas, where signals are less than completely clear, and where one person might not think of what's going on as rape, but as 'going with the flow' when the other person doesn't want it to happen.

Since you mentioned 'safeword,' Did you see this post in jay_wiseman's journal? Much of the conversation gets into signals and how it can be easy to confuse limits.
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Apr. 21st, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this.

On an utterly unrelated (and more pleasant) note, it was good to see you at Penguicon. I enjoyed the panels we were both on.
Apr. 21st, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)
Ditto that. I enjoyed actually getting to talk to you for a few minutes this time :-) And the panels were fun too, even if they tended to meander a bit...
Apr. 21st, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. And particularly this bit: Nothing you do -- nothing you wear, nothing you drink, nothing you say -- nothing makes that choice for them. If someone raped you, it wasn't your fault.

And here's another thing: If, in the course of an attempted rape, you were lucky enough (and I don't like ascribing this entirely to luck, but the alternative phrasings I tried out all seemed worse for various reasons) to escape actual penetration, it is nevertheless true that someone assaulted you, that you have a right to feel traumatized and hurt by that, that (perhaps) someone you trusted and thought you knew did something unforgivable to you, and that the experience is going to have repercussions that you may need some help to deal with. And, of course, that it wasn't your fault.

When it happened to me, I thought -- I genuinely did think this -- that I should be able to just shrug it off, because, after all, I hadn't actually been raped, right? And, after all, I had been moderately encouraging on a previous occasion, hadn't I? The only person I told at the time (and it wasn't really at the time, it was two months later) wanted to hunt the guy down and strangle him, which was emotionally heartening but not really very helpful. But the whole episode was so painful and humiliating (and so completely quashed any interest I might have had in sexual activity of any kind) that it was two years or so before I found someone else I felt comfortable telling about it.* Tell someone in authority and press charges? Forget that.

Telling it that one time made it a lot easier; now I have no problem telling people, if the subject comes up and it seems appropriate or useful. (See, I'm telling people right now.) But it's still a lot harder to talk about than, say, my experience with cancer treatment. Why is that, I wonder? Because deep down I still think it was my own fault?

* I married that guy, by the way. He turned out to have many sterling qualities besides the ability to say "It wasn't your fault" in appropriate places.

Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:10 am (UTC)
Yes. We encourage such a narrow perception of what rape means. If it wasn't a stranger leaping out of the bushes with a weapon who forcibly penetrated you, then it wasn't *real* rape. Which is bullshit, of course, but we hear it so often we end up believing it.

I'm glad you had someone there to tell you it wasn't your fault.

As for why it's harder to talk about than cancer? I imagine there could be so many reasons. We don't teach people to feel guilty or ashamed of having cancer. And when you do talk about cancer, you don't usually have to worry about someone judging or blaming you for it. (With the possible exception of lung cancer and smoking...)
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Apr. 21st, 2008 09:51 pm (UTC)
If people praise you as a hero for talking about this, it's because so few men talk about it at all. Not in a serious, this is a problem way. Jokes, bragging about how they or a friend 'scored'--that you hear. Blaming the victim--that you hear.

I'd add one thing I think is important. Rape is never about sex. Rape is about power and fear.
Apr. 29th, 2008 10:37 am (UTC)
That's not true. Rape is sometimes about sex. Rape is sometimes about sex as well as about power and fear. Two examples, the man who pressures his wife into having sex, she doesn't feel like it but consents because he's getting angry - when she consents, he's no longer angry and simply enjoys sex, but he has raped her. The other example, the man who raped me was my mom's boyfriend, they had been fighting because she refused to sleep with him over something, so he raped me for power, fear, /and/ sex.
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Apr. 21st, 2008 09:52 pm (UTC)
This was a great post. Well, a horrible one in the sense that there was a need to write it, but a great post in the sense that it made me think and wonder and want to do something more about it.

I won't say you're a good man just for writing this post, but I will say that this post is yet another example of the goodness I've noticed in your LJ (things like the charity book donation, etc.) so you get a "Bravo!" for that.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:18 am (UTC)
I don't understand the mindset that says "Blackedout = consent." It's so completely screwed up, and yet I've heard a lot of stories like yours, of people waking up to find someone they trusted raping them.

And then of course you get the people telling you that if you get drunk, you deserve what happens to you. No. There's a natural consequence of drinking too much. It's called a hangover. Rape is not a consequence of drinking, it's a consequence of someone else making a choice to commit a crime.

Sigh ... I feel like I'm starting to lecture. Sorry about that. For what it's worth, it takes a great deal of strength to say, "I was raped." And you're not alone.
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Apr. 21st, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC)
You get it.

And THIS POST is what should be handed out in schools to educate teenagers.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:16 am (UTC)
If it were up to me, we'd be talking to boys even younger. By the time I was thirteen, I know I had some pretty messed-up ideas about girls and sex. It took a long time to start to straighten that out...
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Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:04 am (UTC)
Thank You
Rapists choose to rape. Nothing you do -- nothing you wear, nothing you drink, nothing you say -- nothing makes that choice for them. If someone raped you, it wasn't your fault. End of story.

That is absolutely right, and yet, that isn't how it feels. It took years to get to that point -- to say he did that to me. I believe that it was because I didn't and couldn't fight back, which was against my nature. Fighting meant dying, and survival is instinct. The following was written five years after:

Shame cannot be washed
Not by a thousand tears
Or entire bar of soap
Scrubbing until the flesh is raw

Nothing cleans the stains of innocence’s loss,
Removes the stench left behind
Or the shattered hope,
The grief, the horror, the shock

Some say they understand, but cannot
Human nature fights to survive
Between the fists, the knife and the rope
Appalled the fight was already lost

Trust shattered, faith gone
Self-recrimination leaves no place to hide
Pain is not limited to flesh and bone
No forgiveness for what my failure cost

Healing takes so long
Memories haunt, fear keeps them alive
Not all scars were drawn by that blade
I cannot have what I most want
To go back, and choose a different way home
Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)
Re: Thank You
"That is absolutely right, and yet, that isn't how it feels."

There's a HUGE difference between knowing something intellectually and believing it. Some of the rape counselors I worked with, people who taught this stuff every day, still struggled to believe it when it came to their own rapes.

As for whether or not to fight back ... you do what you have to do in order to survive. And you did. Nobody has the right to judge or second-guess that, or tell you that you chose wrong.

None of which makes the feelings go away. But you didn't fail.
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Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
I'm linking your post... and maybe making a little post of my own, though I'm not sure I could write one nearly as good as yours.

There's also this book I really like, have you read it? "Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape", by Susan Brownmiller? It was written in 1972, but I wonder how much cultural perception of rape has really changed since then...?
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:51 am (UTC)
Hi Jim,

Such a fantastic, thoughtful post. I'm not one who believes that men (or any member of a group with privilege) deserves cookies for Getting It, but I must say I am always glad and thankful when they do as keenly as you do. :)

I'm a survivor of sexual assault that didn't end in rape, but was nonetheless systematic and repeated and gave me post-traumatic stress disorder. And I was ashamed to talk about it and really deal with it for several years - mainly because of the social attitudes you describe (including thinking I'd done something to provoke it).

Thank you for working hard to educate men about rape. The world needs more men with your understanding!
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:05 am (UTC)
Yes. Thank you, especially for those last two points. They're so important.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 11:23 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)
I was thinking of this post after leaving my last comment and remembered another book I read recently (yes, I read a lot) called "The Broken American Male" by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. In one chapter he distinguishes between a sex addict (someone who enjoys the process of sex and mutual pleasure) and an orgasm addict (someone who's only interested in his/her own pleasure). Given the statistics on pornography viewing (not to mention strip clubs, prostitution, etc), it's not hard to see which our society is more inclined towards. And if all you're concerned with is your own pleasure, what does it matter if your partner is unconscious, unknowing or unwilling? (Not to say that we're all addicts, of course - just mentioning the point.)

- Jessica Strider
Apr. 26th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
I doubt you'll see this, but I would decline to take any advice on a feminist issue from a religious wingnut masquerading as a feminist. People who wring their hands about the open expression of sexuality in modern culture and then declare that it's to blame for rape and harassment are prudes who completely miss the point that rape is about power, not sex.

Jim: Great post.
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 26th, 2008 08:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 22nd, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
I recently went to a performance of the Vagina Monologues in New Orleans with my sister. The show is incredible and amazing and uplifting, and its main focus is ending violence against women.

Near the end of the show, Eve Ensler asked everyone who had ever been a victim of rape or sexual violence to stand up. At least a quarter of the audience stood up. Then Eve asked everyone who knew a victim of rape or sexual violence to stand up. As we both stood up, my sister turned to me and said, "Well, heck, that's everyone."

Her comment still haunts me. It's chilling to think that yes, everyone probably does know a woman who's been a victim.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC)
I suspect most of us know a lot more than one.

I've never been to the show, but everyone I've talked to says it's incredibly powerful.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
Your point that it is basically the difference between viewing the rape victim as an object and viewing them as a person really resonates.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 02:39 pm (UTC)
That's one which has really stuck with me over the years too...
Apr. 22nd, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
Sometimes heroism comes from a small act. Keep repeating this message and maybe someone will get it.

"Someone raped her" should be the way we say it.

Thank you. Jay Lake linked to this and I found you.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
It's too bad there are so many worthy causes to go around. Good for you, Jim, doing something about one of them.

You think it's bad here, it could be a lot worse. I've been learning a lot about Brazil in preparation for a sabbatical and for a potential novel. It seems to be a very common expectation for both men and women, and in at least in the poorer quarters of society that are very large there, that girls caught alone with a non-relative male will get raped. And they all live with it as if it were an unchangeable fact. I know of several instances where daughters moved out rather than the stepdad, and that was the acceptable solution all around. This suggests it's a very strong cultural problem that only varies in degree here.

It's really hard to see how to overturn such widespread culture. Education, discussion, facts...these seem like the best tools. Rape is already illegal. Culture keeps it under reported and under prosecuted.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)
You made me cry.

Thank you for posting this, for being a voice of reason and responsibility and *compassion* in a world that has forgotten.

You are a true Gentleman, in the finest sense of the word.

Thank you.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
The only thing I have to add is a thank you for the "mostly men" comment.

I have a friend who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by another woman, she's had a lot of trouble dealing with it over the years, and encountered a lot of hostility about it from other women.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry to hear that.

I do try to be careful about the phrasing. I know that it's *mostly* men doing this, which means (to me) that men need to be much more involved in stopping it. But like you say, it's important to balance that emphasis with the recognition that men can be raped, and women can be rapists, and that these instances also deserve validation.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 06:42 pm (UTC)

Once again, you write your way into both my intellect and my heart. Well done.

In 2004, a couple of people I know came clean about having been sexually abused in their lives, and I wrote the following piece in response. Here's a link to it. Until recently, it was friends locked, but you should be able to see it now.


You are right. We are survivors. To stay victims means we do not overcome. I can only continue to live in the moments of now, and do what I can with the destiny after, the destiny I control. We troubleshoot the tough moments. It helps to know there are people out there who think like you do. All the resounding support in the friends' list is proof.

Keep up the advocacy and the good work.

My dream is a society where such things do not happen.

Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
I forgot to mention this in my comment:


I'm pleased that they exist.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)
And all of this includes rape within marriage, which a lot of people dismiss. They think that just because you're married, there's no such thing as sexual abuse.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
I've been reading a lot of stuff lately involving stupid, offensive men being stupid and offensive and downright criminal wrt issues involving women and abortion and sexuality and such, so to be pointed here and so vividly reminded that there are men who get it, who are continuing to try and understand, who are as angry as I am about how things are, was really nice. It doesn't make anything you say truer because you're a guy, or any more powerful, and it's not anything many women haven't said, but right this moment, it was good to hear it from a guy.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 11:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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Jim C. Hines

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